Welcome to the January 2010 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2010
“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Jehovah. Lord, hear my voice: Let thine ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. If thou, Jehovah, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, That thou mayest be feared. I wait for Jehovah, my soul doth wait, And in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord More than watchmen wait for the morning; Yea, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in Jehovah; For with Jehovah there is lovingkindness, And with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel From all his iniquities.” Psalm 130, ASV
So, have you failed to live up to any of your New Year’s Resolutions yet? Or have you just decided to do what many have done: wait until today to start? After all, it is really hard to begin a new discipline on a weekend, and even harder if it is a holiday weekend. So, many have decided that since New Year’s Day was on Friday, then the resolutions should begin today. Do you think they will succeed any better because they have waited?
I decided that one of my resolutions would be keeping in touch with people better. Since Facebook is a networking site, I thought I might begin there. Facebook is designed with a program that gives you suggestions of this you might want to do or pages you might want to visit. It is able to pick up key words from your posts and direct you to pages or applications that might be of interest. It suggests friends of friends who might make good friends for you also. It follows your activity and makes suggestions about friends who might enjoy a note.
I decided to take at least one suggestion a day, to write on someone’s wall to wish them a happy day and remind them that they are loved. Seems like this should be an easy resolution to keep; after all, I get on Facebook several times a day. However, I have already failed. I forgot to do it yesterday; I remembered as I was falling asleep last night.
I woke up this morning to a messy desk. I resolve to keep my desk clean every so often, taking time to pick through the old mail and take care of whatever business needs my attention. I do this regularly, usually weekly, but at least whenever I know there are bills to pay. I make neat little piles, one that needs to be dealt with immediately and one with things that can wait. There are usually piles for other members of the family. And there’s always a pile of things that are in question: what should be done with this? I manage to get the clutter down to a minimum, so that I can see the top and actually use it as a desk.
It isn’t long, however, before those piles get knocked over or get mixed up with new things. The questionable pile grows and the “need to do” piles don’t disappear. I go to the mailbox and end up with a new stack of envelopes that need to be opened and Zack brings home some paperwork from school that I have to read. My almost clean desk never gets clean because within hours the mess has already started to grow. I have to resolve over and over again to keep it clean and organized, so I begin the process again day after day, or week after week.
I sometimes think I should give up. I’ve heard it said that a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind, so I guess my mind is pretty healthy. But I know I can’t let the clutter continue building because eventually I won’t be able to find anything. My bills will become lost as they are buried by magazines. Important papers will be ruined because they aren’t carefully filed where they will stay safe. I won’t be able to take care of the important business of the day because I won’t be able to find it. So, even though I can’t manage to keep it pristine from day to day, it is important to keep trying to get it organized.
Even though I forgot to write on someone’s wall yesterday, I started back up with it today. We can’t let one failure keep us from doing what is good. If you didn’t manage to keep your resolution over the weekend, then today is a great day to start again. If you haven’t started yet, today is the first day of the rest of your life. And, when you fail (we all fail), tomorrow is another day. We can’t let our failures keep us from doing what we know is good and right. When we fail, we need only remember that we are forgiven and in that forgiveness we have the chance to begin again. We might have to start over again and again and again.
We are saints through faith in Jesus Christ, but we continue to be sinners as we live in this world. We will fail. But we believe in a God of second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. Thank goodness, because I know I’ll forget to post on someone’s wall one day and I know I’ll never be able to keep my desk clean. But I also know that I am forgiven and that if I keep trying, one day I’ll get it right. And even if I don’t, God will use my effort to His glory and will encourage me to keep trying.
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31, ASV
Victoria and Zachary filled Bruce and my Christmas stockings with silly Dollar Store merchandise. We found candy, activity books, personal hygiene items and toys. It was fun reaching into the stocking to discover whatever they thought we might enjoy.
One of the items in my stocking was a pack of “grow your own zoo” animals. It was a set of twelve capsules, each with an animal shaped sponge that ‘grows’ when you put it into water. Since there were twelve capsules, I decided to make the pack last through the twelve days of Christmas. I’ve ‘grown’ one animal a day. Some of the capsules didn’t ‘grow’ very well. The sponges were faulty, so it was hard to discover what kind of animal came out of the capsule. It has been fun to grow an animal each day; today is the last day.
So, that means today is the twelfth day of Christmas. I know that Christmas has pretty much disappeared. Even the clearance aisles are almost empty of Christmas merchandise. It is time to prepare for Valentine’s Day. Almost everyone has taken down their Christmas decorations. Very few houses are still lit up at night. Several trees are waiting on the curb for the garbage men to come. The radio stations are playing regular music again. Many people think the twelve days of Christmas end on Christmas day, but that is just the start. For the Church, Christmas is not over until tomorrow, Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
But tonight is Twelfth Night, in itself a special celebration, although not very popular in our culture today. It was a day of parties, with special pastries and ceremonies. In one tradition, a person was chosen to be the Lord of Misrule, and for a brief period of time the world is turned upside down. The rich become like the poor, the poor become like the rich. The world was restored to normal at midnight.
Another tradition included the taking down of all Christmas decorations. In those days, the trees and wreaths and houses were often decorated with fresh fruit and other foods. The food taken from the decorations was then eaten at the feast given on Twelfth Night. Since fruit and pastries were very expensive, it was appropriate to use them to decorate the tree and then even more appropriate to enjoy a special taste at the party. Twelfth Night, then, was really a very special time.
Most of us will barely notice that today is even special. It is a school and work night, so I doubt many will plan a party. Here in Texas I’m sure Three Kings Cakes will be available in the stores because of the Mexican traditions that are so popular here. We won’t have special fruit or pastry treats because they are much more available to us today. We don’t even put anything like that on our trees. If we use apples, they are glass or plastic, and will be packed away in boxes until next year.
I doubt that anyone will celebrate Twelfth Night with a change in circumstances. I don’t see many rich folk becoming poor for a day while allowing the poor to become rich for a moment. Things are getting back to normal after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But for a brief moment, we can remember these old traditions and think about what they mean to us in our Christian faith. After all, Jesus came to turn the world upside down.
Being rich will not send anyone to hell: ignoring the fact that there are those in the world who are suffering will. The rich man in today’s story rejected Lazarus and refused to give him aid. In those ancient traditions, the rich learned what it was like to be poor by living it for a day. Hopefully they learned to have compassion, to see the need around them and to do what needed to be done. I’m sure some were more merciful during the rest of the year because of that brief moment on Twelfth Night. Perhaps we could use the same experience to help us see that there are many around us who need our help, our attention, and our resources. We are generous at Christmas, but by the fifth of January we are back to normal. Let us constantly remember, not just today but every day, that Jesus Christ turns the world upside down and that we’ll be remembered not for what we have accomplished on our own but for how we shared our life with others.
I will be studying the scriptures for Sunday today as I usually do on Wednesday, but wanted to take a quick moment to remind you that today is Epiphany, the day when we celebrate when the wise men visited Jesus. On this day, remember that God’s message of grace is for all people and His love reaches well beyond our borders.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 10, 2010, Baptism of Jesus: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.” Isaiah 43:1, ASV
I don’t know about you, but I shake my head in wonder whenever I hear a story about a parent who does something harmful to his or her child. How can anyone drown a baby, let alone their own flesh and blood? How can someone lock a child in a closet or basement for decades? What is it about a few people that makes it possible for them to abandon a human being that is completely dependent on them for life? I don’t know how they do it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been mad at my own kids. I have yelled at them for something I think they’ve done wrong. I have even punished them for their disobedience. I’ve taken away their favorite toy, not allowed them to do something they wanted to do, and made them do things they really didn’t want to do. And I’m sure I haven’t been a perfect parent. I’ve failed. I’ve yelled a little too loud. I’ve been a little too firm with my punishment. I’ve been too quick to assume guilt and too slow to offer forgiveness. But even when I’m so angry I think I might burst, I can’t imagine ever threatening their lives.
We are at the point when both are children are finding their independence. Victoria is in her second year of college. She has a job that pays a little bit of money on a regular basis. She manages to take care of herself just fine from day to day while she is away. She buys her own groceries and even spends her own money to treat her brother to an occasional treat at Starbucks.
It is hard for me to let go because I still feel responsible for her. When we go grocery shopping together, I feel like I should buy her food. But I know that she likes the feeling of independence she gets from buying it herself. Yet, there are some purchases she happily allows me to make. She doesn’t mind when I write the tuition check or pay for car insurance. She knows she can’t afford those things. Some of the responsibilities of adulthood are scary, and she knows she is not ready to be completely independent. So, I have to find the balance between allowing her the independence she craves and the care she still needs. I also have to allow her some failures, because we do learn from our mistakes. Yet, I can’t let her fail to the point of being destroyed.
God is like a parent. He knows we have to have our own independence; He knows that we have to be able to freely go our own way. He also knows that we’ll sometimes fail to do what is right. We have to suffer the consequences of our actions, which comes sometimes as discipline by His hand. But God won’t let us fail or punish us to our destruction. If I can take care of my kids, God can certainly do so, too. As a matter of fact, God is far more able to take care of His children than any human parent.
I love the message in today’s Old Testament lesson. Isaiah writes, “But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.” In this passage, we are reminded that God created and formed us, and He named us. Yes, we are named by our parents who are given as our physical caretakers, but in God’s book, we have a special name: God’s child. We are His. Though we may fail, God will always be with us. He loves us and He will not allow us to be destroyed. We have been redeemed from the consequences of our own failures because we are precious and loved by our Creator.
The psalmist writes, “Ascribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name; Worship Jehovah in holy array.” God is far more than we can imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and to serve Him to His glory. Yet, with our words we try to make Him fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The psalmist in today’s passage knows that God is far bigger than human reason and understanding can imagine. We see only a part of the entirety of God.
I’ve been known to yell loudly when my kids have done something I think is wrong. But I doubt that my voice would ever have the same affect as that of God’s voice. His voice thunders, shakes the desert, shakes the oaks and strips the forest bare. His voice is like lightning; it flashes forth like flames of fire. This is an image of God that makes us tremble with fear.
It doesn’t help that the psalmist brings in imagery from the beginning of time and flood. The water was chaotic, out of human control. We live in Texas and we’ve seen the raging waters of the flash floods that came come out of nowhere when it rains. Once, when it had been raining for much too long, one of our roads was covered with a few inches of running water. The road was not blocked; the water was high, but not beyond safety. Unfortunately, I hit an extremely large pothole that had formed during the flooding and water got into my engine. It stalled but I was able to maneuver my car to the edge of the flood. It was a frightening experience for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get caught in something worse, although I’ve seen pictures and video of people who have. No human can contain the power, but God can. He can not only contain the power, He can bring order to the chaos. Though we tremble with fear at the thunderous voice, we need not fear because we are precious and loved by this same God. He can bring order into the chaos of our lives.
We get confused. We see things that seem like they might be what we think they are, but we find that they aren’t as we expected. I thought it was safe to drive through that little bit of water. I couldn’t see the huge pothole that had formed below the surface. I can’t see everything. I can’t know everything. But God can. He sees hearts, knows all, and has control over even the chaos of this world. In the Gospel lesson, the people were amazed by what they heard from John the Baptist. They thought perhaps he might be the one for whom they were waiting. They thought He might be the Messiah. He fulfilled their expectations, but he knew he was not the One. He knew he was just there to announce the coming of the One. “I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.”
Luke’s version of the baptism of Jesus is much shorter than the others and it is only in Luke that we see Jesus praying. Prayer is an important part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story. We’ll see that focus through the coming year. It is in prayer that we see the extraordinary relationship between God and His Son Jesus. They talked often. Jesus listened. He sought His Father’s Will in all He did. And in prayer God spoke back to His Son; in this passage, His voice proclaims the name of Jesus: God’s beloved Son.
We also see the Holy Spirit coming down onto Jesus in the form of a dove. We don’t have such a physical image of our own baptisms, but the same thing happens to us at the waters of the font. God comes to us in Spirit, and we are joined with Christ in the body which is owned by God. At our own baptism, God spoke the same words: we are God’s beloved. We are precious to Him and as one of His, we need not fear. He will be with us, as He was with Jesus. We may experience things that are not pleasant, but God, like a good parent, will not allow us to be destroyed.
The passage out of Acts for this week shows us how chaotic is was in those first days of the Church. The people of Samaria had heard the Gospel message. They had been baptized, but it wasn’t quite enough to give them all they needed to be part of the Church. The Spirit had not yet come upon the people of Samaria. It seems odd that we would hear this passage so close to the story of Epiphany, when God’s grace was given to the whole world. But, we are reminded by this story that we aren’t baptized to be part of a separate and independent group. The Samarians were divided from the Church in other ways. The Samarians were half-breeds, with heritage in God’s people, but also mingled with the Babylonians who had once been their enemies.
When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they took the best and the most intelligent Israelites to Babylonia. These captives were given positions of authority and they were able to gain wealth. Life in exile was not so horrible. Eventually the generation who were taken from Jerusalem died, leaving behind a people who had never known life in the Holy Land. They had certainly heard stories, but those stories would include knowledge that the beloved homeland was little more than a heap of rubble. They had a good life in Babylon. They were educated and gifted. They were respected. They had adapted to their new life. Perhaps the promise did not have such a lure for them. Would they really want to leave the good life they had created to return to a desolate and barren place? Some did not return to Jerusalem. Some did not receive the promise found in our passage from Isaiah. They believed, and still believe, that they were the keepers of God’s Law, that their temple was the center of God’s kingdom.
So, it is not surprising that they would receive the Word of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but they were separate from the rest of God’s people. God needed to restore His people, make them one. The Spirit didn’t come immediately so that they would be brought into the one body through the laying on of hands from the apostles. Peter and John were sent to ensure that there would not be two churches, as there had been two peoples under the Law. The Gospel was flooding the world, but God was always in control.
Even now we wonder about the chaos that has become the Church. We are not just two people worshipping the same God. We are thousands of different groups who believe in Him. We disagree about so many things; many of our ideas are so opposed that we don’t even look like we believe in the same God. In some cases, we are so certain about our way that we reject others who believe differently. Oswald Chambers once said, “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specifically designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”
But we who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ are all beloved, named by God as one of His children. We have been given the Holy Spirit to make us part of the one body. We might not fully understand how to deal with each other. We don’t know where the lines are drawn. But we can trust that God knows what He is doing. He has created us, redeemed us and named us. He is with us. He is bigger than we can imagine, and in His majesty is sometimes frightening. But we need not fear. We might face the thunderous voice or the chaos of fire and water, but God has also come to us through our baptism like a dove, with peace and the promise of His grace.
“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 6:6-8, ASV
When I went to bed last night, the temperature was in the low 50’s. That is as warm as it is going to be for the next few days. It is much colder now and the wind is blowing 30 mph, giving us a wind chill well below freezing. Now, I know it is much colder elsewhere. People in Minnesota are laughing at the wimps in South Texas as their temperatures reach below zero with precipitation. Meanwhile, we laugh at the Minnesotans who can’t handle a little heat in the summer. It is a matter of perspective.
See, since the temperatures in South Texas do not usually get this cold, we are not prepared for it. We don’t have heavy coats in our closets because the most we usually need is a medium weight jacket. A friend who lives farther south complained about the weather, not for himself but for many of the people he knows, because they do not even have furnaces in their homes. Our water pipes are only buried a few inches below the surface of the ground, while those in the north are required to be put much deeper. Since our temperatures are moderate, we are able to plant winter crops that will be destroyed by these cold temperatures. The citrus farmers are very concerned.
On the other hand, in the north where they deal with far fewer days of heat, the houses rarely have air conditioners. Northerners can plant gardens in the summer that won’t be burned to a crisp by the unforgiving Texas sun. So, when they have an unusually hot summer, they suffer from the same type of losses that we are seeing right now. We can deal with 115 degrees because we move from one air conditioner to another. But 95 degrees can be unwieldy if there is no way to escape.
We try to understand people by looking at their circumstances from our own point of view, but that doesn’t work because we do not know all the conditions that affect their troubles. It is not as cold here in Texas, but for many it is still too cold. They are not properly prepared to deal with such cold. Many of us can deal with it financially. We can turn up the heat or buy a coat, although there aren’t many winter coats available for sale in our stores. The retailers do not want to be stuck with merchandise that won’t sell so they don’t order it for the stores. But then, who can afford to buy a heavy coat when they will only need it for two or three days a year? The similar question can be asked for those in cold weather places: why buy an air conditioner that will only be used once or twice a year?
So, it might seem like we are wimps for complaining about 20 degree temperatures, but we cannot be compared with other places any more than they can be compared with us. Even from one house to the next, the circumstances may be significantly different. Our family has lived in cold weather places. We have old clothes that we can use to keep us warm. We are all young and healthy, so we can deal with the bad weather. A neighbor might be native to Texas and they never owned a heavy coat. They might have health issues that are made worse by the bitter wind. They might not be able to afford the fuel necessary to keep their home warm. There just might be valid reasons for the complaints.
So, we are called to be empathetic, to see a person’s suffering from their point of view rather than our own. If we find the heart to understand that they are really suffering, then we will more willingly share with them the resources we have that might make life a little better for them. As we humbly realize that our point of view is very limited, we look to God for guidance and walk with Him. In doing so, we’ll realize that our neighbor, whether around the corner or across the world, might actually be suffering in their troubles and need the small acts of grace that we can give.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17, ASV
A few days ago, the patience of the passengers waiting for flights in the Newark Airport was put to the test when there was a security issue. They were forced to leave the terminal and go through a security search a second time. The planes could not take off until the issue was resolved. The delay took hours. Everyone was tired and frustrated. The children were crying. I’m sure the employees were running out of ways to keep the passengers under control.
One man, Josh Wilson, will be remembered by many of those passengers. He is a Christian singer who was on his way to Mumbai, India on a mission trip, stuck with everyone else on an adventure he didn’t want to experience. Things had gotten very tense and he wanted to help calm the children nearby. He had his guitar with him, and one of his traveling companions suggested that he play for them. He was hesitant, because though music can be a calming influence, it can also create more tension. He decided to play “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles because he figured it was a safe choice.
When Josh was interviewed by Heather Poole for an online weblog, she asked him how he stays so upbeat when he travels. This is an excellent question, especially since most of us get testy even when the trip goes well. Josh answered honestly, “Well, the truth is I don't. This time it was easy, though. There was clearly nothing we could do - I could choose to be angry or choose to accept it. The best plan was to take a sad song and make it better.”
Josh was on his way to India to help the people and do ministry there. Who might have guessed that some of the most important work he did that day would have been in the airplane terminal calming a tense situation. Video of his performance is showing on YouTube and he is probably gaining some amount of fame from this experience. Yet, Josh did not think about these things when he pulled out that guitar that day. He wasn’t even trying to minister to anyone. He just wanted to quiet some screaming kids and make people feel a little bitter in the midst of a horrible situation. It worked. He accepted an opportunity to do something for others and their lives, at least that moment of their lives, was transformed.
We often think that the work God is calling us to do is something spectacular. We think we have to make grand gestures or do extraordinary things. We think that we have to make an impact that will change the entire world. But God calls us to be faithful in whatever circumstances we face. I know I’ll never be changing the atmosphere in an entire terminal with my singing, but I can choose to accept delays and bring a bit of calm to the people sitting nearby. I can choose to be helpful when I see someone who needs me. I can choose to allow the world to affect the way I feel or I can trust that God has given me an opportunity to transform someone’s life.
To see the video, visit: Josh Wilson
“O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:1-10, ASV
I went to a place where I had never been the other day. When I got the address, the woman asked me if I needed instructions. She started by asking me if I knew how to get to several landmarks that I didn’t even know existed. I answered, “I’ll just find you on mapquest.” I was amazed when I checked out the map to see how much was available in that particular area. I knew there was a town, but I did not realize how much was there. I didn’t know about the park or the city buildings. I was familiar with a few of the roads leading into the area, but had never driven far enough to see where they went. I took the opportunity to get to know the town a little bit, and now I am more familiar with those neighborhoods. If someone asked me about the town, I could tell them how to get around.
Many years ago I was a quality control manager for a mobile disc jockey company. We provided disc jockeys for all sorts of events in seven states in the Northeast. I also did the occasional party when it was the busy season, but in lean times I made a few dollars by checking out the work of the DJ’s. The job meant I would have to drive to several different venues in a night, all over the state of New Jersey. I put several hundred miles on my car when I did this, traveling from city to city, site to site to do my job. Unfortunately, this was long before GPS systems or even mapquest. I had to rely on regular maps and the good directions of gas station attendants.
I was amazed at how few really knew the neighborhoods in which they worked. On one occasion, I popped into a gas station asking about a building I knew had to be within a block or two, but I was having trouble finding it. I had driven around the neighborhood several times and finally gave up. The guy looked at me like I was crazy and said he’d never even heard of the building. “It can’t be in this town. Maybe the next town down the road.” I was metropolitan area with one city running into the next. Except for the occasional sign, it was difficult to know where one town became the next. I left the gas station, certain that the guy must be wrong, but willing to try his directions. I had to go around the block to get on the right road and head in the right direction, but as I turned the corner I found the building: less than a block from the gas station. I think it was so close that if the guy looked out the back door of the gas station he would see the back door of the building where I needed to be.
I couldn’t believe that he could be so unfamiliar with the town in which he worked and probably lived that he didn’t even know how to give directions to a building right around the corner. Yet, the town I visited just the other day is not very far from my own house and I had no idea they had a park or city buildings or even large comfortable neighborhoods with lots of friendly residents. I knew about the roads leading into the town, but had no idea where they ended up. I’m sure there are areas in all our towns with which we are unfamiliar. We’ve never had to drive there. We don’t have friends there. We don’t need to visit the stores there. There is no reason to go, and so those places are like they don’t even exist.
I don’t imagine many people know how to get everywhere, except perhaps the UPS guys. There is plenty to accomplish in my own neighborhood, plenty to do in my own little corner of the world. And yet, it is not good for us to be so caught up in ourselves that we forget there is a larger world around us. Many people have never been outside their own hometowns. They can’t see the world through any perspective but their own. They can’t understand other points of view. They reject opposing opinions because they think the whole world fits into a mould that matches their own world. And while it is not true that all paths are acceptable, we do need to consider that the world in which we live is much bigger than we think it is. We can trust that God will be with us when we wander beyond our borders because God is not confined to the space we define. He goes with us wherever we go.
“And Jehovah visited Sarah as he had said, and Jehovah did unto Sarah as he had spoken. And Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh. Every one that heareth will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should give children suck? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7, ASV
I like to buy toys for my kitties. My human children are older and they don’t look for those little surprises that I used to have waiting for them sometimes. You know what I am talking about: that inexpensive toy bought for no reason, the candy bar or special dessert for an evening snack, that new pair of pajamas with their favorite character just because. These surprises always made them happy, and they knew that I had been thinking about them when I was running my errands that day.
I can’t do that as often for my human children anymore, but I do it with my feline kids. When I am in the pet store buying food or treats, I usually also pick up a new toy. Even though they have a million toys in their basket, and those old toys often seem like new when they’ve been in the basket for awhile, the kitties love getting new toys. They are very happy, playful and loving when I share their special treat with them.
Samson loves the small furry mice that you can buy for the cats. They are the perfect size and he goes wild when he has one of these mice. Unfortunately, they are small enough that they are easily lost: under the stove, in the couch cushions, behind the heavy furniture. We have dozens of these small mice in the house, but I can’t find any of them after Samson has been playing. Some of these are ruined because they’ve played too hard or they’ve dropped them into the water bowl. Luckily these are rather inexpensive so, the last time I was in a store, I bought a package of twelve.
Now, the day I brought these toys home, I left them in the shopping bag on the table with the rest of the treats I had purchased. Victoria and I heard a noise coming from the kitchen that didn’t sound quite right, so I got up to see what was happening. I found Samson lying on the floor with the package of mice waiting patiently for me to open it up and give him his new toys. I decided to give him just a few. The rest were ‘hidden’ in a glass jewel box on the coffee table.
Last night the kittens, all three of them, were in a playful mood. Samson and Delilah were running all around the house. Even Tigger got into the game. They were crazy, the kind of crazy that comes with bad weather, but we weren’t expecting anything last night. We were laughing so hard at their antics: laughing with joy because they were so obviously having fun. At one point, Samson was on the coffee table. Now, those mice have been hiding in that jewel box for more than a week and he hasn’t noticed them. For some reason, last night he realized that there was something inside that box that he wanted. He sniffed, looked, crawled around the box. He tapped it with his paw, sniffed some more and watched it as if it would magically open and reveal what he knew was there. It was, perhaps, the funniest moment of the night.
Of course the box opened. I lifted the lid and he ‘stole’ a mouse. He spent the rest of the night playing with his new toy. Delilah got caught up in the play, and so did Bruce. Even Tigger was watching the antics with swishing tail. We were all laughing very hard, and happy.
It is good to be happy. Now, laughter is not always looked upon as a good thing in the scriptures. Even in this scripture, the laughter is almost out of disbelief. Sarah had laughed when she heard the promise that at ninety years old she’d have a child. Then, when her son was born she laughed again. This time, she wanted the world to laugh with her because she was finally going to know the joy have having a child in the house. God made her laugh with happiness, along with the amazement of experiencing the impossible. Children might be hard to deal with, but they also make us happy. They bring us joy because we see life and innocence and excitement in all they do. They are happy even when the surprises seem small and insignificant, and see love in the simplest gestures.
Sarah’s gift was great: she gave Abraham a son. But she knew the gift came from God and she rejoiced over His grace in her life so she could give him that son. I know part of my happiness last night and when the children were small was because I was thankful I could do those simple things for my kids. We might feel it is impossible to do what we want to do with others. We won’t be having children at an old age, and we can’t afford to purchase everything our kids want. However, sometimes the greatest joy comes from the smallest things. Happiness doesn’t come from wealth, but from generosity. The special moments give us the greatest laughter. The little things sometimes bring the greatest joy, especially given in thankfulness for all God has done for us.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 17, 2010, Second Sunday of Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
“How precious is thy lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of thy wings.” Psalm 36:7, ASV
When Bruce and I got married, the minister used today’s Gospel story for the message of the day. He talked about how odd it was for Jesus to choose such a ordinary moment in the life of the community for his first miracle. Now, weddings aren’t an every day occurrence, but they are a normal part of our lives. Turn to the women’s television networks at almost any time of day and you’ll find a reality show about weddings, “Say Yes to the Dress,” “Bridezillas,” or “Platinum Weddings” are just a few examples. In those shows we see that the wedding ceremony and party are a unique and special moment for that particular couple and their family, but there are weddings somewhere almost every day. I imagine it must be boring to be a minister in Las Vegas, where couples can even drive their cars up to a window and get hitched.
The other thing that amazed the minister at our wedding is that Jesus did not make his first miracle something extraordinary that would get the attention of the world. As a matter of fact, he was surprised that Jesus would even come at that period of history. Why not now? Why not come when He could change water into wine on International television? CNN would surely cover it, and then He’d be known around the world instantly. After two thousand years, there are still people who have not heard about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
But God is not looking for fame or the power that comes with celebrity. He isn’t looking to make one single grand move to change the world. God is bigger than everything we can imagine, but he’s a micromanager. He wants to be involved in the small things. His hand is in the ordinary moments. The wedding at Cana shows us that God, and Jesus, is in the midst of our lives.
Now, the psalmist sings a song proclaiming the greatness of God. His love extends to the heavens, His faithfulness to the clouds. His righeousness is firmer than the mountains and His judgments are right. He rules over all of creation, gives life and breath to all that breathes.
Yet, in the midst of this song of the greatness of God, we are reminded that we are welcome into His presence. The psalmist sings, “And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of thy wings.” Now, we can see this verse in light of Jesus’ wish that He could be like a mother hen covering her chicks with her wings, but there is an even deeper understanding.
The psalmist sings, “How precious is thy lovingkindness, O God!” The Hebrew word “chesed” here translated as “lovingkindness” is difficult to translate into English. None of our words fully encompass the depth of its meaning. It is sometimes translated “steadfast love” or “mercy.” This word, especially when it is used in reference to God, is about the divine love that reliably loves and forgives His chosen people even though it is undeserved because of their sinfulness. In other words, this lovingkindness is the heart of grace, it is about the loving God doing what only God can do.
For the Jews, the center of God’s mercy was found on the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, a specially designed box which held the most important artifacts of the Jewish faith, was held in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of God. The Ark had seemingly magical powers when the Israelites were on the move before they settled in Jerusalem: armies fell, water stood still, the people found safety and provision in its presence. The box, made of acacia wood and covered with gold leaf. Statues of cherubim are located at both ends of the box, with their wings touching over the top. The cover is known as the mercy seat of God, it is His throne on earth. It is the place where the blood was sprinkled each year for the atonement of Israel. It is the center of forgiveness.
And we are invited to sit there. We are invited to climb on the lap of God our Father, to hug Him as a child loves Daddy. The mercy seat is the place of judgment, but our God has promised to be merciful. We need not be afraid to approach the throne of grace because it is there that we find our salvation. Under the wings of God’s cherubims, on the mercy seat of God, we experience the lovingkindness that is the center of God’s nature. A mother hen protects her children, but God does far more. He not only gives us life and love, but He saves us from our sinfulness.
The people of Israel were definitely sinners, in the sense that they turned from God at every opportunity. They were drawn into the ways of the world, following the paths of other nations and turning to them for help. They often forgot their God and suffered the consequences of doing so. Isaiah speaks to the people during a time of exile, when they fell to the power of Babylon. It might have seemed like God was not present with His people when their city was destroyed and the people were taken to Babylon. But the reality is that they were no longer sitting on the mercy seat of God, under the wings of the cherubim. But even when we fail to live up to our end of the covenant, God is always near. The exile was followed by the promise: you will go home.
In today’s Old Testament passage, Isaiah repeats the promise: though you are Forsaken and Desolate today, your name will be changed to Hepzibah which means My Delight is in Her. God delights in His people and He is faithful, even when we are not. Jerusalem will be vindicated and restored. She will be like a crown of beauty or a royal jewel in the hand of the King. God will rejoice over her. This passage also includes the image of marriage: the restoration that God has promised will be like a bridegroom marrying a bride. The relationship between God and His people is not that of a far off famous powerful person, but like a family: intimate, close, real.
The miracle that Jesus performed at Cana was very personal. As a matter of fact, the only ones who knew what happened were Jesus, Mary, the servants who filled the jars with water and the disciples. Even the steward was left out; he was surprised when the good wine was held until the guests were already drunk. The bride and groom and their families may have never even known how the problem was solved.
It is interesting that Jesus asks Mary what it has to do with them. She answers by telling the servants to obey His command. He might have been hesitant, but He submitted to her request. We don’t know about the relationship between Mary and the family who was giving the wedding, but she must have been close to someone to know that there was a problem with the wine. It may have been a relative or a close friend. She did not need to answer Jesus’ question, because He knew what it had to do with them. She would not let him ignore the needs of the people who mattered to them because He was just beginning this new life.
It is, perhaps, tempting for us to be reluctant to do for our own family members. We are afraid that the things they are asking of us will interfere with the work we have to do. Or we do not have the time or resources that we think are necessary. We can’t take the risk because it might disrupt our own lives in some way. We also think that we can’t do enough. We think we either have to make a grand gesture or do nothing. We feel the same way when it comes to doing God’s work in the world. We don’t think we can make a difference, so we don’t bother.
But our lessons for this week show us differently. I’m reading a book called “The Great Permission: An Asset-Based Field Guide for Congregations.” In the book, this can’t do attitude is called “tiny-mindedness.” The writer says, “Tiny-mindedness appears every time you think you’re weaker, dumber, less powerful or less capable than you really are. Or when all you think about is what’s not good about you or your congregations.” Elsewhere he writes, “A sure sign you’re measuring yourself or your congregation with a tiny mind: overuse of ‘just’ and ‘only’ when describing who you are or what you do. A sure solution: stop talking that way!”
We don’t have to make a grand gesture or do something that will bring fame or power. We simply need to do what God has gifted us to do. The next time we look at someone who seems to have it all, who seems to be able to do it all, let’s remember that God didn’t mean for any of us to do it all. He meant for each of us to do what we can do. Jesus’ first miracle was a behind the scenes gift of mercy. He gave the family the wine they needed to continue the wedding banquet. Few people even knew it happened. Jesus didn’t need to do something big on CNN in the twenty-first century because the work He came to do was not given for the whole world. It was given for you: every one of you. God’s grace does change the world, His light and love makes it new. The psalmist even says that God saves humans and animals alike. But God’s lovingkindness which we receive through our Lord Jesus Christ is for each individual child of God, given for YOU.
Paul writes, “Now there are diversities of gifts.” He lists nine gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. These gifts come from the Holy Spirit, are activated by the same Spirit and He chooses which gifts go to whom. None of us have it all. None of us can do it all. We are given a portion to be used as part of the whole. The Spirit draws us together to do the work of God together. The little things we can do are joined together by the Holy Spirit to make transform the world. Just because I can only do one thing doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do anything. I’m called to do that one thing, and with the Spirit’s help it will be part of God’s greater scheme. Each of us is saved and gifted for the glory of God.
We begin the work of living in God’s amazing grace by climbing onto His lap on the mercy seat, experiencing the love and the grace He promises to each of us. We are protected by His wings when we stay on that mercy seat. But even when we fail, and we will fail, God is waiting to draw us back into His presence. We might have to suffer the consequences of our failure, but God’s lovingkindness is greater. He delights in each of us. He delights in you. The next time someone makes us aware of a need, like Mary brought to Jesus, instead of asking, “What is that to me?” we can respond with lovingkindness because God is with us. He will provide all we need to make a difference in that one life, in that one moment. He has changed our name, it is now Hepzibah, “My Delight is in Her.” Let’s live in the faith that comes with that name, glorifying God in all we do even when it seems very ordinary.
“Hear, O Jehovah, when I cry with my voice: Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; My heart said unto thee, Thy face, Jehovah, will I seek. Hide not thy face from me; Put not thy servant away in anger: Thou hast been my help; Cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, Then Jehovah will take me up. Teach me thy way, O Jehovah; And lead me in a plain path, Because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine adversaries: For false witnesses are risen up against me, And such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of Jehovah In the land of the living. Wait for Jehovah: Be strong, and let thy heart take courage; Yea, wait thou for Jehovah.” Psalm 27:7-14, ASV
I bought a small laser light before Christmas to use when playing with the cats. They love chasing the light. I keep that particular toy in my bedroom, and the cats follow the light up on the bed, over by the wall, back and forth. It is funny to watch them as they watch it on the ceiling, heads moving in sync as it moves. They have gotten bold enough to try to catch the light when it is in reach, although I’m careful not to allow the light shine in their eyes. I usually have to stop when Samson realizes that I’m holding the source of the light and he tries to play with it instead of the light on the floor.
I have been taking my time replacing my normal knickknacks now that my Christmas decorations have been put away. We have tall shelves that are part of our entertainment center that have been empty for about a week. Yesterday when I came downstairs in the morning, I found Samson sitting on the topmost shelf. He gave me that “look how cute I am Mom, I couldn’t possibly be doing something wrong” look, but I yelled and he jumped down. Minutes later he was back up there again. This happened several times before I realized why he was fascinated by that spot.
We have a motion detector as part of our security system and the sensor is in the corner near the top of the entertainment center. Whenever someone moves in that room a tiny red light shines, showing that the sensor has detected something. It looks a lot like the laser light. He just wants to catch it. I realized that I had to do something to deter this new game. So, I spent an hour returning my knickknacks to the shelves. By doing this, I blocked his path. He can’t go down that road anymore, or climb that mountain. I put up that roadblock to keep him from doing something that he shouldn’t be doing.
Have you ever experienced a roadblock? I remember a time not so long ago when I was driving through a neighborhood in town, trying to get to a road just on the other side. I was in this maze of houses because I made a wrong turn and I was trying to get back on the right path. Unfortunately, this neighborhood must have had a problem with cars just passing through, which means more traffic, faster cars and a higher possibility of crime. So, they put roadblocks on the roads that were once connected to the outside roads. I eventually found my way out, but it was very frustrating.
Roadblocks sometimes serve an good purpose, however. The weathermen here in Texas are calling for a great deal of rain over the next couple of days. We could see several inches by tomorrow afternoon. This means there will be flash flooding and water over the roads. Roadblocks will be put up to keep people from driving into high and dangerous waters.
We’ll face roadblocks during our life. Sometimes those roadblocks will be good, sometimes they will be bad. They’ll often not make any sense. We have to figure out if the roadblock is a challenge made to help us grow or a wall meant to protect us from harm. But most of all, when we look to follow the path which God has designed, we’ll find that the roadblocks will be easier to deal with. We won’t be stopped, but we’ll hear God’s voice when He tells us when it is safe to find a way around or when we should turn back. When we seek God’s help, our path will be made level and straight, even if we have to climb over mountains. He’ll be with us, walk with us, carry us over the humps, give us the strength to get through. When we do lose our way, God will provide roadblocks that can’t be overcome so that we’ll listen to Him again. When we need to be stretched out of our comfort zone, He will provide roadblocks that will help us to learn and grow. But when we seek God’s path, we’ll find the way easy no matter what roadblocks we face.
“Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; O Zion, let not thy hands be slack. Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17, ASV
One of my friends on Facebook posted a challenge in her status the other day. She wanted everyone to post pictures from the past in their profiles. The retro pictures have been fun to see: friends as children, on their wedding day, with their prom dates. Some of the photographs are faded. The clothing styles are ridiculous. A friend posted a picture of her prom picture, and I never would have thought she ever had that much hair. Of course, most of it was air and hair spray, but her hairdo was huge.
Not that my pictures are any better. When I saw the challenge, I began looking through my own photo albums and boxes for photos of myself from the past. What a wonderful experience that can be! I have to admit that my photos aren’t very organized, and yet it was because my collection was chaotic that I was able to walk down memory lane. I didn’t just see photos of myself, but I found photos of family and friends. I remembered some very special moments. I picked out some favorite shots of people I miss. There is a picture of my father wearing a ballerina costume that shows his unusual sense of humor. A picture of my mom and I at a friend’s wedding brought to mind the fun things we used to do together. There were pictures of my best friends doing silly things, and I was taken back to those days when we hung out together. I found pictures of winter snowfalls, reminding how much I like living in the south.
I also noticed how much photography has changed over the years. The old photographs are printed on different paper, in different sizes. They are faded with age, often crinkled and ripped on the edges. The oldest photographs are black and white, but even the color photos from a few decades ago are discolored, partially from age, but also because the printing process was different. Photographic technology has advanced tremendously. The cameras are better, the paper is better, even the ink is better. We don’t even have to keep our photos in a box anymore: we can store hundreds of photos on a five inch plastic disk and access them anytime on a computer.
Everything changes. I have to admit that I looked at some of those old photos and longingly remembered the good times that went with them. I miss some of those old friends, and I definitely miss the family who has passed from life into death. I wish that I still looked like that beautiful girl with silky blond hair. And yet, I wouldn’t go back. I love the life that I have today. I love my family and I’m content with the life we have created together. It was fun to look back and see what it had been like, but we are all fooling ourselves if we remember the old days as perfect and better than what we have today. There might have been good times and today might be filled with troubles. But even though everything changes, everything also stays the same. There are always good times and bad times. There is always laughter and pain. We remember the laughter and forget the pain, which is why we tend to think the past was better.
Through it all, we can rest in the knowledge that God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Whatever happened in our past, whatever is going to happen in our future, whatever is happening to us today, we can trust that His hand is in our life. He is with us to share the laughter, and He is there to comfort us through the tears. He was there when those special moments happened and He is with us as we remember.
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there after the Jews' manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. And they bare it. And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” John 2:1-11, ASV
The Gospel scripture for yesterday was the story of the wedding at Cana. In this story, found early in the book of Matthew, is the setting for Jesus’ first miracle. It was at that time that the disciples first began to believe in Jesus. They must have believed something about Jesus because no one would leave the security of a job for the uncertainty of following a prophet they didn’t know. Jesus wasn’t the first to go preaching in the region. Peter, Andrew, James and John had probably heard the words of hundreds of wandering preachers. There was something about Jesus that made them leave their work and their families. But they did not know what it was until they saw this first miracle. As a matter of fact, they were still uncertain after years of following Him. But at the wedding, they believed in Him.
Our pastor preached on this passage, and it was fascinating to hear about her research about weddings in Jesus’ day. She told us that weddings were not affairs limited to family and friends of the couple, but was given for the entire community. Even neighboring communities were welcome to come. This makes sense since the communities in Jesus’ day were smaller and closer. Not only did everyone know their neighbors, but they relied on each other for many things. Households held more than just two parents and a couple of kids. Grandparents and other relatives lived under the same roof. Neighboring communities were connected by family ties. The bride and groom did not necessarily move into a home of their own. They joined the family, sharing everything.
Another thing our pastor told us is that weddings were not a one day affair, but often lasted for a week. Family and friends sent gifts of wine so that the bride and groom would have plenty to share with everyone. The party lasted as long as the wine. When the wine had given out, it was time to go home. This makes this passage even more meaningful. The lack of wine was a comment about the couple’s support group, or lack of it. We don’t know what day of the celebration it was; the scriptures suggest that it was possibly the third day. Whatever day, it was too early to run out of wine. It was a problem because Mary, Jesus’ mother was looking for a solution. The bride and groom would have been shamed as well as the family.
I wonder if, perhaps, Mary was concerned because her family had not been able to send much wine. After all, by that time she was probably a widow. Jesus, her firstborn, had become a traveling preacher with no income. Jesus certainly didn’t send any wine ahead before joining the wedding party. Did she come to Jesus with her comment because she was upset that they’d not been able to support this bride and groom in the traditional way? Was she upset because Jesus had abandoned her in a sense?
Now, as the wine arrived for the party, the groom would have organized it according to quality. The wine from the wealthy guests would be poured first, so that the guests would enjoy the quality wine while they were still sober. As they became inebriated, the lesser wines would be served because no one would know the difference. Jesus answered the call of His mother in an incredible way. He didn’t just run out and buy a bottle or two. He changed six waterpots of water, filled to the brim into wine. These were large jars, large enough to cleanse the guests during the long feast. This gift given to the couple by Jesus was more than a hundred gallons of wine! And it wasn’t cheap wine either. The wine steward said it was the best that had been sent!
Our pastor connected the situation in Cana with the situation in Haiti, how it seemed like there was no hope for the young couple because their wine ran out too early. So, too, in Haiti, the people are losing hope because the things they need are lacking. Her thoughts made me think, “Just when there seems to be no reason to hope, God fills our jars overflowing with the best things.” It is tough in Haiti; there is incredibly hard work to do. But even as there seems to be no reason to hope, we know that God is there. He is changing the water into wine. In the end, something good will come. There was no hope in Sumatra after the tsunami. There was no hope in New Orleans after Katrina. Yet, today there is hope in those places. The people lost a lot, but those who have survived have overcome a great deal. There is still work to do, but the people can rest in the knowledge that the best is yet to come.
When we suffer our own difficulties, whatever they are, we can get through it with the knowledge that Jesus is with us. When there seems to be no hope, we can rest in the knowledge that Jesus can change water into wine and our mourning into dancing. He can overcome the worst, even death, so we have nothing to fear. We might experience hard times. We might not have the support we need. We might experience incredible loss. But God is with us through it all, and He’s promised that something better will be waiting when we come out on the other side.
”Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21, ASV
Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston on this day in 1809. I don’t know much about the man; he was a writer, and based on the titles of which I am familiar, it seems as though he was a dark and troubled man. Of course, when we do a little research, we often find that first impressions are rarely the entire truth. As a matter of fact, despite the Gothic nature of some of his writing, and his focus on themes of death, he was highly intelligent and was known to be considerate and funny, a loving husband and good friend.
Unfortunately, much of our impression of Poe is based on a biography written by R. W. Griswold who was given responsibility over Poe’s literary estate after his death. R. W. Griswold had something against Poe, and emphasized to the extreme the negative aspects of Poe’s life. Poe was certainly not perfect. He was a gambler and alcoholic, but Griswold depicted Poe as far worse, a description that was rejected by those who knew Poe. Griswold claimed he was a drug addict, but he did not do drugs. He was described as a madman, which we readily accept when we read his writing. Griswold was attempting to destroy Poe’s reputation, but in the end his characterization added to the mystery and Poe became even more popular.
It is amazing to consider the impact Edgar Allan Poe on his world, and ours. He was not only a writer, but was also a literary critic. In our day, he is remembered for the impact he had on other writers. His detective stories established the groundwork for later authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle. He also influenced science fiction, having created worlds that could only be imagined by “a brilliant mind” in the words of H. G. Wells. Poe did not consider his work scientific in nature, but wrote from his gut, imagining scientific explanations that may have seemed impossible in his day, but have since gained a foothold through real scientific research. He wrote about a big bang theory eighty years before science discovered the possibility. His work can’t be used for scientific study because it is also full of errors, but we can see how fact can sometimes be more fantastic than fiction.
I think one of the most interesting aspects of his life is his interest in cryptography. Cryptography is the study of hidden messages in text. It is about breaking codes. As a brilliant man, Poe was an expert at doing this, and made his gift known through a newspaper article. He asked the readers to send him puzzles to solve. His challenge made cryptography more popular with the public and even wrote a book using ciphers. One modern cryptologist, William Friedman, became interested in code deciphering as a child after reading Poe’s “The Gold Bug.” He went on to decipher Japanese code during World War II.
Poe had a tragic life. His parents were gone by the time he was three years old. He was raised by his godfather, who eventually stopped digging Poe out of the holes he dug for himself. He failed at many things: he was kicked out of several schools, was discharged early from the military, lost many jobs. His very young wife (a thirteen year old cousin at the time of their marriage) died from tuberculosis when they had been married just ten years. He died shortly before his second marriage to a childhood sweetheart, having been found early in the morning mad on the streets of Baltimore in desperate need of help. He was taken to a hospital where he died the next day. The medical records have disappeared and to this day no one knows what killed Edgar Allan Poe.
In 1949, or somewhere there about (there are differing claims on when it began) someone began honoring Edgar Allan Poe at his gravesite with an early morning birthday visit, a drink of cognac and three red roses. The visitor’s identity is still a mystery, and may remain so forever. This morning was the first time since 1949 that no one appeared at the grave. Crowds of visitors were waiting, as well as the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe house. They were disappointed that they did not get to see the visitor and his simple ritual. We may never know what happened, but the crowd has promised to return in the hope that the Poe toaster will be back next year.
No matter what we know about Edgar Allan Poe or think of his character, we should remember that no one is everything we think they are. Sometimes they are far more. We only know or see a part. We have been told that we should not judge a book by its cover, and this is even truer when that cover is not real. We have based our understanding of Poe on the words of another, a man who wanted to destroy Poe. But even when the image we have of someone, whatever it is based upon, we are reminded that they can have an impact we might never expect. Their lives can impact the world in ways we would never anticipate.
So, too, our life might impact others in ways we’ll never know. Poe’s life seemed meant for death, but we too will eventually die. But death is not the end for those of us in Christ. He will live on, through the seeds we have planted and the good work we have done. He will live on as the Word we shared gets passed to others. We will share in the glory that Christ has promised and we’ll see the effect of our faith on the world as we see God’s transforming grace continue to make the world new through the light we shined in our life.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 24, 2010, Epiphany Three: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19, ASV
We don’t exactly know what word was read to the people in today’s Old Testament lesson. It might have been the Pentateuch or just a portion, but even still it was a long recitation, made even longer by the explanation of the text for the understanding of the people. The people—men, women and children—stood in the square for hours listening to God’s Word being read.
Can you imagine going to church one Sunday and having the pastor tell you that he’s going to read the entire Bible and you have to stand during the whole reading? I can hear the groaning here in my quiet room! In my church, we don’t even stand during the reading of the Gospel if it is too lengthy, such as those passages about the Passion on Palm Sunday. Perhaps we have gotten too lazy, but I can’t imagine standing for so long. Now imagine standing also through the sermon!
What does make us stand for hours? We’ll stand in line to audition for “American Idol” or to buy that really cheap television on Black Friday. We’ll stand for hours to ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland. We’ll stand along side a road to get the best view of a passing parade or to be the first in line for tickets to the next great concert experience. We’ll stand for hours if it is required of our work, but even then we demand breaks so that we can sit down once in a while. I can’t imagine any of us standing in the square to hear the Bible read and explained.
But then again, we have access to the scriptures. Most of us reading this post even study the Bible on a regular basis. We have at least a few copies on our bookshelves and we probably have one open on our desks. We don’t even need hard copies of the Bible because just about every version is available online, most of them free to use. God’s word can be a daily part of our life, and for most of us it is. For the people of Israel in Nehemiah’s time, this is not true. They’d lost the word of God.
The story in Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. This is preceded in the book of Ezra with the rebuilding of the Temple. The people had been in exile in Babylon and were restored to their homeland by God. The books tell the story about the renewing of the relationship between God and His people. Nehemiah continues the story begun by Ezra. There were those, of course, who did not want to see the Temple or the city rebuilt. However, King Darius searched the archives and discovered the sacred writings of the Jews and demanded that all the leaders in the region allow the building of God’s Temple according to the Word of God. He even ordered that it be paid out of the royal treasury. Once the Temple was rebuilt, the people could once again follow the religious practices of their forefathers, made known again to them through those newfound writings.
The generation of Israelites at the square in the passage from Nehemiah had never heard God’s Word read. They’d forgotten what had been written on the hearts of their forefathers. They did not know God’s will or His expectation of His people. They did know that the entire nation had suffered greatly for their lack of faithfulness, and they were ready to be changed. They gathered to hear so that they would be the people God created them to be. They gathered to learn how to live in the covenant that God faithfully continued with His people despite their failure. They were mesmerized by what they were hearing because they knew it was the Word of the God who saved them.
The Law had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai and they had lost touch with what it meant to them as a people. This is why God gave then into the hands of the Babylonians—to discipline them and to make them whole and new. They needed to see life outside of God’s grace to understand how to live within His grace. God did not do this as a form of punishment, but as a way to bring His people home. All along He intended for them to be renewed and gathered as one people again, manifesting God’s grace to the world.
Our scriptures today all speak about God’s manifestation to His people. In the Bible we see many examples of such. Moses saw Him in a burning bush. He was a tower of fire to the Hebrews fleeing Egypt. He comes in a still small voice and His voice can sound like roaring thunder. He comes in dreams, through the visitation of angels. He even spoke through the mouth of a donkey.
The psalmist tells us that the heavens speak of the glory of God. The heavens do not speak with words or talk with a voice we can hear with our ears, but they declare God’s majesty and proclaim His goodness. Even the sun, which was known among other peoples as the greatest god, has a home because of God’s hand. It moves according to God’s will, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth. We can see God’s creative hand in creation; know God’s grace in the rising of the sun and the flowering of the spring bulbs. But God’s will is hard to understand in the language of creation.
The psalmist continues by telling us that God is visible in His Law. Through His Word we can know Him and know what He expects of us. God’s word, described in this passage in so many terms—law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and ordinances—can provide us with all we need to know. The people of Israel understood this, which is why they stood for hours in the town square listening to it read and explained. They knew that God’s word is perfect, trustworthy, right, pure, true and altogether righteous. They knew, as the psalmist says, that the Word of God restores the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey.
In the reading of God’s Law, the Israelites were reminded of God’s Word for them. It cut them to the heart as they recognized their sin against God and against one another. They mourned their failure and the brokenness of their relationship with God. Yet Nehemiah told them that it was not a time for mourning—after all, they had been saved and restored to God. Instead of mourning, they were called and gathered together as one community, one body, to worship God and rejoice. Nehemiah said, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength.” To God the past is gone and To-day is the beginning of something new.
I think, sometimes, we take the Word of God for granted, perhaps because it has become such a common part of most of our lives. Which of us doesn’t understand what someone means in the end zone when they hold the sign that says “John 3:16”? But do we really carry the promise of John 3:16 in our heart, or even better, the promise of John 3:17 which says, “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” Perhaps that’s what the Israelites needed to know more than anything, that God’s promise of salvation would be fulfilled wholly and perfectly one day.
The people of Nazareth saw it coming. They went to the synagogue one day as usual, to hear God’s word read and preached. It was normal for the people to gather together to hear the reading of God’s word, just as the Israelites had done in Jerusalem all those years ago. It was not unusual for visitors to be asked to read or teach. Since Jesus had been preaching and teaching throughout the region and word of His authority was spreading quickly, it is no surprise that the people of His hometown would also invite Him to speak. Jesus did not go and simply say, “I am the Christ.”
There were already people who were making such a claim. They were crying for freedom from the oppression of the Romans, calling for the people to revolt. They saw the coming of the Messiah to be the arrival of a new king, a king who would rule Israel into a new golden age, like the age of David. But Jesus did not establish His credibility with a sword; He established it with the Word of God. He chose a passage from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” The reputation of Jesus preceded Him. They knew He could heal people and cast out demons. They heard the good news in His speaking, a promise of Jubilee.
The year of Jubilee was a time of restoration and of redemption. The fiftieth year was called the Jubilee year and was a time when the slaves were set free and all debts were counted as paid. At the Jubilee, everything was made new. Everyone was given a new beginning, another chance. The passage Jesus read was a reference to the year of Jubilee, but not in the sense of a calendar year. It was a time of redemption, of salvation from God. In Jesus, we see God’s Word manifest not just as words on a page but as a living, breathing person who could tangibly make a difference in their world. At first they were amazed at his words and spoke well of Him, but we’ll learn next week just how quickly a people can turn away from God.
But for now, we are reminded of the promise God fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ. The good news for us, as for the Jews in the synagogue and the Israelites in the square, is that now is the time to be set free from the bondage that keeps the people from living as God has called and gifted them to live. The word might sound frightening at first, especially if we have forgotten what God has promised. Sometimes the Law seems to be impossible. The people who heard those words for the first time so long ago mourned over what they heard. How could they be forgiven? How could they overcome? How could they live as God wanted them to live?
But Nehemiah and Ezra said to the people, “This day is holy unto Jehovah your God; mourn not, nor weep.” A holy day is a time for celebration. It is a time for feasting and joy. God’s Word, as we heard in the Psalm is not given to bring us down, but to raise us up. The Law is a mirror that shows us what we’ve done and for that there is a reason to mourn. But it is in that mirror that we see what we have done and left undone so that we can seek God’s help and forgiveness. The psalmist writes, “Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults.” And then asks God, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be clear from great transgression.”
The warning for us is that it is not when we do not know God’s Word that we fall into error, but when we become complacent about it. The Israelites still had the Temple, they still did their duty, but they’d lost touch of their God. We have the Word of God at our fingertips, but do we have it in our hearts? Do we live as God has called us to live? Do we really seek God’s help in our daily work and His forgiveness when we fail? Do we cry out, like the psalmist, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.” Or do we think that we act as we think we are supposed to act so God won’t look into our hearts?
The good news for us is that we are saved from ourselves. God is made manifest in the scriptures but He was also made manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus brought the promises of God to fulfillment so that we can be all that He has created us to be. And the promises continue to be made manifest through the body of Christ, which is the Church. Every believer is part of that body. We have been created to be a part of the whole. We have been given our own gifts and purpose so that the Church together might continue the work Jesus began.
The early Christians didn’t understand everything any better than we do today. Did we really see God in the burning bush or hear His voice in the thunder? We don’t always understand why God is speaking as He speaks or what He is trying to say. We still wonder if what we hear is what God really means to say. We still question our understanding. We still question what we are meant to do as the people of God.
There were many things about the new Christian faith that the Corinthians did not fully understand. They were torn between what they were and what they had become. It was so easy to revert back to their old ways. The church was located in a major Greek city, a place where there were many temples to the gods. Corinth was an important world community, a place of crossroads where many nationalities came together. It was a place of questionable morality, where worship of the gods included the satisfaction of many physical desires. The Corinthian church was plagued by questions of how to live in their world while also living according to the expectations of their new faith. They often failed, falling back into ways of their past and fulfilling the desires of their flesh.
They had incredible gifts, powers that were not from themselves. Yet they were immature and unspiritual. They did not understand the things of God or the place they held in His kingdom. They did not understand that they had been called and gathered for a purpose – the purpose that continues Jesus’ work in this world. They needed guidance about the gifts they had been given and about the expectations of God for them.
Some of the Corinthians thought that they were better and more important. They thought they had higher gifts or that their gifts proved that they were more blessed by God. Perhaps they were feeling a little complacent, forgetting the reality of the God who has made Himself manifest for us and following the whims of their own understanding. Paul tells us that God has created a perfect machine, a body that works together, all parts being valuable parts of the whole. We are individuals in Christ, gifted in our own unique ways, but all necessary to make manifest the grace and mercy of God in the world.
We can see God’s Word in nature; we can see it in the Bible. It is good that we have God’s Word so readily available to us, in books and on the computer. We don’t have to see God in the miraculous ways that our forefathers experienced it. God has given us everything we need. And, He has appointed us to be the last manifestation of His Word in this world, ordinary people in an ordinary world speaking the most extraordinary message every given. It is good that we gather together to hear the Word of God read and preached. Today’s scriptures remind us that we are called to live in that Word, not take it for granted. Perhaps it is time to stand as we hear God’s Word read, listening half-heartedly as if we’ve heard it all before. God has a plan for us; let us hear it with a new heart, fresh ears and a renewed sense of purpose.
“Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they strive not about words, to no profit, to the subverting of them that hear. Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth. But shun profane babblings: for they will proceed further in ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a gangrene: or whom is Hymenaeus an Philetus; men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some. Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness. Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work after righteousness, faith, love, pace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and ignorant questionings refuse, knowing that they gender strifes. And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will.” 2 Timothy 2:14-26, ASV
I just finished reading a book called “A Voyage Long and Strange” by Tony Horwitz. Mr. Horwitz is a journalist who followed the adventures of those who preceded the Pilgrims. He began with the Vikings and visited the places in Canada where they settled. He then went to the Caribbean to follow the footsteps of Christopher Columbus who never even set foot on North American soil. He visited the places on the islands associated with those first discoverers. He studied the early Spaniards who finally made it to North America, wandering the Gulf Coast, Texas and into Mexico. Then he traveled from Mexico to the Southwest and the Plains, following Coronado’s quest for gold. He to the Southeastern part of the United States where the conquistador De Soto wanted to make his fortune in La Florida, a vast territory that former explorers were unable to conquer. Horwitz also followed De Soto’s quest which ended at the bottom of the Mississippi River where his body was laid to rest.
Then Horwitz studied the first settlements in North America. He visited St. Augustine and the other settlements on the Southeast coast. He searched for the lost people who tried to settle Roanoke. He discovered the reality of the stories from Jamestown and then finally ended up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The place where we usually begin the history of the United States was the end of his journey. He experienced hundreds of years of history, searching for the truth amidst the myth that has been created. Tourist sites gave him fodder for his quest, but he often learned that what we know about history is not exactly what happened. He also learned that the facts of history are dependent on your point of view. He heard very different stories from the ancestors of the European explorers and those of the native people. He saw men at their worst, and sometimes men at their best. He was shocked to realize how much he didn’t know and spent hours reading the actual accounts of the early explanations.
He found himself offended by the attitudes of those who held on to the historical claims. The stories included only those aspects that made their place or people look right. He was disturbed by how poorly the natives were treated, how horrific the Europeans acted as they tore through the landscape of America. He was angry that we don’t hear about those things in school, or if we do the stories are whitewashed to make it seem less horrendous. He was angriest at the people of Plymouth for insisting that history began with them rather than accepting the many who had come before, including the settlements in the south that still exist to this day. He was incredulous about the icons of our history that aren’t even real, that are accepted as the reality rather than seen through truth.
In the end, however, Tony Horwitz realized something. It was made clear to him by a man he met in Plymouth. He realized that human beings have an innate need for a creation story, not only for the creation of the world, but of our other things. We need to be able to pinpoint a clear moment in time when things changed. Even though the nation we have become happened gradually through the hard work of many different people, we can’t accept a beginning that lasts hundreds of years. We need to have a starting place and he also realized that the starting place has to be somewhere that is comfortable. The history of our land is dirty and bloody and heartbreaking. The lost people, both native and foreign, and the cruel nature of both is not something we want to embrace. We would rather forget the failures and hold on only to the successes.
I don’t think Tony Horwitz will ever think that his quest for the reality of our nation was a waste of time. It is good for us to learn the truth about who we are. But it is also good for us to have creation myth, a story on which to grasp to give us the courage to try something new. Myth is not fiction; it is way of explaining something that can’t be defined by our current understanding of the world. There is always a grain of truth found in myth, but we have to learn how to pick through what is real and what is true. The stories we find in the scriptures are not always historical accounts of what happened. The writers often took what they knew to be true and condensed the story into something they could grasp, leaving out the parts that simply did not make sense and embellishing the aspects that told the story as they wished it to be remembered. The difference between the creation myths of the United States and our Christian faith is that we approach the stories in the scriptures with the faith that the God who is described in those stories is a God who is still active in our lives. He makes those myths real to us, speaking to us in, with and through the stories so that we will understand Him and who we are in Him.
The problem we have, however, is that we often confuse the reality with the myth. We have, over time, added some of our own ideas to the stories found in the scriptures. Take, for example, the story of the three kings. The Bible doesn’t talk about three kings; it talks about an undefined number of wise men. We have made assumptions based on other scriptures, but we’ve gone even further. We’ve named those kings Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar, and in doing so perpetuated the myth of the kings.
Our church is doing a read through the bible in a year bible study. During a recent reading, one of the members of our group discovered something that was missing. It was part of the story as we’ve always known it, part of the myth that has grown up around our understanding. She asked where we got that understanding. Through some research, we discovered that the fact that was left out of the scriptures actually came from other historical writings, old, but not nearly as old as the scriptures. The facts of those writings have been woven into our telling of the stories so that now we do not even realize it isn’t part of the biblical record.
This is why it is important for us study the scriptures and know what it says. Imagine how the ancestors of the Native Americans must feel today when they hear our whitewashed history of those early days. So, too, those who do not believe our scriptures base their unbelief on our whitewashed story telling that is not based on actual scriptures. They call us out when we insist on facts that don’t exist and when we ignore or reject that which is really there. So, it is important for us to really know what it is we believe. True understanding takes study. The ability to give answers comes from the confidence of knowing the whole story.
“Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which hath been given in the churches of Macedonia; how that in much proof of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God.” 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, ASV
It has been a difficult week for the people of Haiti. Difficult is an understatement. Ever since the earthquake struck on January 13th, their lives have been turned upside down. At least seventy-two thousand have been confirmed dead and millions are without homes. Those whose homes are still standing are afraid to dwell in them because strong aftershocks continue to rattle the land. The generous donations of food, water and other necessities are not arriving fast enough. Though many groups are doing their best to help the people of Haiti, the task ahead of them is overwhelming.
It is especially overwhelming for those groups that have other places where they are trying to help. During an emergency like the one in Haiti, they are desperate for funds to support the work they are trying to do. We might want to do more than simply write a check, but right now those checks are vital. It is nearly impossible to move people into the area, and it is extremely dangerous to add more bodies to the population. It doesn’t even help to send items to the region right now because there is too much chaos. The organizations that are on the ground need to prioritize the needs, using their resources, including people, to meet the most important needs. Yes, people need shoes, but they need water even more. Recovering from a disaster like this earthquake takes time and patience.
While I know that as a child of God it is not enough to write a check, I also know that I can’t offer my hands in this place. Writing a check is what I can do. I’m more fortunate than some of my neighbors who do not even have a few dollars to help. But I heard a story this week that made me realize that sometimes generosity comes in many different ways.
My natural response when I hear about a global or national disaster is to send a donation to Lutheran World Relief. LWR is an excellent charity, uses less than 10% of its donations for administration and fundraising, which means more than 90% of the funding goes into direct aid for the people in need. LWR has people working all over the world and is probably already in whatever place is struck by the disaster. They were in Haiti before the earthquake, and so there were already people in place to begin helping immediately.
Several LWR programs are supported by people who are constantly working to build the resources that will be needed in times of emergency and suffering. A quilt program provides warm quilts to people around the world with warm blankets that are made in local churches. In 2008, LWR sent more than 450,000 quilts to dozens of countries. They sent hundreds of thousands of kits (health, school or sewing) and a hundred thousand layettes that were put together by local congregations. They even sent more than a hundred thousand pounds of soap, all donated by ordinary church members.
As a matter of fact, they have a million dollar shipment ready for shipment to Sierra Leone, a nation whose people are in desperate need. The President of Lutheran World Relief, John Nunes, knew there was an immediate need in Haiti, but did not want the people of Sierra Leone to be disappointed by broken promises. However, he knew he needed to find a compromise. He asked the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone if they would graciously allow the shipment to be divided in half so that both nations would have resources. The Bishop of the ELCSL, grateful for the help for his suffering people, answered that the need of the Haitians was even greater. “Send the whole shipment to Haiti” he said. The request “creates an opportunity and fulfills for us a burning desire to give a helping hand to the people of Haiti in this, their hour of greatest need.”
The people of Sierra Leone haven’t given a penny to the people of Haiti; they don’t have anything to give. But their sacrifice will help many people. Though they could not personally send anything, their generosity means that 30,000 quilts and 6,500 health kits will be available very quickly and 3,000 school kits will be available when the schools are open again. They are trusting that God will provide and that the people who produce those quilts and kits will work twice as hard making the supplies available to them soon.
We see needs all around us, not just in those places suffering from catastrophic disasters. Even our next door neighbors are suffering. We might think that there is no way we can help. But the help we can give is not always tangible or financial. Sometimes generosity means giving in ways we might never expect. God knows our needs, even our need to be charitable in the midst of our own poverty, and provides ways for each of us to share God’s grace with others. Watch for those opportunities. They might come to you in the most extraordinary, and ordinary, ways.
“Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42, ASV
I went to a concert Saturday night to hear a lovely folk singer named Carrie Newcomer. She is a very talented musician and writer, and the concert was in a fairly small venue, so it was an intimate experience of music and laughter as she shared her life and faith through song. She is a storyteller, both in her music and in the banter between songs, sharing random thoughts and describing how she came to write her songs. It was an enjoyable evening.
One of her stories was about how her daughter challenged her to create a song out of a random article at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Carrie was supposed to go to the front page of the website and click on the link “Random Article” and then write a song on the first page that appeared. She admitted to us that she poked that link a few times before actually coming up with something that would work. The first few were completely inappropriate, but she eventually found one that would work. I thought to myself, “I should do that for WORD one day.”
And so, when I sat at the computer today, I opened the Wikipedia website, hoping that my luck would be much better than Carrie’s. After all, I really wanted to do the challenge. Of course, the challenge for me is not just finding a decent article, but then also finding some spiritual connection. The questions I have to answer are what scripture passage will fit and how can I relate it to the lives of ordinary Christians?
So, when I clicked on the random article link, I came up with an article about the Greek Paralympics team at the 2008 Paralympics games in Beijing, China. It is, sadly, not a very interesting article because it consists mostly of a list of the athletes and the events in which they competed. Greece had sixty-nine athletes competing in eleven sports at the games and they did fairly well. Fourteen of their athletes won a total of twenty-four medals. One athlete, Charalampos Taiganidis, won six medals in swimming: two gold, three silver and a bronze. Charalampos was the flag bearer for the Greek team at the opening ceremony. China hosted 148 nations at the 2008 Paralympic Games which were held from September 6 to 17.
As I started reading through the original web article about the Greek Paralympic Team at the Games in China in 2008, I found myself wandering through other pages to find more information. I searched for more information about Charalampos, about the history of the games, about the International Paralympic Committee, about the different types of disabilities. I could have spent hours clicking from one page to another, learning more about topics that seem to have nothing to do with Greece or athletics or competitions.
At the concert, Carrie Newcomer also talked about how she is easily distracted. She talked about a scene from the movie “Up.” The dog named Dug wears a collar that makes it possible for people to hear what he is thinking. At one point, he runs up to the boy Carl with excitement, hoping to have a friend. In the middle of his greeting, he suddenly says, “Squirrel” because he saw a squirrel running by. He was easily distracted. Carrie talked about her own squirrel moments throughout the night, offering the audience a chance to laugh at our own easily distracted minds.
I was certainly distracted when searching through the Wikipedia site, moving from one page to another, from one subject to another. While it may seem to be a negative trait, it can have very positive consequences. For example, a mother who is busily working at cleaning her kitchen can be distracted by her child playing. Even though the child is happily playing alone, the game looks too fun to pass up. So, she leaves her work to play. Whether that playtime lasts a few minutes or an hour, that mother has given that child an incredible gift, herself. And a child whose mom is easily distracted might not learn to keep a pristine house, but he or she will learn about priorities: that work is not more important than people. Who hasn’t heard the saying, “Stop and smell the roses”? Those ‘squirrels,’ as Carrie called them, might seem like a waste of time, but they are opportunities to learn, to grow, to be transformed.
In today’s passage, we see that Mary has a ‘squirrel’ moment. She stops doing what she should be doing—helping Martha serve Jesus and His guests—and sits at His feet to listen. She is distracted by His presence. We learn, however, that it is Martha who is the distracted one. She is the one who should stop so that she can listen. Funny, I began writing in detail about Greece in the Paralympic Games today, but found myself wandering into the story of Martha and Mary. Maybe, what we are meant to learn today is that sometimes when we are distracted by those ‘squirrels,’ we discover that it is God calling us to be in a different place at that moment. Like the mother who leaves the dirty dishes for a moment to play Legos with her child, so too we need to pay attention to our ‘squirrels’ because God might just be there.
“I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, ASV
January 25th is the day we remember the conversion of St. Paul. It is an amazing story of a man who was against the Church in every way, even harming those who followed the way, who met Jesus Christ on the road to Emmaus and was transformed into the greatest of all the apostles. We hear about his adventures in the book of Acts and much of the New Testament is made up of letters he wrote to the congregations he founded. Those first congregations were confused and uncertain about what it meant to be Christian in the world and how to live out this new found faith. We aren’t much different than those first Christians. We suffer from the same confusions and uncertainties. That’s why we look to Paul for advice and understanding.
January 26th and 27th are the feast days for remembering the companions of Paul. We often think about Paul as this giant, plowing his way through the world alone sharing the Gospel message with many. In some ways, Paul was just that. He was strong, courageous, and in some ways arrogant. He wasn’t really arrogant, just passionate about what he knew to be true. It is hard to tell the difference sometimes, especially if we think of him doing this work independent of any others. However, Paul was in many ways humble, embracing the help of others.
We tend to skim over the opening and closing verses of Paul’s letters, seeking the meat of the passage and ignoring the chit chat. Since those books are letters, they are filled with greetings and conversations with the people who helped Paul. He is thankful for those whom God has called to work with him. He offers encouragement and advice, pleads with them to keep in touch and promises to find a way to see them again. Paul needed other people, and those other people played a vital role in Paul’s work and in the spreading of the Gospel.
Today we remember Timothy, Titus and Silas, missionaries who worked with Paul. Each of these men traveled with Paul. Timothy was with him on his second journey and eventually became bishop in Ephesus. Titus traveled with Paul when he went to the council in Jerusalem and he became the first bishop in Crete. Silas was with Paul in prison in Philippi. We can learn about these men in Acts and in the letters that were written to help them lead the Church.
Tomorrow we’ll remember the women who worked with Paul. Though it seems like women are not given much attention in the scriptures, we know enough about these women to dedicate a day to the work they did with Paul. Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe were women of faith who lived out their faith in ways that impacted the world in which they lived. Lydia was a woman of wealth who heard about Jesus from Paul. After he shared the Gospel message with her, her entire household was baptized, and then her home became a center for his work. Dorcas was a charitable woman, making clothes for the poor. Phoebe was a deaconess near Corinth who touched many lives with her service.
On these days we also remember all those who have impacted the world through faithful service like these companions of Paul. There are those who stand out in the ministries we do, leaders who will always be remembered. But none of them have done the work alone: they have helpers and companions who have been with them along the way. While Paul may have had the largest impact as an individual, it is more likely that we can identify with one of the companions more closely. As we look at their work, we realize that they, too, have touched many lives by continuing the work Paul started.
We continue that work today, living according to our own calling, using our own gifts. We may never be remembered like a Paul, or even remembered like Timothy, Titus, Silas, Lydia, Dorcas or Phoebe, but we will be God’s hands in the world as we share our own gifts with those who need to experience God’s amazing grace. We are all companions of Paul, but even more so we are companions of Jesus, walking with Him in ministry, touching others and changing lives.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 31, 2010, Four Epiphany: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
“For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah: Thou art my trust from my youth.” Psalm 71:5, ASV
They all spoke well of him, in the beginning. They were amazed at His words and they wondered how a carpenter’s son could be so gracious. He should have been strong and gifted with his hands, versed only in the scriptures as would have been the average Jew. As a carpenter, He may have had some learning so that he could calculate measurements and deal with the business of building. He certainly coulc read and we know He could write at least a little based on another story in the scriptures. He was not an uneducated man, but He would not have been formally educated as a preacher or priest.
For those in the towns and villages around Galilee, His lack of education would not be known. They didn’t know Him. They hadn’t seen Him grow up. They didn’t have a table that He built in their dining room or walk through the door He carved. The people in Nazareth knew His parents and they knew His heritage. They’d seen Him play with their own children, or were His childhood friends. They had seen Him covered in sawdust, sweating in the heat as He worked the wood.
They also knew He was an unusual boy. Certainly the story of Jesus in the Temple at twelve years old was one of those stories remembered at neighborhood gatherings. In some of the non-canonical literature we have been given other stories about Jesus’ childhood. Though we can’t be sure those are true, there are stories of Jesus doing miraculous things as a child—even raising animals from the dead. They all spoke well of Him, at the beginning of this passage.
I’ve always looked at this passage from the point of view that they just can’t get over who the know Jesus to be to believe in who Jesus is. They remember the Jesus of Nazareth that grew up in their midst and they can’t see Him as what God created Him to be. This is a good lesson for leaders to remember when they have difficulty receiving the respect they need in their own hometowns. Pastors have a hard time returning to their former churches because the members remember the old times and can not allow a new relationship. This makes sense when Jesus says, “No prophet is acceptable in his own country.”
But as I read this passage today, I noticed something different. The people were amazed and spoke well of Him. They don’t say, “Do this for us.” They don’t seek Jesus’ special treatment. Jesus confronts them with the probability that they will. He takes a very powerful moment when the people of His hometown are drawn to Him and turns it around to a moment when He tells them that He is going to give God’s grace to others because of their lack of belief. It is like He’s saying, “Yeah, you think I’m cool now, but you won’t believe me when I reach out to the rest of the world.” In Nazareth, Jesus confronts the reality of what will happen all over the Jewish world: they want the Messiah to be for them only. As soon as Jesus begins sharing God’s grace with Gentiles and foreigners and sinners and tax collectors, they will get angry and drive Him out of town: first out of Nazareth and then out of Jerusalem. This moment is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When Jesus reveals Himself as something more than they expect—an earthly king sent to restore Israel to her former glory—they drive Him not only out of their presence, but to death. But Jesus escapes Nazareth because it is not yet His time. There is more work to do.
Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to go into His hometown synagogue to preach. Those of us who have done so know what it is like. It is nerve wracking. We have to be so careful with our words. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or say something that they might misunderstand based on our history. Even as I write WORD on a daily basis I think twice about saying certain things because I know personally many of the people who read it. “What will so and so think of this? How might it affect our relationship?” we think to ourselves when we are writing our notes. “Will they be offended or embarrassed by this story if I use it?” I know many pastors look forward to moving to a new church just so they can use the examples they’ve gathered from the old congregation. One pastor said to me, “I can finally use that story in a sermon” as he was moving on.
But Jesus was not just sharing stories; He was telling the people that God was fulfilling the scriptures in their very midst. The Messiah was coming and He was there, with them. He was saying, “I am the one you have been waiting for.” Now, this was good news and they received it with joy, but their joy did not last long because they realized that He was not what they were expecting.
Is anything God does really what we expect? I suppose sometimes we get it right. We can let very broad expectations of God and see them realized. He won’t flood the entire world: at least not again, because He promised. The sun will rise and the moon will go around the earth because God set them in motion and keeps them going. Spring will come again. We know that God will appoint leaders to lead and preachers to preach and that He will bless His Church. The trouble is that we do not always understand what that means. We aren’t always sure that our expectation is what God intends. Is the leader we have chosen really the one God has sent? Or, do we choose Barabbas over Jesus?
It is hardest when we are dealing with our own relationship with God. I sometimes wish that God would talk to me like He talked to those characters in the Biblical stories. I think to myself, “How can Jeremiah doubt what God is saying, after all it is God telling him to be a prophet.” Jeremiah himself admits that God knew his calling before he was even conceived in the womb. “God knew what He was doing” Jeremiah says. But, when God calls, he doubts. “Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child.” Sounds like a good excuse to me.
My excuses might be different, but mostly my excuse is that I’m afraid I haven’t heard correctly. Is it really God’s voice? Is He really calling *me* to do this? Why would He call *me* to do this. I’m nobody. I’m nothing, really. I make typing and grammar and judgment mistakes every day. Most of the time what I am thinking in my head and what ends up on paper makes absolutely no sense at all. Wouldn’t it be better if God chose someone more capable of doing this work than little ol’ me?
But God says, “Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.” It is a matter of trusting in God. We are called and gifted to do His work. We will have doubts; they all had doubts. Jonah had excuses. Zechariah had excuses. Isaiah had excuses. But God does not call those whom He has not prepared. We have to trust that He knows what He is doing when we do not. We may not think we have the gifts to accomplish what God is calling us to do, but we do have the one thing that is necessary.
This is why Paul’s message for today is so important to us. In last week’s passage, Paul talked about the different callings in the Church. Some are apostles, some are teachers, etc. The week before that, we were reminded that every part of the body is important and that there are many different types of gifts. But Paul ends that chapter with this verse, “But desire earnestly the greater gifts. And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you.” What are the greater gifts? After the long lesson of the different types of gifts, it is easy to think that perhaps Paul listed them in some order. Is apostleship greater than tongues? Is it better to prophecy or teach?
It is interesting that Paul say asks, “Do all speak with tongues?” He assumes in this passage that not everyone is given all the gifts, and that not everyone is given any one of the gifts. In this way, God makes us rely upon one another. No one Christian is given everything; we are joined together by our common faith and our diverse gifts.
However, there are those who believe that certain gifts are required: if those gifts do not exist in someone’s life, they question whether or not a person is even saved. The trouble with this is that it causes one of two inappropriate responses from Christians. Some, in an effort to be included in the work of the Church, will pretend to have gifts they have not been given. Sadly, the other response is even more heartbreaking. These are the ones who sincerely seek the gifts but when they do not manifest, they fall away from the faith. What God would require something that He does not give?
Paul shows us a more excellent way. That way is love. Paul tells us that if we do have these gifts but do not have love, then we are nothing. Isn’t it funny how we think we are not worthy of the work God is calling us to do, but the reality is that all we really need to do that work is love; it is the lack of love that makes us unworthy. We can love even if we can’t talk, sing, heal, teach, walk, preach, lead, cook, clean, garden, paint, type, write or use a computer. We can love even if we have nothing else to share. We do not need to doubt, we need only approach every opportunity with love and God will provide everything we need.
What is love? Love is difficult to define. It isn’t tangible, like a tree. It doesn’t breathe like an animal. You can’t hold it in your hand or see it with your eyes. But Paul does his best to describe it for us. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Love is patient. The American Standard version says, “love sufferth long.” It endures hardship for the sake of another. The perfect example of this is God. Imagine if God were as ‘patient’ with our faults as we are with the faults of others? We would not have the story of Jesus. God would have lost patience with us long before He was able to complete His plan. It is harder for us, unless we approach all things with love. This does not mean that we sit back and allow the world to step on us, but it does mean that we deal with them as God deals with us: with love. We give kindness where it is undeserved. We do not covet that which belongs to another. We do not respond with rudeness.
Ok, so we are fallible. We aren’t very patient. We do not always respond with love. But God is calling us to live this way. He draws us ever deeper into His heart so that we will see our neighbors, and our enemies, through His eyes. He draws us into love so that we will deal with the world as He might. That’s the greatest gift: that He is love and as we dwell in Him, He gives us all we need to deal with the world in which we live.
The psalmist writes, “In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge: Let me never be put to shame.” We take refuge in and deal with the world from there. The response we get won’t always be pretty. Oh, like Jesus, we might at first impress those to whom we are sent, but when we open our mouths, the words will not always be what they want to hear. The words may not even be the ones we want to say. But as we dwell in love, in God’s heart, and do what He has called us to do, we will also be driven away. This does not mean that we are sent into the world to judge the sins of our neighbors, or force them to be or do what we think they should do. For God will not give us words that will harm another. We may have to rebuke, or correct, or reprove, but not to doubt God’s love for any of His people.
Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” We don’t always understand God’s plan for us. We sometimes doubt that we are hearing Him correctly. We wonder if we can ever do the work He has called us to do. We are uncertain that we have the gifts needed. It is part of our human frailty. Only God knows everything. This is why we live by faith, hope and love: faith that God knows what He is doing, hope that the fulfillment of His promises will be soon and love of God and one another.
The words of Jesus to the Nazarenes were hard for them to hear. They were separate, special and unique and the God for whom they’d waited so long fit into a tidy understanding. He was theirs. And they were His. We understand that point of view. We feel the same way sometimes when it comes to our faith, especially when we look at the faith of others. But Jesus tells us that He has come for others, too. If we reject them, we reject Him But if we dwell in Him, we’ll see them through God’s eyes and love them, just like He does, sharing His grace in whatever ways God makes possible. He knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t. We simply trust in Him and live in love and we’ll do the work He has called us to do.
“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, ASV
Mike Turner, a Canadian musician and producer, is quoted as saying, “If you’re passionate about something, then you owe it to yourself to pursue it with all of your heart. It should never be overridden by any idea of what’s cool, no matter how fashionable it might seem.”
I like to craft. Most of my projects are Christmas ornaments for my family and friends, but I have pursued some other projects. A long time ago, when we lived in California, I found a pattern for a sewing box using cardboard and adhesive fabric. The product was beautiful, with lace and buttons. Bruce likes to do woodworking, so we often work together on projects—he does the woodworking and I paint the items. We have created some interesting things together and I believe we make good quality items.
So, a long time ago, I signed up to do my first craft fair. I just found pictures from that craft fair a few days ago as I was rummaging through boxes of photos. Along with the sewing boxes, I had dozens of cute Christmas ornaments and a few other items that I was certain would be popular with the shoppers. When I set up for the fair, I was even more confident because my items were unique. It seemed like so many of the crafters had the same thing in their booths, displaying the hot items of the year. I knew they were the hot items because I had seen the direction sheets at the craft stores and on the television craft shows: probably the same place they got their ideas.
I had a disappointing day. I’m not sure anyone did well at that particular craft fair, it is an uncertain business to pursue. You can’t tell when you sign up whether there will be enough traffic through the fair, and you can’t know whether or not people will be liberal with their dollars. Finally, you can’t guess if anyone will want to buy what you have to sell. I have done a few craft fairs in the years since that first one, and I don’t often do very well. It is very tempting to follow the crowd, to create the things that people might like.
I suppose if I were going to the craft fairs to make a lot of money (it is not the right business if you do want to make a lot of money), I would follow the crowd. But I craft because I enjoy making the projects. I go to craft shows because I want to share what I have created with others. Since I sell prayer beads and devotionals, I also go to the craft fairs because I want to share my faith. I had the most wonderful time, and the best outcome, at the last craft fair because I was able to talk to many people about prayer and about using prayer beads to enhance one’s prayer life. I had a lengthy conversation with one woman who had lost touch with God, who wanted to grow in her faith again. She asked a few questions and I encouraged her with some ideas.
If I had decided the purpose of the craft fair was to make money, I might have created the items that I knew were popular. That’s like overriding my creativity for what is cool. But I’m passionate about helping people know the Lord and grow in faith. Creating a table full of today’s hot craft would not present the shoppers with an open door to talk about Jesus. It is not the popular point of view; some people walk away. But if one person is touched by God’s grace and encouraged to pursue a deeper and fuller relationship with Him, it is worth my time. Mike Turner is correct: pursue your passions without concern over what is popular. You might just find that the passions of your heart are the very gifts God has given to you for His glory.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing.” James 1:22-25, ASV
There is a children’s book called “Pat the Bunny.” There are other books like it, but we happened to have had that book when the kids were small. “Pat the Bunny” is a very simple board book for children with hands on activities that make it interactive. One page says, “Judy can pat the bunny. Now YOU can pat the bunny.” On that page there is a bunny shaped piece of fake fur, so when the child pats the bunny, he or she can feel how soft it is. On another page it says, “Judy can play peek-a-boo with Paul. Now YOU can play peek-a-boo with Paul.” A picture of Paul is found on that page with a cloth covering his face. The child can lift the cloth and play peek-a-boo with the picture of Paul.
The book is certainly much too simple for adults, but it is perfect for babies. While the book is designed to hold up under the rough treatment given by a child, it is not a book meant for individual reading. It is interactive not only between the child and the book, but also with the parents. The child might have fun touching all the soft and rough and smelly surfaces, but the real learning comes when the parent joins in the fun. The first time a child pats the bunny, the mommy also touches the page and says, “Oh, isn’t that soft.” On a page with sandpaper, the daddy might say, “That is rough.” In this way, the child learns the difference between soft and rough. He or she learns the words and the interaction between parent and child helps the child learn how to communicate. Isn’t it amazing how much good can come out of a book of just twenty pages with only a few hundred words?
When we grow up with think we are too sophisticated for hands-on interaction for learning, and yet we do continue to learn this way. It isn’t enough to read a bunch of cookbooks to learn how to cook. We need to make the food found in those cookbooks to really learn the processes. Sometimes it takes awhile for us to learn how to do it right. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we forget. So we keep doing along with the reading. Even as adults, we learn far more when we get our whole being involved. Book learning is valuable, but it isn’t enough. This is why science lectures are accompanied by lab classes. It is why students are required to practice between music lessons. An artist will never learn how to paint if he or she never picks up a paintbrush.
Our faith life is no different. We can learn so much about God in Bible study, and it is a vital part of our life in God’s kingdom. Reading the scriptures helps us to learn the story of the God who has saved us. Attending Bible study helps us to see those scriptures through other people’s eyes. But even that is not enough. Living faith means getting our hands dirty. It means living out the lessons we’ve learned in the book. It means helping the neighbor. It means raising our hands in praise to God. It means touching our neighbors and sharing their joys and sorrows. As we do these things, we’ll learn so much more about God because we will see Him in action. We’ll experience His grace even as we are sharing it with others.
We believe in the God who is like a parent, who interacts with us daily. He comes to us not only in the scriptures and in the gathering of believers, but in our every day experiences. It is there—when we pat the bunny or play peek-a-boo with Paul—that we’ll know God is with us and that He loves us.