Welcome to the July 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, July 2003
July 1, 2003
Gambling The age for buying lottery tickets in Pennsylvania was eighteen, and on my eighteenth birthday I started buying some tickets weekly. There were not nearly as many opportunities as there are today and the cash prizes were not nearly as high. I did not spend much, just a couple dollars a week. Anyone who puts money into a lottery hopes to win, but I never got to the point when it controlled my life. After three years, I finally won – the lowest payout for four numbers in the history of the Pennsylvania lottery. After a few dollars a week for three years, I won 24 dollars. It was a waste of my time and money, so I stopped buying regularly. I still play once in awhile, but I would never go out of my way to buy a ticket.
I remember how insane it got a few years when one of the multi-state lotteries had a prize that was extremely high. I heard incredible stories of men and women taking out second mortgages on their homes, taking every penny they’d saved, driving over state lines just to buy as many tickets as they were able. Winning such a prize would be life changing, and some people held out such hope that they were willing to give up everything for the chance. Unfortunately, for millions of people, it was a waste of their time and money. They didn’t win a penny and were left in financial crisis. It is a very real problem in our society today because so many are looking for quick fixes to their problems. There are gambling possibilities in most U.S. states, from horse and dog racing to slot machines and lotteries.
The stories of addicted gamblers are quite similar. It usually begins with a trip to a casino or bingo hall and a win. The idea that ten bucks can pay five hundred in a few hours is very mesmerizing. So, they go back again and again. Rather than give up when they don’t win, they go more often. A weekly trip to the bingo hall becomes a daily ritual. Ten bucks becomes hundreds. The family is pushed aside so that the gambler can feed this desire to win, always hoping to recoup what has been lost. Eventually the money for food, rent and clothes is gone and the family is left desolate. Too often the family falls apart and the gambler is left with nothing but this need to gamble. Some are lucky to realize the foolishness of this habit, but most hit rock bottom before they even consider giving it up.
Though the stories are different, there is a similar pattern for all sin. It begins small but builds, as it takes more and more to fulfill the desire, drawing us ever deeper into the sinful behavior. The consequences are not that bad in the beginning. As a matter of fact, we fall more quickly into those behaviors that pay off in some sort of blessing. The gamble wins a cash reward, the alcohol makes the drinker more fun and popular, and sexual intimacy is pleasing and exciting. But after awhile the money runs out, one drink is not enough and promiscuous sex risks disease and unwanted pregnancy. There comes a time when there seems to be no way out, no hope for the addicted, when death is all that is left. Yet, even in the midst of such overwhelming sin, there is always hope.
“Thou didst thrust sore at me that I might fall; But Jehovah helped me. Jehovah is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah. Jehovah hath chastened me sore; But he hath not given me over unto death.” Psalm 118:13-18 (ASV)
We do suffer the consequences of our sin. Sometimes we are lucky and our suffering is minor. A few wasted dollars a week for three years was minor compared to the gambler who loses everything in pursuit of the big win. A heavy drinker might lose a family or he might end up in prison for causing a traffic fatality. Sexual promiscuity might feel good, but it can bring death through AIDS and other diseases.
Though it seems like there is a time when there is no hope, when salvation is impossible, God has saved many a sinner from death and the grave. We all suffer from the effects of sin in our lives, we are all tempted and we all fall into temptation. Sometimes we are drawn so deeply into our sin that we know no way out. But there is always a way – God. He is our victory over the things in this world that threaten to destroy our lives. Even when nothing is left of this world, there is hope in the salvation of the Lord, that we will be saved from eternal death by His mercy and grace as given through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the right hand of God, the One who saves. Thanks be to God.
Toilet paper I have had the most horrible luck when it comes to toilet paper in a rest room. On our last road trip it seemed that every stall I chose in every rest area had an empty paper dispenser. Luckily there was usually someone in a neighboring stall that could share a square or two. After a couple bad choices I was sure to check the dispenser before sitting down. I even started carrying one of those small rolls that fit in your purse, just in case.
On an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine was not quite so lucky. She did not notice that there was no toilet paper until it was too late. The lady in the next stall refused to give her any. After a humorous exchange about sparing a square, the lady left Elaine in a very difficult circumstance. I can understand that the stall may have been nearly empty of toilet paper, but it seems like most women would be kind enough when they finished to find something in another stall rather than run out the door. It was silly for the other lady to refuse to share something like toilet paper.
Now, there are some things I’d rather not share with anyone such as my diary or my toothbrush. I’d rather not share my husband, and though he does have a life apart from me, there are aspects of our relationship that will never be shared with another. I’m sometimes greedy with my favorite chocolate or ice cream. The reasons should be obvious and though some may think it is fine to share their inner thoughts, use someone else’s toothbrush or sleep with another woman’s husband, I believe there are some things that are not meant to be shared. As for the box of chocolates or ice cream, though it will mean I will have less, I usually give in and let others have a taste of my special treats. It is best to ignore gossip rather than pass it on to another.
While there are some things that should be kept to oneself, there are many things that are meant to be shared and they will not be less because of it. A smile shared will bring twice the joy. A hug or handshake, a story or song, laughter and hope cannot be given away; they are to be shared and usually bring great blessings to all. The Word of God is another thing that builds each time it is shared. Every time we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, He not only enters into the life of another, but He dwells deeper in our hearts and our minds, our faith grows and we know Him even better. Speaking the Gospel is not giving it away, but rather sharing it with those who need to hear about the forgiveness, mercy and grace of God in Jesus.
“‘And as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith Jehovah: my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith Jehovah, from henceforth and for ever.” Isaiah 59:21 (ASV)
I surely hope the next time I am caught unaware in a rest room stall, that there will be someone willing to spare a square with me. I hope that my friends and family with share their smiles, hugs, stories and songs so that I can enjoy the laughter and hope they have to give. I hope that we all can share our favorite treats enough those it will mean that we won’t have as much as we would if we kept it all to ourselves. Most of all, I hope that we can all realize that the Gospel of Christ, put into our mouths by the Spirit of God will not become less because we have given it away, but rather will be built into something even greater because we will be bound together by the promise that God will never be far from us and that His salvation is for all who hear and believe. Thanks be to God.
Tennis Every sport, in every time, seems to have at least one person whose personality is bent toward misconduct. They curse and swear, push and shove, hold up the game with their ranting and try to upset their rival in every way possible. Arthur Ashe dealt with such an opponent at a tournament in Sweden in 1975. His name was ‘Nasty’ Nastase and he was well known for his behavior on the court. Just when Arthur thought he could handle no more, he said he’d had enough and he walked off the court. When the umpire told Arthur that he would default the game, Arthur responded that he’d rather lose at tennis than lose his self-respect. The next day the committee decided that Nastase’s behavior warranted discipline and he was forced to default, making Arthur the winner. Arthur Ashe knew it wasn’t worth losing control over the antics of the other players, even if it meant he would lose the tournament. His patience won out in the end.
I am not as strong as Arthur Ashe. I tend to get pretty upset about so many things. I yell at my kids when they don’t listen to my instructions. I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I would like them to go. I worry about too many things, particularly when it seems like evil will triumph over goodness and mercy. I want to fight, to battle against those things that bring harm to the lives of others. I want to vent my anger and prove which side I am on. Yet, it rarely does any good. It is a commonly held belief that it is best to let out those feelings, but studies have found that the opposite is true. Telling someone off does not enhance the relationship, but rather puts it at risk, causing more anger, hurt and worry. Most happily married couples never raise their voices at each other.
“Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him: Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, Because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: Fret not thyself, it tendeth only to evil-doing. For evil-doers shall be cut off; But those that wait for Jehovah, they shall inherit the land.” Psalm 37:7-9 (ASV)
In recent days I’ve had to make some major changes on the A WORD FOR TODAY web pages. It has been frustrating and worrisome. In a desperate attempt to make things right I have abandoned my family to the computer for a few days. Through it all, I’ve been mumbling against those who would cause such problems, but it does no good. This isn’t the first time we’ve faced difficulty, and God has always been faithful to help us through. It won’t help us accomplish the ministry of this daily devotional to fret or be angry about the situation. Just like Arthur Ashe, it is best for us to be patient and even walk away from a state of affairs rather than become angry and fretful. Though I don’t desire harm to come to my adversaries, I know that God will bless the patient of His children who manifest mercy and grace above anger and wrath. Thanks be to God.
Nation It is very easy, when considering the great many blessings we have in the United States, to think that we are something special in the eyes of God and the world. Today is the Fourth of July, the day when we most celebrate our national heritage and patriotism. As I look out our window, I already see flags waving and many of our neighbors are planning parties to celebrate. The lake down the street will be the site of a grand party with food, fun and fireworks. We are planning a trip to a theme park today, the tickets a thank you gift to military members for their service to our country. On this day, it seems like there’s nothing better than being an American.
While it is true that we are quite lucky to live in this time and place, I don’t think the United States is some sort of chosen nation. Only Israel can claim that designation and the promises given to her were for a very specific purpose. Israel was blessed to be a blessing. Abraham, Issac and Jacob were chosen to reveal God to the world. Though God always remains faithful to His promises to Israel, two thousand years ago He did a brand new thing. Through Israel, God sent His Son to bring mercy and grace, forgiveness and peace, eternal life to all who believe. Now the people who are blessed are not necessarily those who seem to be blessed in material wealth and power, but those whose eyes are set on the Lord. God plays no favorites, for Jesus Christ died for all men, not a specific nation. The people God has chosen for this wonderful promise are those who look to Him in faith, trust in His Word and believe in Jesus. This promise isn’t for land or an earthbound kingdom, but rather a place in God’s holy kingdom, which reaches from heaven to earth and spreads to the four corners of the earth through those who love the Lord.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah, The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. Jehovah looketh from heaven; He beholdeth all the sons of men; From the place of his habitation he looketh forth Upon all the inhabitants of the earth, He that fashioneth the hearts of them all, That considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of a host: A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety; Neither doth he deliver any by his great power.” Psalm 33:12-17 (ASV)
Yes, we are greatly blessed to live in this time and place. We will certainly enjoy whatever this holiday has to offer us as we party and celebrate the blessings of living in the United States. But it is arrogant and unwarranted for us to think that because we are blessed simply because we are Americans. God blesses the people who look to Him, who trust in His provision, protection and salvation. Jesus did not die on the cross to make any specific nation special in the eyes of God, but so that all men might be saved from sin and death in His name. Have a happy Fourth of July, wherever you live in this world. Keep your eyes on the One who is your hope and your peace, the Lord God Almighty, and you will indeed be blessed. Thanks be to God.
Park Yesterday we had the pleasure of visiting a theme park with rides and a water park. It was a terribly hot day to be in the sun so long, but we had a wonderful time together as a family enjoying the entire park. The park owners made the tickets available to all the military members and their families who were interested in spending a day as a thank you for our service to the country. They also provided a meal of hot dogs, chips and soda. We ran into many friends from the base, all enjoying themselves. Some people only came for a little while since they had other events to attend. Yet, they figured they shouldn’t let a gift go to waste.
It can be frustrating visiting a theme park. They cost too much money, and there is never enough time to do everything you want to do. You spend half your time standing in lines and you inevitably spend more money than you can afford on food, drinks and souvenirs. We certainly have a good time when we go, but we always come home exhausted and sometimes we wonder if our money was well spent. Yesterday, though we were tired when we left the park, we did not feel like it was a waste of our time or our money. When the lines were a little long, we just accepted it as part of the experience. We weren’t desperate to get on every ride or see every corner of the park. We made no plans, except to spend time together and enjoy whatever we were able to see.
Though we saw many friends at the park, there were a lot of people who did not take advantage of the free gift. I’m sure they had good reason to reject the gift, but it is too bad because they missed out on the great time. That’s the thing about a free gift, though. It can easily be rejected or ignored. The giver does not demand anything from the recipient. The park owners were very generous yesterday, though it could have cost them so much more if everyone had accepted. God is also very generous. First He gives the greatest gift of all, salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. For all those who receive that great and wonderful gift, He gives so much more – gifts to be used for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Many people reject the gift of salvation, but even those who believe in Jesus ignore the gifts that God has to give to His children.
“These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.” 1 Timothy 4:11-16 (ASV)
We don’t really think about gifts being reject, for who would give up something given freely? Yet, for many reasons people ignore or reject things that are given out of love or thanksgiving. They don’t want to be indebt, they have better things to do, or they aren’t interested in what is being given. For those who reject the salvation of God, it is because they do not believe that God’s word is true or that God is faithful. Unfortunately, even the believers often reject the gifts God has given by the power of the Holy Spirit, perhaps not directly but by not using that which God gives so freely. We don’t know our gifts, are afraid of misusing them or simply don’t understand what we are supposed to do. Yet, God blesses us to be a blessing, so that that we might share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
The only people who lost out yesterday are those who did not bother to get tickets and go to the park, except perhaps their immediate family. But when you ignore or reject the gifts God gives us to use for His glory, those who are lost and lonely in this world are the losers, because they don’t have you to share the love of Christ with them. By the grace of God, go therefore into the world and share your gifts so that God will be glorified in your life. Thanks be to God.
Roller Coaster Friday at the theme park, we convinced the children to ride a roller coaster. It was a long one, but not very fast and not very high, so they agreed to try. It was a fun ride, the most exciting part coming at the end when we went down a small hill into a very dark tunnel. Just as we came over the top and could see where we were headed, a small camera took our picture. We left the ride exhilarated by the experience. The photos were available just outside the gate at a shack where they could be purchased. We laughed at the looks on most of our faces. Unfortunately Zack sat behind Bruce and we were unable to see him at all. It is too bad because I thought it might be fun to purchase the photo for our family.
It is not always bad to be physically short, but it can have its inconveniences. You are always the first in line when going by height, you stand in the front row during performances, you sit in the front of the class or if you aren’t in the front you are not seen by others. This could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you look at it. One of the greatest drawbacks of being short is not being able to see. At the movie theater someone always sits in front making it difficult to see the screen. At a parade, the crowd pushes ahead so that a short person gets to see the backs of the other spectators rather than the performers. That’s what happened to poor Zacchaeus.
“And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (ASV)
Zack has found ways to overcome his problem. He’s small enough to get through the crowds and stand in the front. He sits on the aisle at the movies. He doesn’t mind being in the front row when performing. But the picture from the ride disappointed him. He wanted to see his face just like we were able to see our looks of surprise when we came over that hill. Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and wanted to get a look. Now, Zacchaeus was a wealthy man and in any other circumstance he might have commanded the attention of the one he sought. But Jesus was different, He did not seek out the rich or the famous, He ministered to the poor and sick.
Yet, Zacchaeus was not forgotten. He climbed into a tree to get a look at Jesus, which is really all he wanted. A meeting with Jesus could have proven to be uncomfortable since Zacchaeus got wealthy by the hard labors of others. But Zacchaeus wasn’t lost in the crowd or even able to hide in a tree. Jesus knew he was there and called him to come down.
It is a comfort to know that even in the world when we seem to get hidden behind others, when we can’t seem to see beyond the heads of those who get in our way, that Jesus still sees us. He calls us out of our trees and comes into our lives bringing hope and peace and transformation no matter who we are. It must have been shocking to those who followed Jesus that he would take time to go be with a man like Zacchaeus, but that’s the way God is. He seeks out those who need Him and He makes Himself a part of their life. Thanks be to God.
Spider Have you ever been in the right place at the right time, though in desperate straits seemingly safe from harm? I am sure there have been times in my life when I was frustrated at being held up at a traffic light, only to discover a few minutes earlier I would have been caught in a horrible accident. Or those times when I made it into the house just in time to catch an important phone call. I certainly have had a great deal of good fortune in my life, giving me plenty of stories about people I’ve met or places I’ve been that were not accidents. I don’t know that any of these experiences were miraculous, but they are more than coincidence. They are what I call God-incidence.
I’ve heard many stories of people who have had incredible experiences that seem to be beyond human explanation. There is a story about Robert Bruce of Scotland, the man who led a rebellion against the English in his quest for Scottish independence. The story is told that once, when he was fleeing from a group of men who wanted to kill him, he hid inside a small cave. After he climbed in the cave, a spider spun a web over the entrance. When the persecutors came to the cave, they didn’t bother to go inside and look because it would have been impossible for Robert to get inside without breaking the web. Robert thanked God for hiding him ‘in the tiny bowels of a spider’.
These incidents are sometimes mysterious and even unknown to us. Sometimes we do not even realize until well after the event that God’s hand was involved. At other times we have asked God to intervene on our behalf when things are out of control. The bible is filled with many examples of how God steps in to protect and guide His people into safety and hope in the midst of tragedy. It is even shocking how God takes care of us sometimes.
“And he went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth young lads out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead. And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Jehovah. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two lads of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.” 2 Kings 2:23-25 (ASV)
This is a story about Elisha shortly after Elijah was taken to heaven and he took over Elijah’s mantle. He was on his way into Samaria to preach against those who had turned away from God for the false Gods. The kings had allowed foreign gods into the lives of the people of the northern kingdom, and the people embraced the cults that filled the temples in Bethel. They didn’t want Elisha to accomplish any more than Elijah. They even wanted Elisha to ‘go up’ and join Elijah. For those youth, as was common among the ancient Jews, Elisha’s lack of hair was a sign that he had no power. So, they mocked him. Elisha was not about to let anything stop him from doing the work that God had given him to do, so he called out to God to help him.
This type of story is somewhat offensive to those of us in this modern age. Calling curses upon others for taunting him with bad names seems out of the pages of a Steven King novel. I came upon this story today as I was paging through the book of 2 Kings and I was surprised by the cruel way Elisha dealt with his enemies. Yet, times were more difficult for prophets in ancient Israel and such a group of youth could have easily attacked and killed one man without God’s help. We certainly do not face that type of persecution for our faith. It isn’t likely that we will need to hide in a cave or call curses down upon our enemy. Yet, it is comforting to know that God is with us and that He will provide spiders or bears or traffic lights to keep us safe and guiding us to exactly where He intends us to be to glorify Him to the world. Thanks be to God.
Golf If you follow the game of golf, you will have noticed that there have been more and more young players making it into the big league. John Daly was a young man; Tiger Woods was even young. Now we are hearing stories of boys and girls who are just teenagers who are doing incredibly well on the golf course. These young people are not always welcome on the course with the professionals. Though they are great golfers, they have not had the experience necessary to handle the competition and are not mature enough to relate to their peers in other aspects of life. There was an incident recently when a veteran player got upset with a young golfer because of an error in golfing etiquette. The father was upset that a child would be treated in such a way, but it is probable that the same thing would have happened no matter who made the mistake. This type of thing happens all the time on the pro circuit, but not everyone has the experience to know how to deal with this type of situation.
It takes time – experience and maturity – for golfers to do well. If someone is pushed too quickly into a role, despite their incredible talent, they will likely burn out and fail quickly. It seems like it was only a few years ago when Tiger Woods was considered the best golfer ever, and people wondered if he could ever be beaten. Though he is still a top player, he has been beaten and for a moment almost disappeared from golf. We don’t know what will happen to the latest group of young players. Hopefully they will be trained, not only in the technical aspects, but also in the etiquette and given plenty of experience before being pushed into the adult world they are not ready to face.
“And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left the nets, and followed him. And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22 (ASV)
What must it have been like for the disciples when Jesus called them to follow Him? The first few were fishermen, uneducated though not unintelligent. They were probably believers in the LORD God Almighty, but probably not actively involved in the local synagogue. They would have been familiar with the scriptures, at least that which they learned on their mother’s knee. They would have been aware of the prophecy about the coming Messiah, but more concerned about the weather, their nets or the best places to fish. They weren’t trained as preachers, teachers or priests. When Jesus called, they followed, but it would take a lot of work to make the disciples into apostles.
Jesus said that He would make them into fishers of men. Jesus ministered with them for three years, and even after that long a period of time – with nearly constant contact – they were still rough and unsure of the things Jesus taught them to do. It would take the power of the Holy Spirit to bring it all together for Peter, Andrew, James and John. Notice, however, that Jesus doesn’t just give them the Spirit and push them out the door. They needed to be made into apostles, trained and experienced in the things they would face. It takes time for anyone to mature in his or her vocation. The young golfers need much more than just the incredible talent they have for hitting the ball. Peter, Andrew, James and John were made into fishers of men. So, too, we are not just cast into the ocean and expected to bring people to Christ. God calls us as disciples and makes us into fishers of men so that we can go out in confidence, ready in all ways to minister as God guides and directs our lives. Thanks be to God.
Language I watched the movie “French Kiss” last night. This movie, starring Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan takes place in France and is a romantic comedy. Meg Ryan plays Kate, an American soon to be Canadian when she marries her fiancé. Kevin is a French conman. They meet on a plane as Kate is flying to France to win back her boyfriend who has decided to leave her for a French goddess. Since most of the movie takes place in France, with several of the characters natives of the country, several major scenes are entirely in French. Every time I have seen this film, the foreign language scenes have included captions for those who could not understand what the actors were saying. I don’t know why they were not included in last night’s presentation, but the only way I knew what was happening was because I’d seen the movie before.
When we lived in England we had a satellite dish for our television. It was an interesting gadget because it drew in stations from the United Kingdom as well as Germany. It was funny to watch the old favorites in another language, though I have to admit I had no idea what was happening. Shows like Columbo, the Simpsons and even Hogan’s Heroes take on a whole new tone with dubbed voices speaking in another language. It does little good to watch such programs, except for a laugh, because they make no sense to one who cannot hear the meaning of the words.
Hearing is an important aspect of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We first need to hear the Gospel to be saved. We need to hear the commandments of Jesus to be obedient. We need to hear the warnings and promises so that we might be prepared for all God’s blessings that we have been given through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus often says, “Those who have ears, let them hear.” It is impossible to hear if we do not know the language spoken. We only hear the voice of the Lord and understand the language of Christ when we are His.
“Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I came forth and am come from God; for neither have I come of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. But because I say the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convicteth me of sin? If I say truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God.” John 8:42-47 (ASV)
I knew what was happening on the movie even though I could not understand the words, because I had seen them another time. The shows with German dubbing made little sense but I could guess a bit from experiencing them in English over the years. The Gospel is meaningless to those who do not have ears to hear. These words from Jesus seem rather harsh – that those who will not receive the Gospel are not from God but from the devil. Yet, either we believe the truth or we believe lies. It can’t be both. So, either we believe God or we believe the teller of lies. When we reject the Lord, the teller of all truth, then we do not love God and are not His. When we hear His word and believe, we love Him and we are His. In the midst of this harsh passage is great grace. For God is our Father and He speaks a language He has made us to understand – the language of love and mercy and peace. Thanks be to God.
Parade Mordecai was a Jew who held a high position in the kingdom in which he lived. He sat at the gates of the city, the center of financial, judicial and political business. From that vantage point, Mordecai overheard a plot by two officials to murder the king. They were angry, perhaps at the way the king’s wife had been treated and by the flood of virgins into the king’s harem. Xerxes replaced Vashti as queen with Esther, Mordecai’s niece and also a Jew. Mordecai reported the plot to Queen Esther who reported it to the king giving credit to Mordecai. The two officials were arrested, the king was saved but except for the incident being written into the kingdom’s history book, Mordecai’s role was forgotten.
The king had a very high official named Haman who thought very highly of himself and his position. One day, Haman was going through town expecting all the people to bow before him as was the custom. Mordecai, being a Jew, refused to bow before any man. Haman was upset by this lack of respect and set out to destroy all the Jews as a punishment to Mordecai. As the story goes, Queen Esther intercedes on the behalf of her people and they are saved from a horrible fate.
One night the king could not sleep and asked his servants to read from the history book. When the story about Mordecai was read, the king asked if anything had been done for the man who had saved his life. The servants answered, “No.” So, Xerxes called for one of his officials, who happened to be Haman, to come into his presence. “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?” Now, since Haman thought very highly of himself, he assumed the honor was to come to him. He told the king he thought the man should be clothed in royal robes and ridden through the streets of the city with loud proclamation of all he did for the king. The king agreed and ordered Haman to do so for Mordecai. Later, Queen Esther revealed to the king the plot of Haman to kill the Jewish people including Mordecai and herself. Xerxes became angry and ordered Haman to be hanged. The gallows were already set for Mordecai to die, but Haman was the one to hang. His pride got the best of him and he ended up as the victim of his evil plot.
This story is a lesson in pride and how dangerous it is to think too highly of ourselves. Haman set himself up for his own death because he stepped on people and harmed them in his quest for greatness. In our society it is normal for people to want to rise to the top and to expect proper honor for their position, but even in the cutthroat world of big business it is not right for any person to destroy another’s life for the sake of their reputation. As Christians we are expected to live even more humbly than Mordecai – expecting nothing for our actions and doing what is best for the sake of the kingdom of God.
“For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:3-8 (ASV)
Haman didn’t care about the kingdom; he cared only about himself. Mordecai sought the best for his niece, his people and for the king without concern for his own reputation or life. He didn’t ask to be honored with royal robes and a parade. Haman expected good things to come to him and he ended up suffering the fate of those he sought to destroy.
The Church – Christ’s visible body in this world – is not made up of one or two officials and a bunch of people to honor them. The Church is the fellowship of all believers, each one given a place in the body which God uses to spread the Gospel and bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ. Every Christian has a place of honor as a child of the living God, so all are called to serve Him and each other in love and mercy and grace. God has created the perfect machine, but when one cog thinks more highly of himself the machine does not work well. None of us are given every good and perfect gift; none of us can fill all the parts of the body. God has blessed us with each other so that we can glorify God and share Jesus with the world together. Thanks be to God.
*Story of Haman's downfall is found in Esther 6-7.
Children Quite a few years ago Drew Barrymore starred in a film called “Irreconcilable Differences.” The story was about a young girl who was the daughter of two famous people. I think they produced films together. They spent too many hours away from home, barely knew their child. The housekeeper was much more like a mother to the girl. She decided to divorce her parents so that she could move in with the housekeeper and live a normal life with a parent around to give her the love and attention she needed.
This isn’t just a problem with the rich and famous. Many parents from humble households do not spend enough time with their children, leaving them to fend for themselves, to find their own beliefs and moral understanding. Even stay at home mothers can get caught up in some project or caring for the every day needs of their families that they forget to actually spend time with them. I know I have done this, justifying my own actions as doing it for the children, for their future. The parents in the movie thought they were doing their best, giving their daughter everything she could possibly want, but all she needed was time as a family.
Though this happens in every household to some degree, I think it is more difficult for those in positions of authority or jobs that are in demand. Actors spend months away from home filming television shows or movies. Corporate executives fly all over the world to inspect their facilities or to cut deals. Entertainers spend night after night on the road going on tour from city to city to perform. These parents do not see their children, except on those occasions they go home for a day or a week to rest and get ready for the next trip.
Celine Dion realized that this was no way to raise her child. She was interviewed the other day and she spoke about how difficult it is to be on the road so much. She recently took on a long-term commitment to sing at one of the casinos. She said it is wonderful to spend all day with her daughter; her job takes only a few hours a day. When asked what she wanted to do after the commitment is over, she simply answered, “I just want to drive my daughter to school.” It was good to see that she is more interested in her daughter than working hard to give her things she really does not need.
“Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3 (ASV)
The character Drew played in the movie did not feel like a daughter to her parents anymore. They were never around, they never listened to her problems, and they never saw her achievements. She didn’t want the big house and the best toys; she just wanted the love of the people who she loved. God, our heavenly Father, is not that kind of parent. Even though He is the King of Eternity, the Creator of all things, He has time to take each of us by the hand, sit us on His lap and love us individually. We, who are nothing more than specks compared to the wholeness of the universe in time and space, are called children of God. He is with us, transforming us into His image, manifesting Himself through our lives. As we grow in the hope of that which is to come, we are changed to become more and more like Him. This can’t be done if He is not a part of our daily lives. But He is. Thanks be to God.
Interviews Have you noticed how good the news programs are at finding the most bitter, upset and unforgiving people to interview? On recent news programs, I have seen several people who have been questioned by the reporters about events in our world today. Sometimes they have to reach pretty far to get someone who will rant and rage, calling for an apology or even revenge on the ones who have harmed their loved one. Even when the parents of the victim are forgiving, the news programs manage to find a sibling or an aunt who cannot understand the attitude of their loved ones. Especially poignant are the interviews with people of faith. I saw an interview with a preacher and his wife who could not forgive. The people who are willing to forgive are either not interesting enough for the news program or they refuse to appear because they see no point in going through such an interview while they are grieving their loss. But there’s always someone willing to hold a grudge and make a public spectacle of themselves for the sake of their loved one.
Rev. Walter Everett was the father of a young man who was murdered. When he heard the news, he became very angry at the murderer. His anger began to destroy his life. At the hearing, the young man who had done this horrible act stood before the court and said he was truly sorry. A few weeks later, Rev. Everett wrote to the young man, confessed his anger and asked some questions. Then he wrote that he was glad to hear what he had said in court and though it was hard, he wrote, “I forgive you.” Those three words brought the young man to his knees in his cell and he prayed for forgiveness from God. Rev. Everett and the young man continued to write and visit, sharing their faith journeys together and Rev. Everett testified at the young man’s parole hearing. He was released early and they remained friends. They both learned about the true freedom found in forgiveness. It was also a lesson in mercy.
God forgives, but He’s also merciful. It is actually fairly easy to say “I forgive you” but it is a lot harder to show forgiveness. Rev. Everett not only spoke the words, but became a traveling companion through the journey of faith in Jesus Christ with the man who killed his son. He shared the Gospel, encouraged his faith and helped him become free in both spirit and flesh. That’s mercy.
Jonah wasn’t so keen on doing such a thing for the Ninevites, but God had plans for them. So he sent his reluctant prophet into a city of sin and told him to warn them to repent or die. Jonah’s hope was that it wouldn’t work, that they would just go on sinning. Yet, the word of God had an awesome affect on the people of Nineveh.
“And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Jonah 3:5-10 (ASV)
It often seems like the news reporters would rather drudge up anger and bitterness than see the love and mercy that people have for their enemies. I recently heard someone ask, “Is it ok to wish someone were dead?” Though the person did not reveal the whole story, she was upset by the actions of someone who had harmed her family and she just wanted them out of her life. We can all identify people in our lives, either past or present that were like enemies for us. The young man was an enemy to the Reverend. It does us no good to hold on to our anger; it is harmful to our spiritual and physical health. However, when we forgive, we open a world of new possibilities. Perhaps, such as in the story of the preacher and his son’s murderer, we may lose an enemy and gain a brother in Christ.
God had mercy on the Ninevites. He has mercy on us. Let us also have mercy on our enemies that they might hear the Good News of forgiveness that is found in the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. We should not desire death for those whom have harmed us. We should not live bitter and angry in this world, no matter how horrible the deed against us. God has had mercy on us, and we will find great freedom in the mercy we give to others. Thanks be to God.
Buffet We just came home from a buffet brunch. We are all stuffed, barely able to move from all the food we ate. That’s the problem with that type of meal. You pay for ‘all you can eat’ so you eat all you can to get your money’s worth. Everything looks so good, so you take a bit of everything, which ends up being way more food than you would normally eat. We all ate so much that I do not imagine we will be hungry the rest of the day.
In American society, it is very rare that anyone goes hungry. As a matter of fact, we tend to eat because it is time to eat or because food is available, not because we need to fill empty stomachs. On special occasions like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, we lay out piles of turkey or potato salad, enough to feed an army even though we may have only a dozen folks to feed. Restaurants serve huge portions and we can’t watch a movie without a big bucket of popcorn. What person really needs to eat a 72 oz steak or drink a liter of soda at a sitting? It is hard to know hunger when your body doesn’t even have enough time to even digest the food you’ve eaten.
It is hard to imagine that those little munchkins we call our children, who eat nothing but pizza, cookies and chicken nuggets, are better at eating than grownups and yet in some ways they are. This is true with Zack, anyway. We can’t get him to eat one more bite than he intends to eat. Toward the end of a meal if we are planning some sort of sweet treat in the evening, he will announce that he’s had enough and that he’s saving room for dessert. He would hate to eat too much meat and vegetables and be too full for the good stuff. While adults also enjoy the sweets, we tend to still eat a full meal and then stuff ourselves with the treat. We end up moaning on the sofa, unable to move. We really don’t know what a blessing it can be to hunger, in our stomachs and in other areas of our live.
“Yet whereinsoever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness.” 2 Corinthians 11:21b-30 (ASV)
We don’t realize how good it is to be hungry once in awhile, and not just in our stomachs. When we are always satisfied with what we have, we begin to take it for granted. It is particularly dangerous to be satisfied with our spiritual lives. Paul knew what it was like to be hungry, to be afraid, to be persecuted. He felt the pain of others and cared for all those who were growing in Christ. Most of all, Paul knew that it was through his weakness that God could move powerfully in the world. When we are satisfied, filled with all sorts of good things and no longer hungering, we do not step forth looking for more. We should always hunger for the deeper things of God, for more revelation from Him, for more opportunity to give away the things He has given. There is no end to the blessings of God, but we can become so content with what we have that we find ourselves moaning on the couch and unable to do anything.
Yes, though Zack’s choice of food may not be the best, at least he knows it is best to stay hungry so that he’ll want what is to come. When it comes to our spiritual lives, we should never feel full but always hunger for more of God’s incredible blessings. When we hunger, thirst in both body and spirit, we look toward the One who provides all good things. That’s what happened to Paul – he knew God’s grace in the midst of all his sufferings, because it was in his weaknesses God was truly strong. So, too for us. May we always hunger for the things of God. Thanks be to God.
Food Bank We have a fairly small church in terms of people and space. Recently we doubled our square footage, giving us space for classrooms, a library, nursery, offices and other storage rooms. Before the renovation we barely had room for the normal activities of a church, let alone the extra things we wanted to do. One of our members felt the need to begin a food bank to meet the needs of the many people in our country who indeed have moments of hunger. It can happen to anyone – a late check, car problems, health issues or other unexpected expenses – can make it impossible for a family to afford even the simplest meal. Many children rely on the school lunch program for the only hot meal they eat each day. The elderly often choose between medicine and food. Lay-offs, factory closings and other economic difficulties leave too many families without sufficient income. Even in the military, young active duty families rely on food stamps and other government programs to get through each month.
My sister works for an organization that works to help aid those who hunger in our world. Church World Service is just one of the many who are working so that we can really say that nobody really knows what it means to be hungry. Meals on Wheels, Bread for the World and America’s Second Harvest are just a few more. Within every community there are many local groups who provide help. When the member of our congregation tried to begin a food bank at our facility, she realized that we did not have the space or resources to do it ourselves, but she did not let it stop her. She contacted the other churches on our street, and together we support one food bank. As a group we are better able to meet the needs of our community.
Each Sunday, as part of our offering, we have baskets available for food to be given to the food bank. Though a food bank is willing to accept any type of food, they are particularly thankful when they receive canned meat, peanut butter and even sweets for the children. I always thought it was better to use my money to purchase cases of corn – more to go around. The lady at the food bank has explained that they can get some food through government programs or discounted from local grocery stores, and when we give cans of tuna fish or ham, the families can have more balanced meals to fill their hungry stomachs.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46 (ASV)
My sister wrote after reading yesterday’s devotional and quoted this scripture. She reminded me that there are indeed Americans who know what it is like to be hungry and shared some information about the resources available. She said, “How disappointed Jesus must be when our plenty makes us complacent… The truly sad thing is that we see Jesus every day...we just refuse to recognize him...” I hope those of us who have not experienced hunger do not take our blessings for granted. May we always see Jesus in the faces of those in need and share what we have with others.
Thank you Bonnie.
Free Some things that are called ‘free’ come with a catch. I once sent for a free pair of stockings, only to discover when they arrived I had signed up for a club. The company would send me some new item like trouser socks or pantyhose every month. I really did not know they would continue to send items for purchase. There are times we should not accept something for nothing unless we are willing to accept the requirements for fulfillment. Take, for example, the record and video companies. They make it clear when you order the “Ten for a penny” that you have to purchase a minimum amount with your membership. If you aren’t willing to buy those CDs or videos, then you should not accept the ‘free’ ones. When you consider the costs of shipping and packaging, it turns out that the ‘free’ gifts really cost nearly as much as you would pay in a store. Then you pay a little more for the rest and in the end it turns out that you really have not gotten anything for free.
It is also happens that those things given to us for ‘free’ never quite become our own. We do not bother take care of it because we have nothing invested. Kids who are given a brand new car at their sixteenth birthday are more likely to drive recklessly than the kid who works a summer job for the cash to purchase a car. On the other hand, when we get things for free we might become bound to the giver. They can use it over us when we refuse to do things they want us to do. “Well, I gave you that house, I think I should have some say about…” In that case, it isn’t a gift but a way to manipulate and control. This is what Abraham feared at the death of his wife Sarah.
“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years. These were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (the same is Hebron), in the land of Canaan. And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Abraham knew that such a gift would tie his people to the Hittites. If ever things got nasty between the people of God and their neighbors, they could claim the land was theirs and take it away, leaving them without a place to live. This was the first step in the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people of Israel, that they would be numerous and fill the land. Abraham could not just take it, but needed to purchase the land so that it would truly be theirs. We must be discerning about the things we take for free and willing to submit to the requirements even if they come after we have received the gift. Otherwise, let us always be responsible for the things we want, never expecting something for free that we should make our own.
Yes, indeed, some things that are called ‘free’ do come with a catch. There is but one thing that we can rely upon. God’s promises are true. Abraham’s small purchase of a plot of land to bury Sarah became the first permanent property of the people of God. He continued to bless them, and though they did not always live within sight of that cave, it was theirs according to God’s promises. He has promised an even greater kingdom, one that is bound only by love and the Spirit of God. His gift does not come with a catch, but is truly given freely to those who love Him. Thanks be to God.
No WORD posted.
Conspiracy The story of Chicken Little gives us an example of how easily people can be manipulated into believing something that is not true – especially if the reporter truly believes in the words they speak. You know how the story goes – Chicken Little is hanging around the chicken pen when something falls on his head. He automatically assumes that the sky is falling and runs off to tell the king. Along the way he runs into his friends Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey. They join him in the quest to save the world, each believing Chicken Little’s story without a question. The run into Foxy Woxy, who immediately knows he can use this adventure to his advantage. He convinces the travelers that he knows a shortcut and lures them into his cave where he manages to devour all but Chicken Little.
Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey had no reason to doubt Chicken Little, but they would have been much better off if they had only said, “Look, Chicken Little, why don’t we go back to the chicken pen and see what it is that fell on your head.” They could have cleared up the mystery quickly and saved themselves a terrible death. Foxy Woxy, who knew that the sky wasn’t really falling, wasn’t going to tell them the truth when he could benefit from their foolishness.
“For Jehovah spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people shall say, A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.” Isaiah 8:11-15 (ASV)
Chicken Little created a sense of fear and immediacy in his friends by sharing his opinion that the sky was falling. This fear led the friends on an adventure that led them to their deaths rather than to a hero’s prize. Isaiah was a prophet who spoke God’s Word to the people and as such he was not well liked. As a matter of fact, prophets were ridiculed, threatened and killed because no one wants to be told how they have failed the LORD. So, the people began to mumble that Isaiah’s words were treason, conspiring against Isaiah. He had every reason to be afraid. Yet, when we experience that sort of fear we tend to deal with the problem in all the wrong ways. Chicken Little convinced his friends that the way to deal with the sky was to tell the king, which sent them all on the wrong path. God warned Isaiah not to become afraid of the wrong things, but to fear only Him so that he would not try to deal with the danger himself. Instead, God is the sanctuary for those who look to Him. Thanks be to God.
Tops In Blue For the past fifty years, men and women from the United States Air Force have been selected to spend eleven months traveling around the world to military bases to entertain and uplift those who are serving our country. They spent Wednesday evening in Little Rock, putting on an incredible show for a packed auditorium. These gifted performers are selected through a talent show and called to leave their normal duties for one season. They normally work as crew chiefs, communications specialists, dental assistants, security police, air traffic controllers or any of the other thousands of jobs within the Air Force. They are not replaced during their tour, leaving those offices short-handed for nearly a year. This means that the men and women left behind work particularly hard so that their co-worker can have this wonderful opportunity.
The show was amazing. They danced and sang, brought laughter and tears. They paid tribute to the men and women who have over the years served on the front lines of battle, knowing that when this tour is over they will go back to their regular jobs and perhaps find themselves in combat next year. This isn’t a vacation. They are constantly on the road, carry all their own equipment, set up and tear down the sets themselves. There are only a handful of staff members along with the performers and everyone puts in a full, exhausting day to share two hours of entertainment with the rest of us. Any one of the performers could easily appear on “American Idol” or be given a recording contract. Yet, they remain committed to the service of their country.
The same is true of those who serve the Lord with their hearts, minds and bodies. Paul knew what it was like to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the Kingdom. He traveled all over the known world sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and helping the early churches establish the roots that would take salvation to the four corners of the world. He did not do it for himself, but for those who were lost in their sin. He encouraged the Christians with his letters, which reach into our lives even today. It was always his hope that everything he did was seen as being for Christ and not men.
“Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves unto you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.” 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 (ASV)
It is easy to think that these men and women try out for Tops In Blue to get out of their normal duty, until you know what it is they really do for eleven months. They sacrifice a great deal during that time for the sake of their fellow workers and for the Air Force they love. Their enthusiasm and commitment is even more evident than their talent during the performance. They don’t take pride in their gifts, but in the ones for whom they are performing.
The same is true of those who live their lives for the love of Christ. It is not just God who sees their enthusiasm and commitment, but all who cross their path. We all know someone who shines the light of Christ everywhere they go, because everything they do is for the Lord rather than themselves. When we live for Christ, our lives are no longer focused on our careers, our own needs, or ourselves. Rather, everything we do is for the sake of the one who gave the greatest sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ, giving our whole lives into His service. Thanks be to God.
Regarding Henry Harrison Ford played Henry in the movie called “Regarding Henry.” He was a high power, unscrupulous lawyer who did everything necessary to win. His attitudes about people left him on the verge of divorce with his wife, not speaking to his daughter and in a secret affair. He seemed to be quite successful, but his life was falling apart. One night a man who was robbing a newsstand where he stopped to buy a paper shot him at close range. The gunshot left him disabled. He determined to get better and worked hard with the doctors, physical therapists and his loved ones to recover. The damage was physical as well as mental; he did not remember anything from his life before the shooting. As his memory returned, he realized that he did not like the man he had been, finding joy in the simpler things of life – his wife, daughter, art and kindness. When he was well enough to return to work, he found that he was unable to do the things that made him successful. His friends ridiculed him, but his family came to love him again. He made amends for his deceitful practices and quit his job, beginning anew with his wife and daughter.
How many people in our world are exactly like Henry? They aren’t all lawyers, but there are people in every profession who will do anything to succeed, even if it affects the rest of their lives. They don’t even realize how it damages their credibility as a person, how it harms the lives of others. They do not understand that success is not a blessing if it is taken at the expense of others. Even within the Christian community, there are those who would rather be at the top than truly serve the Lord Jesus and their brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the council president who will do anything to get their way in the running of the church or the preacher that teaches his own doctrine rather than the truth of Jesus Christ. They don’t seek the good of the body of Christ, but their own success.
“Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, worshipping him, and asking a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wouldest thou? She saith unto him, Command that these my two sons may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink? They say unto him, We are able. He saith unto them, My cup indeed ye shall drink: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation concerning the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28 (ASV)
James and John did not understand the will and purpose of God in their lives. They wanted Jesus to become the earthly king just like David and to let them be His closest advisors. Their mother even got involved by taking the idea to Jesus. The other disciples were upset that James and John would try to usurp authority in such a way, going behind their backs to get Jesus to give them a higher position. When Jesus asked if they could “drink the cup I am to drink,” they said they could. They had no idea what they were saying. Neither did their mother know the fate her sons would face taking the kingdom of God into the world. Most of the disciples would die as martyrs for the sake of the Gospel.
Henry’s friends did not understand his new attitude about life, he seemed to them to have become ridiculous in his humility and kindness. They only knew success to include power, prestige and wealth. Anything else was just foolishness. The disciples were not going to become rich, powerful or famous. They were going to serve one another and the lost as humble, loving ministers of the Word of God, giving hope and peace to the world. The same is true for those of us today, called to be servants rather than rulers, brothers rather than authority figures. We need not seek to sit at the right or left hands of Jesus, for He has called each of us to be faithful servants for the sake of Him who was first a servant to us. Thanks be to God.
Sabbath Have you noticed that there are times when we have to rest from all our work, even that which we do for the church? Mark tells us that after Jesus had sent the disciples out to minister in the country, they came home excited about all they had seen and done. Yet, as they tried to tell Jesus everything, the people continued to crowd around them. They did not have a moment to rest, eat or even spend time alone with Jesus. So, Jesus told them to follow Him to a quiet place. They went in a boat and had a short time alone with Jesus before they landed at another place where people were waiting for them. Jesus had compassion on the people and began teaching. We don’t hear what the disciples did while Jesus spoke. They probably sat and listened to the things He was telling the people. When night neared, the disciples became concerned about the number of people and the lack of food. Jesus told them to feed the crowd, but they complained about lack of money. So, Jesus had them gather whatever bread they could find. Jesus blessed five loaves and two fish, which the disciples then passed out to the crowd, gathering basketfuls of leftover bread. Doesn’t sound like the disciples had much of a rest. Yet, they spent time in Jesus’ presence, learning more about the kingdom of God.
Once in awhile it is necessary to get away from it all, to spend time resting from our work. Yet, the type of rest that Jesus gives is not necessarily physical, but rather is a rest found in the Word of God. It is there we get our strength, our hope and our peace. That’s what the Sabbath was designed to be – a day spent away from the ordinary to be in the presence of the Lord. It was not just a day to stop doing our usual work, but rather time spent with the Living God – being fed with His Word and praising Him for His goodness. The disciples had experienced a most incredible outpouring of the power of God through their lives, but they still needed to be fed with the Word of God. They knew Jesus intimately, yet they still did not really know the salvation that was to come from Him. We constantly need to be fed with God’s Word so that we can go on doing the work that Jesus has given us to do in this world. We get our rest by being in His presence.
“My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” Psalm 62:5-8 (ASV)
When the hectic pace of our live catches up with us, Jesus quietly suggests that we follow Him into the boat for a moment away from the demands of the world. We can’t expect that time to last forever, there will be more work waiting for us on the other end, but even then we can rest in His presence and listen as He speaks His Word into our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are leaving in the morning for a week long vacation. It will be a much needed time away from the daily stress of our lives. It will be nice to get away from our responsibilities and hectic schedules, away from phones and computers. I am planning to take a vacation even from my work with A WORD FOR TODAY, resting in body, mind and spirit from my usual daily tasks. But it will not be a time away from God, for in Him I will find true rest. Bruce, Vicki, Zack and I will spend time together as a family enjoying each other as we enjoy the activities our vacation will offer. We will also spend the time praying and listening for God’s voice to guide our future days. We trust that God will be with us, strengthening and equipping us for tomorrow as He continues to build our lives for His service. Thanks be to God.
A WORD FOR TODAY will return on Monday July 28. Please keep us in your prayers as we travel.
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More rest Have you ever noticed how much you need a vacation after you have been on vacation? That’s exactly how we feel today. Though we really did put down our labors while we visited my sister’s family in Texas, we did so many fun and exciting things that our bodies did not rest. We enjoyed Sea World, the Riverwalk in San Antonio and several things in Austin. Vicki and I did some back to school shopping in San Marcos at the outlet center there – something which is not available near Little Rock. We enjoyed each other’s company while we played in the pool. It was all quite fun and exhausting.
Before I left on vacation, I wrote about the rest Jesus gives. It is not necessarily physical; it is a rest from working so hard to be a Christian. We don’t have to work toward our salvation. It is impossible to do so. Yet, those of other religions and even some Christians in this world seem to spend their time working hard to be ‘good’ or ‘righteous’ or to get Jesus into their lives. They seek whatever it is that seems to be missing from their lives, knowing that there is something better but they can’t find it. Many people run from church to church, or from religion to religion, trying to find God – or at least a god that fits their desires. They work so hard but never really find rest.
That rest is found only in Jesus, but He is not someone who will be whatever we want Him to be. He is the image of the Living God, revealed for our sake and completing the work we so try so hard to accomplish ourselves. He comes to us, in our hearts, our spirits and through the scriptures, that we might see Him as He is. Too often we continue to seek the Lord Jesus because the god we are trying to worship is not worthy of worship. Jesus shows us that God is mercy and grace, forgiveness and life. The One who is revealed in Jesus is truly worthy of worship. The ones we find when we work so hard are not. Yet, even when we truly know the Lord Jesus and see God as He is, it still seems as though we do not truly rest. It is then we find the work of the Lord is to care for others, to share the gospel, to feed the hungry and cloth the poor. We don’t find Jesus and then sit around in His presence. He calls us into His Kingdom, gives us everything we need and then sends us out to give it away. At times we feel like we need a rest from our rest. That rest will come one day.
“And I heard the voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them.” Revelation 14:13 (ASV)
Our vacation turned out to be a fun filled time, and though I did spend some time reading and slept in every morning, I did more physically than normal. We are tired this morning, wishing we could have a week of rest from our wonderful vacation. Yet, we are all refreshed, happy to have had a week away from the normal duties of life, away from the phone, housework and everything else that keeps us busy.
That’s the joy of life in Christ. We do not need to work so hard for our salvation, for the Lord Jesus Christ has already completed the work by which we are saved. It is no longer necessary for us to obey a bunch of rules, or do certain things to find Jesus. He has found us and reveals Himself to us through His goodness and mercy. When we realize that in Jesus we find the rest we so deeply desire, we stop searching for goodness and righteousness, knowing it can only be found in Jesus. Then we find rest, and yet it is not a rest in which nothing is done. We rest from the labor of saving ourselves so that we can go out and do the joyful labor of harvesting souls for the Lord Jesus, by sharing the Gospel of Christ with others so that they too can find the rest they seek. We will have a day when all will be complete and we will rest for eternity from all labors. Yet, until that day we live in a rest in which our work is pure joy, for it is a work that reveals the Lord Jesus to those who are still lost in the world – seeking that which they will never find with hard work. For He is found only in the realization that we cannot by our own power be saved. Only by His grace will we know true rest. Thanks be to God.
Fish One of our activities last week was a visit to Sea World in San Antonio. We had a wonderful time roaming around the park, enjoying the shows and riding the rides. Shamu and the other whales were awesome, the water-skiers were incredible and the sea lions were hysterical. We got soaking wet on the flume ride and wondered if we should try the Great White, a hanging roller coaster. (We didn’t.) It was a most wonderful day, even when the clouds threatened storms we still found things to do.
Though I enjoyed everything, one of the best moments for me was when we were in the Coral Reef aquarium. This exhibit was a very large tank, with hundreds of different fish and many different corals. The shark tank was right beside the reef with a ‘window’ in the background, giving the appearance that the sharks were so close they could snatch any fish that might drift out of the safety of the reef. However, there was a glass wall between, so everyone was safe. It is always fun to get a close up look at the fish, particularly since the movie “Finding Nemo” has created such an interest in coral reefs. All the young children became excited when they saw fish they recognized as Nemo, Marlin, Dory and the other characters from the movie. Close up you can see the wonderful colors of each fish, identify them and see their habitat. A few steps in either direction gave a whole new habitat and group of fish, even though they were all in the same tank.
I briefly looked at the tank close-up, but then I moved to the seat against the far wall and I sat to watch the whole thing. It was like watching rush hour in New York City. Schools of fish moved along paths in one direction, stopped and then moved in another. Individual fish went this way and that, somehow always fitting into the flow. Some fish were quite unusual, such as the one that just kept swimming in a circle, up and down, up and down, even upside down. Others were very dignified; others were playful. While I watched the whole tank, I realized that though there seemed to be separate areas, it was really one.
As I sat there watching, I thought about how God sees the world. He is most certainly a personal God, having intimate relationships with each one of us. He knows our every thought, counts the hair on our head. Yet, He also looks at the world from a much broader perspective. He sees us as we interact with others in this world. Are we like the fish that kept swimming in circles, unaware of the others around him? Are we like the ones who swim in schools? Are we like the individuals who swim in and out of the coral so that we are always safe? Are we like the ones who hovered by the sharks, risking life on the edge of danger? Yet, no matter who we are, we are never far from our Maker.
“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. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” Psalm 139:7-12 (ASV)
God enjoys the relationships with His children, one on one. He gets up close and studies everything about us so that He knows us better than ourselves. He not only watches from the other side of the glass, but He even gets right inside the tank with us. Yet, He also sees the world from a distance. He knows every interaction, every habitat and how we fit together. He sees the lonely, the scared, the tired and the weak. And He loves every one of us. We might never leave our little corner of the tank, but God knows there is someone on the other side who needs His love. Perhaps He will call us to be the one to go forth and share the Good News.
In “Finding Nemo”, the fish went far beyond their own little world and saw it from a new perspective. What I learned while I watched this whole world of fish in the coral reef is that there is a much bigger world out there than just what we see at any one moment, and that God sees it all. Knowing that He is with me, so close as to know my deepest thoughts, but also far enough away to see the world around me, is such a comfort, for I can rest in the knowledge that God is in control. Thanks be to God.
Otters and Sea Lions The one show we went to see at Sea World was called “Fools with Tools.” It starred the sea lions and otters, which performed amazing, hilarious tricks in a home improvement show with many problems. One sea lion was uncooperative, always going for the laugh, while the otters kept stealing the plans or other objects from the stage. The poor humans got thrown in the water, surprised and beaten in a very funny way by these animals.
What made it even funnier is when the animals made mistakes. In one incident, the woman had been thrown in the water and the sea lion came to save her. It was not the actual woman, but a dummy. The sea lion went into the water, got the dummy and took it through the door, but dropped it halfway. The door closed and the dummy still lay there. The woman came out, all happy to have been saved, when she realized the mistake that had been made. She laughed, went back inside and called to the sea lion that she was still out there on the stage. Someone pulled the dummy inside and she proceeded with the show. On another occasion, the otter completely forgot what he was supposed to do. The woman repeated the command, but the otter just kept going around in circles until his trainer came onto the stage to coax him in the right direction. The whole thing had us laughing so hard we were nearly in tears.
Those who perform have a saying, “Never work with children or animals.” They are too unpredictable and always steal the show. Yet, in a situation like this one at Sea World, it is the animals that are the stars, no matter what they do. It is amazing how the trainers are able to teach them to do things on cue. Yet, no matter how smart and talented they are, they aren’t perfect, at times failing to accomplish what has been put before them.
There are places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus has very negative things to say about some of the Jews. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are often the recipients of Jesus’ rebuke. Yet, it was certainly not a pleasure to Him to speak so against them. He desired that all might know and understand what He had to say and love God as they were designed and blessed to do. They wanted proof, but refused to accept the proof that Jesus gave. Jesus performed many miraculous signs and wonders – healings, casting demons, feeding thousands. He fed four thousand men with seven loaves of bread, but the Pharisees wanted more. To test Him, they asked for a sign from heaven. They were really nothing more than trained sea lions going about their usual business, and missing out on the real thing when it was right before their eyes.
“And they forgot to take bread; and they had not in the boat with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned one with another, saying, We have no bread. And Jesus perceiving it saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? And they say unto him, Seven. And he said unto them, Do ye not yet understand?” Mark 8:14-21 (ASV)
The disciples were thinking about their empty tummies, wondering where they would get enough food for them all. They were falling into the same trap as the Pharisees, even though they were going about it in a different way. The Pharisees wanted some sign from heaven; the disciples just wanted their daily bread. Neither had the faith to know that God would provide everything they needed if they only believed. The yeast to which Jesus refers is doubt, unbelief. They were all like those trained sea lions, who seem to really understand what they are doing until they make a mistake. Then you realize how unreliable and unpredictable they can really be. It made for a very good time in the show, but when it comes to our spiritual lives we should leave nothing to chance. Jesus has shown us exactly who He is and why He has come into this world. Let us believe and be thankful. Thanks be to God.
Identity A frequent subject of many stories in literature and the performing arts is the idea that people follow the wrong paths of life because they have been under the control of a strong guardian of some sort. They usually take up the trade of their fathers or are convinced it would be best for them to go a certain way. At some point later in the story, when fighting bitterness or unhappiness, they realize that they aren’t right for the job. They somehow tell their parents or mentors the real path they would like to take and everyone lives happily ever after.
This is a situation that often happens in real life, though the outcome is not always so pleasant. Martin Luther was on the road to being a lawyer until he made the decision to enter the monastery. He wanted to make his father happy but his life took a radical turn when he gave up a prosperous business for the church. The world was changed by his decision to follow the path on which God was leading him, rather than the one his father had chosen. All too often, however, people never realize they’ve made such a mistake and live out their lives miserable in a job that they hate. They don’t accomplish anything; never make a difference in the lives of those around them. They do the same thing day in and day out but never feel complete or fulfilled in this world.
We all have an impact on the lives of those around us. A smile can change a stranger’s day. A few words of encouragement can help a young person succeed in school. Correction and rebuke can help someone on a dangerous path repent and go in the right direction. But we should never try to make a person into what we want them to be. I’ve seen stage moms who force their beautiful daughters into every pageant, when they really do not want to be there. I’ve seen parents convince their high school graduates that their college is the only one to attend. I’ve seen teachers discourage students from pursuing a certain career goal because they have something better in mind. These guardians are trying to mold their charges into something they are not, often for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes it is because they did not succeed and they want to live out their dreams through another. Sometimes it is because they want a clone of themselves, so that their memory will linger. Sometimes they are need a change in their own lives but do not realize it, so they change the world around them.
This even happened with Jesus. The people saw Him do incredible things and thought they had figured out who He was. They thought He was the one to deliver them from the Romans, to feed their hungers and thirsts, to make Israel into the nation it had once been. But Jesus knew better.
“Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain himself alone.” John 6:15 (ASV)
It was easy for Jesus because He knew in His own mind and heart the purpose for which He was sent into this world. For most of us, the reason is not so clear. So, we rely on those around us to help us discern our gifts and the best way we can use them in this world. As a parent, it is such a joy to provide the opportunities my children need to develop into mature people ready to take on the world. It is quite tempting to mold them into what I want them to be, to convince them to do what I want them to do. But I know it is best to encourage them to find out who they are and give them what they need to pursue the best path to that end.
The people around Jesus – the crowds, the temple leaders and even the disciples – thought they knew better than Jesus what He should do. They tried to mold him into the type of Messiah they were seeking. Jesus would not allow them to put Him in the wrong position, not even His mother and brothers. We are not always so strong, particularly against those we love and respect. God knows the plans He has for each of us, the paths He has prepared for our lives. Sometimes, due to the works of those around us and our own indecisiveness, we get a little waylaid, but we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us even when we are going the wrong way. We need simply to listen and wait for God’s guiding hand to move us in the right direction. For Martin Luther, it was a moment of fear on a road when lightning struck nearby. In many of the stories we hear in books and movies, it is often bitterness and depression that lead to a change. Whatever it is, let us thank God for helping us lead the life He has created us to live. Thanks be to God.