Welcome to the July 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
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 2004
July 1, 2004
Floodwaters It finally stopped raining. According to the weathermen this morning, San Antonio had nearly ten inches of rain in June, the third most rain for that month in the history of the city since they’ve been recording such things. Though the rain has stopped, the affects continue. Several major rivers and creeks are expected to rise above flood levels today. Many people have to spend the weekend cleaning up the mud left behind by the flood waters. River outfitters are wondering if they will even be able to operate this holiday weekend since most of the rivers are dangerously high. Vacationers who came a long way to enjoy tubing on the local rivers aren’t sure how they will spend their time.
We were definitely getting tired of the rain, but I’m sure for many these days following will be even more difficult. On a positive note, we should not have to water our lawns for at least a few days and the whole city looks lovely and green right now. Unfortunately, there will be too many people with financial difficulties because they had no flood insurance. I’ve also heard one report of a family that plans to sue the city for poor engineering meant to divert water from a roadway that caused flooding in their yard. The aftereffects of such a storm can be long lasting.
Have you ever really thought about how quickly Jesus went in and out of people’s lives? For many of them, their experience was a very brief encounter. They likely did not see Him again. Yet, the affects of His presence were long lasting. He healed their ills and cast out their demons. He taught them about the Kingdom of God and forgave them their sins.
In John we read the story of a woman that Jesus meets at a well in Samaria. This encounter was longer than usual, which is particularly unusual since she was a woman. She was also a Samaritan. As a rabbi, Jesus would have been expected to ignore her, but He did not hesitate to spend time with her. She was taken aback by His request for water. “You are a Jew, how can you ask me for a drink?”
“Jesus answered and said unto unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw.” John 4:10-14 (ASV)
The conversation continued between Jesus and the woman, during which she was given an insight into Jesus that few had in His own words. He told her that He was the Messiah for which the world longed. She was so excited about this encounter with Jesus that she returned to her village and told everyone about Him. “Can this be Him?” she asked and told everyone to “Come and see!” The villagers returned to the well to see for themselves and many of them believed in Him.
When the disciples were beginning their own ministries after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they found faith in the Samaritan villages. Jesus gave that one woman the living water of faith and she shared it with many who shared it with many more. Jesus flooded their hearts with something new and the aftereffects lasted for a long time. The disciples had to finish the work Jesus started by sharing the rest of the story with those who lived in Samaria, but they already had faith because Jesus love flowed into the heart of one woman. Thanks be to God.
Fireworks With the Fourth of July being a Sunday this year, many people are enjoying a four day weekend. A large number of people will be headed for the beach or for the mountains to enjoy a short time away from the hustle and bustle of life. Cities and small towns are preparing for their festivities this week. Some of the parties have already begun. Fireworks are being sold all over so that families can set off their own shows and the final preparations are being made for the larger shows that will entertain and delight millions of people this weekend.
The fireworks are beautiful and amazing, but they are not a pleasure for everyone. Stray sparks can start fires which is why private fireworks are illegal in many places. The city leaders provide the large productions because they can better prepare the fire and rescue services for emergency situations when they have all the fireworks in one place. Fireworks are also quite noisy. Small children and those with sensitive hearing often suffer pain when the fireworks explode in the air and send off that loud rumble. The noise can also be frightening.
I heard on the radio the other day that the days following the Fourth of July are the busiest at the local animal shelters. When the fireworks begin, many animals vanish because they are afraid of the noise. They run away from their homes and in the excitement of the moment their owners do not realize they have disappeared. As things calm down and they come out of their hiding places, they find themselves lost and far from home. Strangers find them and take them to the shelter in the hopes that they will be returned. Unfortunately, at times the fear can cause an animal to dart in front of a moving car and get seriously hurt or even die.
Most humans aren’t afraid of fireworks, but we have our own fears that can cause us to do stupid things. The circumstances that bring on fear often happen quickly, giving us no time to think, we just react. When we are afraid, we run away from the situation and hide or we do something that is dangerous. It is particularly bad when we do those things that threaten our spiritual existence. All too many Christians will give in to an enemy and deny God’s truth for the sake of their lives, but in keeping their flesh alive they have given away their soul.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you and be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries: which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God; because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Philippians 1:27-30 (ASV)
The authorities released the story about the animal shelters being full in the days to come to help inform the pet owners in the area so that they will take the precautions necessary to protect their pets. It is surely fun to have your dogs along when you go to the park for the evening to enjoy the fireworks, but if your pet is skittish it would be best to leave them at home. If you won’t be at home with them, be sure they are well protected and confined so that they will hurt themselves trying to escape.
Those Christians who are surprised and frightened by the ways of the world are those who have not been prepared for the possibilities. Jesus never said we would be living in a rose garden when we became followers of Him. He warned us that we would face persecution and perhaps even death. Those who fall away quickly under the threat of the enemy are those who think faith will protect us from all evil. Instead, we are cautioned that our faith will make us a greater target for our adversaries. Yet, we also learn that it is such a blessing to suffer hardship for the sake of Jesus Christ, for though we might know pain in the flesh, our souls are guarded forever. Knowing this, we do not have to run away in fear but rather we should rest in the promises of God because He is faithful. Thanks be to God.
Disagreement One of the things that my kids do that drives me nuts is their willful disagreement with one another. If I would ask a question such as “What should we do for lunch?” they will invariably choose different places. Zack could choose Vicki’s absolute favorite restaurant and she would say “I don’t want to go there.” And Zack will do the same thing. They fight over who gets to do the chores or who doesn’t have to do the chores. If only Zack would want to do it on the day Vicki doesn’t and vice versa, we’d have a much more peaceful household.
It is really amazing the silly things people bicker about. Family feuds have been started over issues like where to go on vacation and who left the cat out too long. These issues might seem like sitcom hype, but people really do get divorced over the toilet seat lid, the direction of the toilet paper and where to squeeze the toothpaste. Of course, these are just the surface problems. There is always something deeper that magnifies the silly issues. When a relationship is strong, the silly issues might cause a battle, but they don’t divide people.
Churches even squabble over the silly things. I’ve heard of congregations that have fallen apart over the color of the carpeting in the sanctuary or which Sunday school materials to use. When we really look at the reasons for division, however, the carpeting and curriculum are not really the trouble. The people in that congregation have a difference in opinion about something greater – even the basic doctrines of faith are fodder for argument. They have no common beliefs or doctrine. This comes ultimately from a focus on all the wrong things. We take our eyes off Jesus and set them on our opinion or our understanding of faith.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius; lest any man should say that ye were baptized into my name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void.” 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ASV)
My kids might disagree about things once in awhile, but over and over again they prove the strength of their love for one another. They bicker over which fast food restaurant is the best and who is going to set the table, but they stand up for each other when the going gets tough. A sign of a strong fellowship of believers is that people can disagree on the superfluous things of church – the carpeting and curriculum and still worship together in spirit and truth. When these silly issues get in the way of people serving Christ together, then the deeper issues should be addressed because it is likely that they do not believe in the same thing.
What matters? The most important thing for a congregation to recognize is that Jesus is the foundation of our faith. We need to agree on the character and ministry of Jesus. Who was He and what did He do? We might absolutely love or pastor, but he is not Jesus no matter who good he can preach. The Corinthians were divided because some believed Paul and others believed Peter and yet others believed in Apollos. There were differences in the way these men preached, but the focus of the listeners became the preacher rather than the One being preached about. The people were following men, not Jesus. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to remind them that he is not the foundation of their faith – Jesus is. It is on Jesus we rest all our faith and hope.
There are indeed issues that matter, things that should divide because there are those in the world that preach a false Jesus. But when there is division we need to look beyond the silly issues to the deeper problems that are really causing the divide. Ultimately we will find that are differences happen because we are putting our hearts and hope into the wrong things – men – and missing out on our common faith in Christ.
Heroes Today is Independence Day in the United States. It is on this day we remember our fight for freedom and how we overcame our oppressors. We celebrate all that is good about America and honor the people who have made this a great nation. We join together in patriotic commemoration of our national birthday and enjoy the blessings we have living in this country. Of course, the whole world does not join in our jubilation. There are many who would just as soon see us fall, and they look to find the weakness that will bring us down.
The United States is indeed a super-power, a nation with strength, courage and abundant blessings. It is very easy for us to take our blessedness for granted. There are many who believe that we are so powerful because we have been blessed by God and that we are the chosen nation of God. There is at times, particularly during a day of celebration such as Independence Day, to assume we are indestructible. The superheroes of comic book fame appear to be unbeatable, yet the all have some sort of weakness. We are no different.
The scriptures have a great many characters that have extraordinary experiences and abilities. David overcame much stronger enemies, Solomon had amazing wisdom, Elijah performed miraculous deeds and Paul survived horrendous persecution, imprisonment and beating. Yet, none of these men would have enjoyed these blessings without the Lord. He gave them their power and they did amazing things. In the midst of it all, however, they continued to exhibit signs of weakness.
Of all the superheroes in the Bible, the most amazing must be Samson. He had such incredible strength that he could kill a lion with his bare hands and defeat an army of a thousand single-handedly. However, his power was not his own, it came from God. Samson was blessed by God to be a vessel of His vengeance against the Philistines. Unfortunately, Samson had his own weakness and it was his downfall. He fell under the spell of Delilah who nagged him until he gave away his secrets. She cut his hair and he lost his strength. Ultimately, though, he lost his power because God had left him. Instead of doing the work of God, he was abusing his power. In the end, Samson humbled himself before God and accomplished His work.
“And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison-house; and he made sport before them. And they set him between the pillars: and Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house resteth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto Jehovah, and said, O Lord Jehovah, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and leaned upon them, the one with his right hand, and the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life.” Judges 16:25-30 (ASV)
The enemies of the superheroes always tried using their weakness against them. Somehow, in the end, it was the downfall of the villain because the hero turned to their source of their strength and won the victory. Samson knew that God was the source of his strength and in the end turned to Him. God accomplished His work through Samson and though his greatest feat brought his own death, Samson will be remembered forever as an amazing superhero that served God to the end.
It is fun to celebrate the Fourth of July, to watch the fireworks and enjoy burgers from the grill. Millions of Americans are enjoying the summer sun at parks and the seashore. They are attending parades, picnics and other festivities this weekend. It is wonderful that we can rejoice in our many blessings, most particularly our freedom. Yet, let us never forget that we are blessed to be a blessing. God has not chosen us especially to be His special people; however He has given us a great many gifts which He is calling us to share with the world. With superpower comes responsibility. We will do well to take time to thank Him and remember the source of all power anywhere in this world is the Lord God Almigthy. Thanks be to God.
River The water cycle is made up of four stages – evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. This is elementary school science knowledge and many classrooms include a cute little poster that shows the cycle in a way that young students will understand. There is generally a little smiley-face raindrop that goes through each stage. He is pulled up in the sky, gathers his buddies in the clouds, falls to the ground as rain and then ends up in a river flowing into the sea. This helps us to see that the water just keeps going around and around. Today’s water is the same water that was here when the earth was first formed, it just keeps getting recycled through the system.
It is cute that they use the little smiley-face raindrop as an example, but would it really be possible to follow a single drop of water through the entire cycle? It seems to me that as it goes from one stage to another, the drop itself changes in substance as it move from river to cloud to river.
We went to Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, Texas yesterday. This is a roughly beautiful place with fishing, swimming, hiking and other outdoor activities. We had a picnic under the trees and then wandered around the park, enjoying the sights and sounds of God’s world. It is hard to explain the view from the hillside above this river. The falls are not tall cascading water that drops into a crystal clear mountain pool. The Pedernales River runs over limestone, often leaving large stretches of rock exposed between the running water. When the river is low, it is possible to walk across without getting your feet wet. However, flash floods come very quickly on this river. They have pictures, taken five minutes apart, which show a calm river and then a raging torrent.
As I sat and watched the water run by, I pondered what it might be like to follow the path of a single drop of water in that river. Even if you took a drop of red food coloring, it would not take very long before the color would dissipate in the pools or the falls. As it is swept away, it would mingle with the other water, making it impossible to retrieve exactly the same drop from the river. That drop becomes part of the whole and can’t be removed as it was.
“Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do.” John 14:8-14 (ASV)
I know that the example of a water drop is not a perfect analogy for our relationship with one another in Christ Jesus. We do remain individuals and can be distinguished from our brothers and sisters. However, we can’t become part of the fellowship of believers without being changed in some way. We become part of the whole. We are bound together by the Holy Spirit with the Lord living in our hearts. We can’t remove ourselves from that and if we do by rejecting God completely, we are not the same. Something dies and though we might appear to be the same to the world – the same hair, the same smile, the same personality – we lose our heart and soul.
It would do us well to remember that when we believed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we became part of something much greater – like a raindrop that joins a raging river. We can’t go it alone and though we are still individuals we are one in Christ. A single raindrop will not change the path of a river, but the millions that flow buy ever second are constantly changing the landscape through which it moves. We, as part of the fellowship of believers, can do incredible things – together sharing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ through our gifts so that many will come to know Him and be saved. Thanks be to God.
Shoes I heard a story the other day on the news about a shoe store that was robbed. The thieves did not bother to take any money, but they cleaned out every shoe in the store. The strangest part is that they left behind all the boxes. They took the time to remove the shoes and left the boxes scattered all over the store. When the owner arrived in the morning, it was very obvious he’d been robbed. This is not the act of a desperate person. An act like this must have had some bizarre purpose. Perhaps it was perpetrated by a bunch of kids on a dare, or the thieves wanted to get revenge on the store owner. It may have been an entrepreneur wanting to start a flea market shoe store.
I haven’t heard what happened with this situation, but it is likely the perpetrators will found quickly. This type of crime is one about which the criminals will boast. If it was done on a dare, the kids will have to tell their friends so that it will boost their reputation. If it was done in revenge, it is likely the crook will let the whole thing slip during a drunken discussion in the bar down the street. No matter what, how does one hid hundreds of pairs of brand new shoes? And what does one do with dozens of the same shoes in many different sizes? Certainly the police will be on the look out for a new vendor at the local flea market. It shouldn’t take long for this crime to be solved.
Sometimes criminals are caught because of their own stupidity. A man saw a policeman in a cop car one day and approached him with a question. “Can you tell me what your in car computer has to say about me?” The policeman took his name and other information and brought up a file on the man. The report showed that the man was wanted on charges of indecency and lewd behavior. Since there was an outstanding arrest warrant on the guy, the cop arrested him on the spot and took him in. I expect the shoe store robbery will be solved in similar manner.
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one: Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:9-26 (ASV)
These are both rather strange stories. It is unlikely that any of us would do such a thing. We would not find a good reason to clean a shoe store of all its merchandise. We would not be stupid enough to approach a policeman or even be wanted for a crime. Yet, we all sin. We sin against God and our fellow man, every day. We ignore their needs, we covet their blessings, we make ourselves the center of the universe and harm others with our selfishness. We lie, cheat and steal. We disregard God’s Word and we reject mercy, grace and justice. We sin in thought, word and deed.
We are all sinners. We may not be stupid enough to do something deserving human justice, but we are not righteous by our actions. We need Jesus and the forgiveness that comes from faith in Him. Our sins may not be as easy to recognize as the shoe store thieves or the guy with the warrant, but our sins will be revealed. The law, in human terms, is to keep people from doing things that will harm others. The Law, in God’s terms, helps us to see where we have already gone wrong and turns us toward the right way – which is Jesus. Through His mercy and grace, we are set free from the burden of being righteous by our own ability which is impossible. We are set free to live in God’s Law, which is our Lord Jesus Christ whose blood makes us righteous before God. Thanks be to God.
Ham There have been times I’ve gotten a craving for something good, but for one reason or another I was unable to get it. As a military family we have moved around fairly often and we miss some of our favorite foods. There’s nothing like going home to a cheese steak and pierogies or getting a box of Tasty Kakes. These cravings can drive you crazy. Sometimes the item is unavailable due to season – like watermelon in January or strawberry pie in November. It is perhaps even worse when I can get the food, but it has to sit in my fridge for days before I can actually serve it.
Several weeks ago I found ham on sale at an amazing price. I love to make ham and cabbage, a one pot meal with ham, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. I don’t make the meal often because it is nearly impossible to make just a little bit of ham and cabbage. I waited until my dad was going to visit. With company, I knew we could eat most of the meal so that none would go to waste. I longed for that ham and cabbage, thinking about how good it was going to taste. There was some question whether I would be able to cook it while he was here and I was disappointed. But we managed to make it happen and it tasted so good.
Cravings are really a minor problem when we consider the poverty of many people around the world. I can’t imagine what it is like to be near dehydration because of lack of water, to have such a thirst as to be near death. I have never really been hungry, not the kind of hunger that many people suffer around the world. I doubt that I could identify with such a need. We are fortunate so that when we are hungry or thirsty we can quickly meet our needs.
There is a thirst that goes well beyond physical need, however. It is a thirst for God. There are many people in our world today who are seeking relief to this thirst by running after every spiritual wind, desperately trying to fill a whole in their heart and quench the thirst they feel. Very often this search comes because the person is suffering some difficult time – they are dealing with illness or the death of a loved one, have suffered financial difficulty or emotional pain. These people cry out in the wilderness “why me?” There is a desperate need to know that God exists and that He is near.
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, How I went with the throng, and led them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him For the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: Therefore do I remember thee from the land of the Jordan, And the Hermons, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterfalls: All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet Jehovah will command his lovingkindness in the day-time; And in the night his song shall be with me, Even a prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine adversaries reproach me, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42 (ASV)
Some people never really find what they are looking for because they are looking in all the wrong places. They think the current religious trend will help them to know God, but it only leads them further from the source of the living water which is Jesus Christ. They seek the divine connection by chasing after rainbows or crystals or some other new age spiritualism. When things go wrong, they cry out in pain and wonder where God is in it all. They can’t understand how we can remain so calm in the midst of difficulty and even think that our troubles cannot possibly be as bad as theirs.
They do not realize that Christians too cry out to God in our thirst for Him, but we know that even when the going gets tough we live in a hope that reaches far beyond our most difficult problems. When we are faced with those wilderness times of hunger and thirst, of pain and sorrow, God is with us – even when we cannot see. We simply live in the hope of His promises and praise God for He is ever with us. Thanks be to God.
Advice The minute a woman gets pregnant, she is the recipient of advice from everyone and anyone. Complete strangers will walk up to a pregnant woman and tell her how to get through her pregnancy and raise her child. If a woman took every bit of advice and put it into practice, she would quickly become confused and it might even be putting herself in danger by following everything everyone says. Children are unique. And one piece of advice does not fit every situation. So, my advice to new moms is this – graciously listen to everything and do what is best for you.
I know that this might be the most difficult piece of advice to take, simply because a new mom really doesn’t know what is best for her kids. Certainly she would love to have the answers handed to her on a silver platter. Unfortunately, many of those with good intention give conflicting advice. It is not easy to pick through every statement to find the truth for the child.
Christians are quick about giving advice about spiritual things. When someone becomes a Christian, the first thing they ask is “what now?” The answer to that question will be different with everyone you ask. Some people will tell you to start by reading the Bible cover to cover. Others will tell you to read the Gospels. Yet others will say that it is time to get out in the world and share the faith by serving others. Just as pregnancies and babies are different, new Christians have different needs. The key is in discovering your own personal gifts and abilities and finding where they will best help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are those in the Christian realm who claim to live in the prophetic. They ‘see’ and ‘hear’ God’s will for other people and they give those visions as God’s Word. It is good that they share these things because there are many times that the message is very timely and very real. Unfortunately, many of these prophets follow the word with advice – telling their listener what they should do with the prophetic word. I have seen it more than once – the word was true but the advice was all wrong.
“And as we tarried there some days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And coming to us, and taking Paul's girdle, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, Thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we and they of that place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” Acts 21:10-14 (ASV)
There is good advice to be found amongst the hundreds of ideas that are shared with a pregnant woman. I was quite thankful to some of the women who shared their experiences with me and told me how they got through different situations. The same is true with my spiritual walk. In the past forty years, many people have shared ideas that have made a difference in my walk with God. Some of these came to me through prophetic words, messages that I believe came from God through pastors or teachers who hear His voice and respond in faith. I’ve had to pick through and discern how God would have me use the knowledge.
Paul knew he was walking into a dangerous situation and he knew that it was God’s will. The people did not want him to suffer and pleaded with him not to go. Paul listened to what they had to say, but did not take their advice and went on to complete the work God had assigned to him in Jerusalem. His suffering would mean salvation for many. There are many people who have our best interests at heart who would offer us much advice about our own walk with God. It would do us well to listen to what they have to say, but we also need to listen to God with our own hearts and minds so that we will do what is right according to God’s will. It is not easy, but God is always near and He faithfully guides those who listen. Thanks be to God.
Door Felix loves to go outside, but we would prefer that he stay indoors. We occasionally take him out for a walk, but it is not a daily occurrence. When he thinks there is a possibility of going out, he is of one mind. He is bound and determined to escape through the door one way or another. If we are busy unloading the car after a trip to the grocery store, or doing some grilling on the patio, he lies in wait for his chance. Yesterday he was determined to get out and so he followed us every time we went out a door, hoping he could slip out when we came back in. Unfortunately for Felix, I started playing a game – I always came in a different door than I went out, so he was waiting in the wrong place. He would not give up until I settled on the couch, obviously done with my chores.
Tigger is also of one mind, but his focus is food. No matter what we eat or when we eat, he stands ready to receive treats or crumbs that fall on the floor. When I am cooking, he stands right between my feet, often sneaking up without my knowledge. Sometimes I accidentally end up kicking him because I have no idea he’s there with me. If you try to have a snack on the couch, Tigger will jump on your chest and try to eat whatever it is right out of your bowl. When he’s really persistent, he might even try to take it out of your mouth.
Sometimes the two of them manage to get what they want – Felix escapes through the door for a romp in the yard and Tigger steals a juicy morsel. Imagine what they would accomplish if they were of one mind together. If they ganged up on us, they could easily accomplish their goals. Though they are getting along much better now than they were in the beginning, they haven’t yet discovered their common purpose. We are quite happy to keep it that way.
Unfortunately, there are a great many Christians who have not discovered the common purpose that belongs to us all – faith in Christ. We are all saved and gifted to bring glory to God by sharing the Gospel with the world. We become far too focused on our own ministry, our own goals, our own gifts and abilities and we forget the common bond that holds Christianity together – Jesus. Oh, it isn’t that we forget that Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Have you ever been part of a committee planning a large project and realize that everyone is of their own mind about what is important and how it is to be accomplished and the committee itself is not of one mind for the ultimate purpose? That’s what it is often like in the Church and we end up arguing about all the wrong things.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority--the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:5-14 (ASV)
Felix and Tigger know what they want and they work hard to get it. We can be thankful they have not figured out how to accomplish these things together because when they do we will have to work twice as hard to keep them from accomplishing our goal.
The devil doesn’t have to work very hard to stop us from accomplishing our goals as Christians because we are not of one mind. We spend an awful lot of time arguing about stupid things when there is a great deal of work to do for the Lord. We do have different interests, ministries and gifts, but this is meant to be an asset not a hindrance. God gifted us all individually so that when we work together we will be an awesome force for the Gospel in this world.
Things were no different in Paul’s day. The Corinthians had their own focus and ministry and there were those who opposed Paul in the Corinthian congregation. Paul did not force himself on them, but told them to test themselves. What is their focus? What is it that their hearts and minds are set to accomplish. When the answer is Jesus, the rest will fall into place – this is where we will find the one mind and the power of our ministry. Thanks be to God.
Today’s WORD was first posted a year ago today.
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.
Golf The American Junior Golf Association is having a tournament at The Dominion Golf Club of San Antonio this week. The golfers are teenagers who have been working hard this year to earn their place at this competition. Most of these golfers have been taking lessons for many years, to great expense for their parents. Golf is not an inexpensive sport. Even if you can find inexpensive clubs, the greens fees and costs for tournaments can be overwhelming. Add to that the travel costs, lessons and clothing. Junior golfing was not something the average family could afford.
You often have to have some knowledge or connections to even be aware of classes or camps, even the ones offered through public courses. Zack had his first lessons in golf at the base golf course. Bruce just happened to hear about the camp and registered Zack. When I talked to several people in the days and weeks that followed, several said they would have sent their kid, but they hadn’t heard about the opportunity.
Zack has since been taking classes through The First Tee, a youth golf program sponsored by the PGA. The First Tee offers free golf classes to any young person. There are three opportunities each week for the kids here in San Antonio. The classes also include guest speakers such as professional golfers, television sports announcers and even the coach of the San Antonio Spurs came to talk to the kids. Zack has definitely progressed in his golfing ability. He would never have had the opportunity without The First Tee.
This afternoon the players that are here for the tournament are participating in a Junior-Am Fundraising tournament. One junior player will join each of the groups of four adults who are playing in this event that will benefit The First Tee. The boys and girls who take classes were given the opportunity today to attend the Junior-Am and have a lesson from some of the junior golfers that are here this week. Most of these kids would never have had the opportunity to even visit the Dominion Golf Club, let alone play on the course.
I am sure we are all aware of some places that are unavailable for somebody based on some aspect of their life. People are rejected based on many things – wealth, intelligence, gender, race or creed. There are even religious institutions that make people feel unwelcome. God knew this would happen, even with His chosen people. He knew they would want to set themselves apart and make His Temple a special place for themselves. However, He called His Temple “a house of prayer for all nations.” There were places within the Temple complex set aside for the Gentiles to pray. They could not go within the holy places, but they could walk through the courts and honor God. Unfortunately, the Temple courts became a marketplace, making it impossible for anyone to worship.
“And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. And every evening he went forth out of the city.” Mark 11:15-19 (ASV)
God designed His Temple to be a place where anyone could go to pray and worship Him. The merchants and the moneychangers did provide a valuable service. The visitors – the pilgrims who came to offer sacrifices to God – could buy their animals there and not have to carry their lambs or doves on the long trip. The moneychangers made it possible for a Jew from far away to have the proper money to buy his sacrifice. Yet, this marketplace was loud and expensive. The Gentiles had no quiet place to pray and the poor were cheated of their money by the greedy merchants and moneychangers.
Jesus was upset because the marketplace cut off many people from God’s holy Temple. It was not available to everyone, only those who could get in the right door. I wonder how often our own churches become like the temple in Jesus’ day. Are people welcome to come through our doors, or are we more like a country club, available only for those who fit our profile? It’s not even about money, but will we welcome people from another nationality? What about an ex-con or someone who is mentally ill? Will we be warm and open to the people that come to worship from the local hospice? God’s temple is a place for all the nations. His temple today is found not only in a building, but in the hearts of all those who believe. But there is also our churches, the places where we gather in worship. God would have these be like His Temple, a place where everyone is welcome and nothing will get in the way of their own prayer. Thanks be to God.
Café I read a story today about a café owner in Salt Lake City who has decided to put away normal business practices to try something new. She no longer has a regular menu or a set list of prices for the food she sells. The waitresses do not collect payment for service or food, the customer is simply asked to put the amount they can pay in a box. Some of her customers exchange service for food. One man tends her herb garden, another donated land for a vegetable garden, another pays the water bill. She relies on their sense of honor to pay as much as they can for the service they have received. Thus far it seems to be working, she has been doing this type of service for a year and she has not yet gone out of business.
This is not just an issue of honesty, however. It is also an issue of value. How much is it worth to the customer to receive the meal and all the service that goes along with it? Undoubtedly, I do not think a six ounce piece of beef with a pile of steamed vegetables is worth the $45 you might pay in an exclusive club, but the meal is certainly worth more than $5. The owner has to pay cook and wait staff and has other overhead expenses that must be covered.
When I was younger, I worked for a couple weeks at a restaurant at the Allentown State Fair in Pennsylvania. During the day, while the fair was open, the restaurant was cafeteria style. In the morning, however, we opened as a sit down restaurant with breakfast for the carnies and other early workers from the fairgrounds. On the first day I had a customer – obviously held a high position because he was well dressed and carried a briefcase – who was very generous. His tip was at least double the cost of his meal. A tip indicates how much you value the service given, and that high tip made me feel like I’d done very well as a waitress. Unfortunately, he was not so generous every other day, often even forgetting to leave anything. Perhaps he felt that the high tip on the first day was meant to cover the whole time, but it made me feel worthless. On the second day I wondered how I messed up; by the last day I realized that the high tip was just a fluke.
The woman in Salt Lake City is counting on her customers recognizing the value of her food and the service they receive when the visit her café. It is not just a measure of honesty, a question of whether or not they will pay. It is also a measure of worth.
“And he departed thence, and went into their synagogue: and behold, a man having a withered hand. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man of more value than a sheep! Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, as the other. But the Pharisees went out, and took counsel against him, how they might destroy him.” Matthew 12:9-14 (ASV)
One of the reasons why Jesus came to teach and preach is because the Law given to the Jews by Moses had been corrupted by the interpretation of the Jews. There was no mercy or grace in the gift given to them by God. It was alright to save an animal if he was in imminent danger, but it was not alright to heal a man of his ills. The Pharisees were looking for something – anything – with which to accuse Jesus and so they used a cripple to make a point. God’s commands did not restrict the people from doing good and merciful things, but the Pharisees had put far more value on the rules than on the people.
Thankfully, God has put a far greater value on us, so much so that Jesus willingly went to the cross to die for our sake. None of us deserve to receive the incredible inheritance He has promised – the kingdom of heaven and all that is in it. Yet, God loved us so much that He has given it all to those who believe, so that we might live forever in His glory. It is like God has put a thousand dollar bill in the payment box for a hotdog. Thanks be to God.
Tarantula Yesterday morning, just as I was coming out of a deep sleep, I began dreaming about tarantulas. I don’t remember all the details or why I would dream such a thing, but I do recall a feeling as though one of the large furry spiders was crawling up my leg. Just as I was about to kick the thing across the room I began to wake up and I realized the thing climbing on me was Tigger, our new kitten. Needless to say, I didn’t kick him across the room and instead welcomed him beside me to cuddle.
We often hear the story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the bad guy who dresses himself up in something nice to make it seem as though he is good. We train our children to not judge a book by its cover because we never know what is inside. This is important for the safety of our kids, so that they will not be deceived and harmed by those who are in this world to destroy. The devil himself can make himself appear to be an angel of light.
However, we have to remember that a book might also be old, ugly, worn and beaten and yet still carry within it a beautiful story. Some people just aren’t as we perceive them to be. Tigger was not a hairy tarantula. Herman Munster from the old television series looked evil and wicked, but in reality he was just as gentle and kind as can be. Arnold Schwarzenegger played a Kindergarten teacher in the movie “Kindergarten Cop.” It was hard to believe that such a big, imposing man could possibly pretend to be the teacher for a bunch of very little people. Yet, at the end of the movie he gave up his job as a cop to become a full time teacher and the kids loved him.
We certainly can’t judge a book by its cover because both bad and good characteristics are lost to our perception. We look at something or someone and expect it to be exactly as we imagine it to be. Unfortunately, we are often blinded by our own experience and biases. Tigger seemed to be a tarantula at that moment simply because I was lost in a dream world. My perception could have done harm if I had not wakened to realize it was my kitten not a spider. Our perceptions can cause us to make the wrong choices or block our discernment about many things. Even Samuel the prophet was blinded by his own mind.
“And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely Jehovah's anointed is before him. But Jehovah said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Jehovah hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he is keeping the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon. And Jehovah said, Arise, anoint him; for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” 1 Samuel 16:6-14 (ASV)
We need to be careful that we do not judge things based on only our perception. The good can appear bad and the bad can appear good based on our own experience and biases. We can get so caught up in our own thoughts and imaginations that we don’t see the truth that is right in front of us. Samuel was expecting the new king to be someone like Saul – strong and imposing. The king leads the army into war, so should be a warrior, someone who can defeat any foe. Yet, God put all the power and authority of His kingdom – in that day and through history as the forefather of our Lord Jesus Christ – into a young shepherd boy. God looks to the inside and He knows all that we hide in our hearts, our good and out bad. His perception is perfect because he looks beyond the façade that the world sees. This is why we are called to look at our neighbor through Jesus-colored glasses, so that we will discern the goodness that is often hidden behind our misperception.
Amen One of the daytime conservative talk show hosts has a special noise he makes when he’s going to disagree with the president. When you hear that noise, it is supposed to call your attention to the fact that he does not stand 100% with all the ideas that come out of the White House. It is easy to assume, when much of the discussion is against liberal ideology and practice, that the host is someone’s clone.
This happens with everything. As soon as you agree with something someone says, the listener automatically groups you with that person in all things. Further discussion would reveal differences, because I know few people who totally agree about everything with someone else. It can cause some confusion to assume this about a person, however. In religion, for example, someone could say that they believe Jesus to be the Son of God. With such a statement, it would be easy to automatically assume that person is a Christian. However, there are many people who say that about Jesus who do not believe that Jesus is divine, that He is God incarnate.
When visiting Christian chat rooms, I have learned to be very careful about saying “Amen” when someone says something with which I agree, unless I truly know where they stand on all the issues. I have, more than once, been grouped with people who’ve said something with which I have agreed, only to find later that their entire belief system is far from my own. I have found myself engaged in debate with people based simply on the assumption that I am like that other person in all my thoughts. Even the one with whom I agreed sees me as an ally until we find some disagreement.
When Jesus was ministering in Jerusalem, the teachers of the law, the priests and other Jewish authorities tried to find a way to put a stop to what Jesus was doing. He was getting the people worked up about God and faith. It was not necessarily that Jesus was disagreeing about everything they taught, but he was making the crowds anxious and there was a constant threat of a mob. The Jewish authorities had a good working relationship with Rome and any sort of civil unrest would bring the Romans down on the Jews to take away some of their freedoms. They tried to trick Jesus, to make Him say things that would cause Him trouble with the crowds or with the Romans so that He would go away. Sometimes they were surprised by His answer.
“And there came to him certain of the Sadducees, they that say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, that if a man's brother die, having a wife, and he be childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died childless; and the second: and the third took her; and likewise the seven also left no children, and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus said unto them, The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” Luke 20:27-38 (ASV)
The Pharisees were thrilled with this answer because it put them on the right side of the debate about resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in eternal life, and their question was meant to show how ridiculous the idea would be. How could a man be married seven times in that afterlife? Jesus proved through scripture that there is indeed an afterlife, but He also showed that their imaginings about the resurrection are wrong. It won’t be a world like the one in which we live now.
I can almost see the Pharisees doing high fives after this answer. It made Jesus seem like he was one of them. “Way to go, Jesus, you got that right!” Yet, the next passage in Luke shows that Jesus is not a Pharisee. He addressed the crowd and said, “Beware of them, they like to look important but they don’t live the godly life.” Jesus refused to be identified with their ways just because they agreed on one thing. We should also be careful not to let outsiders assume we are something we are not. Speak the Gospel clearly so that there will be no misunderstanding and be careful to agree with the only One who has all truth – the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Starbucks We all set goals for ourselves. As children our goals are short term – we want to pass a test or finish school. We want to make new friends or succeed in some hobby or other interest. Our parents set goals such as cleaning our rooms or doing chores – often with a final goal of earning an allowance or some special reward.
As we grow older our goals become more far sighted. We set financial and career goals, relationship and personal goals. Most of the time our goals are pretty standard – we seek the things that everyone wants. We all want a house of our own, a family, a good-paying job and happiness. Sometimes we set more individual goals. I have a goal of painting several paintings by the end of the summer. Some people set health goals, such as losing a certain amount of weight or running a certain amount of miles. Most of our goals are rather insignificant in the whole scheme of things – not life or death.
There is a man who has set a rather unusual goal for himself and he is working hard at achieving that goal. He has decided that he will drink coffee at every Starbucks that is company owned. He is accomplishing this task one city at a time. When he arrives at a new city he maps out a strategy; he visits anywhere from five to twenty-five Starbucks in a day. One day he even went to twenty-eight. He always drinks caffeinated coffee, but many times he asks for only a half of a cup. He notices everything about the store – the differences and the similarities. The only reason that seems to be given for this goal is that he is determined to prove that someone can do it.
This is not an easy thing to accomplish. Starbucks has stores all over the world and they are opening ten new ones a week. It is also difficult to live on coffee. After just a few stores in a day, the man is jittery from all the caffeine. He says that after a few the coffee stops tasting good; it even makes him sick if he drinks too much. Yet, he continues on his quest claiming that he can’t stop because it is too rewarding. He must get something out of it, some satisfaction of a job well done. His website helps him survive financially while he tries and perhaps one day he will catch up with Starbucks before they can open any new stores.
“Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ASV)
I suppose I have to wonder why anyone would spend so much time on such a quest. I can understand a student working hard to graduate or a person working to advance in their career. I can identify with people who set individual goals and try to accomplish them. Yet, sometimes our goals become obsessions – though the Starbucks guy says he’s not obsessed, just enthused. It is easy for us to let things get out of control, to let our worldly goals become our sole focus and put aside the rest of our lives for that one thing. This guy won’t accomplish anything that will make a difference in this world.
There is a goal for which we should set aside all things – eternal life in Christ Jesus. This is not a goal we can achieve by our own abilities, yet it is a goal for which we run in the hope and grace of God. There is something great about living our life for the Lord, for giving our life to His service. There is something amazing about always moving closer to the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people, our journey to the greatest goal that exists. This is a goal which we are called to share with others so that they too might run the race and receive the prize of faith and eternal life. Thanks be to God.
Root We have not yet put too much time or money into the landscaping at our new house. We wanted to live in the house for a year, to see where the sun shines and where the water runs when it is wet. When we are sure how the elements will affect our investment, we will start putting in flowers, trees or whatever else we feel will enhance our home. Meanwhile, I’ve tried keeping a few plants and flowers on our patio, just pots of some life and color to make us feel at home.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to keep anything alive. I could not understand it. Even plants I have had live and thrive under my care were withering away. I thought perhaps it was the Texas heat or the sun was shining too harshly on my plants. I tried several times, replaced the flowers with different types, moved the plants, and watered them regularly. Nothing seemed to work. As a matter of fact, when I began giving them more water, they seemed to die even faster. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was the water that was killing the plants.
We have a water softener in our house, which is wonderful when it comes to cleaning the dishes, clothes and our bodies. I have noticed a difference. Unfortunately, soft water is not good for everyone. The water is softened using salt pellets. I’m not sure how it works, but the minerals in the water are replaced with particles of salt. Therefore, the soft water is more salty. After talking to some gardening friends, I realized it was the salt that was killing my plants. Now that I am using untreated water, my plants are thriving and beautiful.
Have you ever been sick with flu or a cold? We don’t always know why we are suffering from these bouts of sickness. We explain them away with “there must be a bug going around.” We hear about other people who are suffering with the same symptoms and we automatically assume that we have the same thing. We are probably right most of the time. Yet, we have to realize that sometimes the symptoms point to a deeper problem. We have to find the root of our sickness to really be healed.
“And again he went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to lay his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it. And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” Mark 7:31-37 (ASV)
This seems like such a strange way to heal a person. Jesus stuck his fingers in the guy’s ears, then spit and touched his tongue. He did not talk about healing the illness but rather spoke to heaven with the words “Be opened.” While the healing was definitely physical, since the man did begin to hear and speak, the healing also touched a deeper need – the spiritual.
Isn’t it interesting that the more Jesus told them not to say anything about the healing, the more they spoke. Something so great can’t be kept from the world. The people heard of these astonishing things that Jesus did and they could see that there was something special about Him. “He makes even the deaf hear and dumb speak.” Much of the prophecy from the Old Testament pointed toward the Messiah who would do such things. How wonderful it is that He does bring physical healing, but how marvelous it is that He has found the root to all our problems – sin. He has dealt with that sin with His blood on the cross.
The plants I have on the patio will probably die at some point. I don’t have much of a green thumb. In the same way, my physical body will get sick with the flu or cold and I will eventually die of something. Yet, Jesus Christ has saved me for eternity. He has opened my heart to His love and mercy and dealt with the root of my problems. Thanks be to God.
Paper airplanes Today at church, our pastor asked Vicki and I to help with the children’s sermon. We were supposed to be as much of a distraction as we could be. So, when he called the children up, we slipped into the front row. He asked the children to pay close attention to the story he was going to tell and then Vicki and I got started. I made a paper airplane which I threw toward the kids. Vicki and I discussed an article in our church magazine. I tore out a page, made a ball and threw it at the pastor. We called out to Zack who was acolyte today, trying to be as well behaved as possible. Its pretty hard when your mom is being so silly.
Needless to say, Vicki and I did our task well. Pastor finally had to stop telling the story and ask us to stop. Then he talked to the children about how distracted we can be by the things around us when we should be paying attention to more important things – like God’s word. When the service was over, several people suggested that perhaps I was having way too much fun being a distraction this morning, all in good humor of course.
It was fun, but I have to admit that even though it was what I was asked to do, my silliness even became a distraction. It took several minutes after it was over to stop giggling and I might have missed a bit of the sermon as my mind wandered thinking about things I could have done. The point of the lesson was quite clear, however. We don’t listen very well. Either we let the world around us become a distraction or we simply focus inward and we do not hear what others are saying.
“Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ASV)
What Martha was doing was not a bad thing. She was taking care of her houseguests, meeting their physical needs. However, she was worried and distracted by the work so much so that she was more concerned about herself. Jesus did not berate her for making lunch or doing the work of hospitality. He told her to stop letting the distractions of this world make her miss out on the greater things such as hearing the word of God.
When Vicki and I were playing during the children’s sermon, we were certainly a distraction to the children – fulfilling our task that our pastor asked us to do. However, in the process of doing this good thing, we also missed out on the story ourselves. Every day we go out into the world in faith doing what God has called us to do – serve Him by loving our neighbor. However, sometimes our good works can become so self-centered that miss out on hearing Him speak into our lives. We get burnt out because we begin to think we are the only ones who are doing all the work.
Whenever we hear this story, we are tempted to think Jesus is lifting Mary above Martha and teaching us to be like her. The reality of this story, however, is not that we should spend all our time sitting at the feet of our Lord, but that we should not worry and fuss over the distractions of this world that keep us from hearing Him. A balanced life of being Mary and Martha, listening and doing, is the way Christ calls us to live. We can’t know God’s will if we don’t hear His voice, and once we hear His voice, we can’t help but go out and do His will. In the meantime, let us focus our attention on the things that really matter – Jesus and all He has to tell us – so that we might live in the grace He has given. Thanks be to God.
Robbers A group of American teenagers and their sponsors set off from California to Guatamala to build a school for a village. Education is very expensive and most children in third world countries do not get enough learning. It is a vicious circle – the children need the education to get out of poverty, but because of their poverty they are unable to get the education. “Seeds for Learning” is an organization that tries to help these small communities provide the resources needed for this very important aspect of life. Along with building a place for the students to gather, they also give books and supplies
Unfortunately, as they traveled to their destination last week a couple of vehicles filled with armed men hijacked their bus. The robbers took the money that had been donated for the project as well as many of the volunteer’s personal items. The hijackers took over the bus for a time, but eventually freed the group. They went on to a hotel to decide what to do next. The youth did not want to disappoint the people they were going to serve. Despite the setback, the group decided to go on, to do the job they set out to do. Of course, they need to overcome some hurdles – their fear and lack of funds – but they are not going to let the incident stop their work.
It is easy to look back at such an event and wonder if there was anything they could do differently. Should they have taken a different road? Could they have found some other way of transporting their funds? Is there any way they might have stopped the robbers from taking everything? These questions really serve no good purpose. The robbers could have been anywhere and it is likely that there were no other roads anyway. It is not easy to transport the things necessary for a service project of this magnitude. To try to stop the robbers would have risked life and limb. It is also very easy to experience something so horrifying and let it turn your life upside down.
“Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Matthew 5:38-42 (ASV)
I don’t know if I would have wanted to go on if this experience happened to me. I would be afraid of other robbers coming along and becoming violent since we had nothing of value to take. I might insist on seeking justice before moving on. I’m sure it would ruin my enthusiasm for the project. Yet, these kids did not allow the setback to ruin their trip. They went on to complete the work. The organization is seeking extra donations to cover that which was lost.
These words from Jesus are among the hardest which He taught to His disciples. Everything we know says that it is fine to meet out a little justice, punishing perpetrators with an equilateral deed. Yet, Jesus tells us to persevere through hardship without harboring any need for revenge. He tells us to give more than they ask and server further than they demand. How can we live this out in the real world? After all, would that not make us doormats to be stepped on by every wicked man?
There’s a practical reason for this – the same reason why the youth on the mission trip did not fight the robbers. Someone bent on taking your things will not hesitate to take your life. Yet, that does not help us move on after such an incident. The only thing that can do so would be faith in God – knowing that God will seek vengeance on evildoers in His own time and way. Even more so, however, we go forth knowing that God will bless every step done in faith, for God is trustworthy to keep all His promises. He will supply whatever you need to get through each day, but also to overcome the hurdles that this life throws our way. Thanks be to God.
Questions I’m not as computer savvy as I appear to be. I can design simple pages, use search engines and overcome minor difficulties as they come along, however I get just as stuck as the next guy when something major occurs. I have some friends who can help me, and I generally know where to search for other help. Yet there are times when I can’t find a satisfactory answer to my questions.
Have you ever written to a software company or some other computer programmers with a question and gotten a form letter in return that didn’t even come close to answering? When I set up this particular mailing list, I ignored the part of the set up that asked about what section of their directory under which I would like to be listed. Now I can’t get listed which means that people browsing the lists will never find “A WORD FOR TODAY” through topica.com. I’ve written to their help desk several times. I Have received an answer that had nothing to do with directory listings. Needless to say, it did not solve the problem.
I recently came across a webpage that teaches people how to ask the right questions. When you fill in a form letter, the automatic responders will pick up a word or two and send the answers according to those particular words. If you have included those words in your question, you will get the form answer even if it has nothing to do with the real question. This webpage I found explains how to word your questions so that you will get the most satisfactory answer.
This concept – asking the right question – comes around in our every day life also. Ask the wrong question and you won’t get a complete answer. Ask the right question and you might get an answer you did not want to hear. Some people would just as soon not reveal too much, but withhold information if they can do it without being dishonest. In other words, if you ask your kids where they have been, they might say “at a friend’s house.” Delve more deeply and you just might discover they were somewhere you have told them not to go.
“Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death; and they found it not, though many false witnesses came. But afterward came two, and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest stood up, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? They answered and said, He is worthy of death.” Matthew 26:59-66 (ASV)
Jesus was in the midst of a trial – a trial in which His enemies were trying to find some cause to get rid of Him. They did not like what He was saying or doing – it went against their authority and threatened to strip them of their power. So, a number of witnesses came to speak against Him. They told lies, they invalidated each other’s stories. So, when the priest came to Jesus and asked Him to answer these charges, Jesus remained silent. There was no answer to that question because they were lies. To speak out at that moment would have not saved Him, nor would it have spoken the truth.
So, the priest asked another question, more specific this time. “Under oath, are you the Messiah?” Jesus answered “Yes.” I don’t know what sort of answer the priest expected Jesus to give, but answering yes to this particular one caused a great deal of excitement and alarm. The priest ripped his clothes as if going into mourning and cried out to the crowds, “See, what more evidence do we need? He confesses his blasphemes with his own tongue.” Yet, the answer Jesus gave was the truth. The truth would put Jesus on the cross, but that is exactly where He wanted to go, for our sakes. He could have easily disproved the claims against Him and gained the support of the crowds. Had he answered the first questions, tried to justify His works against the false witnesses, the road to the cross may have been suspended. But Jesus had His face set to the salvation of the world; He was going to the cross for you and I. He answered the right question at the right time for our sake and died that we might have life. Thanks be to God.
Practice Just about everything we do takes practice. Athletes need to go through exercises to build skills. Basketball players need to repeatedly throw free throws so that when the time comes on the court during a game, he or she will be skilled and make the shot. Golfers need to spend hours on the driving or putting ranges so that during a game they are confident enough to make the right choices about clubs and angles. Swimmers and runners need to do laps over and over again to build up their strength. Baton twirlers need to practice their tricks and routines over and over again until the baton becomes an extension of their bodies.
Vicki has been twirling baton for nearly two years now, and I think she has finally realized the importance of practice. In the past she would grab her baton and go out for a few minutes, but as soon as she got bored or tired, she quit. At majorette camp, she realized that the award winning twirlers did not get there by inborn skill – they practiced every day for hours until they could throw the baton perfectly. So, now she is outside, developing and practice her own routine so that she will be able to show her growth to her baton teacher this fall.
None of us like to have the practice time. It is boring to do the same trick a thousand times, or to drive a hundred balls on the range. We want to be in the race, performing our skills against or for other people. It can be frustrating when we just can’t get a trick or a shot and it is so easy to quit. It can be particularly horrible when we have a harsh teacher who pushes us harder than we think we can handle. Yet, when we persevere through the rough times, we find success at the other end.
It is not only the athlete that must persevere. We must get through tough times in our academic lives, at work and even in our personal lives. Sometimes there are hard things to deal with – broken relationships, failure and heartache. We have to deal with financial stress and illness. We have to deal with grief when loved ones pass away. Yet, there is something greater on the other end of these hard times, blessings from God waiting for us to persevere in faith.
“Some of his disciples therefore said one to another, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye behold me not; and again a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? We know not what he saith. Jesus perceived that they were desirous to ask him, and he said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves concerning this, that I said, A little while, and ye behold me not, and again a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but when she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for the joy that a man is born into the world. And ye therefore now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh away from you.” John 16:17-22 (ASV)
Practicing for a sport or growing in some other skill will help us succeed and we should do so no matter how long, tedious or boring it is. In life, we all have our own personal difficulties to survive throughout our lives, but I wonder if we could deal with anything as discouraging and upsetting as the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. We know the truth of Christ’s coming from hindsight. It is such a blessing that we have come after the resurrection. Could we have persevered through such difficult times as those three days of mourning that the disciples had to get through? I like to think I would have had enough faith, but I’m not so sure. There are times when it seems I can’t even get through a day without fear, worry and doubt.
Yet, we can look back through the scriptures and praise God that the disciples did get through the mourning until that day it was turned to joy – the day they saw Jesus risen from the grave. They went on in joy to share the Gospel so that today we too can walk in that same joy. The trials and tribulations we face will never be so great as that of those first disciples, because through all things we have the hope of eternal life that Jesus gives us through baptism. Thanks be to God.
Decisions It is hard to believe, but the kids return to school in less than a month. We went out shopping this week to start buying the supplies they will need for their classes. As they prepare for another school year, I am also making some plans for what I will do when they return. I have been considering several job possibilities. I don’t want to lose my freedom as a stay-at-home mom, but I do want to help with the household expenses.
This is not really a difficult decision to make, not nearly as difficult as some others are making these days. As summer vacation draws to a close, those who have recently graduated have to decide what they will do with the rest of their lives. Some high school graduates have fooled around all summer and now it is time to go to college or get a job. I recently heard some statistics about salaries for those who have been to school and those who have not. The difference is astounding. According to census figures, a high school drop-out will only make about $12,000. A high school diploma and some college will pay more than $20,000. A college degree will nearly double the yearly salary and a Master’s degree or higher will at least triple your pay.
This information might be tempting for most high school graduates. Who doesn’t want to earn a better living? However, the recent basketball draft shows us that not everyone is drawn by such small potatoes. There are some high school basketball players who were good enough this year to consider skipping college to move right on to become professional ball players. The salaries they were being offered were outrageous. Why bother with a degree when you are going to get paid millions without it?
There was one player who decided to go to college. He recognized the importance of an education. Basketball will not feed his family forever, the day will come when he will have to do something else. So, he chose to continue with school and play ball in college. Then, when he graduates, he will not only be a better ball player, he will also be more prepared to enter the real world if basketball should fail. There are those who think this was a silly decision. After all, he could go back to school anytime, why not go for the big bucks now?
There are those who think this works with Christian faith, also. Why bother being goody-two shoes today when I can be saved tomorrow? I might as well enjoy myself and then make a death bed confession to be saved. This ignores the fact that our salvation is immediate, not just a future hope but a present reality.
“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:9-11 (ASV)
As summer vacation draws to a close and we are making decisions about our life, let us always remember to put God first and choose wisely – to make the decision that will be the greater blessing to ourselves and those we love. It might seem better to go for the millions today and put off college for awhile, but the reality is the extra school will help that young man grow in knowledge and skill. When he does become a professional player he will be much more grounded and a better player.
We can’t make our salvation better because it is by God’s grace that we are saved. However, we can live in that salvation today, experiencing the love of God in this world while we hope for the eternal life He has promised to all who believe. What a great blessing it is to know Christ in this world, living in hope right now rather than waiting for another day so we can fulfill the desires of our flesh. Christ died that we might be reconciled today, not tomorrow, and He was raised so that we would rejoice in His salvation for ever. Thanks be to God.
Prayer beads Several months ago I attended a workshop about prayer beads, otherwise known as rosaries. There are many different types of prayer beads, configurations that are used in every major religion in the world. Prayer beads and rosaries are used to help guide our prayer time and focus our mind. They are useful because they force us to commit to a certain amount of time – if we use them properly – so that we don’t rush through our time with God. Also, our human minds wander easily, we need to involve our whole bodies in our prayer.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself talking with God when suddenly the world tries to enter into the conversation. My schedule begins to flicker before my eyes and I start thinking about all the things I should be doing. Sometimes my stomach grumbles and I remember I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. The phone rings and I jump up to answer. I am distracted by every outside noise and my talking to God quickly digresses to a couple brief intercessions as I run off to the real world.
So, we use tools to help us focus our prayer lives. Rosaries and prayer beads can certainly become objects of misuse. The prayers can end up rote and dutiful with little concern for the actually conversation with God. They can become a crutch or a burden so that they are the focus rather than our God. However, they can also be an incredible blessing as they help us to develop good prayer habits using them as just a small part of entire prayer regimen. That balanced prayer life includes many other things, including fellowship with others.
Just as the ancient art of prayer beads has been lost in modern spirituality, so too has fellowship with other believers been lost. Too many Christians today think that they can live out their faith alone, away from the congregation of saints. There is so much disillusionment with the modern church with all its disagreements and trials. We are quick to justify our separation with excuses like “they aren’t really Christian” and “God is found everywhere.” So they run off to the mountains to pray by hiking and study the Bible alone. However, God created the Church for a purpose – so that believers will edify one another, grow in faith together and serve the Lord together.
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else if thou bless with the spirit, how shall he that filleth the place of the unlearned say the Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:14-17 (ASV)
One of the greatest problems the Church has faced throughout her history is that people separate spirituality from our earthly lives. They think that the spirit us should live apart from the flesh, that our bodies have nothing to do with our life of faith. This is manifest in the modern perception that we can pray with just our spirits without getting our flesh involved. So, we sit in our prayer place and try to pray, but we are quickly distracted by the world. However, when we get our whole bodies involved, our minds as well as our eyes, ears, hands. It is even better when we join in fellowship with other Christians, to pray together. As Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be among them.”
As each individual’s life of faith includes not only the spirit, but also the flesh living in honor and worship of God, so too does the Church live in body and in flesh. We were created and saved for the sake of the world, not ourselves. We have faith so that we might be a blessing to others. Our words, our actions, are means of God’s grace. How will they know we are praising God if we do it alone on a mountain top? We are called together as one body, a physical body as well as a spiritual body. Jesus was not just God. He was God in flesh. Let us use the bodies we have been given, both our individual bodies and the body of Christ, to praise God before the world and edify one another. Thanks be to God.
Storm We have season passes for Sea World. The nice part about having passes is that we can go for just a few hours at a time and not think we’ve wasted a lot of money. Each time we go, we can go to enjoy a different part of the park. Last week we spent a few hours at the water park. On another occasion we enjoyed the rides. Last night we planned on going for the evening, just to see the night time shows. Bruce got out of work a little early so we could get across town in time. Shortly before we left, I checked the weather and there was a very nasty storm on the way into the area.
We decided to go anyway. At this time of year, the storms are scattered and brief, even if they are wicked. As we drew closer to the park, we noticed the dark and ominous clouds just south of the park. We still questioned our judgment, but went ahead anyway. We made it to the great glass archway just as it began to pour. The people who had spent all day in the park were pouring out. The thunder and lightning was near and the rides, water park and shows were all closed.
We asked a security guard if they were going to close the park. He assured us that as soon as the storm passed, we would be able to enjoy the park. So, we waited our the storm under the arch. The glass was not water tight, and the arch was tall enough that the driving rain did get us wet, but on such a hot day it was somewhat refreshing. The wind blew hard enough to knock over several of the large potted plants they had decorating the entrance. The lightning and thunder were frightening at times, the close streaks and earsplitting noise rattled our nerves a bit.
The storm only lasted a half hour, it was barely a drizzle when we finally decided to go in the park. By then the park was half empty, most of the people had left for the day. I’m sure most of the people managed to get a full day in before the weather turned bad, so it wasn’t a waste. I overheard several people ask about refunds on a special meal, but other than people seemed ready to go home. It is exhausting to spend a long hot day at a park, especially for parents of small children. The rain, while inconvenient, seemed a welcome relief for many of the people running to their cars.
In the end, we were all glad we stayed. The shows were terrific and they were not as crowded as they might have been on a summer evening. The rain cooled down the atmosphere and made it much more comfortable for us. It rained intermittently all evening, but the shows are generally undercover and at Sea World you are likely to get wet anyway! Waiting through the storm was not the most pleasant experience, but the rest of the night was wonderful.
“Fear not, O land, be glad and rejoice; for Jehovah hath done great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth its fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in Jehovah your God; for he giveth you the former rain in just measure, and he causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain, in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the canker-worm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and shall praise the name of Jehovah your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be put to shame. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Jehovah your God, and there is none else; and my people shall never be put to shame.” Joel 2:21-27 (ASV)
God is no more to blame for the suffering of Israel than He is for the storm we experienced yesterday. This is the way life is, even the life we live in a relationship with God. We suffer the consequences of sin – sometimes our own, and sometimes we suffer at the hands of others. We suffer the natural affects of an imperfect world. But God does not let us live in fear of such suffering. He gives us hope that the day will come when He will overcome our heartaches and grant us even greater blessings. He uses our suffering to build us up and make us stronger. He turns our mourning into dancing.
We have never been promised that our life will be a rose garden without any storms. However, we are called to live in Christ with rejoicing, no matter our circumstances, knowing that He will see us through every storm and bless us so that the world will know He is God. Thanks be to God.
Musician When Monica and Chandler decided to get married, Phoebe was right in the midst of their wedding plans. Since she is a musician, she expected that she would be the one to play the music on their special day. Unfortunately, Phoebe’s music is not the type to be played at such an occasion, with titles like “Smelly Cat,” “Barnyard Animals,” and “The Grandma Song” which was about the death of that nice little old lady who gave you great presents. Phoebe’s singing was less than enjoyable, but the friends listen because they love her.
Of course, these are just characters from the television show “Friends” but the situation often happens in our every day life. We have friends who by virtue of their position or the things they have done or for us expect to have a place of particular honor in the events of our lives. Our friends expect to be bridesmaids in our wedding, or they expect us to choose them first for the softball team. If we get a promotion, our friends expect that we will give them special treatment. Those who are part of our innermost circle suppose that they are better than others and more deserving of positions of honor. There are times when it is right for them to have that honor. There are other times when such a request goes beyond our authority.
James and John were important to Jesus and they were witnesses to some of the most incredible events. They were called to join Jesus and immediately left their father Zebedee and his boat to follow Him. James and John were invited, along with Peter, to go on the mountain to pray when Jesus was transfigured. We hear about James and John when the disciples were walking toward Jerusalem. The people in one Samaritan town refused hospitality to Jesus; they asked Him if He wanted them to call down hellfire on the town. They were zealous and loyal. They believed and lived their faith passionately. They also thought they were pretty important.
“And there come near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him, Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared.” Mark 10:35-40 (ASV)
Jesus had authority over heaven and earth but He did not have the authority to put James and John into such seats of honor. The reason for this is that the seats James and John expected were not seats that would ever exist. They thought Jesus would be an earthly king like David, who would rule over Jerusalem and Israel to save the people from the oppression of the Romans. But Jesus would never sit on that type of throne. It would not take long before He was hung from a cross, a much different end to His ministry. They had no idea that the cup to drink and the baptism would offer only suffering and pain.
This prophecy came true for James. Just fourteen years after the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, James was beheaded in a lame attempt to halt Christianity. He was the first Apostle to be martyred, the only one of the twelve whose death was recorded in the scriptures. He indeed did drink the same cup and suffer the same baptism as Jesus. He is remembered today and through his story we are reminded that Jesus did not choose perfect men to be His servants. James boldly asked Jesus for the wrong thing, but he continued to live out his life of faith and then he died for the sake of the Gospel. We may make the same mistakes, thinking our position or our experiences merit us greater attention or honor. Let us remember that in the kingdom of God, the one who is give greater honor is the one who lives as a servant, even unto death as our Lord Jesus Christ did for each of us. Thanks be to God.
Closed A few years ago we were in Memphis and we wanted to go eat at a specific restaurant. It was around New Years, time for the Liberty Bowl. The city was overtaken by the college teams that were playing in the bowl game. Fans lined the streets and had taken over every possible place to party. The restaurant that we wanted to visit was closed for a private party – only those who were invited could go inside. It was quite a disappointment.
Can you imagine what it would be like to find out about a special party or ball and go to great trouble to attend, but then find that you aren’t allowed in the door? Many of the parties connected to the political conventions this summer are by invitation only. The same is true of parties following award ceremonies, sporting events, concerts or shows. It does not matter how much trouble you go through to prepare for the party, you won’t be allowed in without an invitation.
Many religious people go through a great deal of trouble to get into heaven. They obey a bunch of rules and put on a façade of righteousness. They believe all the right things, act in all the right ways, live according to all the right attitudes. It is a self-possessed attitude, working hard to be the best they can be for the sake of the ultimate reward. Sometimes this leads to horrific acts – such as terrorist bombings or Bible bashing. Zealousness and passion manifest in violence or haughtiness. Most of the time, however, it is just nice people, doing nice things for all the wrong reasons.
“And as he was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother. And he said unto him, Teacher, all these things have I observed from my youth. And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But his countenance fell at the saying, and he went away sorrowful: for he was one that had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished exceedingly, saying unto him, Then who can be saved? Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God. Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” Mark 10:17-31 (ASV)
We are quick to read this story as a rejection of earthly wealth. When Jesus says to this man that he should sell everything he has to give to the poor, we wonder if that is what God is calling from us, also. Yet, Jesus was not denigrating the man for having wealth. The passage tells us that Jesus loved him. This encouragement was with grace and mercy because the man was definitely missing something. He had all the right credentials – had obeyed all the laws and was even a leader in the community. He was prosperous, certainly a sign that God had blessed the man. He was earnest in his search, but he was looking in the wrong pace.
He had prepared for a party, but was missing the key element. He did not have the invitation because he was more concerned with himself. Jesus called his attention to something he desired more than eternal life – his wealth – but poverty is not what he was missing. Later in this story, Jesus says that it is possible for God to do anything, even welcome a rich man into heaven. That’s the key, however. The invitation is given by God and this was what the man was missing. His focus was on himself, not God. His faith was in the wrong things – his ability to earn eternal life rather than God who gives it as a free gift. We have been invited to the best party and our invitation is Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Vacuum I had a visit from a vacuum salesman yesterday. When he came to the door, I told him that no matter how wonderful the product is, I can’t afford to buy one at this time. He assured me that he would not pressure me to buy, but if he showed me the machine it would help him win the contest. I reminded him that it would be a complete waste of time but I let him in. He was a sweet looking young man, only about twenty years old. He was very polite and very talkative.
Throughout the two hour demonstration, he told me all sorts of stories about his family and friends and how much they love their vacuums. He described his own pets and his daughter and how the vacuum keeps them healthy. He let me try to vacuum and told me that he is so glad that it is easy to maneuver because he doesn’t want his girlfriend to have to work too hard. He showed so much concern for everyone and offered his vacuum as the solution to every worldly problem.
He talked about the financial savings I would ultimately having, claiming that the vacuum would take care of my carpet so that I would not have to replace it in a few years. When I was obviously not falling for his sales pitch, he went a little deeper. With each swipe of the vacuum he came up with a pad filled with dust and cat hair. He wondered what I felt about all the dirt and then asked what my husband would think if he saw all those pads. Eventually, his boss came by to see how things were going. He asked many of the same questions, each one designed to guilt me into buying this amazing machine for the sake of my family. I could certainly find a few dollars a month, couldn’t I?
I held firm, my financial status was exactly as I had told them in the beginning – I could not afford even a few dollars a month for a two thousand dollar vacuum. Sure I wanted one, don’t we all want the best of everything? I was getting quite bored and disturbed by this ‘non-aggressive’ sales pitch. It was obviously deceitful. At the end, the young man even tried to feed on my compassionate nature by thanking me for taking him one step closer to winning the contest. “I only need three hundred demos. Of course, fifteen sales would win it for me.”
Now, this kid and his boss were not evil. They were trying to do their job. However, their methodology was exactly the way Satan does his job in this world. They played on feelings, tried to make me seem uncaring, played on guilt and negative self image. I told the salesman he should not have wasted his time, but in his arrogance he was sure that he could convince me I needed this vacuum. Yet, ultimately it was his deceit that lost him a sale. I was going to ask for literature, to consider a purchase in a few months when things settle down financially. I have since learned that these vacuums are not as dependable as the salesman made it sound. They don’t last forever. They break down just like the cheaper ones. We need to be discerning in this world because deceit is not only bold-faced lies. Sometimes deceit is subtle, packaged as goodness.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:7-10 (ASV)
All too many people think they can fool God. The walk around doing good things, but in their hearts they are evil in thought. They do not live truth, but try to manipulate the world around them to fit their own lusts. Yet, in the end everything works for the good of those who love God. Deception pays off negatively, honesty will ultimately be rewarded. My salesman misread the situation. If he had given me a twenty minute spiel on the facts, I would have taken his literature and considered it for later. But he lost my interest because he took two hours of my time and tried to manipulate my feelings into feeling as though I had to have this equipment.
Those who try to fool God will be even more surprised. He knows the hearts of men and sees beyond the words and deeds they do. He knows our motivation, is familiar with our deepest lusts and needs. The things of the flesh will perish just like that expensive vacuum. But that which is of the Spirit is eternal, so that our life lived in faith will reap joyous blessings in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Horseplay Felix and Tigger are getting along very well. One of the reasons we wanted to get another cat was because we felt Felix needed a friend. He was getting lazy, did not play as much as he used to. Of course, Felix is getting older and the feisty kitten has grown into a mature cat. Felix tolerates Tigger’s youthful exuberance for just so long. They play together by running around the house as maniacs, playing chase tag and wrestling. It gets a little rough, almost like a father and some wrestling in the backyard. Vicki hates it. She hates when Felix growls and Tigger cries out as if in pain. I have noticed, however, that even though it looks like they are hurting each other, they are actually quite gentle. The cries are a ploy by the kitten to get Felix to let go. The minute he does, Tigger turns around and attacks again. It is part of the game.
When we were at Sea World on Friday, we heard rumors that one of the whales attacked its trainer. As we were walking toward the stadium for the show that evening, a woman told me she wasn’t sure if there would even be a show. There was and the whale in question did perform. Reports of this incident have made the news and film of the attack has been shown on television. Steve, the trainer, gave an interview today to make certain that it was not misunderstood. He said the behavior was not appropriate because the whale was not behaving as he should, but the situation was not as out of control as it seemed. They, both the whale and the trainer, have been prepared to deal with such unexpected situations.
One of the explanations that have been given is that the whale is at breeding age. Another was that the whale decided he was not ready to finish that portion of the show. He was having fun and wanted to continue with his fun. As I watched the video, it reminded me of the horseplay between my cats – it looked dangerous but it never really was. Steve was never in danger, he said so himself. The whale never threatened him with teeth. Horseplay can get too rough, people can get hurt. However, when it happens it is not a violent attack but rather an unfortunate accident.
The whale chose an inappropriate time to play. It was probably quite frightening to those watching who do not know any more than what they see. There is a time and a place for whale and trainer to have fun, but during the middle of a show both have a responsibility to work together for the sake of the crowd and their own safety. Yet, even human beings choose the wrong time and place to do some things.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ASV)
As we look at this list, we wonder if there really could be a time for some things. A time for war? A time to kill? A time to hate? Surely our life is meant to be merciful, compassionate and filled with love; such things do not make sense. How about a time to break down or weep? Should we not be rejoicing and building up? And yet, we look at these purposes and we know that there are even inappropriate times for laughter and love. Certainly human beings have chosen the wrong times and reasons for many of these things. We fight over the wrong causes, we love the wrong things, we keep that which is corrupt and reject that which is eternal. We break down relationships and weep over that which has no value. We embrace that which will harm us and cast away that which will make us better.
I am sure that many people will take those video pictures from Sea World and use them as proof that whale shows should be banned. They will use this incident to promote their political agenda against places like Sea World. The incident will be shown in the worst possible light, even suggesting that the audience was in danger as well as the whale and the trainer. It was not a good moment; the whale was acting inappropriately. However, do we reject something because it was misused just once? A great many good things come out of the programs at places such as Sea World – research and education programs that enhance our knowledge of God’s world. Should we reject all war because one overzealous leader fights for all the wrong reasons? Should we never weep because the Bible tells us to live in joy? We need to learn how to discern that which is God’s will and way so that we will live as God would have us to live, experiencing these things at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place. For He does have a season and a purpose for everything and He will guide us in the right way. Thanks be to God.
Teenage girls There is a new show on the WB called “Summerland.” The program stars Laurie Laughlin and is about three kids who end up living with their aunt and her roommates when their parents die. The show examines the growing relationships as well as each individual as they learn to live in this new, unusual situation. The oldest child is a teenage boy, so most of his storylines have to do with the difficulties of puberty. He has been transplanted from Kansas to the California so the people and situations are far different than his old life.
Bradin has a girl friend names Sarah. Sarah claimed to be persecuted, abandoned by parents who lived jetsetter lives. She told Bradin many lies about their whereabouts and how little they care about her. She convinced him to try things like drugs and other illegal activities. It was a dangerous relationship, but Bradin was not stupid. He realized something was wrong and he discovered the truth – her parents really did care and were trying to get her to a place that could help her. What will happen to Sarah, time will only tell. She probably felt persecuted, though we know it was all in her head. Her difficulties were brought on by her own foolishness.
There are a great many Christians in Western society today that would like to claim that they are being persecuted. Perhaps there are those who are standing in their way of doing what they feel called to do, but American Christians do not face real persecution. There are Christians in China, in Sudan, in the Mid East and in North Korea who still fear for their lives and gather in hidden fellowships so that they can worship God. The Apostles knew real persecution. Stephen was stoned, James was beheaded, Matthew was slain with a sword, Mark was dragged through the streets until he died, Luke was hanged, Jude was shot to death with arrows, and Peter was crucified upside down. These are just a few of the ancient traditions that describe the type of persecution the early church faced.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison. They therefore that were scattered abroad, went about preaching the word.” Acts 8:1b-4 (ASV)
Sarah’s persecution complex might be extreme, but teenage girls often experience similar attitudes. As they try to gain independence from their parents, they try whatever is necessary to get their way. They will lie, sneak around behind a parent’s back and try to get others to follow their lead so that they will not be alone in their quest for freedom. Most kids won’t lie, steal or cheat. However, most teenagers do experience a feeling of persecution, a time when they think no one cares and that everyone is out to get them.
I’m sure most Christians feel the same way at some point. When we are passionate but our families don’t understand, we are afraid that they will do something to stop our faith. When we are zealous about something and others do not agree, we are certain that they are trying to turn the world against us. I’ve seen the persecution complex all too often in Christian chat rooms on the Internet – if you disagree, even in love, some quickly with the exclamation that they knew they would suffer at the hands of unbelievers.
Yet, we do not know real persecution. We don’t know what it means to be scattered or martyred for our faith. The day might come, however, when we will really suffer as the Apostles, killed for our faith. Christians all around the world suffer daily for their faith. What we need to remember is that when true persecution comes, God stands with those who love Him. He will see us through everything, just as He drew together those who were scattered around Judea and Samaria in the days of the early Church. He won’t let us go and He will draw us together for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Hiding The automatic response we have to persecution is to run off or go into hiding. A teenager who thinks he or she has been terribly wronged by a parent will stomp off to their bedroom and slam the door. Employees will quit if they feel their boss is unfair. Students skip class or school to run off and do other things if they think they are being abused by a teacher. Now, there are indeed times when there truly is inappropriate behavior on the part of a parent, boss or teacher. However, the perceived persecution we suffer is usually not as bad as we make it seem.
Elijah was afraid of Jezebel and he ran off into the desert to get away from her threats. Persecution is not one sided – to persecute means “to harass in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief.” Jezebel was upset about his actions against her gods and their prophets; she felt she was justified in her actions because he was persecuting her people for their faith. However, Jezebel was more powerful than Elijah, so his response was to go off and pray to God for death. While this is an extreme case of persecution, it shows the natural human response to run and hide when we fear for our emotional, physical and spiritual health. People run away from churches every day because they feel that they have been wronged for the sake of their faith. All too many decide that the best thing they can do is try to live their faith on their own.
God refused Elijah’s prayer for death. He had work to do, despite the persecution. The Apostles also had work to do even though their lives were threatened daily. Their persecution came from several angles – the Jews and the Romans both feared the affects of faith in Jesus Christ. They were more powerful than the early church so the believers were scattered. Yet, some of those early Christians did not hide.
“And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ. And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For from many of those that had unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed. And there was much joy in that city.” Acts 8:5-8 (ASV)
Philip did not allow the persecution to stop him from doing God’s work in the world. He went out and preached the Gospel despite the threats to his own life. He was scattered like the rest, but he used that as an opportunity to share Christ with a new group of people. He even approached strangers. Later in the eighth chapter of Acts, we hear the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. On God’s word, Philip went into the desert to find an Ethiopian caravan. He approached the most important official in that group – a dangerous thing to do. In the end he was able to explain the prophesies of Isaiah as they related to Jesus Christ and the Ethiopian was saved.
The persecution we face might be perceived, it might be seen as a justified response from those whom we have also persecuted or it might be true persecution for our faith. However, we need to look at our response to that which we experience every day. Should we run and hide because someone has threatened our faith? Or should we keep walking in faith, living the Gospel of Christ and sharing His love with the world? The Apostles never wavered even as they were being stoned, beheaded, crucified or dragged through the streets, preaching the Gospel with their last breath. Philip was not concerned about what might happen; he went on preaching the Good News of Christ to the world and many were saved. If they had remained silent, where would we be today. And where will the future generations be if we do not preach the Gospel despite our own persecution. We can walk in faith knowing the God is with us even in the midst of the most horrifying experiences. Thanks be to God.
Funny videos I do not know what it is about human nature that makes us want to watch shows like “America’s Funniest Videos.” We rubberneck at accidents, go out of our way to see the damage a tornado leaves in its wake and thrive on the misfortune of others. It is not that we enjoy seeing their pain. We are compassionate to those who suffer and quickly offer a helping hand or a pray as needed. However, there are some things that draw our attention and make us laugh, some things we can’t help but watch. I remember when I was a kid, a garbage truck caught on fire on a road near my house. A discarded cigarette butt flew in the bed filled with papers. No one was in any danger. The truck pulled over, the firemen put out the fire and the driver continued on his way. Yet, we had to watch it burn.
When we watch shows like “America’s Funniest Videos” we often accompany the videos with our own thoughts such as “who could be so stupid?” or “what were they thinking?” We are incredulous that anyone would find themselves in such a position. The natural laws of physics and nature give us some guidance about things we can do. We know, for example, that an ice covered roof is very slippery. Gravity and the lack of traction mean that someone walking across that roof is going to fall to the ground. Yet, there are dozens of videos every year showing people trying to ski off their roof in the midst of winter. They end up laying face down in the snow and we laugh at their foolishness. This, of course, is the purpose of the show and the people involved are never seriously injured. However, there are many times we laugh at someone, only to find ourselves in exactly the same situation sometime later.
I remember when we were living in California there was a commercial on television for a bank. One part showed a man and a woman buying a Christmas tree with the words, “we buy Christmas trees too big for our house.” We laughed at the though and said that only an idiot would buy a tree that wouldn’t fit in their house. Well, a few weeks later we found ourselves in the same position, having to cut our tree down more than a foot just to be able to put it in our house. I guess we can all be foolish once in awhile. We are also all sinners in need of a Savior, though a great many of us walk around in self-righteous arrogance thinking that our salvation is something better or more real than that of others.
“For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: And this is my covenant unto them, When I shall take away their sins. As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of. For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy. For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11:25-36 (ASV)
We all do stupid things worthy of being shown on “America’s Funniest Videos” but most of us are lucky enough to not get caught on camera. We aren’t so lucky when it comes to the sin in our lives. Though most of the world can’t see it, especially if we seem to be living a good life with plenty of good works to our name, God knows something the world doesn’t see. He knows that we are disobedient in our hearts and that there is no way we can be obedient to His laws on our own. We should not think ourselves better in any way than any one else for Christ came not just for us.
Those of us who are living in the kingdom of God through Christ Jesus today look at those who have not yet received His love and mercy, and we wonder why? Why would anyone want to reject that free gift of grace? However, we have nothing to boast about, since we too were disobedient and saved only by the mercy of God. The day will come when those who have not yet found peace will have their hearts opened so that they will see the truth and be saved. Thanks be to God.