Welcome to the July 2005 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, July 2005
Costs For the past few weeks, my family has seen a great part of the United States. We began in Texas, drove to Little Rock, Arkansas for an evening. We went on to Knoxville for a night. We finished the first part of our journey in Pennsylvania and spent a week visiting family and friends. We moved on to Virginia, to visit Busch Gardens, Jamestown and Virginia Beach. Then we went to Asheville North Carolina, and enjoyed a couple nights there. We drove on to Meridian Mississippi before finishing our vacation in New Orleans. We put over four thousand miles on our automobile in less than three weeks. Needless to say, with the cost of gasoline these days, this was a very costly journey. We planned for the expense, but it was still shocking at times the price we had to pay to keep going.
Gas was just one of the many expenses we had – we also had to pay for hotels, food and our entertainment. On top of the financial outlay, we had to consider the physical strain such a journey could have on our bodies. Also, leaving home for three weeks meant finding someone willing to take care of our home, the cats and the garden. Unfortunately, with the heat of this week, some of our plants have suffered. Our mail was held and some of our bills were paid late. We missed several major events in the area, including the celebration in honor of our championship winning San Antonio Spurs. Yet, as we planned our vacation, we knew the costs we would have to pay.
Our Christian faith is also a journey, but I do not think there are many people who actually consider the costs of this live of obedience to God. We continue to live in the world according to the world's expectations while claiming Jesus as Lord. We don't change our priorities. We make excuses and justify our actions despite knowing what we do is against God's Word. Nothing we can do will make God love us more. We can't make ourselves better. To the very end of our existence in this world, we are sinners in need of a Savior – the Savior.
Yet, once we have heard the life saving Word of God – the Gospel message of forgiveness and grace – we are called to be more. We are called to be disciples. We are called to go on the journey wholeheartedly. Imagine if we'd tried to have our vacation without walking out our door? We could never have seen all those wonderful places if we hadn't sacrificed our time and our money. The same is true of discipleship. We can't be a disciple of Jesus if we don't sacrifice the things that do not fit into the life He is calling us to live.
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Luke 14:28-35 (ASV)
We knew the trip would be expensive even if we did not know exactly what we would have to pay along the way. However, we were prepared to pay whatever was necessary to enjoy ourselves these past few weeks. Jesus does not want us to be naïve when it comes to our journey of faith. He has warned us that being a disciple is not easy. We have to give up our selves for the life He is calling us to live. We are afraid. We like what we have. We don't always know what waits around the corner for us as Christians. Sometimes it is hard. However, what Christ offers in return is far better than anything we can do for ourselves.
Christ died that we might have life and He freely grants the forgiveness we need to live in His kingdom forever. He also calls us to live fully in His kingdom, giving up our lives to take on His. The cost of discipleship is high, but is paid by God Himself, if only we would let go and let Him take over. When we do so, we will find the incredible blessing it is to live in His kingdom this day and always. Thanks be to God.
Gang They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It may appear to be so, but the reality is that things are not really any better over there than in your own back yard. However, there's something fascinating and luring about the other side that makes us desire to have it. This is most certainly when it comes to gangs and other sorts of relationships.
It is interesting, but if you ask a member why he or she became part of the gang you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks, they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. Unfortunately, they often find exactly what they are looking for in the gangs. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. Though the rules for belonging in a gang may not fit into the mould of what is acceptable in society, there are things by which each member must abide to be a part of the group. When they do, they experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang.
If only they'd realized that they could find similar blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. What freedom is there found in a life of violence and fear? What blessings can really come out of relationships that depend on disobedience to one authority to be able to give obedience to another? I suppose that is what is often said about Christianity by those who choose not to believe in the one true and living God. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs. However, we have to consider which grass is really greener?
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; But the way of the wicked shall perish." Psalm 1 (ASV)
The home life of the gang member may have been terrible. Some parents are not able to cope with the responsibilities and others that are filled with their own rebellion and anger which leads them to wrong decisions and actions. However, most kids have it much better at home, even if they don't realize it. Homes with rules are not meant to be prisons, but rules are given to guide and protect the children so that they will make it to adulthood.
God has given us a set of laws. In our daily existence, many of the Levitical laws now seem useless and inappropriate. Perhaps they are. However, God's law was given for a purpose – to help and guide His people into a long and blessed life. If we look at only the top Ten Commandments, each of those will keep us walking on the greener grass even if it appears better on the other side of the fence. Take, for instance, the command to not covet our neighbor's spouse. We may think it is harmless to wish for their attention or desire their touch. However, the more we covet, the more we ignore that which God has given us. As we covet our neighbor's spouse, we grow apart from our own family and our life begins to fall apart.
The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law, where there is a freedom from authority other than ourselves. However, life is not better with that kind of freedom. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God's sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.
Deep Impact This is the Fourth of July, America's Independence Day. We usually celebrate this special holiday with fireworks programs. Last night the celebration was started with a different kind of fireworks show. NASA has been working on a project for several years to discover the inner workings of comets. Last night the project came to a fiery conclusion. It was not really the end of the mission, as the success of last night's collision was only the beginning of what is to come. Now the scientists will have to record and study the data that is feeding back from the probe so that they may discover the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the comet. Though they have been trying to study comets since they were discovered hundreds of years ago, it has been impossible for them to do anything in depth because they move so fast that we have been unable to reach the surface let alone go into the depths of the comet.
To make this happen, the scientists set a ship into space with the probe in January and they have spent the last six lining it up into the perfect position. Last night they shot off the probe in the direction of the comet, putting it into its path. As the comet flew at 23,000 mph, it slammed into the probe which set off the five thousand pounds of dynamite and an amazing explosion.
When watching Fourth of July fireworks, we generally respond with 'ooohs' and 'ahhhhs' because we know what to expect and we react to the beauty of the explosion. We all have our favorites – the chrysanthemum or the fizzler, the ones that look like fluffy trees. We are particularly impressed with the huge numbers of fireworks set off in the finale, hundreds of explosions culminating in a bright beautiful display above our heads. Yet, the response from even large crowds was nothing like what was seen in the center monitoring Deep Impact last night.
Though they have been planning this event for years, they still had no real idea what would happen. What they were trying to do has been compared to making a airliner collide with a mosquito at a specific place at a specific time. Since they did not even know the true composition of the comet, they did not know if the probe would actually crash deeply into surface or if it would just bounce off. So, at the moment of impact, the entire room cheered. They clapped for what seemed like minutes, hugged one another in celebration and stood in awe as the first pictures of the explosion were returned. It was simply amazing that they could make such a thing happen exactly as they expected.
There are those who are expecting the findings from this mission will help to explain the origin of the earth. Comets have been around since the beginning of the universe, and they are hoping that by studying the depths of the comet they will find proof about the origin of life on earth, since the comets carry what is believed to be the building blocks of the universe. As a Christian I am not bothered by the study of this comet, because not matter what they find God is still the center of the universe. The most incredible thing about this, to me, is that despite the immense universe and all the mysteries that still exist out there and even within our own tiny planet, God has made it possible for us to study and learn all about His creation so that we can be even more awed by His love for us.
"Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, because of thine adversaries, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!" Psalm 8 (ASV)
I can't wait to see more pictures of the impact as they are released by NASA in the coming days and months, and I'm anxious to see what they have found in their research. However, the impact of this probe will not change what I know to be true – the universe was created by the Creator. The comets are just a small part of the perfectly fashioned creation that works together to glorify God. We can know and understand the microscopic and macroscopic world, well beyond our physical reach. Yet, know matter what we learn, we should live even more deeply in the love of God who has done all this for us. NASA may have done something amazing yesterday, but no man did it by himself. This is a humbling thought for the scientists. Even more humbling is that it was all overseen by the God who loves us and who gives us the gifts to seek out such knowledge of His amazing world. Thanks be to God.
Kids I am often complimented on the wonderful nature of my kids. People who meet them tell me how sweet and polite they are and how much they enjoy having them around. While I agree that I have wonderful kids, it still makes me giggle a bit when I hear the words. After all, I see the kids in every mood – when they are fighting with one another, when they are being typical teenagers, when they are unwilling to do their chores or eat the food that I've put on their plate. I see their good side, but I also see their bad side. This is why it is humorous to me that anyone would think they are so sweet.
Sometimes we are too close to people to see the possibilities because we also see the vices. Young artists that get their start on the walls of their childhood home will not be seen as a great artist by the mother who had to clean it up. The mother of that drummer in the famous rock group only knows that he can pound very loudly on metal pans with wooden spoons in her kitchen. To her, no matter how successful he is, it is just noise. Ask and most pastors will admit that their family could not imagine them as a man of God. They knew them when they were menacing children.
Things were no different for Jesus. Though the Bible gives little information about His childhood, we do know that as a twelve year old he was a worry for His parents. They were headed home after a festival in Jerusalem when they realized that Jesus was not with the group. They were a day's walk from the city and had to return. Imagine how worried Mary must have been as she searched for her first-born child. They found Him in the temple, in His father's house. He was completely taken aback that they wouldn't know where He would be. How could someone so disobedient to His parents become anything important?
There are documents that claim to tell the childhood stories of Jesus. They tell of Jesus playing with His gifts, holding the power of life and death over animals and his companions. Though the stories are most likely exaggerated, we can assume that Jesus was a normal child, capable of doing all the things normal children do. Add to that the fact that Jesus was the son of a carpenter. The expectation of society was that Jesus would also become a carpenter. He would be expected to apprentice off His father and take over the business. He would have had no special training, no academic instruction. The knowledge he would have about the faith of His people would come from His mother's lap and His regular attendance at the synagogue.
This is why it was a shock to the people of Nazareth when Jesus returned teaching and preaching the kingdom of God. Who was He to tell them how to live their faith?
"And coming into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Matthew 13:54-58 (ASV)
I'm sure my kids will accomplish great things and that they will find joy in this world. It is harder to imagine that they will do so when they are in the middle of some sibling battle or refusing to finish their chores. Hopefully I will not giggle or question their abilities when they come to me with some decision they have made about their life. Jesus tried to share His grace with those He loved the most – His family and friends, the people who knew Him His whole life. They rejected Him because He did not fit into their expectation. Since they could not see past the mischievous carpenter's son, they could not see the great gift they were being given.
As we look at the people we love, can we see their gifts and possibilities? Or do we remember only the things that would keep them from accomplishing God's work in this world? Let us remember that even when we live closely with people, we can not read their heart. We can't always see the work of God in the lives of others, particularly when we focus only on what we have seen on the surface. Prophets are not welcome in their hometown, but we can learn from Jesus that we should look beyond the surface into the possibilities. We might just find God's grace for us flowing from their hearts. Thanks be to God.
Freemen Our church's national women's group is holding their convention in town this week. It is a huge event because we only do it once every three years. Thousands of women are descending upon the city, filling the convention center and enjoying all that we have to offer. The amount of work that goes into such an event is incredible. Even my family has gotten into volunteering. We began last weekend by helping prepare the materials and then Vicki and I went yesterday to help set up.
As we have been going about our business, I noticed that there were people with blue t-shirts everywhere with the word "Freeman" on their backs, bringing boxes of supplies and equipment we might need. They were building sets, taping the carpeting on the floor and ensuring electricity was working anywhere it was needed. They were moving furniture and doing whatever needed to be done so that the convention would be great. These men and women are the paid staff of the convention center and it is their job to make sure that we have no unsatisfied needs.
There are things we are not allowed to do since it is responsibility of the Freemen. I almost moved some furniture just a few feet when someone reminded me it was their job. She told me that if there was anything I needed to let them know and they would take care of it. She reminded me that it was their job and I should take advantage of their skills and knowledge. As I was thinking about it later, I realized that those men and women are putting in many hours to ensure a successful convention. Though the may have self-centered reasoning – it is their job and if they do a good job other groups will pay to use their facilities – they are meeting our needs and deserve our thanks.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, we benefit from the incredible blessings which God bestows on us daily – our food, shelter, love, grace and hope. His hand is in our lives from the littlest detail to the largest miracle. He has guided our footsteps and prepared our way so that we might have all we need. When we find healing – no matter how it may come – God has played a role. We don't always notice God's hand in our lives and we often forget that He deserves our thanks and praise.
"And it came to pass, as they were on their way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God; and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger? And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole." Luke 17:11-19 (ASV)
The nine men who were healed did nothing wrong. As a matter of fact, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They went to the priests to show their healing and to receive the blessing of God. They obeyed the rule of law and followed the practice of their faith. However, the one man realized that there was something else to be done – God deserved the praise and glory for his healing.
The Freemen are doing their job. It may seem unnecessary for us to say "Thank you" for the work they are doing since it is as it should be. However, have you ever noticed how grateful service people are when they receive some recognition for their work? The waitress who is given a word of thanks as well as a tip works a little harder for the next customer. The cashier who has received a word of encouragement is more friendly and quicker at the register. The Freemen at the convention center deserve that word of thanks for all they have done, much of which will never be known to the guests at our convention.
We may not know the healing of such of disabling disease as leprosy, but we are continually blessed by God. He provides everything we need, much of which we don't even attribute to His hand. We are healed by doctors, buy our food at the grocery store and work hard for our money. Yet, even those things which come from the hands of others come from God and He deserves our daily thanks and praise. Thanks be to God.
Toilet Paper Anyone who has taken a road trip will understand the frustration of finding a clean, pleasant rest room on the road. While many places have wonderful rest stops, our travels do not always time out to use those facilities. We have found ourselves needing to use the toilets in busy, dirty gas stations and other questionable places. The greatest problem that is faced when using such facilities, besides the filth, is the lack of toilet paper.
I learned what a great problem this is on our last major road trip. It seemed that wherever I went, I faced this particular difficulty. So, I decided in my planning for our trip last month to ensure that I was prepared. It must be a problem others face because it is possible now to buy handy little pocket packs of toilet paper. I bought several of these and had them handy whenever I went to the rest room. Well, I had them with me almost every time. The one time I did not carry my purse, the only time it was not within my reach, was the one time that there was no toilet paper in the stall I picked. Luckily someone was handy to share the paper from another stall, but I thought it was funny that the one time I was not prepared was the one time I needed to be.
The scriptures tell us that we are to be constantly aware, always prepared, continually in prayer. I don't know about you, but I find this at times very difficult to do. My heart, my mind, and my body get caught up in the every day issues I face. I work hard to be ready, but it never fails – the one time I am not prepared is the one time I am caught off guard. I am a sinner, unable to live perfectly as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ASV)
I tried very hard to ensure that I would be prepared every time I went into a rest room, but I failed the one time I needed it. The same often happens during my journey of faith. I spend a great deal of time in prayer, in Bible Study and in worship in the hopes that I will be ready when an opportunity arises to witness for the Lord or serve one of His children. I often fail, however, not ready with that word of comfort or prepared to give my resources or my time to those in need. I get angry when I should be sympathetic, I get tired when I should be energized.
It is hard when we read passages like this because we easily interpret to mean that we should always love. While it is true that love is a part of all we do, we have to remember that it is the Lord who loves without fail. We are sinners, sinners in need of a Savior. He is faithful. So, when we are not prepared, Jesus will be like the person in the next stall, offering us the toilet paper we need to clean up our messes. He abides in us through faith by His grace. His love flows into our hearts and then on to the world. His mercy cleanses our lives, gives us faith and hope. In Him, though we fail, love continues. Thanks be to God.
Storm It has been rather dry around here lately. The last time we had any appreciable rain is beyond my short term memory. There have been some pop up storms during the afternoons this week, but none have reached my home or the convention center where we are gathering. Last night, as we left the meeting, I noticed that there was lightning in the distance. I suggested to the women who were walking near me that they should go up into their high rise hotel and watch the storm from their window. "Texas storms are awesome to watch."
Of course, the women were uncertain whether or not this was a smart thing to do. "In Iowa they tell us to get inside away from the storm." Yes, I would say that it would be best not to be outside when a storm is nearby. After all, lightning is quite dangerous and does strike human beings causing damage to the flesh and organs. However, the storm we were seeing was miles away. I rushed to my car in the hopes that I could get home before the rain fell at my house. The roads would be slippery and the storms were dropping huge amounts of water.
I watched the storm flash in the distance the whole time I was driving – nearly thirty miles. I got home and into my house safely, never coming even close to the actual storm. As it turned out, the storm was still another twenty miles down the road and was missing us completely. I don't know if a storm ever popped up downtown last night, but it is likely that the ladies never really faced any danger.
Quite frankly, I would have preferred not traveling toward the storm last night, but it was necessary for me to go home. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a fisherman or sailor, having to go out into the open sea knowing there is a possibility that the ship will face stormy waters. On land, we can find shelter – even in a car we are relatively safe from the ravages of the weather. On the open water, however, a boat has no way of being stable. It is tossed and thrown over the waves, rising up and falling down by the whim of the winds. There must be a helplessness in the midst of a storm that is unshakable until it passes and the sea becomes calm again.
"They that go down to the sea in ships, That do business in great waters; These see the works of Jehovah, And his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, Which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths: Their soul melteth away because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble, And he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, So that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they are quiet; So he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, And praise him in the seat of the elders." Psalm 107:23-32 (ASV)
I did not have to face the storm last night; others suffered the power and danger of the lightning and pouring rain. The ladies in San Antonio for the conference did not need to be concerned because the storm stayed far away. However, we are not always so blessed. The rain falls on our lives, we go through the storms. The storms are not always weather related. We face health and financial issues; we experience broken relationships and heartache. There are disappointments and pain. In the midst of those experiences we feel like we are being battered by a wind, like the ship on the ocean. We are raised up and thrown down into the sea, rocked too and fro.
Yet, all we need do is cry out to the God of mercy and grace, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though we may still need to walk through the experience, to get to the other side of whatever we face, He will quiet the waves around us and give us the stability to stand firm through it all. He will get us through and take us to the place where we will find the peace we seek. He is faithful. If you are facing difficulty today, cry out to your God and ask Him to quiet the storm. He will bring you through. Thanks be to God.
Storytime It is fun to watch young children at a story hour. Some will be fascinated by the pictures in the book that is being read or by the actions of the storyteller. Yet, none of them can sit still for very long. After a few minutes, they start to wiggle and squirm, looking every which way but at the storyteller. During the children's sermon, the children often play with the railing, wave at their parents, wander around climbing the stairs or rolling around on the carpet.
This type of activity often happened during preschool. It happened so much so that I often wondered if the children every got anything out of those times. Did they really learn the lesson of the book or the story? My question was answered one day. We'd had a rather exhilarating morning but needed to calm down the children. We sat them in a circle even while they were still overflowing with energy. They wanted to play, a story circle was the last place they wanted to be. They were rambunctious, loud and unwilling to pay attention.
I told my story to what I believed was an uninterested crowd. It seemed pointless, but I kept speaking. A few days later, some of those children were at the children's sermon, being asked questions that had to do with the story I told a few days before. One of my students had all the answers. I thought, most certainly, that his mom must have told him the story in a quieter, more focused setting. However, she told me that she had never talked to him about it. He must have heard what I said.
All too often we have something to say but we really do not think there is anyone willing to listen. We want to ignore the call of God to speak up about an issue because it is easier to stay silent than to step out of comfort zone and speak God's grace into the world. This is especially true when the words we are speaking do not seem to be full of grace to those unwilling to hear. After all, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who can not hear.
"And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to nations that are rebellious, which have rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me even unto this very day. And the children are impudent and stiffhearted: I do sent thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious." Ezekiel 2:3-7 (ASV)
Though this message was given to Ezekiel, we can take the words to heart. God has called us to speak His Word to the world, to give those who are lost in the darkness of sin and death the message of grace and mercy that is found on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes the words we are called to speak are difficult. And sometimes no one will listen.
However, we can rest in the certainty that God's Word does not go back to Him void. As we speak, God works. He brings forth a harvest we may never expect. I did not think it was possible for even one child to pick up on the lessons in that story circle that day. Yet, I was blessed to learn that at least one heard. It gives me hope that perhaps others heard also, even if they never said a word. Even if none of the other children learned anything from that message, the love of God found a place in the heart of one.
Do not be afraid to speak God's words into the lives of others, even if the message you feel called to give is hard and the people to whom you are to give it are unwilling to listen. You never know when that one heart might be ready to receive God's grace and will remember His story when it will truly make a difference in the world. Thanks be to God.
Today's message was first posted in July 2003
Interviews Have you noticed how good the news programs are at finding the most bitter, upset and unforgiving people to interview? On recent news programs, I have seen several people who have been questioned by the reporters about events in our world today. Sometimes they have to reach pretty far to get someone who will rant and rage, calling for an apology or even revenge on the ones who have harmed their loved one. Even when the parents of the victim are forgiving, the news programs manage to find a sibling or an aunt who cannot understand the attitude of their loved ones. Especially poignant are the interviews with people of faith. I saw an interview with a preacher and his wife who could not forgive. The people who are willing to forgive are either not interesting enough for the news program or they refuse to appear because they see no point in going through such an interview while they are grieving their loss. But there’s always someone willing to hold a grudge and make a public spectacle of themselves for the sake of their loved one.
Rev. Walter Everett was the father of a young man who was murdered. When he heard the news, he became very angry at the murderer. His anger began to destroy his life. At the hearing, the young man who had done this horrible act stood before the court and said he was truly sorry. A few weeks later, Rev. Everett wrote to the young man, confessed his anger and asked some questions. Then he wrote that he was glad to hear what he had said in court and though it was hard, he wrote, “I forgive you.” Those three words brought the young man to his knees in his cell and he prayed for forgiveness from God. Rev. Everett and the young man continued to write and visit, sharing their faith journeys together and Rev. Everett testified at the young man’s parole hearing. He was released early and they remained friends. They both learned about the true freedom found in forgiveness. It was also a lesson in mercy.
God forgives, but He’s also merciful. It is actually fairly easy to say “I forgive you” but it is a lot harder to show forgiveness. Rev. Everett not only spoke the words, but became a traveling companion through the journey of faith in Jesus Christ with the man who killed his son. He shared the Gospel, encouraged his faith and helped him become free in both spirit and flesh. That’s mercy. Jonah wasn’t so keen on doing such a thing for the Ninevites, but God had plans for them. So he sent his reluctant prophet into a city of sin and told him to warn them to repent or die. Jonah’s hope was that it wouldn’t work, that they would just go on sinning. Yet, the word of God had an awesome affect on the people of Nineveh.
“And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Jonah 3:5-10 (ASV)
It often seems like the news reporters would rather drudge up anger and bitterness than see the love and mercy that people have for their enemies. I recently heard someone ask, “Is it ok to wish someone were dead?” Though the person did not reveal the whole story, she was upset by the actions of someone who had harmed her family and she just wanted them out of her life. We can all identify people in our lives, either past or present that were like enemies for us. The young man was an enemy to the Reverend. It does us no good to hold on to our anger; it is harmful to our spiritual and physical health. However, when we forgive, we open a world of new possibilities. Perhaps, such as in the story of the preacher and his son’s murderer, we may lose an enemy and gain a brother in Christ.
God had mercy on the Ninevites. He has mercy on us. Let us also have mercy on our enemies that they might hear the Good News of forgiveness that is found in the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. We should not desire death for those whom have harmed us. We should not live bitter and angry in this world, no matter how horrible the deed against us. God has had mercy on us, and we will find great freedom in the mercy we give to others. Thanks be to God.
Timing Timing is everything when it comes to comedy. Some things are funny when said at the right moment, but downright offensive when said at other times. On a recent episode of the show "Hope & Faith," Faith Ford, who plays Hope, got a job. Her sister Faith, the ditsy blonde, could not stand being away from Hope, so she also got a job at the same place. Hope took her job seriously, while Faith wanted to play. Faith built fun relationships with their co-workers, getting to know about their lives.
During a meeting, Faith was joking with the other workers and Hope was jealous of the relationships she had created. She tried joking along with them, but everything she said was an offense. The comments weren't much different than Faith's, but they were inappropriate for the time, place and person about whom she was making them. They simply weren't funny. Of course, for those of us watching the show, the humor was found in her inappropriateness. Yet, if the same thing happened to us in real life, we would be very uncomfortable.
I find it interesting to read the conversations of Jesus in the Gospels. His timing is amazing, always saying just the right thing at the right time. However, His timing is also at times confusing to those of us who are reading about the encounters today. Why does Jesus wait to heal the woman's daughter until after He has called her a dog? Why does He wait four days to return to Lazarus? Sometimes, to truly understand what Jesus is saying, we have to consider His timing and see how He uses it to make a more powerful point to the listeners.
"And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1-10 (ASV)
All too often, we read this story and think that it was because Zacchaeus repented that he received the forgiveness and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. But read it again. Jesus says, "Today salvation has come to this house." Jesus is the salvation of Zacchaeus. He is the salvation of you and me. He went to the house of Zacchaeus even though he was a sinner. He did not go because Zacchaeus was willing to change or because he had done something amazing. Rather, Zacchaeus repented because salvation had entered his house. Jesus went to him and invited himself to his house. While there, Jesus shared the kingdom of God with Zacchaeus and his house. Hearing about the grace of God, Zacchaeus responded to the love and mercy found in the message of Christ.
How often do we wait until someone comes to us seeking forgiveness before we will reveal to them the kingdom of God? Do we withhold God's grace until someone is worthy of receiving it, or do we give it to them so that they might repent in response? It seems odd that Jesus would wait to the end of this conversation to tell the people that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. However, Jesus did so to show them that the grace of God changes the world. It certainly changed Zacchaeus and it changed every one of us when the kingdom of God was revealed to us. Thanks be to God.
Invitation It is hard to know when to send invitations to an event. In my experience, if you send the invitation too early, the people whom you have invited forget about the event and if you send it too late, they have already made plans. We recently had a party at our house to which I expected several dozen people. They responded positively with the invitations. On the day of the party, however, several folk called to say they could not come and many of the others simply did not show up. This meant that the food I prepared for so many went to waste.
It is difficult to plan an event because people are unable to make a commitment. We don't know what will come up tomorrow that will be more important. So, we only give a half-hearted answer. Though we may wish to attend the party, we end up backing out at the last minute when something else comes up. A night with friends is often replaced by trip to a sports field with our kids or into the office for a few hours. This lack of commitment makes it hard for the host and hostess to prepare for the event.
In the busy-ness of our lives, it is hard to make plans for tomorrow or a few days from today. I can't imagine trying to decide if I'm going to do something a few years from now. At the convention I attended last week, the planners offered a chance to pre-purchase registration for the next convention which will be held in 2008. A great many people wondered how anyone could make such a decision today. The registrations were non-refundable, but thankfully the planners recognized the need to give some flexibility, so they are transferable. The cost was significantly reduced, so it was worthwhile to purchase the ticket now. If, for some reason, the purchaser is unable to attend in three years, she can pass it on to another.
The main reason why the women expected to be unable to attend was through death. "I'm an old lady, I may not even be alive by then." After assuring them that they are still quite young and healthy, I reminded them that untimely death is a possibility for anyone of us no matter what our age. The possibility of death tomorrow is no excuse for planning nothing beyond today.
"Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law. And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." Romans 13:8-14 (ASV)
A party certainly does not matter when it comes to the priorities of our lives and there are many reasons why someone may not want to plan to attend a convention three years down the line. However, many of the things we give up for the hustle and bustle of modern life are really things which should be our priorities. We think it is more important to take our kids to play in a game, so we do not concern ourselves with broken promises no matter who it might harm. We refuse to commit so that we will not feel guilty when we are unable to attend.
Even worse, however, is that we often withhold the love of neighbor because we are afraid to give too much of ourselves to relationships that might make it more difficult to keep up our busy schedules. It is easier to stay away from our neighbor than it is to change our lifestyle when they need a hand or a shoulder. We'd rather stay in the darkness than to walk in the light of the day. It is true that we may not have a tomorrow, but we are brought into the light of Christ so that we will have His gifts to invest in today. We are saved so that we will live differently, in love, giving ourselves to the things that will glorify God rather than our flesh. Thanks be to God.
Prophesy Our weather has changed. For a long time we were living under an unmovable high that was keeping all moisture from our atmosphere. We went for weeks without any sign of rain. The temperatures were high and the grass was beginning to become brown with lack of water. We've tried watering to keep it green, but in the last week or so we were beginning to hear warnings of water shortages. Some areas were banning water usage during certain times of day and others were asking people to voluntarily restrict their use.
The pressure change has opened the door for afternoon thunderstorms. Now we spend time each day watching the sky and the radar hoping that at least a few drops will fall on our yard to water our grass and garden. It is strange, however. The radar shows huge areas of storms coming straight for us, but they break up and pass around us without dropping any rain. Yesterday, the storm literally surrounded us wrapping around our region, pouring on the surrounding cities while leaving patchy, empty clouds in the sky over our head. I thought we'd see a storm. We heard thunder rumbling in the background. Yet, the storms never came.
While the rain falling in other places will help us by filling the aquifer where we get our water for daily use, it is doing nothing for my yard and flowers. The clouds without rain do little to change the world around us, except for making it more humid and uncomfortable. That's the way it is when we live in relationships with people who have much to say but do not live actively in their faith. That's the way it is in many of our churches. There is often a lack of integrity by those who live according to the adage "do as I say, not as I do."
"Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these also in their dreamings defile the flesh, and set at nought dominion, and rail at dignities. But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things are they destroyed. Woe unto them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah. These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn leaves without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved forever." Jude 1:3-13 (ASV)
There are those among us, even within the Christian church, that will call for change and insist that it is our responsibility to take the rallying cry to the world. However, when it comes to making the very same changes within their jurisdiction, within their realm of leadership, refuse to do whatever is necessary to change the world from the inside. This lack of integrity makes it impossible for Christians to make a real difference in the world. If leadership is willing to ignore the injustices within the systems of our own faith, how can we expect those outside the faith to care about injustice in their own realm?
There are a great many things we can do in this world to make a difference in the lives of those we meet along our paths. We can go forth in action so that healing, refreshing rain will fall on those who are suffering and in pain. Yet, our mission is not to change the world. We are called and baptized into Christ Jesus to bring forgiveness and grace into the world. We will never do that if we are like clouds without rain, talking without walking the walk. It is time for us to stand up and insist on integrity among our ranks, so that the world will see justice in the work of our people and receive the message of Christ into their own hearts. Then they will seek justice in their own circles and the rain will fall to others. Thanks be to God.
Humidity It finally rained at our house. It has rained fairly hard over the past few days and the grass in our yard is beginning to look green again. There are puddles in the drainage ditches and along the sides of the road. The sun is shining this morning, but there are still clouds in the sky. The moisture left behind by the storms this weekend has been converted to an oppressive humidity making it difficult to breath. There seems to be no middle ground – either we have drought or flooding. The same is true of other weather situations. It is either too hot or too cold. It is either too windy or not windy enough.
I think most of us could define the perfect weather we'd like to see all the time – a certain temperature with a light breeze and sunny skies. Blizzards, freezing temperatures, excessive heat or rain are generally not weather phenomenon we would like to experience on a perfect day. We were excited to be having rain yesterday, but we weren't thrilled with the conditions that came with the storm. On our way to dinner we rain into a downpour. The rain fell so hard that it was difficult to see out of our windshield and the roads were covered with minor flooding. We even sat in the car for a few minutes because we would have been soaked to the bone if we had tried to get inside during that downpour. Unfortunately, it slowed down only briefly and we still got wet as we ran into the restaurant. We were laughing and dripping wet as we told the hostess, "We'd like a table on the patio, please!"
It was not the ideal situation. Even though we desperately needed the rain it would have been better to receive a slow, drenching shower than a bunch of hard, brief downpours. Yet, every drop will make a difference to our aquifer and for our landscape. We tend to complain about those extremes in weather, yet even they are a natural part of the landscape and are vital to the landscape in which we live. Freezing temperatures are necessary for certain plant growth, blowing winds carry seeds to barren lands and floodwaters cleanse the earth. Unfortunately, these extremes can be dangerous also. People get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not the will or purpose of God, but by our human freedom we can find ourselves in the midst of suffering that makes no sense against the loving and merciful character of God.
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name. For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator." 1 Peter 4:12-19 (ASV)
Rain is natural, even pouring rain. Unfortunately, we sometimes get caught up in the flood waters and can suffer from the experience. At the very least, we might get wet. Yet, we can see the positive in the midst of it all, even if it is not the kind of rain we'd hoped for, it provides for the cleansing and watering of the earth.
God does not cause the suffering of His people, but there are things in this world that are bound to happen. We might get caught up in the midst of the evil or even face aspects of human life that are natural in this world. It is not God's will that we should have pain, but through the pain we can rest assured that God is present with us. Peter reminds us that we can rejoice in our suffering because no matter what we face, we are joined with Christ through His love and grace. When we suffer, we partake in that which Christ has done for us. We can see the positive, we can find God's mercy because the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and courage to see beyond the pain. We don't suffer because we have done something to deserve the suffering, but as Christians we can take our suffering because we know that beyond it will we will see Christ's glory. Thanks be to God.
Samaritan I heard a brief news story this morning about a good Samaritan being booked at the police station. Few details were available, but apparently a man stopped to help a woman in trouble and was arrested when the police arrived. The arrest had nothing to do with the good deed he was doing, but rather because he had stolen a police car, which he was driving when he stopped to help the woman. When asked why he stole the car, the man said, "I needed a car to get to work."
This is just another of those stupid criminal stories. These stories always make us laugh because it puts people in the most awkward positions – very often stuck in a way that guarantees they will be caught in the act of doing what they are doing. Most of the time the stupid criminals think they are very clever for thinking of this new and unique way of getting away with a crime. Yet, as we listen we know that the reason it has never been done before is because it was stupid.
Now in the case of this good Samaritan, I can imagine that he was bing kind and considerate. He went out of his way to stop and help someone in need. The fact that he was driving a stolen car was unimportant – he only stole the vehicle because he needed it to get to work. That in itself is good reason; after all, he wanted to be a productive member of society. However, in the end he was still a criminal who stole the property of another.
Though it is unlikely most of us will see the inside of a booking room at a police station, we aren't much different than the man who would be a good Samaritan. After all, we try very hard to do good things, even while we do things we should not be doing. We think our good works, whether it is helping our neighbor or going about our daily work, will overcome the bad things we do. We think our goodness will make us good even though we are really just sinners.
"For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:14-25 (ASV)
I love to hear these stupid criminal stories. I suppose in some ways the stories make me feel better about myself, particularly when I do something stupid myself. I can think, "Well, at least I didn't get arrested for stealing a police car while trying to do something nice for someone." Unfortunately, it really doesn't help because I realize that I might not have even been willing to stop to help the person in need. I'm not better than the Samaritan in the story because I still do the things I shouldn't do and I don't do the things I should.
That's why we have Jesus. We are all stupid criminals, at least in the eyes of God, sinners unable to live according to His good and perfect Law. However, Jesus stands in our place and receives that which we rightly deserve, while giving us to the freedom to go forth in faith. In Him and through Him who dwells within us, we serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Baton I twirled baton when I was a kid. Eventually I extended my twirling skills to the rifle. I was part of the band front in Junior High and High School. When I was a kid, I was rarely without something in my hand, whether it was my baton or rifle. Even if I was walking down the street to a friend's house, you might see me twirling. Such constant use meant that the baton became a part of my body, another appendage. I wasn't perfect at twirling and many were able to do much harder tricks, but my twirling was smooth, graceful and very natural.
Since Vicki has been taking baton lessons, I have had the opportunity to pick it up again, if only to help her practice. Though it still feels quite natural in my hands, the lack of practice has made those impressive tricks I used to do much harder. I don't have the endurance and my body no longer allows the movement necessary for some of the things I was able to do so long ago.
If I took up the baton again, as I did when I was a youth, I could get back most of the skills I had back then. However, I have real life responsibilities – work to do, a family to care for. I can't walk around with a baton in my hand every waking hour. There are other things that are far more important to accomplish, which I can't do while I'm twirling a baton.
I think we all can identify times in our lives when we were faithful to our devotional lives. During these times we pray regularly, are disciplined in our study practices. We manage to find the time even if we are overwhelmed by our schedule because it is a good habit we have developed. We can also identify times when we were so faithful. We get caught up in the daily grind, think we don't have even five minutes to give specifically to devotions. We pray on the run, eat the scriptures like we eat fast food. When we practice the daily routine of our devotional time, it is a natural extension of our being and we find our days go better. When we stop, for even a few days, it gets harder to keep up the practice and things in our life get out of control. Our devotional time, or lack of it, becomes visible to the world around us.
"Give ear to my words, O Jehovah, Consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God; For unto thee do I pray. O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Evil shall not sojourn with thee. The arrogant shall not stand in thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou wilt destroy them that speak lies: Jehovah abhorreth the blood-thirsty and deceitful man. But as for me, in the abundance of thy lovingkindness will I come into thy house: In thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. Lead me, O Jehovah, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; Make thy way straight before my face. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is very wickedness; Their throat is an open sepulchre; They flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, O God; Let them fall by their own counsels; Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions; For they have rebelled against thee. But let all those that take refuge in thee rejoice, Let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: Let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. For thou wilt bless the righteous; O Jehovah, thou wilt compass him with favor as with a shield." Psalm 5 (ASV)
Ignace Jan Paderewski, a polish pianist, once said, "When I miss a day of practice, I can always tell it. If I miss two days, the critics will pick it up. If I miss three days, the audience will notice it." The same is true about everything we do. Daily time spent doing the things we love will be manifest in the world, even if we do it behind closed doors. With baton twirling, my daily habit of twirling showed in the grace with which I walked and in the way I could move my body. When I stopped, I lost much of the elasticity in my muscles that came from the practice.
Though our devotional time is private, our time spent with God is obvious to the world around us. We go forth in faith, with joy and love, to do all that God would have us do. When we stop spending that time with the Lord, we lose touch with the source of our strength and faith. It does not take long before it becomes difficult for us to even find a few moments alone with God. We claim a lack of time and we try to go at it on our own. We find, all too quickly, that it is only with God's help that our world is really under control. It is not enough to cry out to God occasionally in passing. It takes practice to develop a good pattern of devotional time, but it is well worth the trouble. For our daily time with God will help us to live more closely in His heart and kingdom. Thanks be to God.
Dance I watched a new program last night on television called, "So you think you can dance!" It is an "American Idol" type show. The judges visited three cities – New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – to find the best dancers. Each contestant appeared on stage to perform their best dance. They had people from all over the country doing every type of dance imaginable. There were dozens of break dancers, hip hoppers, and belly dancers. Some performers did ballet, jazz and ethnic dancing. Some of them were fantastic and the judges were able to choose several hundred to move on to the next round.
After the individual performances, the dancers were taken through a choreographed routine to see if they could do anything beyond their specialty. Large numbers of contestants were cut at this point because they could not keep up with the pace or perform the necessary skills. Finally, the dancers who made it through the second round were paired with a member of the opposite sex to see how they performed with another person.
After that final round, the judges were brutal. Some of the dancers approached the competition with an attitude of superiority. They were sure they were the best and believed that they deserved to win. Their arrogance was often based on the encouragement of those around them – they were told they were really good. Since we are often unable to really judge our own abilities, we depend on our family and friends to be honest. When they coddle our egos with undeserved encouragement, our heads tend to get much bigger than our talent. The judges did not mean to hurt their feelings, but rather critiqued them in a way that should help them grow into a better dancer. The reaction of the dancers was often "No one has ever said that to me before." They could not believe the criticism.
As Christians, we are called into fellowship with other believers, not only for the fellowship in those relationships but because we keep one another on the foundation of Christ as we journey in faith. There are times when we stray, but we are unable to see our waywardness. We think that we are right and good, wallowing in self-righteousness often based on the encouragement of others. We are commended for our faith and action until we think we are better Christians. Sometimes our task is to help fellow Christians walk rightly – correct, rebuke and reprove them so that they will live more firmly in the mercy and grace of God.
"Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, Like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by proving me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, and said, They do always err in their heart: but they did not know my ways; as I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who, when they heard, did provoke? nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses? And with whom was he displeased forty years? was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief." Hebrews 3:7-19 (ASV)
The words of the judge seemed very harsh but they are necessary to direct the performers on a better path. So, too, Paul's words seem harsh to us as we read these. After all, they are written to believers, how is it possible that they can harden their hearts against the love and mercy of God? Unfortunately, our flesh is weak and we are easily swayed by the desires of our heart. It is natural for us to want to be best, to think we are more spiritual or faithful than others. Yet, those very attitudes lead us to an unbelieving heart. We turn our faith toward our own abilities rather than the grace of God. The Israelites were the chosen people of God. Though He had given them deliverance, freedom and hope, they still turned from God. The same can happen to Christians, we can turn away from God. We need one another to stand firm on the foundation of Christ and move forward in faith.
Names I have never been very good at remembering people's names. Though this is generally true only of those people I've met only briefly, I have to confess that it also happens with people with whom I have had more sustained relationships. When at our convention several weeks ago, I ran into many women with whom I had worked a few years ago and I could not remember their names. At times I could not even remember how I would know them. This can be terribly embarrassing. After all, knowledge of a person's name shows how much you value that person's identity.
I am often at a disadvantage when I meet new people. Since we have moved so many times, we come into well established groups as outsiders. When a group of people establish a new group, they take time to get to know one another more deeply before becoming involved in other activities. When you join an established group, they take the time to get to know the new person but rather give you the opportunity to get to know them. The other disadvantage is when the work that I do puts me in the spotlight. It is much harder for me to remember the names of twenty students in a workshop than it is for them to remember my name.
However, this is no excuse. I am very impressed by those who are able to remember names after the first introduction. It is amazing to return to a congregation for a second visit and have the pastor remember my name. I know teachers that can remember the names of their students years after graduation. I have neighbors that can tell you about every family on our street. I'm not sure this last example is the best example, because a lot of people would rather not be so well known. Those neighbors that know every family are seen as busybodies. There is an advantage to being anonymous. No one bothers you, no one makes demands on your time or resources.
I think all too often we'd rather have a God that does not know our name. God the Father is too intimate an image. We have no where to run or hide from a God that knows every hair on our head and every thought in our heart. This is why false gods, including atheism, are so popular. It is much easier to live under the care of a being that will only bother you if you want something from them. The other gods can be ignored because they aren't real, but we can feel spiritual when we call to them for help. Mary Magdalene knew the God that knew her name. He valued her even if the world did not.
"But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher. Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God. Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and that he had said these things unto her." John 20:11-18 (ASV)
Imagine how many people had heard Jesus speak in those three years He ministered in flesh. Mary was indeed one of His closest friends, but she was not terribly important to the story of His life. She was one among many who traveled with Jesus and learned from His teaching. Of course, the popular understanding of Mary is that she was much closer to Jesus than is taught in the church, but her story is so much more powerful if she is seen as one among many.
After all, she was just a woman and even the disciples were unsure whether or not to believe her when she took the message of Jesus to them. Yet, in Mary we can see that Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, has a personal and intimate relationship with His people. He knew her name and He knows every one of our names. Though we are just one among many, we can rest in the knowledge that we are of value to the God of the universe. He loves and cares for every one of us, no matter who we are.
Today is the church festival honoring Mary Magdalene. As we look at her story we are given a midsummer glimpse of the Easter miracle when Jesus was raised from the dead. Even moreso, we see the tender-loving relationship which Christ has with His people, each one made worthy to be an heir of the kingdom of God by His grace. Thanks be to God.
Phone We woke up very early yesterday morning because we had to take Victoria to the airport. She was leaving at 7:45 a.m. on a flight to Missoula, Montana for theater camp. We went to church after she was safely aboard the airplane then headed home for an afternoon of rest. I decided to take a nap in the afternoon to make up for the lack of sleep Saturday night. Knowing Victoria would be landing in Missoula some time during my nap, I kept the phones on the bed beside me.
The phone rang about 45 minutes into my nap and I scrambled to find it on the bed beside me. I barely heard Victoria's voice at first, but I soon realized she was telling me that they had arrived safely. She said, "We're here," and I was suddenly very confused. I jumped out of bed thinking she was calling me from the San Antonio airport and I thought I was late to go pick her up. I thought, "How could I forget to go get her?" and I worried about her hanging around in the airport until I could get there.
As my mind began to clear, I realized that it was still just Sunday and Victoria was just landing in Montana. I was able to briefly ask her about her flight and wish her well. Then she had to run because the camp representatives were gathering the kids for their trip to the camp. The whole experience was a bit disconcerting. I became bewildered and even frightened for Victoria until I was able to grasp the reality of the situation.
We live in a similar sort of daze without Christ. The scriptures describe this state in various ways. The life we gain through faith in Christ changes even the world in which we live. We live in the flesh, in darkness, in uncertainty, in death. We do not understand the things of God because we are blinded by evil and our own self-centered desires. We become confused and afraid because we know there is something wrong about our life and the world in which we live, and yet according to the ways world everything seems just fine.
"We speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought: but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ASV)
It is by the grace of God that we can see more clearly. The indwelling Spirit helps us to see what we were unable to see with our natural body. Only in Spirit can really see and try to understand the mysteries of God. Those mysteries were revealed in Jesus Christ, and it is only through faith in Him that we can really know God. When we are saved by faith through grace, our eyes are open, the confusion is melted away and we see the world in a whole new way.
Fortunately I was able to wake up quickly the other day so that I could have a decent conversation with my daughter, but I probably sounded quite foolish to her at first. When it comes to our faith, it is the world that considers spiritual talk as foolish. The whole message of Christ, the message of forgiveness and mercy, is beyond our vision. The idea of God the Father giving His Son for our sake is just crazy. Why would an all powerful God do that? Why would He have to? Though there are still things about the spiritual realm that we do not fully understand, we have a wisdom that is greater than anything in the world because we have a connection to the source of all wisdom. The Spirit of God dwells in our hearts and reveals to us that which God would have us know. We no longer live in the flesh, but in spirit. We don't live in darkness, but in the Light. We are no longer uncertain, but have a confidence in the promises of God. And finally, we do not walk in death but have true life in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Dusting Ever since the beginning of human history, children have been trying to find some way of rebelling against their authority figures. This rebellion is often deadly. Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the consequence was mortal life outside the Garden of Eden. Not all the rebellion has such far reaching consequences and much of it might seem ridiculous to us in this day. I can almost imagine a group of teenage Hebrew boys sneaking around Jerusalem in search of seafood or pig's feet.
Drugs and alcohol are certainly the temptations that the last few generations have had to face. Despite the dangers involved, young people seek the physical high or drunken stupor that comes from the use of these substances. Some will do anything necessary – steal, beg, or sell their flesh – for a few moments of ecstasy. The effects of these drugs are frightening and parents have long sought to educate their children so that they will not use them. The rules seem harsh and ridiculous while the thrill is often in the danger.
While this rebellion has been frightening for every generation of parent, and at times the method has been even more dangerous, the latest source of high for some kids comes from the everyday items found around our households. Children no longer have to seek a drug dealer on a street corner to find their drugs, they can reach under our sinks or in our desks. Cleaning products and school supplies are giving kids the thrill they desire and seem harmless enough. After all, these are the things that we use daily. The latest trend is called dusting. Kids use the canned air that has been developed for cleaning computers. They breathe in the air through the small plastic tube. Unfortunately, this practice has been deadly.
"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all the nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom." 1 Kings 4:29-34 (ASV)
Most parents are relentless when it comes to caring for the safety of their children and they watch for the signs of drug use. However, they expect that the form of that use will be something from outside their home and they keep an eye out for those substances. However, they miss the problems caused by the common products in their home. Solomon realized, with the wisdom he'd been given by God, that there is wisdom found in the common experiences of creation. He saw value in the animals and the trees, in the birds and the insects. He shared that wisdom through songs and proverbs, many of which we are still able to read in the scriptures.
Just like those parents that expect their children to chase after the rebellion with hard to get items so that they miss the misuse of common products, we often miss the wisdom found in the every day. We look for God in the extraordinary, seeking the miraculous and mysterious. By doing so, we miss God in the ordinary and the commonplace. It is there, in God's good creation and our every day lives, that God makes the most incredible impact on our lives. He is there to guide, guard, encourage and love us at every moment of every day. His wisdom is available for our small problems and our simple decisions. If the wisest man in the world can seek God's guidance through the trees and creeping things, then so can we. Thanks be to God.
Castaway Cruisin' There is a new attraction in the water park at Sea World. It is called "Castaway Cruisin'" and is built to be like a river. Guests ride on tubes through water obstacles like rapids, shooters and misters. I've been on similar rides in other water parks, but they are usually more like a lazy river. At Magic Springs in Arkansas, I could ride on the tube for hours, resting in slow movement of the river. It is relaxing and enjoyable. Castaway Cruisin' is more of a thrill ride. Once you get relaxed, the current spins you or the shooters target you, so there is no rest.
After a trip around the river on a tube, Zack and I decided to take it by foot. It was more fun because we had more control over where we could go. Even still, the current was so strong that it was impossible to stand in the water without being moved forward. A lady nearby lost her sunglasses, but they eventually caught up to her, pushed by the current. It was harder being on the tube, because there was no control at all. I was pushed into the wall often, banged my head a few times. I got dizzy with the spinning and I moved far too slowly. It was more physically demanding to be on foot, even if I didn't fight the current, but it was more fun because I wasn't just being moved by the current haphazardly, but I was involved in the process.
We often speak of the Holy Spirit moving us, much like the current moved us at the water park yesterday. Whether from within or without, we get caught up in the work of the Spirit and are moved forward in faith by His power. At times it seems as if we are on the tube, having no control over the elements involved. Yet, it is a much greater blessing when we allow ourselves to become involved in the work He does through us.
"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left, in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the heads of fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up to build the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were round about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered. Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of Jehovah, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put in the house of his gods; even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah." Ezra 1:1-8 (ASV)
This is an amazing story. Cyrus, the king of Israel's enemy, moved by the power of God, did as God intended all along. He gave the remnant of Israelites their freedom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and returned everything which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple. He decreed that all the people who lived where the remnant were living were to give to their God a freewill offering to help with the rebuilding. God moved Cyrus and Cyrus moved along with God. In the end, God's will was fulfilled and His people were returned to Jerusalem.
God did not simply release the prisoners; He moved the heart of the enemy to do what was right. Cyrus could easily have been carried along, like I was when riding on the tube in the lazy river. However, Cyrus was involved, he made a proclamation and insured that it was completed. Israel went home, the temple was rebuilt and the people praise the LORD. God moved and Cyrus went along for the ride.
There are other stories in the scriptures that tell of times when the enemy – and even His people – refuse to go along. They are often caught up in it anyway, and are destroyed in the process. We find amazing blessings when we allow the Spirit to carry us along and get involved in the work God would have us do. Thanks be to God.
Names I recently finished reading an historical novel about Ireland. I love reading this type of book. Though the history is not completely accurate – names are often changed and individual situations are invented for the sake of the story – there is enough truth that the reader can get an idea about how things might have been.
One of the more interesting aspects of the history of a place is how people come to have their names. The use of surnames, nick-names, Christian names and middle names are well established in today's society. We might not even understand why we have so many names. What purpose does a middle name hold and how did they come into use?
Many generations ago there was no such thing as a surname. People were known by a name and the tribe to which they belonged. Eventually, as there were more people, it became necessary to identify people by another name, to distinguish people with the same name. To their name, people often added prefixes or suffixes that meant things like "son of" or "belonging to the clan of." Tradesmen took on the name of their skill, such as Baker or Smith.
History is filled with controversy and danger. Irish history is particularly difficult because there was always a loyalty to the old ways even while the English kings tried to become sovereign over the island. Choosing the wrong side during a battle between the old and the new often meant losing everything, including your life. For the son of a rebel, the family name could destroy any chance of a future. These youth would often take on the name of a mentor or take a translation of their surname in a different language.
Despite the many changes that have occurred in the history of names, it has always been important to people for a name to be carried on from generation to generation. Men desire sons so to take the family name into the future. It isn't simply about having an heir for the material possessions – though that is part of it. The important thing is for there to be a continuation of the family line. A person's immortality was dependent on descendents. Since women were adopted into the families of their husbands, it was vital for there to be a male child. This is why it was especially difficult for a father when the son took on a new name. Names were often lost from one generation to another, even if the past was kept alive through the stories of the ancestors.
"For thus saith Jehovah of the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and hold fast my covenant: Unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the foreigners that join themselves to Jehovah, to minister unto him, and to love the name of Jehovah, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. The Lord Jehovah, who gathereth the outcasts of Israel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own that are gathered." Isaiah 56:4-8 (ASV)
Ancestry was important, not only to the Jews but also to the foreigners. Taking on the religion of Israel meant set aside something of themselves – their history and their name. It was not an easy thing to do, because it meant that a family could disappear. It was never the intent of the believer to leave family and friends, but taking on the faith of the Lord God Almighty was an insult to the religion of their forefathers and they were rejected.
In this passage, the Lord tells the foreigners that they will have a future and that they will benefit from the covenant promises. If they believe and obey God's Word, they will be adopted into God's family and given a new name – His. Though they may not be able to claim a physical ancestry to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they become sons of the patriarchs through faith. Most Christians are foreigners, but we also will benefit from the promises of God. We are those who have been gathered along with Israel to live in the heart and the kingdom of God. Our name, not our earthly name but the name given to us by God, will go on forever and our worship will be received with joy. For our future rests in our adoption as sons through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Clutter I like to watch the television show called "Clean Sweep" because no matter how badly cluttered my house gets, it is never as bad as the homes showcased on that program. The show is designed to help people get out from under the burden of clutter and clean up their lives. The stars include a professional organizer, a decorator and a carpenter, as well as a staff of many who make the change happen in just two days.
The before pictures are amazing. It is difficult to believe that anyone can let their homes get to the state as seen on the show. Most of the rooms are so packed with stuff that the people are unable to even walk through the room. Shelves are covered with dust, beds are buried in clothes and toys are strewn all over the floor. In many cases, the people have tried to make order out of the chaos, purchasing all sorts of organizational tools, but the amount of stuff is overwhelming. They need help.
On the first day, the organizer helps them sift through the stuff. He or she is brutal, forcing the people to make tough decisions. It is exhausting work and takes most of the afternoon. The people are forced to give up things they claim to love, but they could not love the things too much since they allow them to get buried beneath piles of other things. In the end, the rooms are transformed and so are the lives of the people who have had to go through the experience.
I've often wondered, however, if the people are able to keep their new rooms clean or do they see the new start as license to go back to living the way they had been living, after all they have plenty of room for new things. Does the 'yardsaler' really give up 'yardsaling'? Does the collector really get rid of one item for every new one he or she buys? If we returned to the home a month or year later, what would we find?
I'm not as bad as those folk on the show, but I sure do have my share of clutter. I imagine the organizers would love for me to explain the junk drawers I have in every room or the pile of papers I can't seem to deal with on my desk. The show has taught me many things and I took advantage of my newfound knowledge during our last move. I threw away piles of old bills and gave away a ton of old stuff that I'd been keeping around for some unknown reason. Yet, I still have too much. I have more books than I have shelves and more craft supplies than I will ever need. It doesn't stop me from buying more. It does not take very long before it is out of control.
"After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wouldest thou be made whole? The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. Now it was the sabbath on that day. So the Jews said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed. But he answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. They asked him, Who is the man that said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? But he that was healed knew not who it was; for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in the place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee. The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole." John 5:1-15 (ASV)
I think there might be a little bit of pack-rack in everyone, though most people never let it get to the point of taking over their lives. The clutter might be hidden away or neatly stored, but I don't know anyone who wouldn't benefit from some of the brutality that the organizers are so good at giving, just to lighten up our lives and unburden us from unnecessary stuff. One thing is certain, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. There are none who are good enough to cross the chasm that divides man from God, except the One who died on the cross for our sins.
Passages like today's story of healing are often difficult for us to hear because it seems as though Jesus is saying that the man was paralyzed because of something he did wrong. We know, from other stories and our own experience, that not all disability is a consequence of sin. We don't know what caused this particular man's paralysis. It is possible that he had been disabled by some sin many years before. We simply don't know. However, the lesson here is not that if we live according to the law we will remain unharmed. Jesus did not heal the man because he was particularly righteous or even faithful. He was brutal in His command to the man, "sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee."
Just as the couples can't get out from under their clutter without the help of "Clean Sweep" and the man could not be healed without the Word of Christ, so too we are in need of the Savior to save us from ourselves. He heals us of our own ills. Perhaps we are not as bad off as the man at the pool but we do suffer from our own dis-ease. To us, also, He says, "thou art made whole: sin no more," because the consequences we might suffer for our sin can be worse than that suffered by the man at the pool. Jesus does not heal us so that we will go out and destroy ourselves all over again. He makes us whole so that we can live freely in His love and grace. Thanks be to God.