Welcome to the July 2010 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, July 2010
July 1, 2010
ďWherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.Ē 1 Corinthians 5:16-21, ASV
They say that first impressions are lasting, but first impressions are not always accurate. In the movie ďLegally Blonde,Ē Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a blonde Hollywood type with a better sense of fashion than common sense. Her boyfriend Warner (Matthew Davis) dumps her when they graduate from college because he has big plans for his life: a ditzy blonde wonít make the right kind of wife for a guy who wants to get into law and politics. So, during the summer between college and law school, Warner gets engaged to Vivian (played by Selma Blair). They all end up as students at Harvard Law School, and Elle proves that she is not just a ditzy blonde. Needless to say, Elle and Vivian have an instant dislike for one another. After all, they are competing over the same guy.
As the story unfolds, Vivian and Elle discover that they have much in common, particularly an intimate knowledge of Warnerís imperfections. In a sweet scene, Vivian has to ask Elle for some papers to read and they find a personal connection. Vivian likes Elleís dog and then compliments Elle for something she did during their work. When Warnerís name came up in the conversation, they both had a good laugh at how incompetent he really is. At that moment, they both see the other in a new light. Though there is still conflict, in the end they become the best of friends. The first impression was not the right impression.
Has that ever happened to you? Did you ever meet someone and have an instant impression that you discovered was wrong? Elle appeared to be nothing but a ditzy blonde, but in the end she graduated top of her class from Harvard Law School. Warner seemed to be an intelligent man who was on his way to a powerful and successful career, but in reality he needed his father to pull strings to even get him into Harvard. Vivian seemed like a stuck-up cow at first meeting, but she turned out to be a sweet, perhaps somewhat insecure woman. Good or bad, we often learn our impressions of people are not the reality of who they are.
Imagine what it must have been like to have lived and ministered in the presence of Jesus. Even if He was just a man, He did incredible things that others just canít do. He knew the scriptures, had compassion on those who needed mercy and was bold enough to correct and rebuke those in power. It is no wonder that many of His followers looked to make Him king. They saw in Him all the characteristics that would make a good king. He would lead them well, and would take them into a new golden age, like the reign of David. They saw Him through human eyes, with human aspirations and expectations. He was not ordinary in any sense of the word, but Iím not sure anyone knew how extraordinary He really was. They might have called Him the Messiah in those days before the crucifixion, but did they understand what it really meant to be Godís Messiah? They called Him Lord, but did they really know that He was LORD? They knew Jesus in the flesh, but first impressions are not always accurate.
In reality, Jesus Christ was far more than flesh and blood. He was God incarnate, with power and authority beyond anything possible for human beings. He did do incredible things, but He did far greater things that we can imagine. He offered forgiveness and hope that would not disappoint. He promises life beyond life, eternity in the divine presence of God. He gives the Holy Spirit and the gifts that give us the power and authority of heaven on earth. He transforms those who believe into something new, creature into new creature, hopeless into hopeful, faithless into faithful. He reconciles us with our God so that we can become something new. In His grace, we can see the reality of Jesus Christ: that He is more than we first see and that He can do more than we can ever imagine.
ďWherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.Ē 1 Corinthians 15:58, ASV
The list server is the website through which I send this writing as well as Midweek Oasis. It is easier to send the writing through a list server rather trying to send to individual readers. The mail goes out to readers without passing on email addresses to other readers. I only have to post once and the mail goes to as many people as are signed up for my list. I like the one I use right now because each reader must opt-into the system. This means all my readers have chosen to receive the mailing. I donít know about you, but I get signed up for too many newsletters because websites make subscriptions automatic. Then I have to go back and remove my name, often after Iíve been bombarded by a dozen emails selling their product.
But something is wrong with my list server. I discovered the problem yesterday when Zack told me that he didnít get A WORD FOR TODAY in his email box. It wouldnít be the first time Iíve made the mistake of missing a mailing, especially since I post the writing several places. Sometimes I get rushed and I miss a step in my work. Of course, there are multiple reasons for a missed email. Email servers often bounce mail that seems like it might be spam, even if the email has been received for years. Iíve had my own email bounce at my own email address! The next day everything is fine again, the missed email was a glitch in my email server.
So, I went to check the list server and I noticed that there was no posting for yesterday under the messages. It appeared that I had made the mistake, so I reposted WORD again last night. This morning, the email was still not in our boxes. Bruce reminded me when he said he never got the email yesterday. I checked again, this time knowing that I had posted, but it still didnít show a message received in the list server. I posted it a third time, wondering if I still did something wrong on the second try. The third message never appeared in the archive. I donít know where the messages have gone, but they are somewhere in cyberspace. Hopefully when the list server is fixed, we wonít get three copies of the same writing! Hopefully todayís message will be sent without problems.
Do you ever feel like the work you do for the Lord goes Ďout there somewhereí but is never felt or experienced by others? Do you ever feel like you work in vain? Was it pointless for me to write something that has been lost in cyberspace, and will my time we wasted if todayís post is also lost? It was tempting to ignore my work today, to wait for those missing emails to appear before even trying to post again. But there is more to this work than the one list. It is posted elsewhere. I benefit from the time thinking about God, seeing Him in the experiences of my day. The words I write might just make a difference in the way I deal with someone I meet.
And, who knows? Perhaps the post has been caught up in cyberspace because God is holding for the right moment. Perhaps those words written yesterday will mean more to one of my readers at a later time, and God is working His way through the failure of our human attempts. We may not know whether the things we do or say have succeeded, but we can trust that God will make our work do what He intends. God is in control, and He makes His Word reach those for whom it is intended.
ďAnd Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.Ē Exodus 3:13-15, ASV
In the play ďRomeo and Juliet,Ē William Shakespeare wrote: ď'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; thou art thyself, though not a Montague. Whatís Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; so Romeo would, were he not Romeo callíd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee take all myself.Ē
What is in a name? When I started to volunteer at Morganís Wonderland, we had a number of volunteers with the name Peggy. The schedules were confusing because the planners didnít use last names, so we all ended up working in the same area in the park. We all saw our name in the one place, so thatís where we went. I decided to use the name PJ to reduce the confusion. Of course, the park is the only place where I use that name, and everyone who works at the park know me only as PJ. It is sometimes strange to hear myself called by a different name, but it is like Iím in a different world when Iím there. For those hours, I am PJ. I am not a different person, and yet I have this unique identity at Morganís.
Iím reading a book called ďthe mother tongue, English and how it got that wayĒ (sic) by Bill Bryson. It is the story of the English language, how it came to be and why it is so odd. He writes that it isnít really as odd as we think it is, and that there is good reason for the confusion we face. In the last chapter that Iíve read, he speaks about spelling. Weíve all experienced the feeling that we have misspelled a word or that something just doesnít look right. Poor Zachary deals with this often, because we spell his nickname ĎZack.í Most people want to print ĎZachí because thatís how it is spelled in his full name. We create our own confusions.
I know that I always have trouble typing Shakespeare. I want to add an extra Ďr,í but as Iím typing I know that Iím doing it wrong. Iím learning to be better about this because my spell checker catches my mistake and corrects it for me, but I still think there should be two Ďrís in the name. Interestingly, Mr. Bryson discusses this very issue; it is a problem for many. However, the problem is even worse than I expected: apparently even Shakespeare didnít know how to spell his name.
Mr. Bryson writes, ďMore than eighty spellings of Shakespeareís name have been found, among them Shagspeare, Shakspere, and even Shakestaffe. Shakespeare himself did not spell the name the same way twice in any of his six known signatures and even spelled it two ways on one document, his will, which he signed Shakspere in one place and Shakspeare in another. Curiously, one spelling he never seemed to use himself was Shakespeare.Ē I guess a writer by any other name is still a classic!
Moses asks God, ďWhat is your name?Ē God answers, ďI AM THAT I AM.Ē Throughout the scriptures we discover a number of different names for God, each defining some aspect of the character and nature of God. He is Creator, Father, Redeemer and King. He is Jesus, Savior, Lamb and Lord of Lords. He is Comforter, Advocate, Counselor and Spirit. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, and the Good Shepherd. He is the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Bread, the Word, the Hope of Israel. He is Teacher, Rabbi, Rock, Righteousness, Refiner, and Refuge. I could go on with hundreds of words that can be used as the name of God.
This is why He is ďI AM THAT I AMĒ because He is all these things. He might not be all things to all people. Like I am PJ for those at Morganís Wonderland but Peggy for you, my readers, He is sometimes all those things to some and only some of those things to other. He might be some of those names to you at different times of your life, in different situations. Youíll need a refuge one day, even if you donít need Him as Refuge today. Youíll need a Teacher one day, even if you arenít ready to learn today. He is what He is for us, named according to our needs. Do you need a Father? He is your Father. Do you need a Friend? He is your friend. Do you need hope? He is hope. He is everything you need, by whatever name you use. Whatís in a name? His name is LORD, and He is that He is. Thanks be to God.
ďUnto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul.Ē Psalm 25:1, ASV
Scriptures for Sunday, July 11, 2010: Time after Pentecost Ė Lectionary 15: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Our Sunday school class is following a Read-through-the-Bible program this year. It isnít like the typical programs that begin with page one of Genesis and read a few chapters a day until you reach the final words of John in Revelation. Instead, we read a bit from each type of literature each day of the week. On Sunday we read from the Epistles, Monday Ė the Law, Tuesday Ė History, Wednesday Ė the Psalms, Thursday Ė Poetry, Friday Ė Prophecy and on Friday we read from the Gospels. It is an interesting program because you donít get stuck at the long tedious parts and as you read through the different parts of the Bible you see how it all fits together. I am amazed at how many times we read something in the Old Testament that is repeated or explained in a New Testament story. We are halfway through the year, and a large number of us have kept up with the reading.
The most recent readings from the Old Testament have included the instructions from Leviticus involving sacrifices and offerings. Over and over again weíve read how the Israelites are to take their animal to the priests to be killed, the blood poured over the altar and the flesh burned. We, who live in such a clean and hygienic society, find this absolutely disgusting. We canít imagine the smell of the blood and burnt flesh in the heat of the wilderness. We have a hard time understanding how this was the manner by which Godís people could find peace and forgiveness for their sin.
Yet, for those who lived and worshipping in that day, the offerings of flesh and grain were their way of honoring God and living according to His Word. We have a different perspective of God, based on our own experiences and culture. Our point of view is also based on the New Covenant which Christ inaugurated during His life and ministry. Even so, as we have read in our Bible study, the lessons of the Old Testament were not set aside or forgotten, they were built upon and surpassed by the words and actions of Jesus Christ. The law against murder was strengthened into a declaration against anger. The law against adultery was intensified to include all acts of unfaithfulness including lust. Though Jesus questioned the manner by which the leaders were enforcing the Law, He never made it easier for us to live according to our flesh. He called His people to live as God intended: in His light, and love, and grace.
The Gospel lesson shows us how they had twisted Godís instructions into a set of rules that led them down a path further from God rather than closer to Him. Jesus told the story using extremes to make a point that could not be disregarded. Jesus chose the characters on purpose: a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The requirements for the priest and Levite to remain active in their jobs made it impossible for them to do any good for the beaten man and the Samaritan was as far from acceptable as Jesus could get. Jesusí point was not to lift up the Samaritan and make it as if he were the better man, but to show the lawyer that God sees not the sacrifices but the mercy we share with those in need.
Iíve attended several workshops that guided the guests in discovering a fuller and richer meaning in the Bible texts by identifying with the characters in the stories. The story of the Good Samaritan is often used in this exercise because of the diverse characters. We may not like to admit it, but sometimes we identify with the priest and the Levite, because there are times when the responsibilities of our lives keep us from doing the good we want to do. We might want to identify with the Samaritan, and sometimes we feel like we are the guy who is outcast but willing to cross borders to do something to help another. We might also identify with the lawyer asking the question. Are we willing to see that we are trying to justify what we do, and what we donít do? Some of us will feel like the beaten man on the road. What about the inn keeper? Have you ever faced a time when you had to trust the good nature of another, taking over the care of someone without knowing for sure that the Good Samaritan will return? Are there times we can identify with Jesus? We are sent into the world to teach Godís commandments to others, to show them the way God is calling us to live.
So, as you read this text, put yourself into the story. Are you the lawyer, the priest or the Levite? What lessons can you learn from what Jesus is saying? Is God calling you to do everything right according to the traditions and practices of your religion, keeping from those things that might make you Ďuncleaní? Or is He calling you to go into the places you fear, to cross the boundaries that keep you safe? I donít think Jesus is necessarily telling us that our religious practices and responsibilities are wrong, but that we should choose mercy over sacrifice. God had a purpose for those rituals and liturgy in the days of Moses, and He has a purpose for the rituals and liturgy today. We are encouraged, however, to realize that there is one commandment that is greater than all others: to love God and turn to Him with all your heart and all your soul.
The priest and the Levite did not do anything wrong according to the Law. As a matter of fact, they were doing exactly what they believed was commanded in the Law. It may have even been difficult for them to pass by, because I believe even the hardest hearts have a sense of compassion. But, they were to remain clean and helping the beaten and dying man meant becoming unclean. They could not serve God if they became unclean. They did not pass by because they had no compassion. They passed by because they had interpreted God's Law to mean that they could not risk their holy position and the people of Israel for the sake of one dying man. Though it is possible they were looking at the situation from a self-concerned point of view, they might have even been thinking about the bigger picture. Mercy for the one would mean that they could not provide mercy for the masses.
In the Old Testament lesson we read: ďFor this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.Ē What is the commandment? The teacher of the Law knew the answer to that question. He didn't recite the Ten or list his favorites from the six hundred and thirteen in Leviticus. He listed two: love God and love your neighbor. The Ten and the others help us to do that. They help us to live according the way God has ordained for us to live, loving Him and others.
When we read a passage like our Old Testament text, it seems as though God is telling us that if we obey Him, we will be rewarded with good things. The reality is that God has blessed us with good things and obedience to His commands will keep us from suffering the consequences of disobedience. Obedience does not earn us the goodness of God, but it keeps us within the blessedness of the relationship that He has already built with us. God instructs us not to demand that we become what He wants us to be, but so that we will be all that He has created us to be. We donít have to go somewhere or do something to receive that which He has to give. We hear in Deuteronomy: ďBut the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.Ē He is close and He wants us to stay close. We do that by living according to His Word.
In the introduction to the Letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul lifts up their faith. He reminds them of the Word they heard and the lessons they learned about Godís kingdom. They believed as he had taught them, but others had joined their community with a different understanding and were teaching another Gospel. False teachings had become part of the message they were sharing. Ritualistic requirements, mandatory self-denial, angel worship, diminution of Christ, special knowledge and reliance on human wisdom (both Jewish and Gnostic) were becoming the norm in the congregation. Paul was concerned that the message of Christ was being lost to the fallible human message that was being integrated into the Gospel.
Paulís letter lifts up the faith of the people in Colossae, but not by thanking them for being faithful. He gives all the credit to the One who deserves itóGod. He thanks God for their faith, their love and their hope. He prays that God will continue to fill them with knowledge of Christ and keep them worthy to walk with the Lord. He lifts up Christ, reminding the people of Colossae that He is supreme and that it is by Him, through Him and for Him that we are saved. It is keeping this in mind that we live as we are truly called to live, loving God and neighbor. As we humbly remember that it is not our works that bring the world to Christ, but Christ who has come to the world, we recognize the opportunities He offers to join in His work in the world.
There may be good reason to remain Ďcleaní to do the work we are called to do in the Church and the world. Some things are right to be avoided. But the story of the Good Samaritan encourages us to consider all that we do in terms of Godís grace, crossing the boundaries when God will be glorified by our boldness. Martin Luther once said, ďSin boldly.Ē We might want to use this to justify our sinfulness, but perhaps it would be more appropriate to look at it in light of our Gospel text. The whole quote is as follows, ďBe a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.Ē When we are faced with an opportunity to do good that will cause us to do what is wrong, then we sin boldly, trusting that Godís forgiveness is able to overcome our failing.
I think Martin Luther would have truly understood this point of view, especially after he discovered the foolishness of his quest for righteousness. It was common belief that the priestís sin must be atoned for before he could give communion to the entire community, or the Eucharist would be invalid. Weíve certainly seen the historic and religious structure of this in our reading of Leviticus in Bible study, because the priests must go through a complicated ritual before ever serving at the altar for the people. However, Poor Martin took this perspective to its extreme. He was sure that if he still retained any sin, even those unknown, his entire flock would suffer. He made confession for hours and hours, naming every thing he did wrong that day and ever. His confessor became frustrated by those infinite lists of wrongs.
He eventually learned that God didnít count every little infraction, but that God had done the work of salvation once and for all. We will make mistakes and we should let Godís grace transform us into people who live in the reality of His promise. We sin and we learn and we are changed. We will still sin, but with Godís help we will do better. But when we sin, we can sin with boldness because we know that we have been reconciled to God by His work in Jesus Christ.
The lawyer saw in Jesusí lesson that the true neighbor is the one who loves boldly, even if it means stepping out of the expectations of our position. The priest and the Levite knew that it would be wrong to touch the wounded man, but Jesus showed the lawyer that it was more wrong not to step out in faith. Loving God means responding to those opportunities He lays before us. God isnít far away. He isnít in heaven or on the other side of the sea. He is in our mouths and in our hearts; from there, with our hands, He provides relief for those suffering in the world.
The psalmist writes, ďThe meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way.Ē This is the godly life we are called to lead: humble before God and merciful to our neighbor. This is the life that is lived doing what is right according to Godís Word and trusting that God is faithful when living perfectly is impossible. We might have to get our hands dirty, or cross the road to reach out to others. We might have to trust a stranger will return to repay the debts we acquire taking care of their business. We might have to tell others what it means to love God and neighbor. We might just be the one suffering, experiencing the grace of God through the mercy and love of others. Whoever we are in the story, and however we manage to get along in it, let us always remain humble, trusting that God will faithfully provide everything He has promised.
ďRejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.Ē Philippians 4:4-7, ASV
I had to read ďOf Mice and Men,Ē by John Steinbeck when I was in high school. I donít know about you, but I donít remember much about the books we were required to read. Iím sure we went through lessons on character and plot, symbolism and other aspects of literature, and I probably did well on the test way back then. But thereís no way I could pass it today. Yet, as with many things we experience, I have held on to one quote from the book for all these years. As a matter of fact, it is a quote that I often refer to in times of stress and surprise (not the good kind.) The quote is this: ďThe best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.Ē And yesterday was one of those days.
Zack and I are planning a trip to Alabama, so that he can attend a week long camp at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We decided to drive so that Iíll have to freedom to go where I want and do the things I enjoy while heís busy at the camp. Unfortunately, my car has recently started making a noise that is troublesome. Whenever it is extremely hot outside, the car begins to whistle, as if it is a tea kettle blowing steam. I took the car to our auto shop a week or so ago, but the man on the desk could not hear the noise. We made arrangements to meet again a couple days later when his tech could ride with me. Within the day, our temperatures fell; our days were rainy and cool, so the car did not make the noise. I canceled the appointment and arranged to bring it when it was making the noise again.
Our temperatures rose again this week, and by Tuesday it was warm enough to make the noise. So, I called the auto shop, but they could not take me. The car was making the noise again Wednesday, so I took it in. This time there was no doubt. He heard the noise even as I was driving into the parking lot. He put it on the lift to see if he could find the source and it wasnít good news when he came out. The part that is broken is vital to the operation of the car and if it breaks, Iím stuck. He couldnít say how long the part would last: perhaps a few months or a day. We had to get it fixed before we left to go on our trip. So, we made an appointment for today and Iíll be without a car until they can get it fixed.
While they had the car on the lift, they noticed another problem. Several of my tires were well worn. Knowing that we were headed out on the open road, our car guy suggested new tires. He showed me the problems and I agreed that it needed to be done. They donít do tires, but he recommended a couple places that would not only give me a good deal, but would be available in case there is a problem down the road. So, despite the many other things I needed to accomplish this week, I went to the tire shop to have new tires installed. I had no idea it would take so long, so I ended up spending several hours in their waiting room. As they say, ďThe best laid plansÖĒ I wasted most of the day on my car.
Isnít it funny how you respond to misfortune and inconvenience differently at different times of your life? My complaint about the car troubles yesterday was fully focused on the time I lost chasing after these parts and waiting for servicemen to do their job. I didnít even flinch at the fact that Iíve had to put money into the car. I thought to myself at the end of the day, ďIf this had been ten years ago, I would have worried about how I would pay for it.Ē In another time, I might wonder if it is really worthwhile to put more money into this car. I might think it would be more cost effective to buy something new.
We face these little surprises from different points of view. Someone who could not pay for the repairs might think I am foolish for being concerned about the time and inconvenience. Someone who can buy a new car might think I am foolish for wasting both time on money on the old car. I might think the others are foolish for worrying about money or buying something new when the old is sufficient. However, our response to the roadblocks of life is dependent on our circumstances and our resources. I am blessed that I donít have to worry about money, but Iíve been there. I just have to accept that Iím also blessed that I could take the time to wait as new tires were put on my car. And when my neighborís best laid plans go astray, it isnít my job to question how they deal with it. Iím given the opportunity to help as I am able and to support them as they find a way through it.
We face our opportunities differently, too. I was impressed that my auto guy was willing to make a recommendation about where to go for my tires. Oddly enough, the guy at the tire place was not as considerate. When he learned that I was having the fuel pump replaced, he tried to convince me that they could do it cheaper. Over and over again, ďSo, did you want me to order that part for you?Ē He was kidding, but he would have jumped at the work if I had agreed. I refused, especially since my auto guy was going out of his way to accommodate me in my emergency. I have come to discover that the tire place would have done a much cheaper job, but they would have used a much cheaper part. They would not have done what is best for my car; they would have done just as much as is necessary to make it a long lasting repair. Iím willing to pay a little more to have it done right and to have it last. Whatís the point of doing half the job at half price if it will only last half as long? And then Iím wasting another day getting it fixed again!
So, our best laid plans might go astray. We might have to face those little surprises that are worrisome or inconvenient. However we deal with them, though, let us always remember that we donít go through this life alone. God is with us in good times and in bad. He wonít hand us a thousand dollars or an extra hour when we need it, but when we face the roadblocks and stray plans with humility and grace, we will see the blessings of the moment and experience Godís peace.
ďFinally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Philippians 4:8-9, ASV
So, twenty-four hours have passed and things are beginning to settle down around here. The car repairs took less time than expected and Iím up and running again. Now there is time to do those few necessary errands before we leave early in the morning. Iím more relaxed about the trip now that I know the car is in safe and working order. I have plenty of time to pack and to load the car. Zachary is busy getting his packing done. Iíve managed to get the bills paid and to take care of a few things around the house to make everything easier on Bruce and Victoria this week. I still have a lot to do, but Iím not worried about getting it done.
We went to the store this morning to pick up those last minute necessities like travel shampoo and snacks for the car. We had a cartload of merchandise, much of which was tiny. Iím usually very thorough when emptying the cart onto the belt, but sometimes when we rush we make a mistake. We didnít see a small bottle of shower gel that was left in the corner. The cashier missed it, too. We didnít notice the merchandise until we were unloading the bags into the trunk of the car. It is so tempting to just take the item. After all, I spend a fortune in that store, well over a hundred dollars on that trip, and the item was only a dollar. They wonít miss one small bottle of shower gel, right? We even justify it by saying it is their fault because they didnít notice the mistake in the first place. But, it is wrong. No matter how small the cost or how inconvenient, it is our responsibility to do what is right.
In yesterdayís scripture, Paul gave us a few instructions about how to experience the peace of God. In joy and gentleness, prayer and thanksgiving, weíll know the presence of God in all our circumstances. In this life, however, weíll face moments of choice when we can sin boldly knowing that God has already provided our forgiveness. So, in this passage Paul continues with a word about how to make the right choices as we live in Godís peace. Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, worthiness are the characterizations of the actions and attitudes of the Christian. We are called to seek that which is virtuous and praiseworthy. In this life weíll know and experience the peace of God.
All too often we do not think about the things we do, we jump into a response. It might have been easier and more convenient to take the shower gel or even just leave it in the shopping cart, but it would have been wrong no matter how we justify it. We didnít respond to the moment in haste, but considered what we should do. We thought about our actions and made a choice. How often do we yell at our kids without thinking it through? Do we jump at the chance to make fun of someone who has fallen? How about writing that angry email? Whenever we do these things, we have to live with the consequences, and that means no peace. But when we think on these things: the joy, gentleness, prayer, thanksgiving, truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty and worthiness, we see that which is right in Godís eyes rather than what we think is right in ours. And when we do what is right in Godís eyes, we dwell in the peace that is beyond our understanding.
ďMy soul waiteth in silence for God only: From him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be greatly moved.Ē Psalm 62:1-2, ASV
As you may have noticed, I havenít been writing for the past week. Zack and I took a trip to Alabama; Zack went for a camp at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and I enjoyed a few days of vacation. Though I had my computer and some of my resources along, I thought it would be good to make it a time of rest. We all need that time away from our work, and though I love writing A WORD FOR TODAY and Iím not paid for the work, this is my work. I never forgot you while I was gone, constantly looking for stories and lessons to share along the way. Iím writing today, but my time of rest continues for the rest of this week and Iíll be back on July 26th.
Meanwhile, Iíll write about rest. I may have wanted my trip to be a time of rest, but the reality was much different. First, the trip was a long drive, about 850 miles. I shared the driving with Zack, who is driving on his learnerís permit. It was excellent practice for him as he works toward his license. I dropped him off at the University of Alabama Sunday afternoon, ate dinner with the group and then settled into my hotel for five days.
That was the end of my rest, however, as I found something exciting to do every day of my vacation. I wasnít able to visit every site that interested me, but I did manage to see Alabama history throughout the ages and some other aspects of Alabama culture. It was interesting to visit ancient history, the Civil War period, and to see exhibits on the Civil Rights movement. I visited several antebellum houses, a state park, Helen Kellerís birthplace and a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house. I saw the original state capital (now a ghost town) and the first Confederate White House. I visited an arboretum, saw where the first 9-1-1 call was made and ate dinner with some friends who happen to live in Alabama.
In just four days of travel, I put over 800 miles on the car. Many of those miles were on small country roads, slow speed limits, local traffic jams of tractors and other dawdling vehicles. I spent way to many hours in the car. I also managed to get exercise, hiking in the parks, climbing an ancient Indian mound, taking walking tours. Each night I returned to my hotel exhausted from another busy day. There was no rest for me this week, because I wanted to see it all. Though I didnít manage to see it all, I did see a lot, and I have many stories to tell as I watched for Godís hand in our world. After my vacation was over, I had to pick up Zack at the University and drive that 850 miles home again.
Since I didnít get any rest during my vacation, Iím glad that I am registered to attend a retreat this week. Iíll leave Wednesday to go to camp, where the women attending will be pampered for four days. There are plenty of activities to keep us busy if we so choose, but we are welcome to settle into the rocking chairs on the porch of our cabin and do nothing. Iíll enjoy the worship, the Bible study and Iíll probably visit the craft area. I am looking forward to our trip to the theater and the wonderful meals theyíll serve us each day. But most of all, Iím looking forward to a few days of peace and quiet, a chance to truly rest.
Isnít it interesting that we take vacations to rest, and yet we rarely do so? The only way to truly find rest is to keep our hearts focused on God. Though I did take time for prayer and to think about my experiences in light of Godís Word, I didnít really focus on God during my chaotic week of travel. I was more concerned about getting to all the places I wanted to visit, and I found myself exhausted at the end of it all. This week will be much different. Perhaps during this week of retreat, Iíll remember that we can (and should) take time everyday (more than once a day!) to focus on Godís grace and His presence in the world around us. It is in Him weíll find rest, and strength, and hope, and peace, and joy.
ďFor 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.Ē Luke 14:28-30, ASV
I spent part of my vacation visiting sites in the state of Alabama. I centered my trip in Tuscaloosa and then drove south, east and north to see the historical and other interesting sites in the state. I saw ancient history, Civil War sites and Civil Rights landmarks. I spent time in nature in a state parks and an arboretum. I spied interesting buildings and unusual claims to fame as I drove through dozens of small towns. My car got a workout as I drove 850 miles just in the four days of sightseeing and I took more than a thousand photos with my camera.
I especially enjoyed visiting the southern antebellum mansions. Antebellum means ďbefore the warĒ and these grand homes were built in the years leading up to the Civil War (or, as they say in the south: the War Between the States.) The story of these homes are often very much the same: wealthy plantation owners wanted homes in the cities for entertaining, so they purchased property in the middle of the action and designed grand buildings that would impress friends who gathered when they were in town.
The Jemison-Van de Graff Mansion of Tuscaloosa was one of these homes. Robert Jemison had splendid plans for his city dwelling, including in the home the modern innovations of his day. He had running water, a large copper bathtub, gas lighting, and a kitchen inside the main building. He even installed a deep, dry well in the basement that was used as an early refrigerator. He did not worry about money while building, using the finest materials and the most skillful laborers available. Mr. Jemison had reason to provide a grand place for his friends: he was a businessman with interests in stagecoach lines, ironworks, and coal as well as corn, oats, cotton and livestock on his plantation. He dabbled in politics and worked to make Tuscaloosa a major city in the south.
Though he was a slave-owner, Mr. Jemison was a good and honest master. He provided for the education of his slaves, gave them the opportunities to be trained in skilled labor. As a matter of fact, the fine woodwork in the mansion was done by his slaves, who were actually well paid for their work. He was opposed to secession and some of the most successful black men had Robert Jemison to thank for his support and encouragement.
Unfortunately, no one could foresee the impact that the Civil War would have on the lives of those living in the south, including men like Robert Jemison who were wealthy and successful. Though the family remained in the house well into the twentieth century, they were never the wealthy landowners of the early years after the war. The house was never completed or furnished and it was never used for the grand parties expected by Robert Jemison. The house served as a library from 1955 to 1979 and was used as an office building for the publications ďAntique MonthlyĒ and ďHorizon.Ē It now serves as a visitor center for Tuscaloosa and a photography studio rents some of the rooms. The public can take tours of the home, which is slowly being restored and refurnished as it might have been in the mid-1800ís.
I have learned that most of the antebellum houses do not have the original furnishings any longer. The foundations that care for these grand homes have found period furniture which has been purchased or donated for use in the buildings. In Sturdivant Hall in Selma, Alabama, the only piece original to the building was a large floor to ceiling mirror (very high ceilings) that was impossible to move.
The homes are beautifully restored and available for special events such as weddings and garden parties. It is wonderful that we are able enjoy the fruit of the labors of those who came before us, but it is unfortunate that they were not able to enjoy the fruit of their own labors. The original builders had their lives torn apart when the Civil War ran through their world. The plantations fell apart, the money disappeared, their expectations of the future died when they lost everything. The grand homes sold for far less than they cost to build and the expensive furnishings were lost to time and damage.
Would Mr. Jemison have spent so much money on this grand home if he had known what was going to happen just a few years later? Would he have started building the mansion if he had known he was going to lose everything eventually? It is impossible for us to know. Yet, we are given this reminder in todayís scriptures that we should count the cost of everything we do before setting out to do it. I think it is interesting that during the tour of the Jemison Van de Graff house, the tour guide focused on how the building was never complete, never talking about the accomplishments of its owner. It wasnít until I did some research that I discovered he had been a state senator and a businessman beyond his plantation.
We donít know what will happen tomorrow, so we are encouraged to consider whether we can finish our tasks before we begin. Otherwise, we will be remembered as the one who canít complete the work rather than being seen for the good works that weíve been able to do.
ďAnd they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing: but he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.Ē Hebrews 7:22-24, ASV
During my trip to Alabama, I went to a place called Old Cahawba, the site of the State Capital in 1820-1825. The founders wanted Cahawba to be the finest city in Alabama, and they chose the place where the Cahawba River meets the Alabama River. It is a beautiful place, and an inspired choice that made the city accessible to far more people because of the waterways. It was set in the wilderness, and the site has pretty much returned to its natural state.
Before Cahawba, several cities were the center of the process of forming the state, but Cahawba was the first permanent settlement for the political center of the new state. I found it interesting, as I was wandering around this ďghost townĒ that the signs used the word ďpermanent.Ē Iím sure they were referring to the fact that it was in December 1819 that Alabama became a state and that Cahawba was the first state capital. All the other settlements were capitals of a territory or sites for meetings. Cahawba was officially the first place with a permanent building for the state government.
However, there is nothing left to Cahawba. Well, there are a few dirt roads set in a grid pattern, and some signs pointing to the places where the original buildings were located. You can see the holes that might have been basements in some of the buildings, although those holes are filled with trees and shrubs. A set of columns that once adorned a magnificent house in the city still stand and the slave house of a plantation seems out of place against the wild forest that has taken over the site. I saw a few ramshackle homes, and the foundation of a church. Several places are being studied by archeologists and there are a few piles of rubble that might have been a building once. Two cemeteries are still found in the city limits, although even those are disappearing under the forest growth. Other than that, the city is gone. Even the federal prison has disappeared.
So, it was incongruent to me to read that this was a permanent settlement. I recall visits to ancient castles and cathedrals that have been abandoned for hundreds of years, but still stand tall despite the lack of use. Though the stones of those buildings were often stolen to build walls or homes by neighbors, the ruins are still obvious to visitors. As I walked around Cahawba, I never would have guessed the sites of the old buildings. One sign pointed to a mound that is barely recognizable, telling the visitor that it was the site of an important building a hundred and fifty years ago. Another site pointed to a hole in the ground, insisting that it had once been a row of shops and services. There are no rocks, no bricks and barely even streets. I noticed that there were sign posts showing the corners of the roads, but later discovered that they had been placed fifty years ago by those who wanted to establish Cahawba as a historical site. Some of the buildings had been moved farther from the rivers, which have been known to rise high enough to flood the site of the city. Other buildings were torn apart by the owners so that they could use the materials in other places. Everything that had once made Cahawba a grand and Ďpermanentí place was gone.
Those who care for the wilderness that is now Old Cahawba have decided that it is better to remember the history and allow the land to return to its natural state. They do archeological studies, trying to understand some of the mysteries of that time and place. But the roads will never be paved again, the buildings will never be rebuilt. Nothing about Cahawba will ever be permanent, since even nature changes on a daily basis. Though they will try to preserve what is left, their focus is now to ensure that the history is remembered and the land is respected.
That day I was reminded that nothing is permanent. Our lives, our homes and our accomplishments might be remembered, but one day there will be little left to tell my story. Iíve learned that our history is often distorted over time, as we remember what we want to remember and rewrite what we did not like. We make our history, and the history of our forefathers, what we want it to be. Nothing is permanent. And yet, there is something that is permanent: God. Jesus Christ is permanent. He is forever, and His Word is forever. We inherit that forever because we have faith in Him. Though it is fun to look at the history and to remember what was, it is good to remember that nothing on earth is permanent. Only that which we have in, with and through Jesus Christ will last forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 1, Time after Pentecost Ė Lectionary 18: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12í Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
ďSet your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.Ē Colossians 3:2, ASV
I hated history when I was in school. I donít know whether it was the memorization of places, names and dates, or whether it was just the immaturity of youth, but I did not enjoy learning about the past, especially the past that seemed to have nothing to do with my life. How would I benefit from knowing that the Magna Carta was signed by King John on June 15th, 1215? I recognize now that we are connected to one another not only by our today, but also by our history and together we can make our future good or bad depending on the lessons we learn. However, back then, the history lessons seemed pointless.
I am certainly not a history scholar, and Iíd still rather not memorize places, names and dates, but Iíve come to appreciate history much more. I think it has to do with our time in England. You canít drive down a street in the Old Country without seeing history. The homes are five hundred years old; the churches are even older. It seems like there is a castle on every corner. Flea markets are filled with furniture and coins that are older than most towns around the United States. We call those antiques even if they are a bit beaten from use, but in England most of it is little more than someoneís junk.
So, I learned to appreciate history during those years living in England. I think it makes a difference to walk where they walked and to see with my own eyes the places and documents that we learned about in class. Actually seeing an original copy of the document (as we did in Lincoln Cathedral) makes it real. The history we learned is something we can actually read for ourselves (even though it is locked in a glass case, knowing that there is an actual document makes it a tangible possibility, not just a report of something that once happened.)
It is said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Iím sure this is true and yet I wonder if it is ignorance or simply a matter of human nature. After all, we read in the Old Testament stories of Israel and her kings that they repeatedly followed the evil ways of the past. Over and over again the scriptures tell us, ďAnd the king did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.Ē And the people followed the ways of the king. Baal worship, injustice, war against neighbors was all a part of their lives but not within Godís intent. Did this happen because the kings did not know the will and purpose of God? Or did they simply fall into the temptations of the world that have plagued humanity from the beginning?
As I read todayís scriptures, I said out loud, ďHow depressing.Ē The text from Ecclesiastes begins ďVanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanityÖĒ How often do we say, ďWhy do we have to learn this? Iíll never need it again.Ē This is true of history, but also in the other disciplines. My kids (and probably myself in my younger years) have asked when they will use trigonometry and what purpose dissecting a worm served in their lives. I donít have a good answer. Perhaps the teacher is correct; perhaps it is all vanity.
It is so hard for us to think that everything we do has no meaning at all. We work many hours a day, week and month to accomplish our goals in life. We do it to feed our families and ensure that we have a nice place to live and a comfortable existence. We practice our hobbies so that we can be good at them. We read books to gain knowledge, follow the news to stay informed. We create friendships so that we will not be lonely, but will be happy and satisfied. We donít think any of this is meaningless. It means something to us.
Yet, even our most passionate interests are blown by the wind. How many of us have treadmills gathering dust in our garages because they were the popular way to exercise decades ago? Now we run off to the gym to take Zumba classes. What will it be tomorrow?
I have a close full of craft supplies from projects Iíve done in the past. Iím sure most of the paint is dried up and the materials are out of date. New technology changes the way we do things. Photography is a digital pursuit rather than chemical. I can now store thousands of photos on a disc in the space of just a few photographs. What will we do with those photos tomorrow? Other materials have been made stronger or longer lasting. Iím sure most of my old supplies will end up at the Goodwill or in the garbage when Iím gone.
Our earthly pursuits, while important to us today, are ultimately meaningless. Our traditions die as new ones are created. Our hobbies come and go as new ones are created. Our hobbies come and go as our interests change with the trends of the day. Our knowledge changes as new discoveries are made. Language changes making old literature difficult to understand and irrelevant to modern generations. Even our human relationships change as we move on to new places and people. Though a few people may achieve a sort of immortality as they are remembered for some great accomplishment, most of us will end up as little more than a footnote in a family Bible or a gravestone in a cemetery.
So, we ask the question, ďIf everything is meaningless, why bother?Ē Why do we have to live in this world and do what we do? What is the ultimate purpose of our existence? Unfortunately, we tend to think of success in terms of what we have collected. We are intelligent when we have collected enough knowledge. We are wealthy when we have collected enough money. We are happy when we have collected plenty of beautiful things. But are we? Are we wise when we know the formula for determining the speed of light? Are we rich when we have millions tucked away on CDs? Are the happy people those who have the newest sports car in their driveway?
We spend a great deal of time chasing after things. We live in Texas where bigger is better. We, like most Americans, work hard to have a comfortable life. We have a house big enough for all our things. We have a bank account that gives us a little freedom to upgrade our lifestyle. We do not have to worry about where our next meal will come from or if we can afford to buy school supplies for our children. We donít have to worry about tomorrow because we have more than enough for today. We have enough for today, so we think about ways we can spend it on the things we want.
Vanities of vanities, all is vanity. At times it seems like this is true. The passage seems without any hope at all. Yet, as we are reminded of the truth that our pursuits are meaningless in the greater scheme of things, we are also reminded that there is an even greater scheme. Though our toil is in vain and will be forgotten someday, our hope rests in something much greater than ourselves. In knowing, and living, this truth, we will see that Godís purposes and pursuits are not so meaningless. There is truth in the statement from Ecclesiastes. Everything is meaningless. Life is vanity when it is lived for the sake of perishable things.
So, why do we bother? What is the purpose of it all if it is meaningless? Why do my kids bother going to school to get an education? Why do we bother even getting out of bed in the morning to go to work again if it is all vanity? Jesus answers that question with the final verse of the Gospel passage. ďSo is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.Ē It is about the focus of our hearts.
In todayís Gospel story, Jesus is approached by brothers who are dealing with their inheritance. Now, we donít have a record of the last will and testament of their father, but it was typical in that day for the first born to get twice as much as each younger brother. So, in the case of two brothers, the oldest would get two thirds while the younger got one third. This might not seem fair, but the older brother was expected to continue the family heritage while the younger was set free to begin a new life. Was this the case in the story of the two brothers? We donít know for sure, but we do know that the one who called out to Jesus saw Him in the role of a rabbi. It was their responsibility, like Moses, to be arbitrators in legal cases.
Jesus uses the opportunity not to establish equality between the brothers, as we might expect. Instead, He warns the crowd about being greedy. If the brother was seeking his share of the estate, then Jesus might have approached this request in a different manner. He may have addressed the brother who was keeping the otherís birthright. However, Jesus addresses both of them. ďTake heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.Ē
Jesus continued this lesson with a parable about a man whose work was extremely successful. He needed more space to store his crops, so he decided to tear down his old barn and build a bigger one. I think what is most disturbing about the story in todayís Gospel lesson is not that the man is building a building for all his stuff. What disturbs me the most is that he tore down a perfectly good barn to replace it with something new and better. What was wrong with the original barn other than the fact that he had more grain than it would fit? His decision is wasteful. It seems to me that if you can tear down a perfectly good building, then you have too much.
How do we waste our own resources? Is there something we can do with our surplus that would make life better for someone else? We canít take it with us, and though we are pleased to know that our children can reach farther than we ever imagined by that which we leave behind, we donít know what tomorrow holds. Will they be wise or will they be foolish? Will the circumstances of the world in which they live allow them to benefit from our hard work, or will it all be wasted? How can our resources better serve those in need today?
It doesnít matter if we are rich or poor, high or low. We will all die and everything we have accumulated will be given to another. It may be used for good, but history tells us that human nature is more likely to fall into the traps of evil. The kings of Israel were given the good things which God had assured for His chosen people, and they used it to honor and worship the false gods. They led the people away from the one true God, into lives that were truly meaningless and empty.
We are called to be rich toward God. There are many ways that can manifest in our lives. We are given gifts and talents, opportunities and relationships that God uses to make His will happen in the world. We have material possessions that can be shared with our neighbor. We have knowledge and wisdom that can make life better for others. The Gospel story does not tell us that we canít have wealth, but that we are to use our wealth for the sake of the world. The wealth we have, whether it is our possessions, our time and our abilities, is given to us to be used to the Glory of God.
We may intend on doing so, but we just want to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow is a better day. Iíll have a little extra tomorrow. I can do more with the surplus I will have tomorrow. Today I just want to make sure I have a place to store everything I have gathered. But, our time is limited. We may never have a tomorrow to use the blessings we have today. To be rich toward God means giving what we have now toward His will and purpose.
Instead of tearing down a perfectly good barn, perhaps the man could have given the old one for another use. Instead of building a bigger barn, perhaps the man should have given the surplus to a neighbor. How do we waste our resources and how can we share them? Again, this text is not necessarily telling us that we need to be rid of our wealth. We are simply reminded that what we gather is meaningless if we donít use it to the glory of God.
Our scriptures this week teach us that the material possessions for which we work so hard are perishable and it is meaningless for us to put all our energy and focus into keeping these things. We are called to ask ourselves, ďWhere will I bestow these things?Ē Will we hide our grain and goods in a bigger barn, or will we dedicate it to God and for His use in this world. In this way we will store up treasures in heaven, treasures that will last.
The Psalm for this day shows us that this is a question of salvation, but that chasing after these things will not do anything to benefit our soul. We certainly cannot save others. ďThey that trust in their wealth, And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him.Ē We will all die and everything we gathered will be given to someone else. In the end, our stuff is as perishable as we are. The only thing lasting is the God we worship and that which He chooses to make last. He has chosen us for eternity, but weíll miss it if we are spending all our time and energy gathering stuff.
Paul writes in our epistle lesson for today, ďSet your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.Ē The earthbound attitude is one of self-centeredness; when we chase after the things of this world we lose sight of the things that truly matter. We are called to live a life that rejects the attitudes and actions that are earthly, like ďfornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.Ē Paul reminds us that we are a new creation; though we were once like the rest of the human race, tempted and weak against the ways of the world, we have put on Christ and we live for Him. Paul writes, ďÖand have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.Ē This is why we were created; this is our reason for life. We were created to become like Jesus, to live as He lived and share everything God has put into our care so that all will come to know His love and mercy.
Vanities of vanities, all is vanity. At times it seems like this is true. The passage seems without any hope at all. But God has created us and saved us for something much greater. Life is not vanity when we glorify God by the use of our resources to bring hope and peace through love and mercy to the world. We may not be remembered in a hundred years, but we will dwell for all eternity in the presence of the Living God, in heaven where our true treasure lies.
ďBut I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye have revived your thought for me; wherein ye did indeed take thought, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me.Ē Philippians 4:10-13, ASV
They say the customer is always right, but that proverb was not the attitude of Frank Lloyd Wright the architect. I visited one of the homes he designed when I was in Alabama a few weeks ago and though I was impressed with the design, I was very surprised at the home. I suppose the photography Iíve seen of other houses can be misleading, or perhaps this particular house was unusual in its design, but I did not expect the home to be so small. And I would not have guessed he would use plywood.
Granted, the home was built in 1940, a time when people had fewer things and needed much less space. Even at that, the Rosenbaum family (the ones who had the home designed) were well off and could afford to build a grand home. They had plenty of land and an incredible view of the Tennessee River. There was no reason to build a compact house, except that it was the vision of the designer. When the tour guide asked about my first impressions, I said I was surprised it was so small. She told me that I would find it was larger than it appeared to be. While that might be true, I never could wrap my mind around the idea that a family of six lived in that home for so many years.
The living room was smaller than most modern bedrooms. The den was smaller than my master bath. The kitchen was shockingly small, just twenty-five square feet of space. There was a small refrigerator and stove, a sink and a few cabinets. It might have been enough in 1940 for a couple, but it must have become impossible after they had children. When the home was first built, the family consisted of just Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbaum. They soon had four boys to fill the space. I canít imagine a house so small for my family, let alone with four active and growing boys. Iím not sure the kitchen was large enough to even store the amount of food necessary for one day of feeding them!
What is interesting about Frank Lloyd Wright is that he didnít just design the living space. He designed everything to go inside. Though the Rosenbaums had a few personal items, the furniture was all created by Mr. Wright. The only outside piece of furniture they included in their design was a piano and a set of Eames chairs. The Rosenbaums also added some carpeting (something that Mr. Wright absolutely hated.) Everything else was made by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of the furniture was built right into the house, making it immovable, including the desk in the den and the dining room table.
It didnít seem to matter to the Rosenbaums. They were happy to have a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home and were willing to live with it as it was given to them. Mrs. Rosenbaum did ask for a redesign in 1948 at which time a larger kitchen, a guest room and a dormitory were added. Until then, the boys slept in two small bedrooms, but the Rosenbaums wanted them in one room. The dormitory has bunkbeds, attached to the wall, enough storage for a few clothes and toys and an area for play. It was a different time, but can you imagine storing your childís clothes in a small draw, a large drawer and a few inches of hanging space? Iím not sure my kidsí socks would fit into that amount of space.
Though there was some wear and tear on the home due to failed heating and roof systems, the Rosenbaums lived in that home (Mrs. Rosenbaum spent the last sixteen years alone) until the 1980ís. It was then sold to the city of Florence. Everything that came with the house when it was first built was still there, including all of the original furniture and many of the Rosenbaums own things. You can see it today as it was in 1940 when they first moved in (well, as it was in 1948, when the addition was complete.)
Can you imagine spending forty years happy with the same living space? Can you imagine being satisfied with something someone else has designed? Can you imagine being content with so little for so long? It may have been a different time and the Rosenbaums may have been unique people, but Iím still impressed that these people of wealth were happy with what they had. Can we be so content with the life that our Creator has given us? Can we be satisfied with the opportunities and experienced He has designed? Can you imagine being happy no matter the circumstances?
ďWherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.Ē 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, ASV
New experiences give us a new point of view. Touring historic sites in England made me more interested in history. Visiting an art museum made me want to try different kinds of painting techniques. Reading through the Bible has given me the desire to do in depth study of some specific books. Reading a book by a great author makes me want to read more of their work. Eating a new type of food spurs me into the kitchen to try cooking it for myself.
The recent heat and humidity of San Antonio has made me understand the concept of a Ďfiesta.í The air is so warm and oppressive in the afternoon that the body wants only to find a cool place to rest. I think Iíve taken more naps in the past year than I did when I was a baby! Thatís an exaggeration, of course, but on most days I would like to squeeze in a little naptime.
I think the most palpable change in my thinking comes from my volunteer work at Morganís Wonderland. Iím far more away of the special challenges of special needs children and adults. I overheard someone the other day comment about how wonderful it is that the doors into the park are wide enough for wheelchairs. We do not realize the challenges that many people in our world face. Since I volunteer at the front door of the park, I see many of the families as they have to unload their cars: dragging wheelchairs out of trunks, fiddling with all the bits and pieces, gently moving their loved one into the seat, hooking all the belts and restraints. Then they have to gather the extras: the bags, coolers, sun block, hats, covers, drinks. It often takes twenty to thirty minutes for a family to get organized before coming to the door. Imagine if you had to do that for a quick trip to the grocery store. For those with special needs, nothing is a quick trip. I thank God for the public transport drivers who have the patience to deal with the special needs volunteers who arrive throughout the morning. For every drop off, they have also been through the process of picking them up. And then they do it again when it is time for them to go home.
I really enjoyed seeing the Frank Lloyd Wright house the other week, but I have to admit that I approached my visit with this new understanding of accessibility. The house was small, although there was enough room for a family that is satisfied with what they have. However, I was shocked at the size of the halls and doorways. The inner doors are only 20Ē wide. An average door in an American house is about 28Ē wide. Iím sure the doorways are a little bit wider in an accessible house. I have to admit that I thought to myself, ďThis house would never pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.Ē
Now, in the past, I might have questioned the small doorways because I know that most furniture wonít fit through a door that small. However, Mr. Wright took that into consideration. Every room has access to the outdoors. So, instead of moving the furniture through the house, it is moved into the rooms directly from the outside. While that solves the problem of furniture, it doesnít make the house accessible. Along with the tiny doors, the house sits on multiple levels, with stairs everywhere. The house would be completely impractical for any of the families I meet every time I work at Morganís Wonderland.
Paul writes that we no longer see the world through a worldly point of view. In Christ, we are given new eyes and a new perspective. How has your faith changed the way you see your neighbor? How has your experience with God made you appreciate the gifts and challenges of others? How has this new point of view changed the way you live and share Godís grace?