Welcome to the June 2015 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, June 2015
June 1, 2015
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Romans 8:18-30, ASV
I know I talk about the weather too much, but sometimes it is the most pressing topic of the moment, at least in my life. It has been raining in Texas: drought-busting, river filling, flooding rain. I looked at the radar today (as I do every day) and this was the first time in at least a month where there was absolutely no precipitation showing on the map for Texas. One report I heard is that we went nearly a month with at least four inches of rain falling somewhere in Texas. They tell us that 35 trillion gallons of water has fallen on Texas in the month of May. This is enough rain to cover the entire state with eight inches of water and to provide every person in the world eight glasses of water for ten thousand days.
It has been good because it is filling our lakes and aquifers with water we have desperately needed. The drought map, which just a month ago showed nearly the entire state in the most severe level of drought. One nearby lake was down to less than three percent full. Yesterday it went over fifty percent. Another lake is fully that hasn't been full for years. The water agency in our area has started counting down the days to see if they can drop the restrictions that have limited our use of water for years. Our grass is green and our trees seem to be recovering beautifully.
It was not all good news, however, as those who watch the news probably know. The rain has caused many of our rivers to overflow their banks, causing the loss of life and probably. Too many people have died when they were overcome by the rushing waters, both on the banks of the rivers and in the flash floods that have covered roadways in the cities. People are still missing in one area, and the rivers continue to rise as the water works toward to the Gulf of Mexico. We are very thankful that the weather reports are predicting at least several days of sunshine so that the particularly soaked places can begin to dry. It could take days, even weeks, for the damage to be assessed and the debris to be removed. It could take years to restore some of these places to their former glory.
I saw a story about one woman, an artist, who lost everything in a flood. Robin Renee Hix is an artist and photographer who has lost 30 years of her artwork including photographic slides, negatives and images, current artwork and frames, her cameras, printing supplies and darkroom, plus countless art books, art supplies, business records and computers... everything she needs to support herself as a working artist. She was not home when it happened and her pets have survived, but everything is destroyed even though her home was well outside the 100 year flood zone. She is one among many who have to start all over.
It is heartbreaking, but there is always good news in the bad. This disaster has manifested the goodness of many. Busloads of people have traveled to flood ravaged areas to help search for those still missing, to clean up the debris, to help people restore some semblance of order to their world. Generosity is evident in the donations to individuals and organizations of both money and necessities. The people who are suffering will survive with a little help from friends and strangers.
The story that made me want to write today is about a Facebook page that has been established to help people find things that they have lost. One story among hundreds is from a young man who was helping clean up debris and noticed a nice table standing on the bank of the river. He later saw a description of the table on the Facebook page, contacted the poster with his information. As it turns out, it was the man's table, a family heirloom that was brought to America on the Mayflower. It was found four miles downriver, but survived and has been restored to the owners. While we should never focus on our stuff, the places where found items have been posted or collected have allowed people to get pieces of their lives back, including photos. Many of the items are silly items of no real financial value, but those are the very things that often have the most sentimental value to those who are suffering so much. The lost and find sites are also connecting people. From the article, "But the page is doing more than serving as a clearinghouse for items washed away in the flood. It's bringing the community closer together. Instead of bringing all the items to a warehouse, the people who find them hold on to it, and then personally return it to the owner." That one picture might be all the person has left, and the handshake or hug between the finder and the ones to whom things are returned might be the best part of this disaster. Strangers become friends and a memory is created that will last forever.
I probably use this scripture from Romans too often in my writing, considering how much more the bible has to say. Also, there is no doubt that among those who are helping in so many ways, finding treasures in the mud and restoring the lives of those who are suffering are not necessarily Christian, but we who are can trust that in all aspects of this disaster God is working in ways that we will never know or understand. People may come to faith. Others will find a new and better path. The people who have lost so much have the opportunity to begin life anew. God is good all the time, even in the path of a flood, and He will use this disaster to His glory and for the good of those who love Him.
"And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, ASV
Our understanding of the world is limited by our environment and experience. A person who spends their whole life on a farm cannot comprehend the activities of one who lives in the hectic pace of the big city, while life on a farm seems strange to city folk. An old Jewish folktale tells the story of two city dwellers, brothers curious about the country.
One day they decided to go to see for themselves what it was like. As they wandered down a road, they noticed a farmer who was plowing. They did not understand why he would go back and forth turning up the dirt of a meadow. They thought he had no sense. They returned later that day and saw him throwing wheat into the dirt. Once again they found his actions nonsensical. The first brother decided that like in the country was definitely not for him, so he returned to the city. The second brother stayed to see more. He watched the wheat grow and the saw the field become ripe with the fruit of his labor. The man reported this amazing thing to his brother in the city; he returned in time for harvest. They watched as the farmer cut the wheat down and the first brother shook his head in unbelief. He could not understand how the farmer could destroy that which he spent the summer creating. He left because it was simply silliness to him, but his brother continued to patiently watch. The farmer collected the wheat, separated the chaff and stored the grain. The city man saw that by sowing a bag of seed the farmer harvested a field of grain.
The actions of Christians in this world often seems nonsensical to those who do not understand. Our actions often seem silly or nonsensical to those who are still lost in the darkness. They shake their heads in unbelief when we forgive those who hurt us, serve those who persecute us, love those who hate us. They do not understand why we would continue speaking the truth of Jesus Christ into a world that does not listen. Yet, when we walk in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are confident that the work we do will produce fruit that will glorify Him.
The farmer had faith that the seeds he planted would grow into a field that would feed many. The first brother had no patience to wait and see what would happen. The second brother was more willing to watch and he came to understand the farmer's actions and witnessed the miracle harvest that came from faith. He saw that the farmer's purpose was to produce fruit, and it took all those silly actions to make it happen. We do not always understand why God has called us to do the things we do. We simply step out in faith and confidence that God knows what will be harvested in the end. When we live in Christ and minister according to His Word, He will use us to bring new life to the fields we work.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2015, Second Sunday of Pentecost: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
"For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mark 3:35, ASV
I once knew a woman who wanted to be a Christian. She believed in Jesus, had even been involved in church at different times in her life. She wasn't attending anywhere when we were neighbors, and I invited her several times to come with me. She always refused. Though curious about our church and glad to be in a relationship with someone who knew the Lord, she was not ready to make a commitment. She had many excuses. One reason why she wouldn't visit my church was because she didn't think she could afford to tithe, but when I told her that our church had no such requirements, she told me that she couldn't attend a church that did not expect a tithe. The real problem was not how much money she had but that she did not think she was good enough to be in the presence of God and all those Christians. She wanted to get right with God first, then she might go to church.
We had several conversations over the course of our relationship, but no matter how many times I explained to her that we can't get right with God without being in His presence and in the company of other Christians, she was never ready. She never understood that Christianity is not a group of holy people, but a pack of forgiven sinners who gather to hear the Word preached and the Sacraments given so that we will know the love, mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ His Son. She did not want to step into the presence of God until she found a way to hide her imperfections.
God knows. He sees into the very depths of our beings; we can't hide anything from Him. He sees beyond our masks; He has known us since before we were born. God knows, and He loves us anyway. The only difference between those who are inside the church and those outside are the ones inside know that they are there by God's grace. Those outside are like Adam and Eve, trying to hide from the very God who would be their salvation.
This Sunday we enter into the longest season of the Church year. The paraments will be green for the next few months as we consider the life God has called us to live in this world. The first half of the church year focuses on the story of God. We hear what God has done for us. We hear about Jesus, His birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We hear about the history of His relationship with His people. We hear about why we need Jesus. Beginning with this Sunday, the focus turns to us. Now that we know what God has done, we consider what we will do in response. Pentecost is about growing in our faith and action. It is about listening to God's call and going forth in faith. It is good and right to study the story of God, but it is meaningless if we aren’t changed. It is worthless if we do not respond to God's grace.
It is also important to begin this time with a reminder that we are still sinners in need of that Savior. Many of the stories throughout the Pentecost season focus on the great work we can and will do for God. We will be reminded that we have been called to a holy priesthood, as witnesses to His grace. We can, and do, fall prey to the possibility that we are something special. And while we are, we must always remember that there is a part of us, still, that is the same as those who have not yet devoted themselves to discipleship, both inside and outside the Church.
I read St. Augustine's "City of God" last year. It was a fascinating, although extremely challenging tome. He used more than a thousand pages to compare and contrast the Kingdom of God and the world. I recently came across a great quote from that book, from the preface. "[The city of God, i.e., the church] must bear in mind that among her very enemies are hidden her future citizens; and when confronted with them she must not think it a fruitless task to bear with their hostility until she finds them confessing the faith. In the same way, while the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, she has in her midst some who are united with her in participation in the sacraments, but who will not join with her in the eternal destiny of the saints. Some of these are hidden; some are well known, for they do not hesitate to murmur against God, whose sacramental sign they bear, even in the company of his acknowledged enemies. At one time they join his enemies in filling the theaters, at another they join with us in filling the churches. But, such as they are, we have less right to despair of the reformation of some of them, when some predestined friends, as yet unknown to themselves, are concealed among our most open enemies. In truth, those two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgment."
Pentecost is a time when we learn to live in this world and as God's church surrounded by both the faithful and the unfaithful. We learn how to be witnesses. We learn how to be servants. We learn how to follow as Christ's disciples in a world where Satan still roams.
We will have opposition to the work we will do in the world, even from those closest to us. Some, perhaps, will even suggest that we are doing the work of the devil, especially when we preach a word they do not want to hear. It is hard being a disciple, not only hard work, but also difficult because we will be tempted to conform to the world though Christ calls us to a life that conforms to Jesus Christ. Isn't it interesting that in today's passage, Jesus' family thought he was out of His mind and the teachers of the law thought He received His power from Beelzebub, the prince of demons? If they could think these things about Jesus, how much more will they think it about us?
Jesus asks the teachers whether a kingdom divided against itself can stand. "Why would Satan cast out his own demons?" Their accusation did not make sense, but don't we often jump to the same judgment against those who disagree with us about the issues of the day? Don't we assume that our opponents are from the devil even when they are accomplishing work that honors God just because they see the world through a different point of view? Sadly, we might not know who are the not-yet brothers or the wolves in sheep's clothing as we journey through this life. That's why we are called to walk as disciples of Christ, knowing that God can and will accomplish His work through us even if we don't always know what we are doing.
See, sometimes the things that we think matter most of all do not matter much to God, and God can make things happen through the most unexpected people. It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes these things through us and we do not always know what He is accomplishing through others. When we suggest that the work they are doing is from Beelzebub, we suggest that it is the devil rather than God who has the power. It may be hard for us to see through our own biases and points of view, but discipleship means trusting God and walking in faith.
We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, as much for the sake of the sinner as for those who will be harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There is truth and lies. These are things that matter. We will learn throughout this season of Pentecost the times and ways to reprove, rebuke, and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are called to do so with love and patience. We need them to do so for ourselves, too. In the end, as good as it may sound, we aren't working to make this world a better place, but to glorify God by sharing His grace with those whom God has ordained to be His forever.
God's story led us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. All this is well and good, but what happens next? How do we live life in this world now?
As we study the lectionary texts of Pentecost, we’ll look at our own lives of faith. We think about what God is calling us to do. We will think about our gifts and the opportunities that God is providing for us to share His kingdom with others. It won't be easy. We will have to face the not-yet brothers who will reject us and the wolves in sheep's clothing who will try to confuse us. We will face those who have missed the truth of the Gospel or who will find any excuse to hide from God. We will face true enemies who are doing the work of the devil. We will just have to walk in faith and trust that God will accomplish whatever He has ordained for our lives, remembering always that those who do the will of God are our brothers and sisters, heirs together in the promise given by our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For today, however, let us consider first the Lord God Almighty and our place in His kingdom. Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were created? Are you glorifying God with your life? Everything else will fall into place perfectly and completely when you realize that it is in humbleness and submission to the humble God who created the universe that you will truly fulfill the purpose for which you were designed and ordained in this world. Praise God and you’ll see clearly the direction He is leading you to go.
"Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; With the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet Make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein; Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together Before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity.
Pharrell Williams is an American singer and music producer whose song "Happy" has become a successful song, in large part due to the incredible marketing of the artist. The song was used in the soundtrack for the movie "Despicable Me 2" and was the song used in the most unusual music video. Pharrell was not happy with the usual video that lasts just the length of the song, so he put together a video he calls "24 hours of Happy." You can find it on the Internet.
The video was shot on the streets of Los Angeles, using hundreds of dancers, each dancing to the four minute song in the three hundred and sixty segments. Each segment was recorded at the appropriate time of day, so the video that appears at midnight is in darkness and the one at noon is in bright light. Each dancer put his or her or their personality in their segment; when one finishes the video fades and then finds the next dancer nearby ready for their time to dance.
Pharrell did twenty-four different segments, each appearing at the top of the hour. Other celebrities make a appearances throughout the video, including Magic Johnson the basketball player who takes the viewer through the trophy room of his home and Jimmy Kimmel who dances through his studio. The minions from the movie make an appearance, too. It is fun to watch as the dancers interact with the crowds on the street, but equally interesting when the dancers are left alone to their joy.
"Happy" is the kind of song that makes your feet move. It makes sense that this song might be used for this type of video with its catchy beat and happy words. You would think that a viewer would quickly tire of the music when watching twenty-four hours of it, but surprisingly it continues to draw you in. It makes you want to be on the streets dancing, too. I haven't watched the whole thing, but I've spent too many hours in front of my computer joining in the joy of the dancers.
When I sing, it is truly a joyful noise and my dancing is not graceful like the professionals; music is not a particularly important part of my life. Even though my tongue grates on the ears of men and my dancing can make witnesses roll on the floor with laughter, I understand the power of music. It can make us laugh and dance and cry. It can teach us and tell us stories. The great hymns of Christianity lift up God's people and today's modern songs can fill our hearts with joy. The children's songs we learn at Vacation Bible School stay with us forever, and we all know that Jesus loves us for the Bible tells us so. That simple reminder can pop into our heads at the most unusual times, bringing out the song in our heart with faith has imprinted on our spirit.
I have found that there are times when I pray that I cannot keep from singing. As I draw into God’s presence, there seems to be nothing to say, so I join in the hymns of the angels and the saints as they worship God. Do you ever find it difficult to talk to God? You begin a prayer time and have nothing to say? Then sing. Do not be concerned about pitch or tone, just sing. Do not be concerned if you can’t remember the words, just sing. God has placed a song on your heart, one that will glorify Him. He does not hear the noise or seen the lack of grace, but instead hears the joy we have in Him. Do not hide it away, JUST SING!
"Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses; no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food. And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth." Matthew 10:9-11, ASV
I am preparing for a journey. Bruce and I are going on vacation to rest, revitalize and restore. It will be time away from the hustle and bustle of our lives. We won't have to listen to the telephone or worry about email. We won't have to make our bed or clean the kitchen. We will probably not pay much attention to the news. I'm sure we will check in on our accounts on Facebook although we might not have access at every location. I will certainly be posting photos and thoughts, although I will not be writing WORD for the next week or so. We will be visiting several National Parks and seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world.
We won't be going empty handed. I have been collecting things for the past two days, making my pile of necessities, and it is growing daily. I want to do some en plein air painting, so I have a bag of art supplies. I have several bags filled with camera equipment. I have a backpack for my laptop, tablet and cords to recharge all the batteries. I have a bag with snacks for the car, a cooler for drinks and a variety of things 'just in case.' We will have a couple of suitcases for our clothes, shoes and personal items. We are driving, so our only limitation is how much will fit in the car, but it is amazing how much we carry when we make a road trip like this.
I never know what to pack when it comes to clothes. I've been checking the weather at several of our destinations, and though they are not far in distance, just an hour or two, the temperatures can differ by more than thirty degrees. I might need some warm clothes for hiking in one park, but shorts and a swimsuit for time in another place. We think our time should be rain-free, but we should be prepared for the possibility anyway.
You might think I am moving as you look at my pile of things, but then you haven't actually seen me move. I take most of what I'm taking, except for the amount of clothes, when I got to a weekend retreat! In other words, I do not pack light. I think that's why I prefer to drive: I can take more stuff.
Thank goodness Jesus isn't arranging this trip for us. Not only will have a car load of things, I have planned it well. I am prepared with plenty of "gold" for our pockets. I have booked hotel rooms and planned the most efficient routes to see the most places, so that we can visit and enjoy the most places possible. We would need more time to hike every trail and visit every park, but if we keep to my plan, we can see a great deal. Despite my planning, I know we have to be flexible because we might just discover something more wonderful along the way. And it is supposed to be a relaxing vacation; at the rate we are planning, we'll be more exhausted when we get home than we were when we left!
There was a reason why Jesus sent the disciples out into the world with nothing. He wanted them to trust in God for their provision. God had a plan for them; there were people who were waiting for them to knock on their door, even if they didn't know it at the time. Hospitality had a much different understanding in their world than ours, and I can't imagine a stranger opening their door to us if we knocked today. However, even with all our provisions and plans, we are willing to be flexible. We might just discover that God has a wonderful adventure waiting for us along the road. There may be people to meet and lessons to learn. There may be a distant storm to watch or a rainbow to capture in paint or with my camera. There may just be a quiet place where God wants to talk to us. We may not need to trust God for a roof over our heads or food for out bellies, at least not as the disciples did, every journey is a time for trusting that God is ever present and working to accomplish His will in our lives.
"For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens. For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, ASV
Where do you begin to tell the tale of a journey? Usually you start at the beginning, but today I am going to begin near the end. We planned our vacation for ten days and we wanted to visit several National Parks. We set our goal for St. George, Utah, which we used as a base for several days of adventures. Along the way we visited other parks, taking time out of our long drive to see the beauty of God's creation in the Four Corners region of the United States. The path changed with every twist and turn in the road. One landscape was covered in scrub, another loomed above us with red cliffs of sandstone. After eight days of exhausting hiking and miles of driving, we left St. George for home.
I didn't plan that first day of driving very well and I booked our hotel in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Depending on the road we chose, the drive was anywhere from 735 to 800 miles. We chose one that was about 750 miles. When we sat in the car, our gps told us that the drive would take 12 hours. There was a scenic viewpoint along the way that I wanted to see. It was difficult because we did not have time for the hike required, but it was one of the places I wanted to visit. We decided to try. We knew we would regret it if we didn't go; after all, how can you be so close and not see it?
Horseshoe Bend is one of the worst kept secrets of Arizona. It used to be fairly ignored, but the beauty is incredible. The parking lot was full of busses and cars, the paths full of tourists making the three-quarter mile hike to the edge of the canyon. Now, we had been hiking for days in park after park. Few of the pathways were straight and easy. Every scenic view came at the top of a hill or the edge of a cliff. This one was no exception. I'm not in the best shape, but we picked our trails fairly well and I survived. We began the uphill trail at Horseshoe Bend with the hope that we were looking at the worst of it, but when we got to the top we saw that the rest was downhill to the cliff. Now, downhill is not quite as bad, but what goes down, must come back up. I wondered if I could make it. But again, how do you get that close and not see it?
We went. We hiked to the edge and we were so glad. There isn't much to this particular place. It is simply a bend in the Colorado River, the canyon walls steep and shaped like a horseshoe. Though it is not miles of canyon like the National Parks we visited, this one scene is one of the most photographed places in the Grand Canyon area. The water was an emerald green and the sun shone above, filling the canyon with light. The red sandstone layers were tinged with white and the green of mossy growth. There were a few boaters on the river below and campers along the shore. They looked so tiny from so far above. I could have stayed there for hours, watching the colors and shadows change as the sun moved across the sky. I knew I couldn't, but it was a blessing to spend even a few minutes looking at this incredible sight and wondering. Whether you believe that God snapped His fingers to create this spot thousands of years ago or that God has been painting this picture for millions of years, there is no doubt that God created it. No artist, architect, landscaper, civil engineer or scientist could make Horseshoe Bend; it happened by the grace of God, and by the grace of God I managed to see it.
I also survived the hike back up that long trail from the edge. The sandy and rocky ground made it a little difficult, as did the beating sun and lack of shade. It took some time. I stopped and rested. Bruce encouraged me. We drank deeply of some cold water when we finally made it back to the car and I dumped the sand that got into my shoes. We left knowing that the day would be longer, but we were so glad to have seen Horseshoe Bend for ourselves.
We are all on a journey through this world. I suppose most of it isn't quite as exciting as we've had for the last ten days. Most days are filled with the normal day to day tasks. I have already been catching up on the work that went undone over the past ten days. I have to go to the grocery store, do laundry, vacuum the floors and clean the kitchen. I have to pick through the mail, pay some bills and catch up on email. It seems so mundane after all the beautiful places we've seen, but then again I can finally rest my weary bones.
Here's the message for today: our journey is not always easy. The path is often filled with ups and downs, sand and rocks. The sun beats down on us and there is no oasis to relieve our weary bones. Along the way, however, we are given glimpses of God by His grace, whether it is in red sandstone and emerald green river or in the encounters we have with our neighbors. God walks with us on the easy paths and on the hard ones. You might have to stop and rest along the way. You might have some mundane days doing the normal day to day tasks of life. In the end it will be worthwhile because that which waits for us at the end of this journey is far greater than anything we can experience in this world.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2015, Fourth Sunday of Pentecost: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
"Our help is in the name of Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:8, ASV
I don't usually talk about politics, and I'm not really going to do so today, except to say that it has already begun. The presidential election, which will not happen for seventeen months, has already begun as candidates have announced their intention to run for office. They have to begin early to get their name out and to start raising the funds necessary to run a campaign that will give them a chance. It is a horrible process that lasts entirely too long. That might be to the advantage of those who can persevere through it all because by the end the voters are so tired, confused and frustrated by it all, they don't give their vote the kind of attention it needs. All too many times we discover truths after it is too late because we did not care enough when it mattered.
I suppose one of the advantages of a lengthy campaign season is that it is impossible to keep up a facade for so long a period of time. There are currently more than a dozen candidates who have committed to this campaign, although I suspect that some will not even last to the primaries early next year, they will begin dropping out when they see that they do not have the support necessary to take them all the way.
One hopeful has gotten a lot of attention lately because he seems to have no filter. He says what he says without much thought, and he is equally loved and hated for this characteristic. Those who love him say that at least he is real: you know what he's thinking. Those who hate him are bothered by his bluntness and arrogance: they don't want to know what he's thinking. Too many of us would rather see the facade and ignore the reality, but honesty and integrity matter.
I think there are many Christians who are terribly bothered by Paul for this very reason. He doesn't wear a facade; he says what he's thinking. He is often accused of being too blunt and arrogant. He will tell the reader what's going on in his life if it helps the reader to learn the lesson that he intends. His claims seem like boasts, even if the claim is something bad that happened to him. He has suffered more than others. He has more to offer. He has the right message. Read enough of Paul and you might just wonder if he was the right man to be given the role of apostle.
But God doesn't make mistakes. Paul was exactly the man He needed because He knew Paul's heart. Paul's words ring harshly on our ears sometimes, but perhaps he is saying exactly what we need to hear. We need to know that there is a cost to discipleship, that it isn't an easy path to walk. We need to know that we will suffer for our faith. We need to be encouraged to follow his example to be all that God is calling us to be. We have to realize we are sinners in need of a Savior and that the Savior has called us to a roller coaster life that will have highs and lows, joys and pains, lessons to learn and to teach. God does not want us to be people who wear masks or facades, but rather people that are willing to speak what our hearts know is true. Honesty and integrity matter, and while we may not always like the man Paul, we can trust that Paul is honest and that his ministry had integrity.
I suppose we might say that Paul had no filter. Oh, I'm sure he was very thoughtful about his words, but even more so he was guided by the Holy Spirit. The very things that bother us most about Paul might just be the very lessons that we need to hear most. They might just be the very things that God wants to change in our lives. Are we complaining about our suffering? Then we need to know that suffer produces perseverance, etc. Are we having trouble forgiving our neighbor? Then we need to know that forgiveness is the only way to peace. We don't like Paul sometimes because Paul says exactly what we don't want to hear. He doesn't whitewash the truth; he encourages us with the truth because he has learned that the truth will set us free.
In today's second lesson, Paul says, "And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain..." During his entire ministry for Christ he faced difficulty from the Jews, from the Gentiles and from all sorts of authorities. He has a long list of sufferings to his credit. He spent time in prison. He was hungry, cold and tired. He was shipwrecked, beaten and rejected. He knew what it was like to be on the edge of death. He endured many things for Christ and for those who would come to know Him through his ministry. Through his hardships, Paul remained true to God, for with every hardship he suffered he can list an even greater virtue in which he is called to live. “…in pureness, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…” Whether the circumstances were good or bad, Paul was there to share the kingdom of God with the church and the world. He faced it all with rejoicing because God could, and would bring salvation to someone, somewhere at some time. Paul got it; he knew the Lord and did not live in worry or fear.
I'm not sure many of us like this idea. Too many Christians flock to preachers that tell them God wants them to be happy and rich and successful. We don't want to know about the suffering that comes with faith. We want to live in the rose garden. Paul lived in a rose garden, not because his life was perfect but because he trusted God. Our peace does not come from an easy life; our peace comes from faith.
Jesus asked the disciples, "Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?" They were on the sea in a small boat being tossed by the storm and the pounding waves. I understand their fear. I don't like to be out and about when the lightning flashes and the thunder clangs. On our way home from our vacation we watched storms gathering in the distance and often felt that we surely had to drive through them. At one point I was a bit concerned because the sky was black as night and we could see how heavy the rain was falling. I was sure we would be slammed with rain that made it impossible to see out the windshield and perhaps even some hail. I wondered if tornadoes were possible and had no way to check the radar. The road turned as we drove and we found that we went around the storm rather than through it. Fear was not going to help the situation; stopping would only mean that we would run into another storm along the way. While we did hit some rain along the way, it was brief and manageable. We arrived home safely and saw the silver lining: the rain cleaned ten days of travel off our car.
I don't mind thunderstorms, especially if I am safe at home, but they almost always wake me. The rest of my family generally sleeps through all but the worst, and sometimes even then. In the morning I will ask, "Did you hear the storm?" and they will say, "What storm?" I don't know how they do it. I'm not sure that I wake out of fear, but I have to admit that I'm often concerned. I turn on the TV and check the weather, especially if there was a chance for severe storms. If there is going to be a tornado, I want to know so that I can protect my family. I don't think their sleep means that they care less, but my mother's instinct always makes me worry. Perhaps they sleep well knowing that I will keep them safe.
That's what the disciples were missing in this story. They had God in their midst, the God who can stop the storm, but they were afraid. Jesus would not have allowed them to perish on that sea, but their faith was weak and they were afraid. Now, I don't usually cry out in fear to God to wake up and protect me from the thunderstorms, but I wonder how many times we are like those disciples when we face the other kinds of storms in our lives. Do we try to wake up God when we are in pain or suffering persecution? "God, wake up! Don't you see what is happening to me?"
Yes, He sees. He knows. He is there in the midst of it and even though it seems like He is sleeping, He is in control. Faith is believing that He is in control. How do we face our troubles? Do we live in fear and worry, or do we thank God knowing that He is with us in the midst of them?
The Gospel story is preceded by a discourse of parables about the kingdom of God. Jesus was sitting in the boat speaking to the crowd that had gathered to listen. The boat was His platform because there were so many people. He spoke about the kingdom in terms the people might understand: the growing seed and the mustard seed, the sower who cast seed that fell on the path, the rocky ground, in the weeds and the good soil. He said, "Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light." All these parables were given to lay a foundation of peace in the hearts of the disciples. In them we see that God is the Lord of everything and we need not worry.
The disciples were fishermen. They knew how to handle a boat. They had experienced rough seas. The Sea of Galilee is known for sudden squalls that seem to come out of nowhere. It would have been somewhat frightening to face such a force of nature, but not unheard of for men in that profession. They knew how to handle the water, the nets and their boat, to get into safe harbor.
What did they expect from Jesus? He was a carpenter and they were the experienced fishermen. He did not know how to handle a boat, even in calm waters. If He had not been with them, they would have gotten right to work to keep the boat afloat and steer it toward shore. Yet, because they had come to rely on Him for so much, they turned to Him in their fear. "Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus trusted that his disciples would use their talents. He had no fear of the storm because He knew they could deal with it. "Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?"
Isn't it funny that Jesus, the Lord, had more faith in fallible man than the disciples had in their God? Jesus did not come to do it all, to feed them or clothe them. He did not come to take care of all their problems or make their lives easy. He came to teach them how to trust God and go out in faith to do the work they were called to do.
We cry out in our pain and suffering, but we are answered by the question, "Why are ye fearful? Have ye not yet faith?" Have we not heard the lessons of Jesus' stories? Do we not know that God is in control?
Poor Job. Job was a righteous man who had fallen prey to the adversary. He lost everything; he lost his wealth, his health and his family. The book describes his lament and shows us how even the most righteous can find themselves in the midst of a storm of doubt and uncertainty while undergoing suffering. Job comes to the point of blaming God for his troubles, a response to the questions raised by his losses. “Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?”
Elihu was a fourth counselor who arrived on the scene after Job and his friends spent all day discussing Job's troubles and he warned Job that God Almighty would come to talk. "Hear, oh, hear the noise of his voice, And the sound that goeth out of his mouth. He sendeth it forth under the whole heaven, And his lightening unto the ends of the earth." He reminded the friends of the magnificent work of God in the storm, how He brings the rain, snow, wind and ice. "Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: He is excellent in power; And in justice and plenteous righteousness he will not afflict. Men do therefore fear him: He regardeth not any that are wise of heart."
Then God appeared. "Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me." We don't know God's mind; we don't know His plans. God asked Job, "Where wast thou when I...?" Job was not there in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. We only not that which He has revealed to us, and though Job was close to God, he can't speak for Him. God's ways are truly higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than ours. We can only walk in faith, trusting that God is in control and doing that which He has gifted and called us to do.
That's what Jesus wanted from the disciples that night on the sea. He wanted them to trust God, even when God seems to be missing from the situation. See, God does not call us to do anything He hasn't equipped us to do. Jesus suggested that they cross the lake, perhaps even knowing that the storm would come. Even if He did not foresee the weather, He knew they were capable to handle whatever would come. Then He went to rest, leaving that work to those more qualified.
We visited five National Parks and one Utah State Park. The scenes were often the same but at the same time they were very different. Each park had mountains of sandstone, but in one they were a deep red, in another there were streaks of white and blue and purple. In one park we stood far off from the mountains, seeing them from a distance. At some we stood on the cliff looking down into the canyon. At others we stood at the base of the cliffs craning our heads to see the top.
Cliffs have long fascinated people. When we stand at the top and look down, we are awed by the thought that one slip of the foot could bring our death as we plummet to the bottom. When we stand at the bottom, we long to climb to the top just to see what is beyond our view. Cliffside adventures can be dangerous.
I have always been a bit adventurous, willing to go out on the ledge for the perfect picture, but I have to admit that there were more than a few moments when I was not sure on my feet. At one park I felt light headed as we walked along the cliff, thankful for the railing that kept me safe. At another I carefully sat on the edge so that Bruce could take the perfect adventure photo; I felt a little shaky as I did so. I really wanted to look over the edge of those cliffs even if there was no safety rail, but I did so with more caution than I would have used half a lifetime ago. Things weren't much easier at the bottom of the cliffs as I nearly got a headache staring up so long and I tripped over more than one rock and tree root.
There is a story about a man who slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountaintop. On his way down he grabbed a branch. He was twenty feet from the top and a long way from the bottom. He feared for his life and cried for help. "A booming voice spoke up, 'I am here, and I will save you if you believe in me.' 'I believe, I believe,' yelled back the man. 'If you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.'" The man's fear of death was so great he yelled, "Is there anyone else who can help?" What he didn't know is that he was just feet from a shelf; if he let go he would land and it would be easier to save him. We don’t always believe the voice. It takes faith to let go and trust that our Lord will save us.
Today's psalm is a song of praise that the Lord delivered Israel from her enemies. God never left His people while they hung perilously on spiritual cliffside after spiritual cliffside. It is easy to praise God after we have been saved, but throughout the course of Israel's history, the nation constantly went looking to others for help. They turned to the strength, power and might of other nations, unwilling to be obedient to God's words. "Is there anyone else," they asked, ignoring the truth that God is greater than even the greatest nation.
We aren't much different than the Israelites or the disciples. When we cry for help the voice of God asks, "Do you believe?" All too often we cry back, "Is there anyone else?" Yet in hindsight we sing this hymn of praise knowing that our help is in the name of the Lord, the Creator God who is in control. We will continue to face new adventures looking down from the top of a cliff in awe of the potential danger or gazing up to the top of a cliff pondering what lies beyond. As we do, let us learn the lesson of faith that Jesus taught the disciples and do what He has called us to do. The world might see us as we often see Paul, without filters and speaking without considering the risks, but we need have no fear because God is with us and He has given us everything we need to accomplish His work in the world. We need not wear a facade, but need only trust that God's Holy Spirit will guide us and fill us with His grace for His glory.
"If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth." Colossians 3:1-2, ASV
We arrived at Zion National Park fairly early in the morning. We jumped on the shuttle bus into Zion Canyon with the plan to take it to the end of the road and then work our way back during the day. We watched as the landscape went by, taking in the opportunities for hikes to see the beauty of the canyon. It is impossible to do all the hikes in one day, so we had to choose. We looked at the shorter, easier hikes although even those would take an hour or more depending on how much time we spent taking pictures. While Bruce enjoys hiking, I was there to take pictures and to enjoy the beauty of God's creation. The hiking was necessary to get to the pretty places.
The last, or first, trail in Zion Canyon is the Riverside Trail. It begins at the end of the road and it follows the Virgin River to the place where the canyon narrows. The trail continues into The Narrows, which is a trail that requires much time in the water, but is an experience of hiking where the canyon walls practically touch. We weren't prepared for that type of hike, and due to the rain expected in the area there was a high chance of very dangerous flash flooding, so we turned around and returned by the Riverside Trail, a two mile round trip hike.
We began our hike in the morning, when the sun was just beginning to peek over the canyon walls. The west walls were covered in light but the east walls were dark with shadows. The trail was cool and enjoyable as it passed along the river. There were plenty of opportunities to go down onto the sandy beaches, to watch the squirrels skitter from place to place and to listen to the birds singing in the trees. We climbed rocks, chatted with other visitors and craned our necks as we tried to see the tops of the canyon walls which were about two thousand feet above us. The deeper pools in the river were a beautiful shade of green and the walls of the canyon were covered with ferns that grew right out of the rock, nourished by water that flowed through cracks. It was amazing to see desert cactus and then round a corner into a marshy place.
We often turned around and took pictures as we walked into the canyon. I thought that I should probably wait to catch that shot on the way back. "Just keep going forward, you'll see that later." I did it anyway, and I was glad I did. See, by the time we made our way back to the trailhead, the light in the canyon had changed significantly. The sun was higher in the sky and was brightening the east walls of the canyon. The canyon was filled with light. In just two hours the view was changed completely, I was glad to have both pictures.
We also visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, yet another canyon with a river running through sandstone cliffs. At the Grand Canyon we viewed the scenery from the top, looking down about two thousand feet to the river below. If you read the descriptions of these parks you might think you are going to see just another pile of rocks, but they offered completely different experiences. Both parks provide opportunities to see the opposite view: Zion has trails to the top and the Grand Canyon has trails to the bottom. We didn't have time to hike those trails, but I imagine that the experience of seeing the parks in their entirety is fantastic.
It is all about perspective, isn't it? Whether we see the light or the shadow, the top or the bottom, we can only see as much as it is physically possible for us to see. Even if we could walk every mile of trail at different times of day, there is so much we will never be able to see because we are limited by our flesh. God, on the other hand, sees it all. A friend commented on one of my photos about something she once read in a book. "It said that people are looking at the tangled threads on the backside of a piece of needle work, but God is looking down on the completed, beautiful picture." We see through a glass darkly. We see only a fraction of the whole. We see only this moment in time. God is outside time and space.
We will never be able to see the world as God sees it, but He calls us to see it through new eyes. Through faith we are made one with Christ and we are given a new perspective. We see through faith, and love, and hope. We see our neighbors differently. We experience suffering in a new way. We perceive the world through grace, and our new point of view gives us the opportunity to glorify God in the way we live.
Our vacation took us to places we had never seen and though we did so much, we saw only a fraction of the parks we visited. The trip had a very specific purpose, but along the way we experienced the world in a new way, sharing the beauty with strangers and pushing our bodies physically in ways that were not normal for our lifestyle. Life in Christ is much the same. We are called to live differently, to experience the world in a new way, to share the Gospel with strangers and to walk where we would never expect to go. God will be with us, He will help us see through His eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit. He will give us a new perspective and help us to see, if even just peek, the other park of the canyon or the front of the needlework. One day we will see it fully and it is in the hope and faith of this promise that we walk daily in this world, looking forward to eternity as we wander in our flesh.
"My heart was hot within me; While I was musing the fire burned: Then spake I with my tongue: Jehovah, make me to know mine end, And the measure of my days, what it is; Let me know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as handbreadths; And my life-time is as nothing before thee: Surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. Selah Surely every man walketh in a vain show; Surely they are disquieted in vain: He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee." Psalm 39:3-7, ASV
Texas is huge. Interstate Highway 10 is more than 880 miles from west to east. Our trip on IH-10 began at mile marker 556, and it took us nearly nine hours to get to New Mexico. Now in days gone by, when the speed limit was set to much lower speeds, the trip would have taken far longer. As it is, the speed limit for most of those 556 miles is 70, 75 or 80 miles per hour. It is amazing how much farther you can drive when you pass each mile faster. We used to plan 120 or so miles between breaks, but we were able to go 150 or more miles in the same amount of time. There was some traffic on the road, but we were far from the traffic jams of the city for most of our trip.
You might think that we'd miss something as we were driving that fast on the road, but not really. Texas, and the other states we visited, are rather flat, so the few interesting things to be seen can be seen for a long time. We watched a mountain for twenty minutes until we finally passed it by. Storms seemed to be in our path, but by they often dissipated by the time we reached them. While everything was beautiful, the interesting places like mountains or cities were few and far between. We did not lose much by speeding through West Texas and we gained more time for those National Parks we wanted to visit.
Of course, you would never want to drive 80 mph through any of the National Parks. You can, quite frankly. The roads are too narrow with twists and hills which make it impossible to see too far ahead. We drove on some roads that had no guardrails with cliffs only inches from our tires. There were always other cars on the road, coming and going, in front and behind us. The speed limits were set according to the nature of the road. The twisty ones were often set at 30 mph or even less. It was good to go slow because there was so much to see. Sometimes we even stopped, when it was safe, to get a better look at a mountain or creature or particularly pretty stand of trees.
We only had ten days and we could have filled that time with a dozen other places to visit. We could have spent more time in each of the parks. We could have taken more time to savor the flavors of the region, to sit and listen to the birds or just watch the river run past. We were thankful for the high speed limits in the places where it was safe, so that we would have time to enjoy the rest. There are always those who are not satisfied with the speed limit. It doesn't matter how fast you drive on any road, there is someone who wants to go faster. I suppose sometimes we were the people who wanted to go faster, especially when we were following someone who seemed to be going slower.
Isn't that the way it is with our lives, though? We have so much to accomplish that we speed around the day without paying much attention to the world around us. I suppose sometimes, like those hundreds of miles in West Texas, that there isn't much to see. But our lives are not a ten day vacation; we have a lifetime to glorify God. The problem is that we sometimes rush to accomplish all the wrong things, chasing after vain glories while missing the grace of God.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end." Jeremiah 29:11, ASV
Millions of years ago, or yesterday in God's creative mind, South Utah was a different place. I don't have the knowledge, time or space to try to explain what scientists understand about the changing earth and the geology of the area. I might have enjoyed learning more about the kind of rocks made up the landscape or how the incredibly beautiful sandstone of so many of these parks could be changed in such radically different ways by water and wind and other factors. One has eroded smoothly, another has the jagged edges of rocks that have broken away and yet another has formations that defy gravity. If we had more time I would have tried to learn more about the science. As our trip was so brief and there was so much to see, I focused more on the inspiring beauty of these places.
We did visit one fascinating place in St. George, Utah. The city lies in a unique geographical location between three distinct ecosystems: the Mohave, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. The city is surrounded by national and state parks with red stone mesas and lush waterways. The weather is pleasant and it is a great place to set up camp for those who want to experience the adventures available nearby. You can do just about anything from hiking to rock climbing, biking to horseback riding, boating to ATV. You can fish, hunt, bird watch, dig for fossils or gemstones, wade in rivers or hang out on sand dunes at places just a brief drive from St. George.
St. George has an interesting history. It was started in 1861 by Brigham Young as a cotton mission of the Mormon Church. The mild weather made St. George Utah's "Dixie" where the people grew cotton to make cloth for clothing so that the church could become self-sufficient. The three hundred families that were called to this mission had no idea they were going, but they went in faith to try to do what they were called to do. The cotton was eventually abandoned because they could not grow enough to compete with the market, but the people stayed in St. George. The Temple was finished in 1877, the third to be built and the longest continually running temple in the Mormon Church.
St. George is now a dry desert valley, although it is believed that sometime in ancient history it was covered in water. This understanding comes from the fossil record that has been discovered under the surface of the ground. The place we visited was the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm, which has one of the finest dinosaur track sites in the world with exceptionally well preserved dinosaur tracks, fossil fish and plants, rare dinosaur remains, invertebrates traces and important sedimentary structures. The place was overwhelming with information, and fascinating with rocks showing footprints and fish of creatures that may have lived hundreds of millions of years ago.
One of the things I found most fascinating about this place was not the dinosaurs but how it came to be, and today's lesson is in that story. See, in 1992 the city of St. George decided to extend the road that went by Dr. Sheldon Johnson's farm. The road went by a portion of retired optometrist Dr. Johnson's alfalfa farm that had a large hill. Dr. Johnson knew the road could provide financial opportunities for him, but he also knew that he had to remove the hill to take his property to road level. It took many months for him to remove the dirt and eventually came to a layer of sandstone. He decided to sell the sandstone rocks to landscapers or homeowners for decoration. The sandstone was perfectly cracked making it possible to remove large blocks one at a time.
While he worked at picking up one of these large sandstone blocks with a track hoe, the block fell off and landed upside down. It revealed a large natural cast of a dinosaur foot. Dr. Johnson immediately recognized the significance of this find and he stopped his work. He called in paleontologists and geologists to study the fossil and determine the importance of the site. When it became obvious that this was an extraordinary site, he gave up his plans for commercial use of the property and began working to set up the museum for study and education. He raised money to build the museum and spent time on site sharing the discovery with visitors. The Johnsons donated all the rocks to the museum even though they could have sold them for large amounts of money. Dr. Johnson's neighbors also recognized the true value of this find and gave permission for further digging. They were extremely generous with their donations to the new museum in both financial support and the fossils. The building was complete in 2005 and is a great place to visit.
The museum is built right over the site. The largest block of tracks was immovable because of its size, so they simply put up the walls around it. Other blocks were brought in with heavy equipment. They have several reproductions of the types of dinosaurs that roamed the area as well as a room where fossils are studied and preserved. They also offer educational opportunities for children and adults.
I like this story because it shows a man pursuing his dreams who realized that there is something better lying under the surface. He willingly gave up his plans to share this great discovery with others, not only stopping his own pursuits but also giving his time to create a lasting place to continue the study of the fossils. There was nothing wrong with his original plan because his work would not only benefit himself, but also would benefit his community and his family. However, he recognized immediately that he had the chance to do something that would benefit everyone in a greater way. We all have plans, but we often discover that there is a greater plan for us. How often are we willing to give up all that hard work to go another direction? While the work we are doing might be very good, the new path can be even better.
I don't know if Dr. Johnson responded to his opportunity in faith or if God played any role in his story, but as Christians we know that God is a part of all our work. Like those faithful Mormons who gave up everything to move to Southwestern Utah, God might surprise us with an incredible opportunity that is well beyond our expectation. Are we willing to give up our own pursuits to follow God's plan for our lives? Are we willing to set aside our goals to share our gifts with our neighbors in a way that will be a blessing for everyone?
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith." Romans 12:1-3, ASV
As I said yesterday, I was amazed at how the incredibly beautiful sandstone of so many of these parks were changed in such radically different ways by water and wind and other factors. One has eroded smoothly, another has the jagged edges of rocks that have broken away and yet another has formations that defy gravity. I would have enjoyed learning how this came to be, and I bought a few of the books to learn, but even so I think I will always have a limited knowledge of the science involved. Those who have studied it for decades do not always fully understand, how could I possibly know with a visit and a brief explanation in a book?
I picked up a few ideas along the way, reading the signs and listening to the rangers. Though many of the mountains looked the same, they were made of different types of rock. I saw a picture in one book that showed how the layers of sentiment built on top of one another, but that they aren't straight layers. The movement of the earth pushed some rocks higher than others so that though the region has the same foundation and similar height, the stone is slightly different. Some is harder than others. The softer rocks wear away little by little with rain and wind, leaving behind granules that seem like sand. Other rocks are hard and they are changed when water gets into the cracks and wears it away until large boulders let go and crash to the bottom of the canyon.
One park, Bryce Canyon, is the most unique of all the places we visited because of the hoodoos. Hoodoos are rock formations that look much like a totem pole. They are also called fairy chimneys. They are formed by a process called frost wedging in landscape where the lower rock is much softer than the hard upper rock, often uncemented sandstone under cemented sandstone. Frost wedging happens in desert areas were the daily temperature rises and falls quickly. The water fills cracks in the rocks during the day, is frozen at night, causing the 'wedge' to wear down the rock. The ice melts in the warmer daytime and takes away the granules, leaving a larger crack. This process happens on a daily basis. The evolution of a hoodoo landscape happens much more quickly than other types of erosion because the temperature rises and falls dramatically on a regular basis. In Bryce Canyon, this process happens about two hundred times a year. The slightly acidic water that falls on the canyon smooths and rounds the edges of the rock.
Sadly, this process will eventually destroy the hoodoos. While many other parks have changed little since they were first discovered a hundred or so years ago, Bryce Canyon probably looks different to us today. The hoodoos wear down at a rate of two to four feet every hundred years. The wearing down has caused some of the hoodoos to collapse. It won't happen in our lifetimes, but one day the Bryce Canyon amphitheaters will no longer exist. The rim will eventually move far enough west to be affected by the Sevier River, which will erode it in a whole new way.
We won't last millions of years, but we are constantly being changed and shaped by the world around us and by the God who loves us. I think, like the rock layers under the parks we visited, we are all a little different in the way it happens. Some are softer, and the world wears us away a little at a time, leaving behind a smooth facade. Others are harder and the changes come as huge chunks of our lives are ripped away crashing in a dramatic moment. For some it seems the change is a constant breaking and wearing until there's nothing left. We would rather not experience the hurt and pain, the disappointment and lessons learned, but there is beauty in it all--smooth sides, ragged cliffs or extraordinary hoodoos--God constantly touching the world He created. There is also beauty in the changes that happen to us as we are transformed by God's grace, however it comes to us. God calls us to give us ourselves over to His work in our lives so that we will be all He has created and redeemed us to be.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2015, Fifth Sunday of Pentecost: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
"Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever." Psalm 30:11-12, ASV
The book of Lamentations was likely written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It consists of five poems that express grief of the destruction that was brought by the Babylonians who were merely human agents of God's divine judgment. The book ends with a cry to God for His mercy to restore His people. The middle, of which today's passage is a part, focuses on God. The lamenter confesses faith in the God of hope, love, salvation and restoration, despite the fact that it seems God has abandoned His people. He had not; He was among them, doing what needed to be done to turn them back to Him. They knew God was faithful and that His compassion is never ending.
This is an image of God that we do not like. We do not like to think of God as a punisher who would destroy the lives of His people even if they were disobedient. Our Christian understanding is of a loving God of grace. Many reject this Old Testament God because it seems out of character for the God of forgiveness that we know and love. Yet, these songs of lament have been part of Christian worship, especially around Christ's passion because we are reminded of the very reason why Christ died: He took upon Himself the very wrath that we deserved. The God of the Old Testament took the final and permanent solution to our disobedience upon Himself by offering the final and permanent sacrifice of His own Son.
Though He has done this, we still recognize our own sinfulness. We confess our sins, we ponder our humanity, we regret our failures and we ask forgiveness. We still sing the laments, even if they aren't in exactly the same words as the writer of Lamentations. And, we are similar in another way: we recognize through faith the hope, love, salvation and restoration of God when it seems that we've been abandoned by Him in our suffering and pain, even when we understand that we've brought on that suffering by our own disobedience.
The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is the word 'ekah which means "How...!" The laments begin with this word in a statement of fact rather than question: "How deserted lies the city..." "How the Lord has covered the Daughter..." "How the gold has lost its luster..." These statements betray a boldness in the midst of the humiliation the people experienced. "See how much we have lost!" It is a cry to God to notice the state of His people, to remember them.
In the passage for this day we see that the cry was not one of arrogance but of trust in the love of God. The suffering was not unwarranted. Israel sinned and deserved discipline. "It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Jehovah." We know that the Lord does not intend His people for destruction, even when it seems He has abandoned us. The lament is filled with hope. Those that trust in the Lord will be saved from the dust, from the smiter, from the insults.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger?
That sounds almost too cliche for us today. We'd rather believe that we are strong enough or that we can grow perfectly well without having to deal with the suffering. We don't need discipline because we are pretty good. We're doing the best that we can, and besides we just can't grasp a concept of God that isn't all about love. God is love. God loves. How can we juxtapose the idea that God disciplines against a picture of a loving God?
Today's psalm is almost shocking in its boldness. The psalmist cries to God, "What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?" Can you imagine going to an authority figure of any sort with such a supplication? It nearly sounds as if the person thinks that God is dependent on him. Yet, what we are hearing is a psalm of praise for answered prayer. God has lifted him. God has saved him. God has defeated the foes and kept them silent. When the psalmist cried for help, God heard and answered.
Yet, the psalmist and the lamenter both juxtapose the disciplinarian with the redeemer. They do so because they recognize their own failure, and the failure of God's people, to be all that He has created them to be. Besides, we cannot equate the discipline received as consequences to our sin with the wrath of God. The exile was God's merciful way of saving His people from His wrath. If they had gotten what they truly deserved, they would no longer exist. But God's love is eternal. His wrath lasts a moment, but His love eternally. We may suffer for a moment, but He is never far away. "For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men."
What we see in these passages is that we can be bold with God, crying out to Him in our suffering, because though we may be experiencing the consequences of our failure to be faithful, God hears our cries and answers our prayers. We may lament our circumstances because God is bigger than our moans. He is ready to transform us, to make us whole, to bring us back to life. If we truly received what we deserved, we'd receive His full wrath. Instead, we experience His love. Even while we are suffering we can rejoice and praise Him because we know that He is our salvation. There is hope.
Many people begin their relationship with Christ using this simple but powerful prayer, "God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!" It is a lament of sinfulness, a recognition of what we deserve, a confession of faith in the one who can save us and how He does so. It is finally a cry for mercy and a word of praise for what He has done for each of us. Amen.
This is a matter of trust, knowing that God is with us and that He is faithful. He has promised redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness. He has promised that we will be His through faith by grace. We hear, we believe and we confess this trust in words and in hope as we wait for God to complete His work of salvation in our lives. Our laments are broken by words of hope, encouraged that those who suffer in faith merely have to wait patiently for the mercy of God, for salvation is never far from those who hope in Him. "For the Lord will not cast off for ever." We wait, alone in silence, covered in dust and accepting the discipline we deserve. Even though it seems we will perish in our shame and pain, God brings salvation and healing to those who seek His mercy and grace.
The Gospel gives us two very different stories. The first was an important man, a leader in the synagogue. Apparently he was like an administrator -- in charge of the property and organizing worship. Though most of the Jewish leaders were hesitant about Jesus, a few heard Him speak and believed. Nicodemus, whose story we heard just a few weeks ago on Holy Trinity Sunday, preferred to keep his interest quiet, approaching Jesus in the dead of night. He did not want to risk losing what he'd worked so hard to attain. Jairus was different, perhaps because he was spurred on by a different purpose. Nicodemus was seeking answers to his questions; Jairus was seeking answers to his prayers. Nicodemus was not willing to risk his life for his encounter with Jesus because he was not motivated by a higher cause. Jairus was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else: his daughter.
Mark tells us the Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded with Him to heal his daughter. He was a man of authority, yet he knelt before Jesus. There were great crowds around Jesus, pushing and shoving one another. Everyone wanted to be near Him. What was their motivation? Did they want answers to questions or answers to prayers? Did they just want to feed their curiosity or did they really believe? We will see, as we hear the telling of Jesus' story by Mark through this season of Pentecost that some had faith but many did not. They were not willing to follow Jesus when it became hard. Jairus boldly sought God's grace, crying out for mercy to the One he trusted could help.
The woman in the second story is not quite as confident but was equally as bold as Jairus. She is unnamed but she had faith. She had been bleeding for years, which was not only physically disabling but also emotionally and spiritually. It was also financially disastrous. She had been bleeding for twelve years. She must have been a woman of some means, for she had seen many physicians, but none could provide healing. There was no chance for atonement because she bled continually. She could not present her offerings, and so was left separated from the community. Now she had nothing left: her money was gone and she was an outcast. It seemed that she had nowhere left to turn. She should not even have been in the crowd that day because her very presence made everyone around her unclean. No one could touch her and she could not go into the temple while she bled. She was an outcast, deemed unclean by the Law. She wasn't even the one whom Jesus was going to heal. She was just one of many in the crowd pressing in on this miracle worker. She knew it was not right for her to speak to Him, to ask Him to heal her. She believed that she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus' robe. She didn't need to disturb the teacher; there were others far more powerful that wanted His attention.
But she had hope. She had heard about Jesus and knew that He would make her well. So she snuck through the crowd and touched the tassel of His robe. She immediately felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Jesus knew power had left Him. "Who touched me?" He asked. He didn't ask because He was annoyed or upset by her need, but because He knew she needed more than the physical healing she had experienced. She needed to be made well. She needed to boldly proclaim her faith before the people present so that they see the truth that Jesus had been teaching. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who boldly approach God in prayer and seek His mercy.
In fear and trembling, she fell down before Him and told the whole truth. He answered, "Daughter your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease." Isn't it interesting that she felt she was healed, but she was not fully healed until Jesus said the words? Her faith was not enough. It was necessary for Jesus to complete the healing. What would have happened if the woman had walked away and not received that verbal touch of Jesus? She may have felt she was healed, but she would have soon found that the healing was incomplete. Her suffering was more than the bleeding. It was the life of isolation, of spiritual oppression, of fear and lack of hope. Jesus set her free. He was her salvation and gave her hope for the future.
In the meantime, Jairus received the news that his daughter was dead. One healing left another for death. The men told Jarius to leave Jesus alone; they didn't believe it would do any good for him to go to the house. Jesus told Jarius, "Fear not, only believe." Jesus ignored the doubters and went into the home where the child lay. He rebuked the crowd for mourning, saying she was merely asleep, but they laughed at Him. He allowed only a few people in the room: her father and mother, Peter, James and John. There He took her hand and told her to get up. Immediately she stood up and began to walk around. They were astonished, but Jesus ordered them to keep silent about the child's resurrection and told them to feed her.
As I was studying this text recently I noticed something interesting: the woman had been bleeding for twelve years and the child was twelve years old. Although we can only speculate by the text, I wonder if there was some connection. Could the woman have been the child's mother? If so, Jesus' healing not only restored the woman to health but also to her family. I don't know why Mark would not have made this clear if this was true, but we do see a connection between the woman and the child. Though she was alive the woman was -- in the sense of community -- dead for twelve years. Yet she had hope. She found no healing in that community and was left with nothing but hope. And faith.
The child was alive for twelve years, but just as she died just as she was reaching the age when she would have life in the community. She was a child, she was a female; despite her important father she was no more than the bleeding woman in the crowd, but she was loved. Her father loved her. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her sake. In faith he went to Jesus. In faith he waited as Jesus met the needs of another nobody. In faith he took Jesus to his daughter even though she was dead. In faith he had hope that God would do something.
While it was faith that brought Jesus to the problem, it was trust in Him that completed the work. The woman would not have been healed if she had not trusted in Christ's mercy when she revealed herself. The child would not have been raised if Jairus did not trust Jesus' words. They had faith and trust.
It is easy to believe in God, to have faith. It is much harder to trust that God will do what He has promised. It is harder to follow through on the promises, to let Him complete the work He has begun. We are not very patient. We pray in faith, but we don't follow through, trusting that God will complete the work. We even feel as though we have been healed, but we steal back into the crowd without allowing Christ to finish the work. There is more to healing than just overcoming physical dis-ease. We need to be reconciled to the community, made whole by being welcomed back into the fellowship. That is why Jesus told the girl's family to feed her. She was alive but she needed to be restored to the community to be whole.
How often do we begin a work in faith that we fail to complete? We pray but when it does not seem as though God is answering, we settle for less than wholeness. We don't have patience to wait for an answer so we move on. We begin a work for Christ but easily become distracted by other things such as our doubt and our worries and our fears.
Jairus was concerned about his daughter, but he does not rush Jesus; he waited while He met her needs. Then he trusted Jesus' words and took Him to his home. How often do we act like the bleeding woman, stealthfully approaching Jesus in the hope that He won't notice us, receive His power and then hurry off into the crowd? We don't want to be noticed. We want just enough to get us through. However, if we allow Jesus to complete His work we might just see the true healing take place. We might just see how His words bring wholeness and reconciliation. We might just see that there is more to living in Christ than just surviving.
We would certainly live more fully. We would see that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" is not the credo by which we are called to live. We will be able to live rejoicing even in the midst of our suffering. We will be humble before God, singing His praises even while we are experiencing His discipline. We will trust His time and His way, knowing that He is faithful. We will complete what we have begun. We will live according to the example which Jesus has set for us.
The Babylonian exile was a type of discipline meant to restore God's people. In today's second lesson from 2 Corinthians, we see a different type of disciple: the testing of the hearts of the believers. Paul writes, "But as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also." The Jews had done a lot of talking about God and His promises to them, but they weren't living their faith. That's why God sent the Babylonians as a form a discipline, to help them turn back to Him. The Jews who were mourning the death of the little girl surely knew all the right things to say and do, but they had no faith in Jesus. The Corinthians were excelling in many things, but they were not living their faith.
Paul reminded the Corinthians how much Jesus gave up for their sake but he wasn't expecting them to sacrifice everything so that others might become rich. He simply wanted them to complete that which they began: to share their incredible blessings with those who were suffering. The gift given in faith, whatever it might be, is the gift that is acceptable to God.
All too often we withhold our blessings and hide our faith, because we are afraid of what tomorrow might bring. We find it nearly impossible to sing hymns of praise like the ones found in Lamentations or the Psalms when we do not know what the future holds. We are even afraid to go before the Lord for healing and peace, not wanting to be disappointed. "It's over, don't bother the Lord with this one." So, we say all the right words about religion but we do not live our faith. Jesus blessed Jarius, who went to Him for help. He blessed the woman who knew that even his cloak would be enough. He blessed David and those who lamented the destruction of Jerusalem. They may have failed in flesh, but they looked to Him in faith and He was never far away.
Though we might have reason to lament, let us do so with thanksgiving and praise, for God's love is greater than His wrath. God calls us to be bold. God welcomes our perseverance. "For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses." God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work and He calls us to do the same. Life in Christ means more than just having faith, it means living in the hope of God's promises, actively completing the work He has called us to do. He turns our mourning into dancing and sets us free to sing His praise now and forever.
"For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. Now if we put the horses' bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, are yet turned about by a very small rudder, whither the impulse of the steersman willeth. So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind. But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be." James 3:2-10, ASV
I have a big fancy camera. It isn't professional quality, but it is a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses. I don't know everything there is to know about using the camera, but I do know how to change some of the settings, to set it for lighting and shutter speed. I understand composition and know when to change from one lens to the other. I've experimented with it, using it to photograph in only black and white and playing with some of the other features. I could learn a lot more, but I do what I can.
I made Bruce stop constantly on the trail. "Hold on, I need to change lenses!" I went from normal for those shots of the sweeping vistas to telephoto to capture the details and the critters we saw along the paths. I had a macro lens with me, too, which I made Bruce carry, but never used it because the telephoto did well enough to capture the few super close-up photos I wanted. I had a system: there was a pocket in the bag I carried where I kept the second lens. I got pretty good at juggling everything by the end of the trip.
We had two other cameras with us. Bruce used a decent point and shoot camera, the one I usually carry with me all the time. We bought a second point and shoot shortly before the vacation which had an unusually wide angle and a panoramic feature. I carried that one and juggled it, too.
Some of my photos were spectacular. No photo can really convey the awesomeness of everything we saw, but I did ok. We did ok, because quite frankly those point and shoot cameras can take some spectacular photos, too. As a matter of fact, today's technology even takes some pretty remarkable photos and we saw plenty of people out there taking photos with phones and iPads. I liked the photos I took with the point and shoot, some of which turned out better than the photos taken with the big fancy camera.
I had a problem, though. It is very difficult to see the photos on the tiny screens on the camera. You can get an idea of whether you got the shot, but details are not obvious. I often took second, third and fourth shots just to make sure that everything was right, changing the camera slightly to ensure a level horizon or a centered detail. I took several shots of each view so that I was certain at least one was perfectly focused. What I couldn't see until the photos were enlarged was the dust creating small dark orbs in my photos. They weren't visible in most pictures because they were hidden by the layers of colored rock, the leaves of trees or the variations in the cloud formations overhead. They were visible, however, when I took those photos of sweeping landscapes with deep blue skies.
I thought the dust was only on one lens, so I carefully cleaned it. I still had spots the next day. I eventually realized that the spots were happening with both cameras, but even cleaning the camera body did not help. As a matter of fact, the day after that cleaning, the spots were worse. My indoor test shots did not show any problems, so it must have been magnified by sunshine. I ended up with a smiley face in some of my photos, visible not only in the blue skies, but also in those with clouds. I edited out the worst of it on the best photos when I got home and still managed some decent shots to print.
It just goes to show you that even the smallest thing can make a big difference. We are all sinners, people with tiny spots of dust that mark our lives and the lives around us; we are all in need of a Savior. Paul writes that our tongue is a small part of our body, but it can cause great trouble that is not easy to overcome. It can also speak praise for God. But as Paul reminds us, we should not both bless and curse; it is not seemly for us to do so. Thankfully, perfection has not earned our place as children and heirs in God's Kingdom, but Christ Himself who has covered us with His own righteousness, saving us through the faith He has given. He works with us, searching every part of our being, as I searched my camera for the piece of dust, cleaning us until we are the people He has saved us to be.
"Judas (not Iscariot) saith unto him, Lord, what is come to pass that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my words: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful. Ye heard how I said to you, I go away, and I come unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe." John 14:22-29, ASV
I picked up a pair of shoes the other day and when I looked at the floor underneath I saw red sand. Though I had done a fairly good job cleaning out my shoes after my hikes, I couldn't help but bring some of it home with me. Many of the trails we hiked were sandy with the granules from the red stone cliffs and on more than one occasion I ended up with sand in my shoes as if I'd been to the beach. On one occasion I dumped a surprising large mound on the ground and then later discovered I had more in my socks! I didn't really bring much home with me, but my shoes have a slight tint of red and there are at least a few pebbles still trapped in the treads.
The appeal to all visitors of the National parks is this: Take only photos and leave only footprints. They don't want you to remove that which makes the park what it is. It is tempting to pick a wildflower, but if you do, then that flower will not go to seed to replace it. If enough people pick the flowers, the flowers will eventually disappear. It is so important in a park like the Petrified Forest to leave things untouched that they warn that vehicles can be searched on the way out of the park. As for leaving nothing behind, well, even one candy wrapper can destroy the beauty of a place and much of the garbage can be dangerous to the wildlife and ecosystems. Many of the trails are unsupervised and without trash cans, so it is vital to pack out everything you took in and nothing else.
We didn't come home empty-handed, of course, because all the parks have gift shops and bookstores. We bought a piece of petrified wood at a roadside stop and we purchased the information books so that we could learn more about what we saw. We bought a few trinkets as gifts, some t-shirts and postcards. We came home with thousands of photos and our memories. We also brought home a chip in our windshield, only a little sunburn and as I said before, some red sand in my shoes.
We aren't given the same appeal at our birth that we should that we should take only photos and leave only footprints during our life on this earth. Of course, we know that we can't take anything with us when we die, but it is hoped that we leave behind something of ourselves and our gifts. That's what Jesus did. He came and left as any human being, with nothing. Yet, He left behind something extraordinary: the Holy Spirit. He gave us the Spirit so that we could have an impact on the world. That impact may be nothing extraordinary. It might be more like those few grains of sand that fell out of my shoe, but He has provided all we need to be more. The Holy Spirit gives us knowledge of Christ, gifts to accomplish His work and opportunities to make a difference in the world.
It is important that we do everything we can to lessen the impact we make on those beautiful places we have set aside as National Parks, but we are ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ to make our world a more beautiful place. As with the parks, however, let's remember to leave behind that which is good by living as God calls us to live, by sharing His love and grace with our neighbors so that they too might know the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matthew 7:21-23, ASV
The Nazca lines in southern Peru have caused many people to wonder how and why the lines were created. They are huge geoglyphs, so large that most of the pictures are not visible from the ground. They can be seen from the surrounding hillsides, and there are a few on the hillsides that can be seen clearly from the ocean. There are pictures of plants, birds and animals. Some of the lines even appear as though they must be landing strips though airplanes were invented long after the lines were created. People have tried to recreate the lines, but it is difficult. The lines were created by removing the red pebbles that cover the white or grayish ground below; the dry, windless climate has protected the shapes for over a thousand years. The process is relatively easy except when you consider the length of these lines. The geoglyphs are hundreds of feet long; there is one line that is nine miles long. New lines have been discovered recently and the study of this amazing place continues today.
There is a theory that these lines must have been created by ancient aliens. The ancient astronaut theorists suggest that it would be impossible to make the geoglyphs without someone giving direction from above. The sheer size gives some credence that it must have taken technology that was not available to the Nazca people. Recent discoveries have shown older lines that were drawn by a previous culture and that the Nazca lines were a continuation of an older tradition.
Most historians will tell you that the ancient astronaut theory is ridiculous. An investigator on a show I watched recently learned that the lines and shapes have a very real purpose in the dry desert climate of south Peru: they point to water. Some point toward the ocean. Others are more like a calendar, helping the people count the time between rainy seasons. Some of the lines even point to where water can be found. The investigator was taken to the conjunction of two lines where there was an indention in the ground. He shoveled at that spot and eventually discovered an unexpected source of water. It was unexpected because there was no sign that water existed anywhere near that spot. There was no life, just dust and ground and lines. But if you were thirsty and wandering through this incredible desert filled with lines, you could find water at these conjunctions.
One of the things that has the ancient astronaut theorists convinced that the Nazca lines had to be created is the art that the people drew. There is a picture of a man on one hillside that faces the ocean. The shape is simplistic, but it is obvious to the fishermen that it is of a fisherman. The ancient astronaut theorists see a space man because the head appears to be large and round, as if the man is wearing a helmet. They use this interpretation whenever they discuss ancient art. It all looks like men from space, like modern astronauts, to them, so that must mean that the artists were impacted by spacemen.
Here's the thing: the progression of art in the world lines up pretty closely to the progression of art in the life of a child. In the beginning a child just scribbles, a record of an enjoyable kinesthetic activity. The child eventually begins to make shapes, but the heads and bodies of people are just line drawings with extra large heads. The drawing becomes more detailed, although at first it is a modified, schematic version of reality. The older child begins to draw more realism, even to the point that they become more critical of the work. As the child nears the teenage years, the art becomes less spontaneous and they become even more critical. By sixteen, the child needs to choose whether or not they will continue at art.
The progression of art history follows a similar pattern, early art like that found on caves is simplistic, often line drawings with large heads. The art developed through the years from drawings with more details to more realistic pictures. Art once was simply to share information or record something, but as it progressed the purpose became more subtle, such as for beauty. The earliest art forms were made with simple tools, but as those progressed, the ability of the artists did also. Instead of a few lines on a wall, the painting could be very detailed and on canvas. Sculpture changed, too, from simple forms to more detailed figures. What appears to some as a space man with a simple body and large head is just one step in the development of art.
The problem with these incredible theories is that they are not willing to see the whole story. The ancient astronaut theorists find a way to credit aliens with everything. They are the gods of the world. They are the answer to questions in the myths and legends. They are the reason why art appears as it does. Every cave is an alien hideout and every ocean covers their base. The world's wonders are thanks to the aliens and they can show you why by the history, religion, literature, music and accomplishments of every society. They tell us that we should believe because if we don't we are rejecting the very foundation of our lives.
Yes, I know. Many think the same of Christians. We give credit to God for everything. God is the answer to all our questions. God is the reason why we see the world as we do. Yes, we are as firm in our understanding that those who do not believe are rejecting the very foundation of life. Sadly, even among Christians we have these same problems. We pick and choose what we want to believe about God and the Bible, seeing what we want to see, believing what we want to believe. God forgives, we can rest in that, but He also wants us to hear His Word as He intends. It takes a lifetime. We'll be wrong, often. We will see only a part of the picture. We will accept only part of the story. We will all fail to live up to His expectations. He loves us anyway.
And because He loves us He calls us to a life of repentance, of transformation by His Spirit, of study and prayer because He wants us to be everything He has created and redeemed us to be. We won't get there in this life, but if we believe in Him and His promises, we will find that He is faithful when we face Him in His day. If we do not live this life of seeking God and trying to be faithful, we might just discover that we missed the truth all along. He calls us to a different kind of life that that which the world expects. It is a life of sacrifice, not for stuff or people, but for Him. It is hard, perhaps it is even impossible, but this sacrificial life rejects everything that turns us away from the God who loves us.
"Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us." Romans 5:1-5, ASV
A friend died recently and we attended her memorial service over the weekend. It was an oddly emotional experience because the service was held at a church we attended in the past, so we had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. One friend very recently became a grandmother. She was giddy with joy, though we all grieved our friend. Others had life changes, good and bad, that they wanted to share with us. We talked about our kids, all of whom are growing up. Little ones are now in high school. We hugged, happy for the reunion while being sad for the reason.
My friend whose daughter had a baby is dealing with deep emotion. The memorial service reminded her of the service held a few years ago at the sudden death of her husband. Now, as she celebrates the birth of their first grandson, she misses his presence despite the years apart. She wishes that he could be there to share in the joy. That's how it is with life, though: we face joy and sorrow, often in the same moment. This is hard because we feel guilt when our joy stands next to another's grief. It is hard when our grief diminishes someone else's joy. We love and we want to respect and honor both the joy and grief of our neighbor. It is even harder when we are dealing with the joy and grief simultaneously in our own lives. How do we rejoice when we know someone we loved will never get to experience that joy? We worry that our joy will seem like a dismissal the one we have lost. We know life goes on, but that doesn't make it any easier to live.
The third event of this weekend happened at our current church. Our pastor, who has been there for more than twenty years, preached his last sermon for us. He is retiring after fifty years of service to the Lord. There was a great deal of joy surrounding the events, especially when we talked about his long years of active service. After all, how many people make it to fifty years in any profession, let alone that of active ministry? Yet, we've also had to say Good-bye because it is time for our pastor to follow God and take the next step of his journey in faith. We have seen rivers of tears both in joy and in grief.
We want to separate our emotions, to define how we feel, but it isn't that easy. For every joy in this life there is also pain and suffering, for every hope there is disappointment. That's life in this world. We have made so much of our lives about our emotions. We feel this and so it must be. We feel that and so everyone around has to respect it. Feelings, emotions, are a natural part of our existence and we can't ignore or reject them. We must be careful, however, that we do not allow our emotion to rule our lives. Joy that leads to guilt is not true joy. Hope that leads to disappointment is not true hope.
We will laugh and cry at many things in our life, but one thing will always stand true: our God. His promises are real. There will come a day when we do not cry tears of grief but only of joy because He has overcome all that hurts us. The hope we have in that day will never disappoint because He is faithful. We'll have to juxtapose our joy and our grief until that day, but we can do so with peace.