Welcome to the March 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2003
March 1, 2003
No Bad Dogs British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse has this to say about the obedience of dogs. “In a dog’s mind, a master or mistress to love, honor and obey is an absolute necessity. The love is dormant in the dog until brought into full bloom by an understanding owner. Thousands of dogs appear to love their owners, they welcome them home with enthusiastic wagging of the tail and jumping up, they follow them about their houses happily and, to the normal person seeing the dog, the affection is true and deep. But to the experienced dog trainer this outward show is not enough. The true test of real love takes place when the dog has got the opportunity to go out on its own as soon as the door is left open by mistake and it goes off and often doesn’t return home for hours. That dog loves only its home comforts and the attention it gets from its family; it doesn’t truly love the master or mistress as they fondly think. True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner. For the owner must be the be-all and end-all of a dog’s life.”
Several days ago we read the story of when Paul and Silas were imprisoned and the earthquake set them free. On that occasion, the act of obedience was seen in the willingness of Paul and Silas to remain in the prison, sing praises to God, save the life of the guard and share the Gospel with him. Their obedience brought a whole family into faith in Chris. They could have escaped and preached the Gospel, but it would have caused a man to kill himself and remain spiritually lost. The cost of their freedom would have been too great. The Apostles spent a great deal of time in prison. Paul himself spent much of his ministry in chains. Yet, there were other times when the Lord set the prisoners free. How they responded to that freedom was an act of faith, for it set them in a dangerous position against the leaders of the day.
“But the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public ward. But an angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them out, and said, Go ye, and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life. And when they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison-house to have them brought. But the officers that came found them not in the prison; and they returned, and told, saying, The prison-house we found shut in all safety, and the keepers standing at the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed concerning them whereunto this would grow. And there came one and told them, Behold, the men whom ye put in the prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people.
Our Lord Jesus Christ truly sets us free from all that binds us in this world. In that freedom we are called to live in obedience to the will of God. There are times when God will set us free from the things that are our prisons in this world – our jobs, homes, relationships and even the fellowship of believers to which we belong. However, there are times when it would be best, no matter the circumstances, to stay in that situation for the sake of those who are lost. There are other times when God will send us into the temple courts to share the Gospel message with others. We have been freed so that we can obey that which God has called us to do. Are we going to be like the dog that runs free for hours at a time, only coming home when it suits our needs? Or are we like the dog that stays near the Master’s voice, whether it is in the house, prison or temple courts? Jesus is our Lord and Savior and our love for Him shows in the way we respond to His love. “We must obey God rather than men!” should be our battle cry. May God give us the strength to always stay near to Him and do all He has asked us to do. Thanks be to God.
Transfiguration Several years ago while we lived in England, we took a trip to beautiful Cornwall. This is the area at the very southwestern corner of the country. The West Penwith Peninsula is at the furthest reaches of the country, and though it has been inhabited for thousands of years, it is still very wild and isolated. There are towns such as St. Ives, Tintagel (famed for being the home of King Arthur), Penzance and Land’s End. The landscape is quite hilly with little vegetation; rocky cliffs and dangerous ocean waters surround it all. Many ships have crashed along this beautiful but hazardous coastline. The hills are dotted with ancient rock formations left thousands of years ago by people who left little evidence of their lives. It is a place of legend and of mystery.
We called the day we visited this place, “Climb a Hill, Look at a Rock Day.” Since England is so small, the large scaled ordinance atlases are very detailed. Unlike American map books that have one page per state, covering hundreds of miles, the English map books cover less than fifty. They can include every landmark, even if it is just a hole in the wall. I was the navigator as Bruce drove the tiny roads into unknown territory. At each destination, we discovered the parking area was quite a distance from the object we wanted to view, almost always an uphill hike. While that was fun for a few times, the children got rather tired of climbing hills to look at rocks.
By the time we got to Sancreed Beacon, the children did not want to climb. Sancreed Beacon was a hill with what appeared to be the top of an ancient tomb entrance that was used as a place where beacons were set to send messages to distant people. So, I told them that I would climb up, and if it were something neat, I would come back and get them. They watched me climb halfway up and decided they had to see it also. They caught up to me just as I was photographing the rocks and Vicki asked, “So what are we looking at?”
For most of us, that is the way it is for mountain top experiences. We get there and love what we see and feel; we want to hold on to it for as long as we can. That has been true of men and women throughout the ages. We want to hold onto the good times and avoid the bad. Yet, there are so many blessings to be found in the valleys of our lives.
“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them; and his garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them. And there appeared unto them Elijah with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answereth and saith to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. For he knew not what to answer; for they became sore afraid. And there came a cloud overshadowing them: and there came a voice out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son: hear ye him. And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead.” Mark 9:2-9 (ASV)
I can imagine Peter, James and John wondering why Jesus was taking them to the top of that mountain. While the view was probably extraordinary, there wasn’t anything there they couldn’t see down below without the hard climb. Yet, when Jesus was transfigured, they did not want to leave. Peter even wanted to build shelters to make this a lasting moment. As quickly as the glory came upon Jesus, it left and Jesus told them not to tell anyone. This mountaintop experience was not the moment they had been preparing for; it was just a preview of what was to come. We came off that mountain in Cornwall because we had other things to see, other places to go. I look back on that day fondly, for what we saw and learned, but I know that we could not stay there forever. At this point in His ministry, Jesus set His feet toward Jerusalem, toward death and the grave. Peter, James and John did not quite understand what was to come, but they followed Him, always blessed with the brief shining moment when they saw Jesus as God intended Him to be, crowned in glory. They would see that again some day, and it was probably a moment that got them through some rough times – the hope of what was to come.
We can’t stay on our mountaintops, but we can praise God as we remember them through the valleys. Knowing that there is something greater to come – for Christians we await eternal life in Christ – gives us the strength and the courage to face the uphill battles of life. Thanks be to God.
Ruins The English countryside is littered with the ruins of ancient walls, castles and churches. Some of the ruins were not very large – one castle was not much bigger than a modern American three-bedroom house. Another was not much more than a big stone box with a large room in the middle and a few smaller rooms built into the walls. There are some that still stand almost complete, others that are nothing but barely visible foundation.
The lovely town of Bury St. Edmunds was once the home of a large, prosperous abbey. There are enough parallels between the history of that place and the fictional representation in Ken Follett’s “Pillars of Fire” that I think the novel was loosely based on that particular abbey. Today, the ruins are part of a lovely park with gardens, an aviary and a museum. It is a wonderful place to play, pray and learn more about the history of England. It is a good place to see how the walls were built and the layout of a typical church building. Ancient churches were built with very thick walls. Since stone was limited and very expensive to cut, the builders used an inside and an outside layer of good stone, smoothly cut on one side. Between the two layers, they put mortar with hunks of scrap rock to fill the wall and make it sturdy. Using this technique, the builders could use solid rock that was only a few inches wide on the outside and inside to make a wall that was several feet thick. You can see this very well in the ruins at the Abbey in Bury St. Edmunds.
The Abbey was once very prosperous, but hard times fell upon the people. There was civil and religious unrest, as Protestants fought with Catholics over control of the country. The monasteries were closed, taken over for political and financial gains. They were eventually abandoned, left to fall into ruin over the years. Sometimes the king or local government officials took the buildings apart to reuse the good materials. Sometimes the people of the surrounding town stole the rocks to use in building their homes, barns or boundary walls. Eventually there was little left to these buildings, leaving behind little more than a foundation and a memory. Since most English churches were designed in the shape of a cross, from the air the ruins often look like a cross drawn on the ground. It is a reminder of what those places once stood for – the love of Christ and as a witness to the Gospel. Unfortunately, the world interfered – sometimes within as the leaders became greedy and proud and at other times from the persecution that came from outside the walls. It is nice to know, however, that when everything else is gone, what still remains is Jesus.
"According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon.
Our lives are very much like those ancient churches and castles that are now nothing more than ruins. Over the years we build our lives with relationships, experiences and knowledge. Some of it is good – the time we shared the Gospel with someone who was hurting, the time we gave food to the beggar on the street, the times when we prayed and studied the scriptures so that we could know Jesus better. Some of it isn’t so good – those times when we did things just for our own benefit, the offerings we gave out of a sense of duty rather than in the joy of giving. If we work our entire lives thinking that our good works will save us, we will be surprised in the day how little we have done will remain. However, no matter what we build, whether it is out of gold or straw, if the foundation is Jesus Christ then we will be saved.
I hope that when I stand before my Lord there will be enough there for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How I long to hear those words. But I know that whatever happens in that day I will be saved. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of my life, and to Him I owe everything. What are you building with your life? Do you know without a doubt that the foundation is Jesus Christ? Even if everything you have every done disappears from existence like the ancient ruins of England, with Jesus as your Savior our Father will still see Him in your face. In Him you have eternal life. Everything else is a blessing and a joy, but of little importance in the scheme of things. For eternity in the presence of our Father is more than we ever deserve and the most incredible blessing we can receive. Thanks be to God.
Alphabet One of the earliest learning tools is music. One of the most popular is the alphabet song, taught to children even before they go to school. It helps them to learn and remember the letters in alphabetical order, a skill that is necessary in adult life if someone wants to look up a word in the dictionary or put some order to a list of people. Even today there are times when I find myself singing that silly tune as I am doing some task such as organizing envelops or checking the definition of a word. The alphabet is so much a part of who I am, based on that little song and the practice I’ve had over the years using the skills attributed to it. I wasn’t able to find a word in the dictionary or list words in alphabetical order immediately. It took time and practice.
It has always been true that we learn things best when they are repeated over and over in our experiences. A cartoonist will develop a character over time, as he or she gets better at drawing. A musician needs to repeatedly play a song until it becomes second nature to play it. A writer gets better with each new article. Athletes practice to hone their skills. Very little comes naturally for very few people. It takes repetition and practice. With many skills, accompanying music like the Alphabet song can help enhance the learning experience. Even football players use chants as they practice together as a team, building their relationships with each other.
From the earliest days of the Christian faith, believers gathered together to share their witness and confess their beliefs in Jesus. It did not take very long before they were praying familiar prayers or repeating the words of Jesus. Since much of their religious experience comes from the Old Testament writings, we can even see the hymns they might have sung in worship by reading the Psalms. The letters of the Apostles were shared over and over again, establishing proper understanding of this new revelation of God. They began to form creeds, poetry and hymns that brought together the doctrines they had learned in a way they could easily remember and teach. By repeating these confessions of faith, they became deeply imbedded in their hearts and minds. When asked about their Christian faith, they could easily share the Gospel message in words that were seen as credible because the whole Church shared them.
“ For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ASV)
Scholars generally agree that this passage from Paul is one of the earliest Christian creeds. It has been around since the earliest days of the church, having become a part of Christian worship within just a few years of Jesus’ death. By sharing this simple statement about the death, resurrection and appearance of Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord, the truth of salvation was written on their hearts and in their minds, giving strength and knowledge to share with others.
Tomorrow we begin Lent, a forty-day wander in the wilderness as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem and to the cross. For many Christians it is a time to be in prayer and repentance, to study God’s Word and draw closer to Him. Some will fast – give up something – as a way of identifying with Jesus as He made this final journey. Others will undertake a period of special devotional time. Many churches will hold extra services for the next few weeks. All these practices are designed to turn our thoughts and hearts toward Jesus, to see His glory revealed in suffering and write His truth ever more deeply in our hearts and on our minds. The more we hear the story and remember what Jesus did for us, the more natural it becomes to live the Gospel and share it with others. I pray this Lent will be one of renewal for each of you, as God reveals Himself through the glorious life of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Flesh One of the most wonderful things about the Lord God Almighty is that He has decided to use very real things from His creation to do His work in this world. A Christian’s life is not just spiritual; we are called to live out our faith in this world. Martin Luther said that man hides his own things in order to conceal them; God hides his own things in order to reveal them. So, through His creation He reveals Himself, His mercy, His love and His grace.
At one point in history, God smashed the wall that divided the spiritual from the natural. Jesus Christ was born into this world, a man of flesh in which dwelled the fullness of God. God used Jesus to reveal Himself to the world. If God were only interested in our spiritual beings, it would not have been necessary for Jesus to become flesh. But since God has chosen to use the temporal to reveal the spiritual, Jesus needed to be born of flesh and blood and exist in this world as every other human being. But for reconciliation to occur, it was necessary for Jesus to do so without sin, to be a pure and spotless lamb on the cross. He had to face the same temptations that every one of us face, but to do so without falling.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” Matthew 4:1-11 (ASV)
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting in preparation for His ministry around Israel. Then the devil came to tempt Jesus to do things his way rather than God’s way. The reason Jesus came in flesh was to save human beings from sin and death. The end result would be their destruction on the cross. Satan knew Jesus’ victory would mean his defeat and came to tempt Him away from His main purpose. Satan offered Jesus food for His belly, but also food for many. He tempted Jesus to make His ministry one about social justice – feeding the poor and meeting the physical needs of those who were hungry. Satan offered Jesus a ministry of miracles, tempting Him to focus on healing the physical ailments of those who were sick and dying. Satan offered Jesus the position of ruling the entire world, a kingship over all nations tempting Jesus with a ministry that did not include suffering and death.
Of course, Satan had no power to offer these things. They were only lies and Jesus easily overcame the temptations with God’s Word. Though He came in flesh to reveal God, His purpose was not solely physical. During His three years of ministry, Jesus would feed the hungry, heal the sick and guide many into the kingdom of God. But He came to die.
For the next forty days the Church will recall Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness during this season of Lent. It is a time to look at Jesus’ ministry, to follow His footsteps to the cross. For many it will be a time of fasting, giving up something that has become more important than God. It is a time for prayer, repentance, discernment and self-denial as we prepare for Holy Week. We will face many temptations, as we do every day. How will we overcome those temptations? We cannot do it by our own effort, and we will fail miserably if we try. By God’s grace we can overcome, and when we fail we can rest in the knowledge that Christ has already paid the price for our forgiveness. Jesus came in flesh to live as man and to take upon Himself the wrath of God. Now Jesus is revealed through us, using our flesh to continue the lifesaving ministry He began two thousand years ago. It is truly amazing that God would choose to use His creation for such an important task, fallen as we are. Yet, He has done so. Thanks be to God.
Water Water is often an obstacle for people. People throughout history, even into our day, have starved because a lack of water brings drought and poor crops. Too much water brings flooding and destruction. Standing water can become stagnant and cause disease. Insects make that water home and spread that disease. Rivers are often difficult to cross, especially if no ford is nearby. Traveling upstream is difficult, particularly when the traveler encounters heavy rapids or a waterfall. One must carry their boat and supplies on land to overcome such difficulties. Yet, we cannot live without water. We need it to drink, to grow our crops and even to travel. The fish that are found in lakes, streams and oceans provide a living for fishermen and sustenance for people.
Some of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. They knew everything you need to know about water, lakes, fish and nets. They knew the dangers of traveling on water, how to overcome a storm. They understood how a boat floats and what is necessary to keep it above water. They knew how to take advantage of the conditions to get the best catch. They knew when to travel and when to avoid the lake. Unfortunately, all their knowledge of water and of fishing would not help them to understand the way Jesus was able to overcome the natural laws they knew so well.
“And when evening came, his disciples went down unto the sea; and they entered into a boat, and were going over the sea unto Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. And the sea was rising by reason of a great wind that blew. When therefore they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they behold Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the boat: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. They were willing therefore to receive him into the boat: and straightway the boat was at the land whither they were going.” John 6:16-21 (ASV)
Water can be an obstacle for those who do not understand how to make it work for their advantage. The early explorers like Lewis and Clark found ways to overcome their difficulties while traveling upriver. The early farmers learned how to irrigate. Communities build levies and dams to hold back the floodwaters. For the disciples, the water was not an obstacle; it actually helped because they could get to their destination more quickly by boat than by foot. They understood how a boat floats, how to move it through the water and they trusted that they would get to their destination. Unfortunately, they considered the water an obstacle to those without a boat, so when Jesus showed up walking on water they were afraid. They had rowed for a long time, were a great distance from the shore. There was no way Jesus could be doing what they saw Him doing. Jesus had overcome the obstacle in a very that went against the natural laws they understood.
Jesus Christ is the living water. He can be a help or a hindrance to those who witness His work in this world. For some, they are afraid because they do not believe He could possibly overcome the obstacles the way He does. In another version of this story, the disciples wonder if they are seeing a ghost. There are even those today who claim this miracle is nothing more than luck – that the tide was out and the water was shallow or there were rocks that He used to walk on. His actions are an obstacle to those who cannot believe anything that goes against the natural laws or what they understand. Even the disciples trusted the water to keep their boat afloat, but they were terrified by Jesus walking on the water.
It was only when He spoke to them and eased their fears, that they recognized Him and were able to move forward in faith. People have always found a way to overcome the difficulties of water, but there is only one way to overcome the fear we have in the unknown. God speaks encouragement into our lives and by His Word we trust in Him. The whole idea of a Savior like Jesus is beyond our comprehension. The only way to truly understand the Living Water of God is to do so in faith. He calls out to us in the darkness and says, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” With those wonderful words, we can overcome any obstacle and get to where we are going. Thanks be to God.
Truth, Falsehood, Fire and Water A tale about honesty is told in Ethiopia and other eastern African nations. It tells the story of long ago when Truth, Falsehood, Fire and Water walking together. They came upon a herd of cattle and agreed to equally divide them between themselves, each getting their fair share. But Falsehood was greedy and decided to get the whole herd for himself. He first went to Water and lied that Fire was scheming to burn all of Water’s grass so as to force the cattle onto Fire’s land. Falsehood told Water to douse Fire, and then the three friends could share the herd three ways. Water believed Falsehood’s lies and extinguished Fire’s flames. A short time later, Falsehood went to Truth and told him that Water had murdered Fire and did not deserve a portion of the herd. He said they should go up into the mountains and leave Water behind. Truth believed the lie and went with Falsehood into the mountains, but since Water could not run uphill he was left in the valley. When Truth and Falsehood arrived on the top of the mountain, Falsehood laughed and told Truth that he had been fooled. “Give me all the cattle and be my servant or I will destroy you.” Truth agreed he had been fooled, but refused to be Falsehood’s servant. They fought, but neither could destroy the other. They called upon Wind to declare a winner but he said he could to decide because they are destined to struggle against one another forever. At time Truth would win, at times Falsehood would. But Truth must never give up the battle or he would be finished forever.
This battle is still waging in our world today. There are definitely times when the truth seems to be defeated, when it seems like everyone is a liar. It becomes difficult to discern who is speaking rightly. Though wars loom all the time, the worst of all are the wars of words. What is true? What is false? It is even more difficult today because many claim that truth is in the eye of the beholder. Experience and perception define the truth rather than the truth itself. “There is no absolute truth” is the greatest lie, and Satan has done well to convince people of this. So, we live in a time all men have lies on their lips. Who can we trust? What words are true?
“Help, Jehovah; For the godly man ceaseth; For the faithful fail from among the children of men. They speak falsehood every one with his neighbor: With flattering lip, and with a double heart, do they speak. Jehovah will cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaketh great things; Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; Our lips are our own: Who is lord over us? Because of the oppression of the poor, because of the sighing of the needy, Now will I arise, saith Jehovah; I will set him in the safety he panteth for. The words of Jehovah are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, Purified seven times. Thou wilt keep them, O Jehovah, Thou wilt preserve them from this generation for ever. The wicked walk on every side, When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” Psalm 12 (ASV)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That story from Ethiopia has been told for many generations. The Psalmist penned these words thousands of years ago. The battle between Falsehood and Truth began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent lied to Eve and Adam about the affects of eating the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a part of this sinful world in which we have to live for a moment. We all lie, whether is an outright deception like those of Falsehood in the story or a tiny white lie to our neighbor. We might win a battle of words today, but as long as Truth and Falsehood are at war, we will never be certain if we can trust the words of another.
But there is One in whom we can trust. The Word of the Lord God is the Truth and it will never be defeated by falsehood in this day or any other. The Word, the Truth, is found in its fullness in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came and died to defeat all sin, including the lies of the wicked. Though it seems as though everything that is vile is honored among men, today as much as it was in the days gone by, the Lord God Almighty will keep us safe from false words. His Word is found in its fullness in the Holy Bible, the book in which God has recorded His Word for His people. When no truth can be found in the words of men, rest in the knowledge that all truth is found in God’s Word. Thanks be to God.
Sleeper There was an article in the paper today about movies that they call “sleepers”. These are movies that no one expects to do very well in the theaters, but turn out to be very popular. These movies are often very low budget films that a studio is willing to give a chance, but they do not think they will make any money. Perhaps they want to give a new director a chance, or an actress is interested in the script. As long as the studio executives won’t loose their shirts, they are willing to produce the film.
One of the summer’s hottest movies was a sleeper. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was cost only five million dollars to make and made more than 300 million dollars. It seemed to be finished after it had been in the theaters for just a few weeks, but then suddenly it gained in popularity. In the end, it stayed in theaters much longer than they expected and has continued to bring success in video and a new television series for the stars. Other famous sleepers include “The Blair Witch Project”, “The Full Monty” and “The Crying Game.” Perhaps one of the most surprising sleepers is the incredibly popular “Star Wars.” This movie help little hope for the studio executives, but now, twenty-five years after its first release, “Star Wars” has expanded to every possible outlet – toys, books, sequels and prequels, and video sales. Who would have thought that one movie could have such an impact on the lives of those who produced it and those who enjoyed watching.
Jesus Christ was a sleeper. During His time on earth, few people even heard about Him. He had a core group of followers, but the distance they traveled was relatively small considering how we live our lives today. Who would have thought that one man could do so much to change the world? Certainly the Jewish leaders did not think He would get very far. And when His popularity reached beyond their expectation they did what they could to stop it from going farther. Even the disciples did not expect much after Jesus died on the cross. They thought it was over.
“Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:4-6 (ASV)
Who would have thought a movie like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” or “Star Wars” would be so much greater than even the creators could expect? Yet, these sleepers have had a huge impact on the lives of many. Who would ever think that a rag tag bunch of men like Peter, James and John would be able to spread the message of Christ to far so fast and so well that it is still being shared two thousand years later. Who would have even thought that a man like Jesus could change the world?
The studio executives can’t figure out what makes a sleeper or how they come to have such great popularity. If they could, they could make even more money than they do already. But once in a while something just surprises them and they enjoy the gift. Many people throughout history never did understand what was so great about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They rejected Him and all who were called to bear His Word. But a few, those of us who believe, have overcome the world and God has called us to continue sharing that joyous message of forgiveness and peace. Those who hear know why this sleeper, Jesus Christ, has had such an impact on the world. It is because He is Lord, the Son of the Living God, and His Word is living, gives faith and brings everyone who believes into the eternal kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.
No Word posted.
ER We went to Tulsa for the weekend. I had a meeting to attend, so Bruce and the kids decided to join me. They were planning to do something fun while I worked, then we were going to spend the rest of the weekend together. Unfortunately, Vicki has not been feeling well, and her cold peaked with an ear infection on Saturday. She was miserable during the drive, as we climbed the Ozark Mountains and sat in the stuffy car. By the time they dropped me off at my meeting place and set off on their adventure, Vicki was in no shape to have fun. They checked into the hotel, got some lunch and rested for the afternoon. When they picked me up from my meeting, it was obvious that Vicki would be unable to have any fun until we dealt with her pain.
Luckily, there was a hospital less than a block from the meeting place. We spent the next three hours in the Emergency room, mostly just sitting and waiting. It was a frustrating time, especially for Vicki, because she blamed herself for ruining our weekend. I spent most of the time with her, helping her to understand that it isn’t anyone’s fault, and that we were accomplishing exactly what we had intended with the weekend – a chance to get away from the stresses of our lives and to spend time together as a family. The fun we planned was not important.
After a few additional problems with the pharmacy, we finally were able to go to dinner and back to the hotel. Vicki took her medicine and went to bed. It was a restless night, but we managed a few hours of sleep. In the morning, Vicki was feeling better, but still not well enough to run around Tulsa. We relaxed in the hotel for a few hours, and then headed home. We did not rush, but took time to do some sightseeing along the way. We stopped in Sallisaw, Oklahoma for lunch and to visit a few historic sights. One place had several old buildings from the early days of the town, set up with period furniture and other things. We were fascinated by the General Store, with the old products, some of which we remembered using as children. We enjoyed testing the children to see if they could figure out the purpose of some of the items. There were even a couple we could not identify. Afterward, we went to Sequoyah’s Cabin, an 1829 cabin built by the Cherokee Indian who created the Cherokee written language. It is an amazing story, one to be left for another day. We learned a great deal about the life of the Native Americans during a difficult time in their history.
Though our plans did not happen as we intended, we had a good weekend. We accomplished exactly what we set out to do – get away from phones and work, to spend time together. During the day, we found ourselves in prayer, turning to the Lord for strength, courage, guidance and healing. Who knows, perhaps He would not have even been a second thought if everything had gone well.
“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. And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (ASV)
No matter where we had been this weekend, Vicki’s ear would have hurt. At home, we probably would not have done anything about seeing a doctor. We would have fed her medicine to help with the pain and give her rest until we could get a normal appointment Monday morning. We would have been unable to accomplish anything and Vicki would have suffered. Our plans put us in a position to deal with it and rely more upon God in the process. God had different plans for our family, plans that brought us closer to Him and to one another. Our weekend was a success, not because we did what we wanted to do, but because God accomplished a greater work in us as individuals and as a family. Thanks be to God.
Syllabary Sequoyah was a Cherokee Indian who was born in Tennessee. When he was young, he lived with his mother in the Smokey Mountains, but he always dreamed about what it might be like outside his small village. He was a talented artisan and learned about healing herbs and roots from the medicine man. He remembered well and was a very intelligent man. When his mother died, he moved from village to village until he settled in Alabama. Many of the Cherokee were living in the ways of the white man, which made him sad because he saw their identity being lost. But one thing fascinated him most about the settlers, their talking leaves. This was his name for the pages of writing that helped the white men communicate.
Many of the Cherokee believed that there was magic on the pages and refused to have anything to do with it. But Sequoyah knew that if he could find the key – the magic – then the Cherokee could have a form of writing like the white man and it could help them hold on to their heritage in such a difficult time. There was a great geographical divide between communities and they were growing farther apart because of the distance.
It took many years for Sequoyah to develop his alphabet. He was ridiculed for his work, his wife left him and much of his work was destroyed by fire. He began his quest for a written language with a type of picture writing, one picture for every word. After awhile he realized that there were too many symbols, it would be too difficult to learn. His daughter helped him with his work, and one day she found a book. As he studied the symbols on the page, he realized there were twenty-six characters repeated over and over again. He realized the key to a written language is in the sound made. So, rather than an alphabet with letters, he created a syllabary with a symbol for every sound. These eighty-five symbols were put together to make the words spoken.
When he took the syllabary to the tribal council, they laughed and did not believe that he could read like the white man. He had taken his daughter with him, and to prove that this was not some sort of trick, he sent her out of the room. He wrote every word they said and then called her back into the room. She read every word perfectly, and the leaders were amazed. They accepted this writing and began teaching everyone how to read and write. Within two years the entire nation of the Cherokee were able to use the alphabet. They created their own newspapers, books and were able to communicate with one another, holding the nation together through a tumultuous time. Despite such great strides for the people, they suffered terrible hardships, particularly when they were pushed off their land in the east and forced to move west to live. For many months the Cherokees followed the ‘Trail of Tears’ to their new home in Oklahoma. Many died along the way.
Thanks to the talking leaves that were created by Sequoyah, the Cherokee stories and ways did not die. Christian missionaries who came to share the message of Christ also used the written language to translate the Holy Bible into Cherokee for those who came to know the Lord. Though Sequoyah died alone in Mexico, searching for members of his tribe who were believed to have gone migrated there, he will always be remembered for his great contribution to his people.
Rather than a usual Bible verse, I am going to include the Cherokee version of Psalm 23. Those who have read the book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller will understand how deeply personal those words are to one who is a shepherd. They understand the depth of meaning in the psalm, because they have lived the experience of leading and caring for sheep – a most difficult task. The Cherokee version of the psalm is very close in many ways, but speaks more deeply to the Cherokee life. I pray it will be a blessing to you today.
“The Great Father above a shepherd Chief is. I am His and with Him I want not. He throws me a rope and the name of the rope is love and He draws me to where the grass is green and the water is not dangerous, and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down but He lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. His name is WONDERFUL. Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a valley. It is dark there, but I’ll be afraid not, for it is in between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me and the hunger that I have in my heart all through this life will be satisfied. Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards he gives me a staff to lean upon. He spreads a table before me with all kinds of foods. He puts His hand upon my head and all the tired is gone. My cup He fills till it runs over. What I tell is true. I lie not. These roads that are ‘away ahead’ will stay with me through this life and after; and afterwards I will go to live in the Big Tepee and sit down with the SHEPHERD CHIEF forever.”
Thanks be to God.
Vocation For many people, conversion to Christianity is also a time of changing their entire lifestyle. When they come to know the Lord, they automatically assume they should give up everything about their lives. Now, there are certainly some things that should be considered – bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and immoral jobs. Life in Christ is one that transforms a person into that which they were created to be. As God dwells in a person’s heart, they are made new, leaving behind that which does not glorify Him.
However, our outward life need not be so changed that it is unrecognizable to those around us. A person who is a CEO of a major corporation need not give up his job; he needs only to do it to the glory of God. An accountant need not run off to foreign lands to become a missionary. A teacher need not give up her job teaching to enter a convent. A housewife need not leave her family to follow some special calling.
Martin Luther faced a difficult situation in his day in which some people considered the only life that was pleasing to God was one in which the person gave up the world. Service to God meant taking vows and living separate from the world. Monks, nuns and priests were thought to have a greater salvation because they had some higher calling, a deeper spirituality. However, Martin Luther realized that they weren’t more holy than anyone else. They simply had a different vocation or office, and different responsibilities. All of God’s children, those who believe in the name of Jesus, are called to a special life. It is a life of service to God and our neighbors in all areas of life our gifts with our neighbors to God’s glory. To Luther, the washerwoman and the bishop were of equal status as long as both were faithful to their calling to serve Christ and others in their daily life.
It is very easy, when we are new in faith, to assume that our mundane jobs in this world are unimportant to God. As we hear God speak into our lives, we assume He is calling us to something different, something new. Yet, God needs Christians in every aspect of life, in every job, in every corner of the world. Yes, God certainly does need missionaries and priests. However, He also needs janitors and high school principals. Luther’s idea was that all people called by God into faith were priests – the priesthood of all believers. He never rejected the priesthood, he simply established that it is just one of millions of ways to serve God. The life of faith, living daily using our gifts and talents wherever we are, is the way every Christian should live.
“Only, as the Lord hath distributed to each man, as God hath called each, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches. Was any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Hath any been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord's freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ's bondservant. Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men. Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God.” 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ASV)
There is a trend in religion today to make Christian thought entirely about spirituality, ignoring the very basic understanding that everything in this world belongs to God. Neo-Gnosticism, New Age thought, mysticism are just a few examples of the modern teachings that are focusing on giving up everything of this world for the sake of Christ. If Christian faith were about being on some higher plane, about living some special life apart from this world, why did Jesus come in flesh? Why did Paul write that we should continue in our lives after we have been saved?
It is good to understand the spiritual aspects of faith. The Lord Jesus Christ truly changes us and in His power we are given a new life. Faith is not something that can be understood in the flesh, but it is given to us to live while we are in this world. The greatest commands from Jesus are “Love the Lord” and “Love your neighbor”. We don’t have to give up our jobs to become priests or leave our families to become missionaries. We are to be content exactly where we are, for it is to that place in life where God assigned us to be. In that place, we are to live in faith, use our gifts and glorify God with all that we do. He has blessed us to be a blessing, someone in every corner of the world, and He will use us for the sake of His Kingdom, which is present in this world today. Thanks be to God.
Good News With all the terrible news on the television these days – all we seem to hear about is war, sickness, death, poverty, greed, lust and evil of every kind – it is nice to get a little good news on our television sets. Yesterday, the country rejoiced with the family of Elizabeth Smart as she was taken home after nine months of being missing after a man kidnapped her from her room in the night. She seems fine; at least healthy in body, though it will take some time to truly understand what Elizabeth went through while she was gone.
For much of the time, Elizabeth was only miles from her home. She even saw the blue ribbons that were displayed in the hopes that she would be returned, but she had no idea they were for her. She did not know how many people cared, how many people were searching for her, how many people were praying that she would be found. Her captors took her to parties, introduced her as their daughter. It is hard to imagine what they must have done to keep her silent – brainwashing or drugs. They covered her looks, made her wear veils and wigs. She was right under their noses and they did not see.
By the grace of God, a story appeared on the local television yesterday morning, a story about Elizabeth and the search. A man who saw the story was in his car with his wife and they saw a man who looked like the handyman suspected of kidnapping her. They didn’t want to get up anyone’s hopes, but called the police and gave a good description of the car and the people. The police had no idea that when they stopped the car they would find Elizabeth alive and well in the back seat. Everyone involved is calling this a miracle, and there is no doubt that God’s hand was certainly involved.
Salvation was so close to Elizabeth, but no one knew it, perhaps not even Elizabeth. Due to the affects of her captors, she did not even know she needed help. But isn’t that often the way? There are millions of people still in this world today who do not know they are in need of a Savior; they do not know that Jesus could change their lives. They do not realize how many people are calling to them, searching for them and praying for them. They go about life in a fog, unable to see the truth or do anything about it. But in the midst of this bad news is the most incredible Good News. Jesus is the Savior, He died to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who believe.
“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame.
I’m sure when the story of Elizabeth Smart plays out over the next day or so, the news will be filled with bad news again. We’ll be inundated with the reports about wars and rumors of wars and all the other terrible things happening in our world today. But for a brief moment we had a vision of the hand of God working in this world, through the faith of a family and in an incredible way. The worst part is that we often don’t even realize that the news is that bad.
The man and his wife helped police find a young lady that was missing for nine months. They saw the story and acted upon it and now Elizabeth is home safe and sound. Shouldn’t we do the same? We’ve heard the Good News, we know that our Lord Jesus has given us eternal life and is transforming us daily into something new. What about those who have never heard the Gospel? It is up to us to bring it to them, to carry the message of Christ to the world and to help those who are lost to see their need for a Savior. When we do share Jesus, others will put their trust in Him and they will be saved. Thanks be to God.
Shower For the sake of time and to keep things running well in the morning, the children usually take their showers in the evening before bed and the adults in the morning before we go out. Due to our hectic schedule this week, it was necessary for Vicki to take her shower Thursday morning rather than Wednesday night. Unfortunately, we woke up that morning to strong thunderstorms with intense lightning. Since the weather report indicated that the storms would pass quickly, well within the time Vicki would need to get ready for school, I told her to wait on the shower and get other things done first. After a time had passed without any lightning, I told Vicki to go ahead. Almost as soon as I did, the sky flashed several times. I told her to wait. A few minutes later, the storm had passed and everything was fine. Vicki still had plenty of time to shower and dress. I really did not want to risk Vicki’s life, but I was impatient and rushed the situation.
Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5, ASV) The context of this statement is about the work we do for Christ in this world. We have been given a commission, and that is to make disciples of all nations and teach them how to live their faith in this world. It says nothing about judging their hearts, about deciding who is going to hell and who is going to be in heaven. The scriptures are very clear that it is God’s job to bring to light that which is hidden. We are simply to be the vessels through which God shines.
We are very quick to assume many things about the people we meet. When their response to the Gospel is different than ours, we assume that they are unsaved or even hypocritical. If their Christian life looks different than we expect, we judge them to be false believers or even evil. We must remember that each person is at a different place in his or her journey of faith, some only believe superficially and others have a deep and abiding faith. Though we can see the fruit that is produced in the life of a Christian, it is impossible for any human to know what is in the hearts of men. We can only share the Gospel of Christ, pray that seeds are planted and that God will make them grow. Condemnation will not bring faith; only the Word of God can do so.
“According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon.
There is certainly room to judge people in this world – to judge their actions in a way that brings justice and peace. However, we should not consider judgment of a person’s soul as part of that task. We do not know the foundation that has been built, even if the building is only hay or straw. We can only share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel will lay a solid foundation of faith in God or it will build upon that which is already laid. God knows the right time to judge the hearts of men, and He will do just fine without us. Until that day we should be concerned with the building of our own lives with prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship and faithful sharing of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the end, that which is built on Him will survive and all else will be destroyed. Until then, let us not rush into things that might risk the spiritual lives of those to whom we are sent. Let us simply share the love of Christ and the message of His mercy and grace to the world. Thanks be to God.
Sleep Imagine what it must have been like for the Smart family the night Elizabeth came home. For the first time in nine months, they went to sleep without worrying about the fate of that young girl. Though I’m sure there was a great deal of excitement about seeing her again, the things that kept her parents up every night – fear and anxiety – are gone for the moment. They will still face the trial, the media attention and the recovery that Elizabeth will undergo. However, for one night, they could rest with a sense of joy.
I bet it was tough for Jeremiah the prophet to get a good night sleep. When God spoke to and through him, it was usually with words of warning, telling the people of Israel about their sins against the LORD. It was a time of defeat, oppression and exile. The people hated to hear the things Jeremiah had to say, and he lived under persecution and threats. I’m sure Jeremiah had many sleepless nights. But God never let His people go too long without hearing a word of hope. He never forgot the promises He made to their forefathers, the promises of peace and life in His presence. Though the Israelites were sent into exile, God did not abandon them. He was trustworthy and would be faithful to those He loved, even when they were not faithful to Him. The words of the prophets were given to help the people walk in the right ways, but God always knew they would turn from Him. So, while they had to suffer the consequences of their sin for a season, God still had plans that would be fulfilled. One night, Jeremiah had a dream about the future of Israel. It was a future of unity, a future of peace and prosperity. It was a promise of better times.
“Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Yet again shall they use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity: Jehovah bless thee, O habitation of righteousness, O mountain of holiness. And Judah and all the cities thereof shall dwell therein together, the husbandmen, and they that go about with flocks. For I have satiated the weary soul, and every sorrowful soul have I replenished. Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.” Jeremiah 31:23-26 (ASV)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my share of sleepless nights. I’ve spent hours worrying over finances, relationship troubles, illness and questions about the future. I’ve faced nights of fear because of dangerous weather or bad news. Anger and bitterness has even kept me up at night. I’m sure we all can remember some time when we could not sleep. Even still, I’m not sure I have ever known the kind of sleeplessness that the Smarts and Jeremiah must have faced.
Jeremiah woke up one morning refreshed because in his dreams the LORD promised that one day things would be better. That’s one of the advantages that Christians have over the rest of the world. No matter what we face, no matter how many sleepless nights we endure, we have a promise that will never be broken. God has promised us that one day things will be better. He has promised us eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. The day will come when we no longer suffer – the weary will always be refreshed and the faint will be satisfied. I am sure we will still have sleepless nights, for the things of the world will cause us to worry and fear, but we can look forward to the day when we will rest in peace forever. Thanks be to God.
Gowns We went out to the club for dinner last night, and while we were there we saw many people entering in formal wear. There was a special dinner in one of the ballrooms and the guests were arriving. It was fun to watch the ladies enter with their long glittery dresses. They all looked lovely, but Vicki and I enjoyed picking which dresses we would like to wear. Since Bruce and I are planning to attend a ball in a few months, I was getting ideas for my own shopping trip to the formals store.
It is interesting to see how people arrive to these events. Most of us rarely attend special functions where we need to get so dressed up. I don’t have any special purses or shoes, and I definitely don’t have a coat that I use just for formal occasions. One young lady came last night wearing a beautiful long red, sleeveless dress. It was a bit chilly outside, so she covered up with her high school letter jacket. It was a very usual combination, but I am sure it reflected her personality far more than the sparkly dress and high heals. Most of the time she probably wears blue jeans and sneakers. For most people, this type of function is very uncomfortable because we do not usually wear those types of clothes. I am sure that there are many who even put a façade on their personalities when dressed up – wanting to impress the others in attendance or just fit in with the atmosphere of a formal event.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and it has certainly proven true with many people I have met over the years. It takes time to get to know a person, to know their thoughts, hopes and dreams. It is important to see people in different settings before making any sort of conclusion about their personality. Many of us have experienced the co-worker who is very proper and quiet during business hours that goes wild when they let their hair down at happy hour after work. When they change out of their business suits, it is like they are different people. We assume we know people according to what we see – their outer coverings. Yet, there are very few times we can judge a person by what we see.
Can we apply these same thoughts to the Lord God Almighty? Throughout the history of mankind, we have always judged God according to what we can see. What does God wear? For the ancients who worshipped local gods, they were statues made of wood or stone representing the thing over which they had control. For the Romans and Greeks, the gods were like men who lived high above the earth – dressed just like the humans they ruled over. Even Christians have had images of God, based on the revelation we’ve received through the ages through the written scriptures and the witness of our forefathers. Are those impressions enough to really know God?
“Jehovah reigneth; He is clothed with majesty; Jehovah is clothed with strength; he hath girded himself therewith: The world also is established, that it cannot be moved. Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Jehovah, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves. Above the voices of many waters, The mighty breakers of the sea, Jehovah on high is mighty. Thy testimonies are very sure: Holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, for evermore.” Psalm 93 (ASV)
God is in many ways unknowable, He is a mystery to human mind because He is bigger and more complicated than we can ever comprehend. His ways are much higher than our ways, His thoughts greater than our thoughts. Yet, this most incredible God who created the world and who is worshipped even by the pounding waves of the seas is knowable. We can know Him through the life of Jesus Christ our Savior. He is robed in majesty, but put on the robe of a carpenter and walked the dusty lanes of Israel to show the people of God who He is. The One who sits on the throne of eternity took on flesh and died for our sake.
I enjoyed seeing the beautiful gowns on the ladies the other night, but I know that there is a lot more to them than that one impression. I know far more about that one young lady with the red dress and letter jacket. I wonder about those who base their entire knowledge of God on one impression. It may be the image of God they received from Sunday school teachers when they were kids. It may be an understanding based on some other religious view. It may be a rejection of the Lord based on the lives of those who claim to believe. However, in Christ we see God and can know Him fully. The Lord God Almighty is definitely robed in majesty, but in Jesus we can see much more about Him – the Lord over the entire world, the Holy One, is a man who loved so much that He died on the cross to bring us forgiveness and peace. Thanks be to God.
Today’s message is a repeat from St. Patrick’s Day 2001.
St. Patrick I once received a mailing offering the true story about Patrick driving the snakes from the shores of Ireland. This mailing came from a person who is a pagan. The myth claims that Patrick beat a drum and caused all the snakes to dive into the sea. Another legend claims that there was one ornery serpent that refused to go. Patrick made a box and told the serpent to get inside. The serpent claimed it was too small. Patrick was certain he would fit, so the serpent said he would prove it by getting inside. When the serpent was in the box, Patrick slammed the lid shut and threw the box into the sea.
Ireland never had snakes, so this story has no truth in it, or does it? According to the mail I received, Christians used the snake as a symbol of paganism. Apparently the ‘snakes’ driven from the shores were people, not animals, and that Patrick committed genocide to rid the island of the non-believers. The writer claimed that many people died at the hands of Patrick.
Though I have not found any record of such genocide in the history of Ireland, in a spiritual sense this story may be very true. As Patrick neared death, he shared his testimony in a statement called “The Confession of St. Patrick.” In this writing, he tells of his life in bondage of slavery, his escape, his training in missionary work and his return to the land of his captors. After he’d been in Ireland for a number of years, he sought passage back to his home in England. The ship refused to take him, so he returned to his hut and prayed. The captain changed his mind. The ship was filled with pagan sailors. It is likely that they were slave traders, a typical occupation in that day and age. Patrick was with them on the ship for three days. Then they spent 28 days roaming through deserted country. They grew hungry and weak. The pagans came to Patrick and asked why he would not pray to his God for them.
Patrick said, “Be truly converted with all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you be satisfied; for He has abundance everywhere.” Patrick writes that by the help of God, a herd of pigs came and satisfied their hunger. The pagans that Patrick met on that ship did suffer death – death to their own selves in Christ.
Patrick went back to Ireland after being trained in missionary work. He was not the first missionary to be sent to that land, but he was by far the most successful, bringing thousands of people to faith in Christ Jesus. The nation was transformed, no longer trading slaves or sacrificing humans. The people died to the old way of life, but lived in Christ.
So, the pagan writer was right, Patrick killed the pagans – spiritually. But while he is mourning the death of his spiritual ancestors, we can rejoice with the angels at those who have found true life in Christ because of St. Patrick. In his confession, Patrick showed himself in true humility and obedience to God. He thought himself to be the least among his brethren, a sinner and unlearned. Yet he spoke boldly about His Lord Jesus Christ, and changed the world in which he lived.
“Now I Paul myself entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you: yea, I beseech you, that I may not when present show courage with the confidence wherewith I count to be bold against some, who count of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:1-5 (ASV)
There will be some offended by the message in today’s writing – to see death so boldly proclaimed. Yet, we are fighting a spiritual battle. God’s Word has the power to kill and to bring to life. Patrick has been honored over the centuries as a man who brought life to the island of Ireland. Today there is someone who wants to place blame on this man for the death of many. Let us take that thought and make it captive and obedient to Christ! Patrick brought death to the Irish. Even more so, however, he brought true life, that which was bought by the blood of our Lord Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Elmo I don’t think there is a person today who is not waking up with the thoughts of war on their minds, not only in the United States, but also around the world. The possibilities of what might happen in the coming days are frightening. Some folk are finding themselves glued to the television, watching every report available about the preparation for this conflict. Though it is unlikely that our children are paying a lot of attention to the news, they are not blind to what is happening in the world. Since children view the world differently than adults, they really do not comprehend the scope or distance of this action. Add to this the intensity of the adult reaction – heightened fears due to possible terrorism, passionate objection or acceptance of the war and the ever-increasing media attention to every detail – and the children do not know how to deal with it. Many parents think it best to protect their children from it, so they do not openly talk about the issue. But children know something is wrong and need an outlet for their thoughts, just like adults. Without it, the fear, worry and doubt eats them up inside and creates sickness – emotional, physical and even spiritual.
Sesame Street has a history of dealing with tough issues to help children through their fears, worries and doubts. They have recently produced public service announcements to help children with this very issue. Elmo talks about being afraid and how he deals with it, giving the children ideas for outlets. He tells them to write stories, draw pictures and even suggests they dance and make funny sounds. While this seems silly, it is a good way to get rid of pent up frustration and physical energy that often reveals itself in anger and violent behavior.
How are you dealing with the events in our world today? Our neighbors are as passionate about what they believe as we, whether they are the guy in the house next door or our neighbors overseas. It would be very easy for each of us to take out our own pent up frustration in verbal or physical abuse, putting down our neighbor who might not believe as we do. Yet, this is no way to face our fears, it will only agitate the situation.
As Christians, we have a much better way of dealing with our emotions at a time like this. It is somewhat like the silly little dance Elmo suggested to the children. We can praise God. We can rejoice in His faithfulness. We can remember that all things work together for the good of those who love Him, even when things do not seem to be going our way. We can thank Him for His mercy for us and for our enemy. We can pray for them, for their safety and that they will know the peace that passes all human understanding, a peace that will only be known through Christ our Lord. We can hope that the promise of eternal life will come to all men so that death will be defeated even in the midst of the violence of war.
“I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of Jehovah. Jehovah hath chastened me sore; But he hath not given me over unto death.
I don’t know how to rejoice today, there are too many fears, worries and doubts weighing on my mind. I don’t think I could dance a silly little dance and sing a silly little song. Yet, in faith I can praise God, rejoice in His salvation and give thanks. This is the day the LORD has made, as every day is His. We can either let our fears, worries and doubts fester inside and build up into anger or physical violence against our neighbor, or we can use that energy in a positive way – in prayer and praise. We have nothing to fear, for death is the greatest enemy and our Lord Jesus has defeated even death. Though our world may crash around us, we will live because God has promised it will be so. God is good, even when we see nothing but evil in the world around us. Let us step forth into this day knowing that God’s love is far greater than anything we might face. Thanks be to God.
Guardian I mentor a little girl in third grade at one of the schools in Little Rock. Yesterday, after spending some time alone together, we joined her classmates for lunch. They all gathered around, seeking the kind of attention my friend gets every time I visit. The children asked me about my family and were surprised that I had been married to the same man for over 14 years. Most of these children come from broken homes, homes with missing or even abusive fathers. There are few that know what it is like to have a loving father, one who takes care of his family.
Today is the day we commemorate the life of Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though we hear little about him in the Gospels and nothing during Jesus’ adult life, there is enough information to know that he was a faithful guardian for our Lord Jesus. Taking Mary as his wife after she was found pregnant was a sacrifice. He was most likely ridiculed for his decision, losing any respect he may have had by taking a fallen woman as a wife. He cared for the spiritual development of the child by presenting Jesus at the temple according to the law. He gave up any established business contacts he might have had by running off to Egypt for a few years to protect this child. He journeyed to Jerusalem for festivals as any righteous Jew would do. From what we see, Joseph made a good father.
There is a Sicilian tradition that remembers Joseph in the midst of the season of Lent. They combined the disciplines of fasting, almsgiving and prayer by inviting the poor to a dinner called “St. Joseph’s Table.” The tradition began during the Middle Ages when there was severe drought in Italy. The prayers raised for rain were accompanied by promises to honor God and St. Joseph with a feast. The prayers were answered, rain fell and the famine was over. So, the people held a great feast in gratitude to God for His blessings in the town square and the poor were invited to come eat their fill of the food offered. Today, the feast is still celebrated as an act of thanksgiving for prayers answered.
“And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (ASV)
I began mentoring because I have been greatly blessed by a wonderful family, and I wanted to share that with a child who may not have it. As it turns out, I’ve adopted a whole class full of children to love. God blesses us for a reason, so that we might be a blessing to others. I don’t think it is a good idea to go around promising God that we will throw a feast if He will answer our prayers. It is like the person who promises God to donate a portion of a lottery if only He would make their ticket a winner. That’s not the way God works. He needs nothing from us, not even our promises. He answers prayers according to His good and perfect will. However, though “St. Joseph’s Table” began in such a way, God does honor those feasts thrown by those of a right heart, those who generously give of the harvest in thanksgiving to God.
God chose Joseph to be the earthly guardian of our Lord Jesus Christ. He does not bless us because we have asked or done something wonderful. He blesses us to be a blessing, gives so that we might give, and loves us so that we will love one another. Joseph responded to God’s love by caring for that little baby in every way. During this season of Lent, let us remember God’s love for us and let us share that love with others. Thanks be to God.
Mice There is a story about some mice that lived inside a piano. They were awestruck by the music they heard echoing in their dark world. They all believed in some unknown player, were comforted by the thought that someone made the music. They rejoiced over the Great Player they could not see. But one day one of the mice ventured to another part of the piano and found the strings. He came back thinking he knew how the music was made, for the music came from the strings as they trembled and vibrated. Everyone stopped believing in the Great Player. Later another mouse went exploring and found the hammers that made the strings vibrate and the simple explanation for the sound became more complicated but they still did not believe in the unknown player. Eventually the Great Player became nothing but a myth to the mice.
Isn’t that the way it is for many people in today’s world? We are like those mice, living in a world where we cannot see the One in control. But natural explanations to unexplainable things have made many people doubt in the existence of a Great Player. Science and Mathematics explain away the most extraordinary things, leaving behind nothing in which to have faith. For many in today’s world who are seeking something more, even spiritual understanding is being used to explain away the most miraculous things. To some, the stories in scripture should be seen in only a spiritual understanding – the virgin birth of Christ, the cross and even the resurrection. Yet, the wonder that is God can’t be explained away by our minds, hearts or even souls. He continues to play the music of our lives as we ponder what it all means.
Zack had difficulty going to sleep last night. It is tough for a ten year old to explain why he can’t sleep. He gave me a few reasons that made little sense, so I told him everything would be fine, that he needed to rest. He did. This morning I realized that his reasons were not what was really bothering him, so we talked about it. He’s afraid about the war, he’s afraid his daddy might have to go. I told him that it was unlikely, but it is his job and if he is called we will deal with it then. As he left, I asked him, “No matter what happens, what do we have to rely in?” He answered, “God.” I told him, “That’s right, and with God we have nothing to be afraid of.”
“With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; With the perfect man thou wilt show thyself perfect; With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; And with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward. For thou wilt save the afflicted people; But the haughty eyes thou wilt bring down. For thou wilt light my lamp: Jehovah my God will lighten my darkness.
I felt better letting Zack go to school today, because I could see in his answer that He knows that God is with him. Faith is the only thing that will get us through the next few days, weeks or months. We have to rely on God, knowing that He is faithful, blameless and pure. He is with us and everything we do we do only with His strength. Even when we cannot see the Great Player, He is playing the music of our lives. That’s what will get us through each day. We can’t allow the things of this world to cause us to lose our faith and we cannot allow our worries and fears to keep us up at night. We can only step forward trusting in God, knowing that He is with us through all our trials. Thanks be to God.
Cracked Pot There is a story circulating on the Internet about a servant who carried water daily from the well to his master’s house. He used two large pots that hung on a pole he carried across his neck. One of the pots was perfectly crafted, without a single crack or leak. The other pot had a small crack that allowed the water to run out. Each day the servant walked to the well, gathered the water and walked home. Each day the perfect pot did its task as it was designed to do and the other pot lost all its water along the path. After a time, the pot confessed to the servant of his shame for failing so miserably at its task. The perfect pot was quite proud of its accomplishment. The servant told the pot he was aware of its leak, had planted seeds along the path which were watered by the leaking pot. There are no flowers on the perfect pot’s side of the path. The servant told the pot, “Now I am able to take beautiful flowers to my master each day thanks to you. Your leak made them grow.”
The servant was wise in his use of the pot, bringing beauty into the world and his relationship with his master. In this world, the servant’s daily waste of water would have been seen as foolish. The wise thing would have been to throw away the pot and use another perfect one. Unfortunately, we are often too quick to discard the things in this world that are cracked and leaking, including people. When they do not meet our expectations, we set them aside as unimportant and even worthless. Yet, the wise man is the one who sees past the flaws and finds a better use for the cracked pots.
Our understanding of wisdom is much different than that of God. We consider wise those who are well educated, who are highly intelligent or who do things that make sense in this world. Yet, true wisdom is that which sees the world as God sees it, finding value in the things that seem worthless. The most incredible example of this is our faith in the cross of Christ. What could there be more foolish in this world than that? After all, how can death bring life and how can something so evil bring reconciliation. It does because it is God’s will to do so, and those who are wise see that God’s ways are much higher than our ways. The wise man is the one that embraces the wisdom of God, for it is there we find life.
“Now therefore, my sons, hearken unto me; For blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, And refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, And shall obtain favor of Jehovah. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: All they that hate me love death.” Proverbs 8:32-36 (ASV)
We are all cracked pots, not perfect vessels by which God carries the living water to others in this world. However, He knows our cracks and uses them to His glory. Along the path of our lives there are blooming flowers that He planted and when we listen to the wisdom of God and follow her ways, we water those seeds through which God brings new life to others. Wisdom is not something grand, it isn’t great intelligence or knowledge. Wisdom is being content with following God’s ways and living for His glory each day. It sometimes means doing things that seem foolish in this world, but in the end it turns out to be a beautiful gift. In that wisdom we find true life. Thanks be to God.
Hamper Today is the first Saturday in a long time that we have had nothing to do. We had no places to go, no meetings to attend, no basketball games to watch. We could sleep late into the morning and just relax. Oh, I cooked breakfast and have done a bit of laundry, but it is so nice to have a day when I don’t have to run out somewhere. I’m thinking about a nap and perhaps watching a movie later. The kids are playing and doing some fun things. I would certainly love to have more days like this, but we have responsibilities and commitments that do not allow for such leisure.
I was trying to separate the laundry today when Felix decided to help. Of course, when a cat decides to help, it usually means the task is more difficult. Felix jumped inside the hamper, began digging through the close and tried to settle into a restful position. He wanted a nap in the hamper. Unfortunately, it was necessary for me to get all the clothes out; the ones that needed to be washed were on the bottom. So, I kept pulling things from underneath. Each time he rearranged his position to make himself comfortable. After a few times, he got angry with me for disturbing him. He attacked, bit me harder than I ever remember him biting and he went after my face with him paws. Though he tends to play rough, this was very unusual for him. Finally he gave up and jumped out of the hamper. When I finished my work, I put a few clothes in the bottom and put him back in. He refused to stay.
As Christians, there is a great deal for us to do in this world today. There are still way too many who have not heard about the love of our Lord Jesus. It isn’t always convenient to talk about our faith. As a matter of fact, many people avoid witnessing about Jesus because they are uncomfortable or afraid of being rejected. It is so much easier to just say that we will pray for folk, to trust that God will take care of everything. Of course He will, for God is faithful to all His promises, and those for whom He wishes salvation will hear His word and believe. Yet, God’s Word is not always pleasant to those who first hear. It cuts to the heart and brings us to our knees.
“For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Hebrews 4:12-13 (ASV)
My need to do laundry meant that Felix could not sleep in the hamper. But my interruption of Felix’s desires made him angry to the point of unusual aggression. He attacked, hoping I would leave him alone. What he did not realize is that if he only allowed me to get what I needed, I would have made it possible for him to lay there as long as he wanted. Instead, he ran away. This is often how we are met when we share the Gospel of Christ with those who are still in darkness. God’s Word cuts to the heart, it brings out our sin and failures and humbles us before God. We don’t always understand what is going on around us, the reasons for the things that happen. But if we get through the trials we find great blessings on the other side.
Yes, God’s Word is living and active in this world. He calls us to be a part of it, to speak the Gospel to those who are perishing so that they might have eternal life. They may not like hearing what we have to say, but that is no reason to give up on our responsibilities and do nothing. It is much better for all that everything is laid bare in the here and now so that eternal life is an assurance not just a possibility. We can’t sit around all the time taking naps and watching movies. There is work to be done and our Lord Jesus has commission us – His believers – to do it today. Thanks be to God.
Inspection I recently received a very funny email asking why the inspection teams in Iraq are made up of men. After all, most men couldn’t find their head if it wasn’t connected to their neck. What we need to send in is a pack of mothers. Mothers can find everything – the homework that accidentally got thrown in the garbage, the shoe that fell behind the bed or the t-shirt that is missing (which is usually sitting right on top of the pile). Mothers know exactly where a teenager’s diary is kept and where contraband is hidden. Mothers know when the report cards are due or when there is a nasty note from the teacher in a book bag. Mothers know when kids have gone to where they shouldn’t go and when they have done something wrong. They know when one cookie is missing from the jar and even when she doesn’t know for sure the identity of the culprit, she is able to make everyone feel guilty enough to surrender. Mothers remember everything when everyone else forgets. What we need is a pack of mothers to find what has thus far slipped from the inspection team’s grasp.
This is a very humorous look at a very serious problem and though we continue to pray about the situation in Iraq, there comes a time when we have to look at things from another perspective. Take the story of Joseph for instance. This son of Jacob had a pretty rough life. His brothers despised him for his gifts and sent him into slavery in Egypt. While there, the Pharaoh’s wife had him arrested because he refused her advances. He helped another prisoner by interpreting his dream, and the man forgot to help Joseph get out of prison. When it was over, Joseph was the second in command over all Egypt and many people were spared from hunger and death due to famine. It was all part of the plan of God and Joseph understood this. Even though it took two years for the man to keep his promise it all worked out for the good of all those who love the Lord.
The story of Joseph in prison has always been a comfort for me. He was falsely arrested, but made the best of his imprisonment. When two of the other prisoners had dreams, Joseph explained with the help of God what they meant. For one, the answer was good news – he would be restored as Pharaoh’s servant. The other received bad news – Pharaoh would have the servant hung. After three days at a party for Pharaoh’s birthday the interpretations came true. The one who lived promised to help Joseph be released but in the excitement of it all he forgot. After two years, Pharaoh had a dream that none of the wise men could interpret. Then the man remembered Joseph.
“Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day: Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker: and we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.” Genesis 41:9-13 (ASV)
Pharaoh called Joseph to interpret his dream and Joseph did so. The dream was a warning about the coming famine and Joseph suggested how to prepare. Joseph was given the position to prepare and did the job well enough that people from many places were able to survive on the food that was stored. It took two years of imprisonment before this came to be. Joseph’s suffering worked for the good of the all the people and Joseph understood this to be God’s will.
This story is a comfort for me when it seems like nothing is going well. As in the situation in the gulf, I find comfort in the thought that no matter how bad it is I know God has a plan. He will make good come out of our foolishness. Though we can’t see any good in war or the arguments about it, we can rest in the knowledge that somehow God will bring peace. We should never accept things like war, imprisonment for the innocent or the forgetfulness of people as good things. But we can praise God when He brings goodness out of suffering, just like He did at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing worse than what was done to Jesus that day so long ago, yet through His death many have been saved into eternal life. I pray that we can soon look at the events of our day with a different perspective and see the good things that God has done in the midst of such pain. Thanks be to God.
Quiz Our pastor was going to be out of town for the evening and so he asked me to lead the confirmation class for our youth last night. He gave me specific instructions about what should be taught and then fed me to the lions. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but it sure was an interesting experience. Who knows if they heard anything that I said; I can only trust that seeds were planted that they will remember someday along their journey of faith. Actually, we had some good discussions in between the fooling around and I was glad to have been there with them.
They weren’t very happy when I began class with a pop quiz. They were assigned the task to learn the Ten Commandments and what they mean. The questions were relatively simple and designed to help us see how well they’ve been doing their homework. They actually did much better than expectation, though they still have work to do. The quizzes won’t carry any sort of grade; they will simply help pastor with future classes so that he knows how to focus the lessons. They’ll be quizzed again and perhaps this week’s quiz will motivate them to study the Word of God more deeply. One thing is for sure, that quiz is not going to make or break their future. No matter how much they don’t know right now, they will have at least a second chance to show their knowledge.
One of the most wonderful things about the Lord that we worship is that He is a God of second chances. Throughout the history of Israel, God blessed them to be a blessing but they always turned from Him to the things they desired. They did not remain faithful. Sometimes they groaned about their suffering, leaning on other nations to help them through their trials. Sometimes they forgot Him when they were prosperous and happy. When the nations entered into relationships with Israel, they quickly picked up the worship of other gods and they sought a worldly king so that they could be like everyone else. They didn’t even last a few weeks after God delivered them from Egypt.
Shortly after the miraculous escape from Egypt, the Israelites were camped beneath the mountain where God lived – Mt. Sinai. Moses, the deliver, had disappeared on the mountain for what seemed like a very long time. He was receiving the Word of God, the Law that would help Israel live in a right relationship with God. Even during that short period of time, the people turned away from God. They were in His presence and they made a calf of gold and danced in worship around it. When Moses returned with the stone tablets of God, he became angry at their unfaithfulness. Moses destroyed the calf and many of the Israelites died that day. Moses went back up the mountain and cried out to God. God answered with a punishment for their sin, but then sent the Israelites on their way into the land that He promised. He did not give up on His people despite their unfaithfulness. He gave them a new set of tablets and a promise.
“And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. And he said, If now I have found favor in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
It would be very easy to get upset with those teenagers who refuse to do the work they’ve been assigned. Yet, our God is the God of second chances. He is willing to forgive, forget and continue in the relationship He has with His people, even when they so blatantly deny His sovereignty over their lives. He is a jealous God, refusing to share His position in our lives with anything else. Yet, despite the generations of unfaithfulness, God still sent His Son into the world to bring complete forgiveness and reconciliation with His people. Though the Law of God will never save us from ourselves, it is even a burden we cannot carry, we look back to it as a sign of that which was to come, Jesus, through whom we have a right relationship with God.
God is still giving us second chances, chances to learn His Word as we are drawn into His presence in a very real way through our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. When we fail God forgives and gives us the strength we need to go on with our journey. He comes with us and does miraculous things through us so that the world will see His glory. Let us do away with all those gods that cause us to turn away from the One True and Living God, for only He has the power to bless our lives. Thanks be to God.
Caves The kids and I took a spring break adventure into the Ozarks yesterday. We visited Mystic Caverns and Crystal Dome, a site where two different caves have been developed for visitors. The first cave was much older, was even considered “dead” at some point in its history. Early in the twentieth century it was used as a ballroom and a place where moonshine was produced. One formation is called “the pipe organ” and was actually used by the guests to play music. These hollow tubes were tapped with sticks to create sounds. A dance floor was built in the lowest cavern. Musicians loved the acoustics of the room and people had a good time. Unfortunately, so much human interference with the growth of the cave meant a great deal of damage was done to the formations. Environmental conditions also affected the caverns. Water is necessary for formation growth and low water levels meant there was little in that particular cave. There has recently been a resurgence of growth so the cave is no longer considered dead.
One of the things our guide pointed out to our group was a formation with a fingerprint and other discolored markings. She explained that human oils and salts inhibit the growth of calcite formations. The calcite cannot adhere to those places so those spots were places where the formation would never grow again. The calcite has to flow around the spot, changing the course of the formation’s growth. This is why we were warned not to touch anything as we entered into the cave. Other evidence of human destruction was found were some formations were cut so that the pieces could be sold as souvenirs (which is now illegal). The pipe organ has chips and dings. The lower cavern where the dance floor had been built has a scar where the floor touched the walls. The room where the moonshine was produced is black with soot. Human intervention changed the look of the cave in many ways. It is still incredibly beautiful and the current managers are taking great care to keep it that way.
Human intervention is not always a negative thing. It is good that Mystic Caverns was developed so that we could visit yesterday. Without such places, most people would never see the wonder of the depths of the earth. Yet, we must be careful how we care for such precious gifts from God. All too often I see Christians who lay their hands upon those who are growing in Christ, leaving indelible marks and changing the development of their faith. Condemnation, false teaching or too much too fast can lead a new Christian down a path of destruction rather than faith. It is our responsibility to teach Christ and nothing else, or we will leave fingerprints like that one on the formation in the cave.
“I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ASV)
It is my prayer for each and every one of us that God will use each of us in whatever way He has planned and called us to serve Him in this world. We know that God is faithful and will be with us on our journey of faith, giving opportunities to be His witnesses by sharing His Word with those who are lost and hungering for His presence in their lives. I also pray that we will heed the words of Paul to his dear friend Timothy – that we will discharge all the duties of our own ministries in a way that will glorify God and draw many into a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. May God keep each of us from leaving indelible fingerprints on the lives of His children so that all might grow as God intends – in faith and hope and peace. Thanks be to God.
Crystal Dome The second cave we visited on Monday was called “Crystal Dome.” This cave is well below the other one, reaching another forty feet into the earth. It is not as old as Mystic Caverns and is still very active, with 90% of the cave alive and growing. It was not found until much later, the late 1960’s and is relatively untouched by human hands. It was discovered while the owners were making the pathways for the upper caverns – a bulldozer broke through the ceiling into a large cathedral like room. There are examples of brand new stalactites just being formed and the earliest evidence of ribbon formations growing from the cracks in the ceiling. In this cave you can see how the stalagmites grow much more quickly than the stalactites, as the water drops from the ceiling leaving only one ring of calcite from the top, but leaving the rest below. There is a flowstone that is so new and fragile that there is a footprint impression from when someone stepped on it.
This cave, so much lower than the other, is closer to the water source. The underground river could not be seen from the room we visited, but it was not far away. Tiny bats sleep in another room in the system and other small creatures live in the cave. The developers chose to use plain white light so that the visitors can fully see the simple beauty and the incredible colors of the formations. I enjoyed visiting both caves, to see the difference between the two, to compare an old worn cave – still very beautiful – to a new cave unharmed by human hands. Though they were so close, the second cave was not found until nearly 100 years later. Our knowledge of caves, our understanding of their fragility and growth patterns made this a precious find because the explorers took care to protect the cave for the benefit of those who would visit.
God knew from the beginning of time the things that would occur in and through His people, planning for our salvation even before we were born. Much of God’s plan remained a mystery to those who came before Christ – they knew the promise but how it would be fulfilled remained hidden until the right time. Christ came to reveal God’s grace and mercy to the world. The old – the Law as given to Moses – was much like that original cave. It is still quite beautiful, but over time it was used and abused by those to whom it was given. Then one day Christ broke through into this world to reveal something new, something hidden for so long. He gave this knowledge to the church so that we might reveal His love fully, pure and unadulterated by human hands.
“I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.” Ephesians 3:7-12 (ASV)
Unfortunately, even Crystal Dome has evidence of human presence – the footprint in the flowstone, the pathways and lighting. The room does not look like it did for the owner who first entered forty years ago. Yet, the owners have taken great care to protect the cave while they make it possible for visitors to see the beauty. God has given a similar responsibility to us, those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. He gave us the Gospel, first to the Apostles and through them the rest of the Church, so that His mercy would be revealed to the whole world. There is still value in the Old – the Law and the word of God given through the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets help us to see how we have failed to live up to God’s expectation. In the New we see how it was meant to be, revealed first in Jesus Christ and then through those who believe in Him. May we always care for the incredible gift we have been given, the Gospel of Christ, His love and mercy. Thanks be to God.
Riddles On the final page of the April 2003 issue of Reader’s Digest there is a list of ten riddles. Some of the answers, when known, seem ridiculously simple. And yet provides a challenge for even the most intelligent people. Perhaps the problem with these riddles is that they are too simple. Sometimes the answers that are right in front of you are the most difficult to find. Take, for example, the first question. “Where can anybody but you sit?” I felt foolish when I did not think of my own lap, but now that I know the answer I’m not likely to fall for it again. Some were more difficult such as “Why didn’t William Howard Taft run for a third term as President?” The answer is that he didn’t run for a second term. Perhaps if I were more knowledgeable about the Taft presidency, that answer would have come simply. “How can you throw a ball so it will reverse direction and return to you without the ball bouncing against or touching any solid object?” I wondered if a sharp twist to the wrist would put the right spin on the ball, but then I looked at the answer. I groaned. Throw it straight up in the air; the affects of gravity will bring it right back to you. The easiest, but perhaps hardest of all the questions was “If Betsy Ross were living today, what would she be most noted for?” I thought to myself, “How can we know, she may have accomplish a great many things.” The answer. “Her age.” Yes, that makes sense, for if she were still alive today she’d be hundreds of years old.
Though these questions are somewhat silly and perhaps I look the fool for not knowing the answers, there is something to be said about hindsight being twenty-twenty vision. Would you have gotten the answers if they had not been laid out in this story? Sometimes the simplest answers are the hardest to grasp. This is even more true about matters of faith than silly questions. Think about all the people who are wandering in the wilderness of this world for whom peace and joy are illusive. They seek the meaning of life, unable to find it. They seek fulfillment, most often looking toward relationships, work or hobbies to satisfy, but never quite finding the thing they long for most of all. There are so many who are hungry and thirst, not physically but spiritually, and they do not even know what they seek.
“They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; They found no city of habitation. Hungry and thirsty, Their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto Jehovah in their trouble, And he delivered them out of their distresses, He led them also by a straight way, That they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, And the hungry soul he filleth with good.” Psalm 107:4-9 (ASV)
The one question I did get right without a moments thought was “What common mechanical transports in New York City (120,000 of them) carry three times as many passengers daily as all the city’s subways, trains, buses, cars and taxis combined?” To me the answer was quite obvious in a city filled with skyscrapers where a number of the population gets around on foot – elevators. Though New York is a rather large city, the people do not necessarily go very far to get from one place to another. Yet, at their homes and destinations they often have to go up many floors. The logical answer is a conveyance that goes up and down rather than around the streets.
What are people’s greatest needs? We need food, shelter and security. Most of all we need love. Those of us who have heard the answer to the question of life know that it is found in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. God meets our greatest need with His unfailing love, providing everything we need to survive in this world if only we will trust in Him. For those who do not know Jesus, those who continue to wander in the desert wasteland that is life in this world, the answer is beyond reach. It is the easiest question to answer, because the truth is right in front of us – written in the creation and in the scriptures. Yet, many continue to hunger and thirst in their trouble because they do not cry out to the Lord for deliverance.
Is there someone with whom you can share these riddles today? It might be fun to see if they can figure out the answers on their own. Even more important would be to take the chance of sharing the Gospel with someone who is longing to be fed the Bread of Life, someone who thirsts for the Living Water. Jesus will grant them the peace and joy they long to grasp and have tried to hard to find in all the wrong places. Thanks be to God.
Image There is a story about a little boy who was drawing a picture in Sunday school. His teacher asked him what he was drawing. He told her, “A picture of God.” The teacher said “But no one knows what God looks like.” He answered, “They will when I am done.” For thousands of years men have tried to give the divine an image, physical attributes to help understand and identify the unknown. For many religions, the images that are presented in the form of sculpture or paintings become idols, things to be worshipped. Sometimes the idols are given human attributes. Parts of animals are often added to symbolize strength, power or whatever the god is known to control. Even Christians have sought to put a face on God throughout the history of the Church.
Even with the words in the scriptures, it is impossible to create an accurate picture of God. The artists who have tried choose one or a few attributes to portray. This is why many of the paintings of God are pictures of old men on a throne surrounded by clouds or father-like figures. The artists create an image with which their audience can identify, using facial features and body types similar to their own race and culture. The clothing worn, the setting of the painting and even the furniture and architecture fits their contemporary human experience. There are several sites on the Internet where you can find such pictures, to see how different people throughout history have imagined God.
There is one thing that we do know, even if we cannot truly imagine the face of God. We know that it is in Jesus Christ that we can see Him fully. Even still, we have no photographs or paintings of the man named Jesus, we can only guess what He looked like. The scriptures give little information, making it possible for every person to see Jesus as He is to them – a friend, brother or teacher. It would be impossible for an Asian woman to identify with a western Caucasian as a brother, but she can see Him as another Asian who understands her trials and temptations. Some images have become famous over the years such as the picture of Jesus with the children or the one of Jesus standing outside the door knocking. The typical images of Christ are those of Him as a shepherd, or of Him on the cross. At times He is portrayed as the conquering Savior or the Son in prayer. Each of the artists painted the aspects of Jesus with which they most identified, turning often to those images that bring comfort and peace rather than awe or fear. Yet, Jesus is far more than just a friend, brother or teacher. He is awesome, God in flesh.
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18 (ASV)
What do you think Jesus looks like? How would you react if you came face to face with Him today? If you were to paint your image of Him, what sort of picture would it be? Would He be the Good Shepherd, the dying servant, the conquering King? We are most comfortable thinking about Jesus as a loving friend, the One who walks with us daily on our journey of faith. We like to know that God is powerful and strong against our enemies, but we would rather not see that image in our own lives. The suffering Servant is a thing of the past and the conquering King can wait until we are done with this life. We just want Jesus, that friend, brother and teacher. We have no fear of that image of Jesus.
The Apostle John knew Jesus, knew Him as a friend, brother and teacher. He was present at the crucifixion and the ascension. He knew Jesus intimately, had first hand knowledge of His image, and yet was still in awe when He came face to face with Christ. Jesus, even in such power and glory, was still that loving friend. No matter what Jesus looks like to us, we should always remember that when we come into His presence we will be awestruck, but Jesus will reach out to us and speak those words of comfort and peace. He is the Living One, full of power and mercy, glory and love. Thanks be to God.
Medicine There is a television commercial advertising some kind of medicine. The man compares different brands and wonders aloud, “What do they mean by fast?” He had no idea if fast was a few minutes or a few hours. With some medicine, the effect may not happen for as long as a day. When a person is in pain, they would rather not wait so long to feel relief. The medicine the man chooses is the one that will only take fifteen minutes. “Now that is fast!” Perhaps someone might see it differently. For them, an hour might be fast enough. And the word ‘fast’ might refer to many different lengths of time depending on to what it is referring. Word can do that depending on our perspective. It can mean different things to different people.
Jesus and the teachers in the synagogue saw many things differently. They had a different understanding of God, the Law, and the Temple. They had taken everything God had given to them and made it a burden on the people. They built walls between the Lord and His people, harming the relationship they head with one another. They added hundreds of rules to the Law, requiring every man to keep them perfectly or they would be unclean. They made the Temple a marketplace, closing the doors of the sanctuary to any but those who they considered right. The no longer looked toward God for righteousness, but rather at themselves. They took His gifts and made them weapons against those whom God loved.
One of those gifts was the Sabbath. They had over analyzed the whole idea of what it meant to do work on the Sabbath, making it impossible for anyone to do anything. What God intended for that day was a moment of rest in His Word, a focus only on Him for just a moment in our busy lives. They were to forget about the cares of the world, to set aside the farming, fishing, sewing, cooking and every other task, so that they could fellowship with God and each other hearing His Word and enjoying His presence through prayer and worship. Unfortunately, the teachers of the Law sat around making a list of the things they could do and things they could not do on the Sabbath. If anyone was caught doing those works, they were seen as sinners and rejected for their unrighteous behavior. Jesus did a great many things the teachers considered unlawful on the Sabbath. Yet, what Jesus was showing them was that they had abused and misused God’s gift.
“And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath day. And behold, a woman that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years; and she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up. And when Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands upon her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, answered and said to the multitude, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the sabbath. But the Lord answered him, and said, Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath? And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame: and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.” Luke 13:10-17 (ASV)
Jesus saw no reason to wait even another day for the woman to be healed from her disease. He showed that the synagogue rulers did not have compassion on the people. They were hypocrites because of the way they condemned people for things that were not against God’s Law. They had made even the gift of the Sabbath to be a horrible burden on the people. But Jesus had mercy on the woman and realized that even after so many years in pain she should not have to wait even another minute to know peace. What did He do? He simply spoke to her the Word of God, told her that she is set free. His concern for those who were ill was always for their spiritual welfare. He wanted them set free from the things that kept them from a right relationship with God. He did this by sharing the Kingdom of God with those who would hear. He touched them in their hearts, minds and flesh. He was not working; He was in fellowship with His Father and His creation, restoring the relationship that had been lost because the people did not understand the truth of who God was and what He intended for the people. Jesus showed us a much better way. Thanks be to God.
Elvis I saw Elvis the other day. He was in a gas station here in Arkansas. He was wearing black denim pants with a blue country style shirt, a big belt and boots. He was overweight with a head full of black hair, including bushy sideburns. He looked pretty normal but very different, almost like he did not belong in that place at that time. I’ve heard it said that Elvis is spotted all over the country, usually in places like McDonald’s, Minit Markets or Wal-Mart. After my own sighting this week, I can certainly understand why. Elvis had a very distinctive look, one that stands out of the crowd. And yet his features are not that unusual. Elvis impersonators are a dime a dozen and there are some who really look the part.
Elvis died over twenty-five years ago. We remember him as he was a long time ago – whether it is the show Elvis with the glitzy costumes, or the older Elvis with the affects of age. But if he were still alive, he would be twenty-five years older it is likely that he would have a completely different appearance. He might be bald or have a head of gray hair. He would probably move more slowly. Even the healthiest people see the signs of aging over the years. Yet, over the years there are have many reports of Elvis sightings around the United States.
I know I did not see Elvis the other day; it was just a man who happened to look like him. Now, I have other experiences when I have seen people who might have been someone famous. I suppose we have all had such experiences – a glimpse of a politician in a crowd or a movie star at the theater. Even the rich and famous have to take care of their daily needs of food, shelter and transportation. Granted, they usually have people to take care of those needs, but sometimes they are spotted out in public. The trick is knowing for sure if you have seen the real thing, or just someone who happens to look like them.
The same can be said about the things of faith. Jesus warned us that the day would come when false prophets would come and do things that seem to be real. He warned that the devil would perform signs and wonders to fool the people. There are those who will even come and claim to be the savior.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of travail.” Matthew 24:4-8 (ASV)
It is easy, when looking at the news each day, to wonder if we have reached that time in history that we can call ‘the last days.’ We have reached that time, and have been in them for nearly two thousand years. Since the inception of the Church, there are those who have come to claim to be sent by God. False prophets, counterfeit messiahs with bogus signs and wonders will always be with us. Many will try to convince those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ that they have a better answer, a more complete understanding of the Truth of God. Oh, they will say they come in Jesus’ name, even quote His words and show their power to be like His. But they will not be real, just a copy of the true. We have to discern the good from the evil, the right from the wrong, the true from the false. This is a daily task, particularly in our world today where we are immersed in too much information.
Are we closer to the end of all things? Yes, we are closer today than we ever have been. However, I don’t know if it will come tomorrow or in two thousand years. The date is unimportant. We need only remember to keep our eyes on Jesus, to trust in His promises as we walk in this world. For whether His return is immediate or in the far distant future, we can know that He will be faithful. Watch out that you are not deceived. To whom are you listening? Does their word line up to what Jesus has already told us? Remember, the devil himself can do great and extraordinary things – signs and wonders are not necessarily a sign of the true Christ. We know it is from God when it points the Jesus who is the Messiah, our Savior. There is no other and there never will be, for He is the only one who could possibly bring the blessings of Grace to the world. Thanks be to God.
Redwoods Every town in America has some old tree that has stood on the spot for centuries. These trees are usually very large and are often found in the history and legends of the towns in which they are rooted. You can’t help but be impressed with these individual trees, their size and age are often to consider. Yet, there are none that are as impressive as the Redwood Groves in Northern California. We visited these awesome trees a number of years ago, amazed at how overwhelming they really are. No matter how many pictures or videos you see about these trees, you never really grasp how big they are until you stand in their midst. How fun it would be if there were even just one of those trees in every town so that every person can really see what it is like to stand beneath a tree that is thousands of years old, hundreds of feet high and larger in diameter that some houses.
Yet, that would be an impossible task. Redwood trees must live in groves with other redwood trees. They would never survive by themselves. You would expect these large trees to have strong roots that reach deep into the ground for stability. However, the root systems are very shallow, used by the tree for water and nourishment not a solid foundation. When we visited the groves, we saw a tree that had fallen fairly recently during a storm. The roots were not much wider than the diameter of the trunk, and they weren’t more than a few feet deep.
Redwood trees live in groves because they count on the other trees to help them stand. Their root systems intertwine, giving the group a greater strength than any individual tree. The tree that had fallen was just far enough from other trees, that its roots were independent from the others. When the storm came, the tree could not stand against the wind because it was standing alone.
There seem to be many Christians who have become disillusioned with the Church these days. They figure it would be better to go it alone, to worship God in private and study the Bible on their own. Whether it is out of fear, anger, bitterness, pain or arrogance, they give up the fellowship because those other [so-called] Christians seem to be hypocrites, unspiritual or just deceived. Yet, when they do this, they stand separate, alone in the world. When the storm comes, they have nothing to help hold them up, no unity with others who can give them the strength they need to stand. Their private study leads them astray, they do not receive the edification that comes from being in the presence of other Christians, even those who are not as knowledgeable or mature in faith. When the storm comes, they are too far from that which gives true strength in Christ – the Church that is strongest when we are one with each other in Christ Jesus. It is in this unity that we can be built up to share the Gospel with the world.
“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.” John 17:20-23 (ASV)
For that tree in the Redwood grove, it was not enough that it was in the same area as other trees. It needed to touch the roots of others, to be close enough for the additional foundation their root systems give the group. Jesus prayed that we would be one, part of a community of believers working together for the glory of God. Together we have all the gifts God has to give, which we are called to use to increase the Kingdom of God in this world. Together we can offer comfort, support and strength to one another so that when the storms of life do come we can stand together just as the Redwoods of California. Though the world can see Christ in an individual believer, it is in our unity that they see that Jesus truly is who He said he is, the Lord sent by God to redeem the world and give eternal life to all those who believe. Thanks be to God.