Welcome to the March 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2004
March 1, 2004
Penguins During a trip to Sea World on Saturday we visited the penguin exhibit. We arrived for feeding time and the talk given by one of the caretakers. She gave us basic information about the penguins that lived in the exhibit and described how they take care of these adorable creatures. Since it was the first day of the new season, they were having difficulties with the equipment, but the hosts answered questions as they were able and we enjoyed watching the penguins eat, swim and play.
The exhibit has rocky cliffs along the walls and a pool in the front. In the middle is a flat area, which is kept covered with snow to protect the feet of the penguins. The atmosphere is kept consistent with the weather in those regions where the penguins would live if they were in the wild. So, as we are entering into springtime, the southern hemisphere is beginning fall. The lights in the exhibit will act as the sun, so that when it is mid-summer here in Texas, it will appear to be mid-winter in the exhibit. The temperature is kept cool as would be expected for those animals that live in cold weather places.
Penguins are amazing creatures. On land they are somewhat clumsy, wobbling from one place to another. They do not move very much, while we stood watching, most of the penguins just stood still on the rocks or snow. Some of them were settled on the ledges of the cliffs, facing the wall as if they had been sent to the corner for time-out. They were probably just resting, but it looked silly for so many penguins to be looking at the rock face. Though they are awkward on land, they are quite graceful in the water. They are able to swim and float with an elegance that seems impossible when you see them wobbling around on land. They can speed through the water to catch fish and play with each other. It is like a whole different world because they are unencumbered by the weight and the disproportionate design of their bodies.
“But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. 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. For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (ASV)
The water for penguins is like the grace of God in our lives. On the land, penguins are awkward, slow and clumsy. They face greater danger from predators because they can’t get away as quickly. It is hard for them to find food. They get bubble feet from walking on the rough stones. Yet, in the water they are swift, and adept at doing what is necessary to survive. In the world, we are clumsy and unable to accomplish anything of any real value. We are unrighteous sinners when we try to go it on our own. But when we live in the grace of God, He holds us up, provides all we need to live and love. Thanks be to God.
Many days I wonder if writing this daily devotional is really worth the time and the trouble. When I have a full schedule or an emergency arises, I think that perhaps it might be time to move on to something new. Yet, over the years God has always been faithful to touch my heart and my life in a way that encourages me to go on, and helps me to remember that He is here in these words each day, touching others with His love and mercy. Once in awhile a WORD gets written that I truly love, it makes me smile or touches my heart in a way that makes me want to share it over and over again. This Word was first run on March 2, 2000 and continues to be one of my favourites. Since today would have been Dr. Seuss’s 100th birthday, I hope you don't mind a rerun, again.
Dr. Seuss “Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?” “I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham.”
Theodore Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, wrote these infamous words. Dr. Seuss was born on March 2, 1904. Today we are celebrating the utter foolishness written by this man. This literature that seems to have no reason within has made an incredible contribution to the education of our children.
Children love to sit and read Dr. Seuss books because they have fun pictures, interesting characters and exciting stories. The catchy rhythms catch the attention of the children and draw them into the stories. The repetition helps them to learn to read the simple words and patterns used. The stories, though they seem silly, are filled with life lessons that help the children learn and grow. In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-am convinces his friend to try something new. After fifty pages of certain disgust at the thought of eating green eggs and ham, the gentleman discovers that he likes them.
That which seems like foolishness is filled with wisdom.
“Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (ASV)
In today’s world, so much of the Christian message is viewed as foolishness. We are called to submit to God, and yet the world claims there is no God. We are called to love our neighbor, and yet the world says that we should love our selves. The Gospel tells us that God in flesh died so that we might have life. What foolishness! Yet, God is wiser and more powerful than anything we can imagine, and we know that He loved His children so much that He did everything necessary to reconcile us to Him. I’ll take Dr. Seuss above a grammar book and God’s foolishness above my wisdom, any day! Thanks be to God.
Diana Princess Diana seemed to be living a fairy tale. She met and married the prince, lived in a palace and had everything she could possibly desire. She gave birth to two handsome boys, traveled the world and enjoyed the love and attention of the world. Her activities included visits to many charitable organizations, touching the hearts and souls of the people she met. She loved with grace and gave of herself fully. Yet, even with all that she had, there was always a sadness behind the smile on her face.
Diana is back in the news as some audiotapes of interviews have been released. The author of her biography did not have permission from the royal family to talk to Diana, so the tapes were made in secret through a trusted intercessor. On these tapes, Diana reveals her deepest thoughts, the pain and suffering she was enduring. We hear her talk of her suicide attempts, her fears and her anger. Even her fairy tale wedding was nothing more than a joke to her, because even then she knew her life would be impossible.
The reality of her life was probably somewhere between the life we saw on television and the life she shared with the reporter. She spoke about those times with pain and bitterness. It is not that she was being untruthful, but our perspective often changes when we see things through hindsight. Our joys are colored by the pain we suffer. She even claims to have known before the wedding that she would not become queen. Self-fulfilling prophecy? We do not know, but these new tapes show us the heart of a woman hurt, who saw no way out except through death. I doubt she felt that way in the beginning. She loved Charles, but her life never became what she’d hoped and dreamed.
It is odd to be able to see so deeply into the heart of another person. We all wear masks, to cover pain or fear. We put a smile on our faces when we are lonely or sad. We laugh when we would rather cry. Yet, we are so much healthier in body, mind and spirit when we can share our hearts with another. If Diana had sought help, she might have found joy and peace. She was afraid to do so because she was oppressed by the world in which she lived. We do the same, but there is truly a place we can go to for peace.
“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. Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” Hebrews 4:12-16 (ASV)
Diana did have those to whom she could turn, friends and confidents who might have been able to make a difference in her life. Yet, she kept much of her pain hidden and did nothing to seek help until it was too late. Hearing her voice after all these years since her death has been chilling. I wonder what a difference it might have made if we could have seen her heart way back then.
It is too late for Diana, but we do have someone who can see the very depths of our hearts – our Lord Jesus Christ. Through His Word, He can touch our lives and change our pain into joy and our mourning into dancing. He knows what it is like to suffer hurt, to be lonely and afraid. He has been there, but He has overcome for our sake. Now, He sees our hearts and offers His grace that we might be healed. Thanks be to God.
Sacrifice On the Diana tapes, the princess talked about the difference between her life in the public spotlight and all that was going on inside herself. She said everyone expected this fairy tale princess when she was out, looking to her for her touch as if she could make everything good again in their lives. What they did not know was that inside she was in turmoil, sacrificing inwardly because she never felt good enough. This was the root cause of so many of her problems. Her eating disorder, her depression – they were caused by this inner need to be perfect, to live up to the expectations of her family and her public. It was literally killing her.
She is not the only person to deal with such turmoil. Many people suffer from physical, mental and spiritual dis-ease because they are trying too hard to live up to an impossible expectation. They want to be good, beautiful, wealthy – perfect in every way. Yet, perfection is not going to happen in this world. We are faced with so many obstacles. No one in the flesh is good enough and we never will be. The hardest thing to face is our own sinfulness, but it is this very admission that brings us freedom.
See, when we realize that we are not and will not ever be good enough, then we turn to the one and only one who is – our Lord Jesus Christ. We sacrifice ourselves in many ways as we live this life, trying to prove to ourselves and the world that we can do it. Yet, it is when we accept that we can’t do it ourselves that we discover the mercy and grace of God has already done it for us.
“And behold, one came to him and said, Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good: but if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? And Jesus said, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I observed: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions.
We all need a Savior. We all need Jesus. But we will never look to Him unless we accept that we are never good enough. The rich young man thought that his obedience to the Law of Moses was good enough, but Jesus told him that it would take more. He would have to put God above all else, something that is impossible for us weak and sinful human beings. But Jesus gives us hope. He reminds the disciples that though it may seem impossible, God can make anything possible. Through Christ we can be free of our burdens, we can be healed of our dis-ease, we can be saved from sin and death so that we will spend eternity with our Father in heaven. Thanks be to God.
Idiot Now, this is not the kindest description one can give about a person, yet it is a fact of life that there are some people who are just idiotic. They do not have any common sense or use their brains even a little. I heard the story recently of a man who decided to rob a home. He had managed to get a great many valuable items out of the house. As he was leaving, he noticed an expensive bottle of wine open on the counter and decided to drink it. How he did not notice the horrible taste is beyond me, but he got terribly ill and had to call 911. Turns out that the family used the bottle to store their vinegar.
Several Boeing employees decided to steal a life raft from a 747 airplane. They succeeded, until they took the raft on to the river. Shortly after beginning their ride, a rescue helicopter approached them. He was responding to the distress signal that was set off when they inflated the raft. Another would be robber entered a liquor store and asked for all the cash in the drawer. He then decided to demand a bottle of scotch. The attendant refused, telling him that he did not look old enough for alcohol. The robber insisted he was, pulled out his driver’s license. The cashier looked it over and agreed the man was old enough. As soon as the criminal left, the cashier called the police and reported the robbery, giving the man’s name and address to the police.
There was a guy who decided to rob a liquor store, so he took a cinder block and tried to throw it through the window. Unfortunately, the pane was not glass but Plexiglas so it bounced right back and hit the guy on the head, knocking him out. The entire scene was caught on videotape. Now, while most of us aren’t trying to steal, rob or cheat people, we all manage to do stupid things. America’s Funniest Videos would have nothing to show if we didn’t. We have moments of foolishness, perhaps bad enough to end up on the Idiot of the Year list. Yet, there is one bit of foolishness that is greater than these funny stories, but there is not humor to it at all.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; There is none that doeth good. Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, That did seek after God. They are all gone aside; They are together become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
The criminals in these stories got caught due to their foolishness and the consequences were unemployment, illness or prison. Yet, the foolishness of rejecting God has far more permanent consequences. They may appear to be good people, having a wonderful life with love and joy and peace. Yet, the good things they do are no better than the foolish things we do because they have claimed there is no God. Those in Christ may get caught on tape doing a stupid thing, but God is our refuge and our strength. Thanks be to God.
River We finally found a problem with our new house. The sod in our yard has not yet taken hold, only laid a couple weeks ago. We have one section that still needs to be sodded. Since there are no established roots and the top soil has not completely settled, there are pockets between the sod and dirt where we need to stamp down the squares of grass. Unfortunately, we recently had rain, so these areas are marshy and muddy.
To add to the difficulty, the rain we had recently was a drenching rain, causing flash floods on the roadways. It was amazing to see water running through the drainage ditch and in the dry creek beds all over our area. The water quickly ran away, but for a brief time there were small rivers where there is normally nothing. Including our back yard. The river ran from our neighbor’s house, under the fence, across the corner of our yard and under another fence into the drainage ditch. It washed away some of our topsoil and sod. I don’t know if there is anything we can do, except perhaps divert the water before it gets into our yard. Meanwhile, we will have riverfront property whenever we have a torrential downpour.
These flash floods can be extremely dangerous. Even the water running through our yard was several inches deep and strong enough to knock someone off his or her feet. The river on our street was nearly a foot deep in one spot. I can understand why they have flood level posts near the dry creek beds. A car can be washed away by water only 18 inches deep. I would not want to drive through anything even a few inches deep and I have talked to the children about the dangers of running water.
There is another kind of running water that is a danger, though not to our physical bodies. It is a danger to the status quo. It is a danger to our sinful selves because it is the living water of Christ that brings forgiveness and faith.
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified. Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, This is of a truth the prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, What, doth the Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said that the Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there arose a division in the multitude because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.” John 7:37-44 (ASV)
We are going to have running water on our street and in our yard when we get a torrential downpour. The water on the street will wash away, leaving only a trace of mud behind. Eventually the river running through our yard will cause damage to the grass and will wash even more of our dirt and sod away into the drainage ditch. We will have to consider what action to take; at the very least we will not use that area of the yard for special landscaping that could be easily damaged by the running water.
The living water of Jesus Christ will flow according to His good and perfect will. It flows from the lives of those who believe, changing lives by bringing faith and forgiveness to those who need His mercy and grace. It may seem to be troublesome at first, something to be avoided because it will mean giving up ourselves to become transformed into a child of God. The Holy Spirit washes away our sin and then flows out of our lives through the gifts of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. Thanks be to God.
Peace Life for the disciples was not very peaceful. After the death of Jesus Christ, they suffered persecution. They were beaten, outcast imprisoned and killed – not only by enemies but also by those whom they called friends and family. The story of Paul sees both sides of the story. At first, when he was called Saul, he pursued Christians and was even present at the stoning of Stephen. He was zealous for the faith of his fathers, not wanting anything to disrupt the religious life of the Jewish people, a life they felt called to by God. The obedience to the Law, the regulations that burdened the people – these were God given and would lead to righteousness. He did not understand grace and was living a life that rejected God’s truth and mercy.
Then Jesus Christ appeared before him. “Why are you persecuting me, Saul?” Though he was temporarily blinded by the experience, he began to see more clearly than he had ever seen before. He saw God in a whole new light and he was transformed for eternity. This transformation did not mean that he would live at peace with the world. As a matter of fact, his new zealousness for Christ Jesus put him in opposition to everything he knew before – the people, the rules and even the lifestyle. He traveled extensively preaching the Gospel, but all along the way he faced enemies who refused to believe in the message. He gave up friendships and risked his life for the sake of salvation, in the hopes that the world would see God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
As we read the stories of Paul’s missionary journeys, we can see it was not a life of peace as we know it. He had enemies, enemies that caused pain and suffering not only in body but also in mind and spirit. He worried about all those whom he loved, he cried with those who were martyred for their faith. He longed to be with those he loved and he was troubled when things were not well with them. It often seems as though there is no peace for those who follow the Lord.
“And when he drew nigh, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 (ASV)
There is a different kind of peace that we gain when we life in faith. It is not a peace that means we will never suffer persecution, pain or suffering. It is a peace that makes it possible to live faithfully in the midst of troubled circumstances. Paul understood this peace. Thanks to God’s grace, he was able to continue to travel, to teach, to love and encourage the Christians even while he was bound in chains. He could forgive while he was being beaten. He could sing praise to God even when the world seemed out of control. Jesus predicted a day would come when Jerusalem would realize the peace they sought would not be found in this world. They would spend many years trying to ease the tension between the world and their faith, but would eventually fall under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. By then they would have missed the true peace that comes from knowing God as He is, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus never promised that we would live without pain or persecution. He promised us peace in the midst of it. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but it is possible our enemies will oppress us one day. We need only live in faith that God is with us and He is our refuge and our strength. Thanks be to God.
Deception Our newest phone service is great. We can call anywhere in the US at anytime and it is as if we are calling the house next door. This way we can keep in touch with our family and friends back home and all over the country without it costing us a fortune. The disadvantage of these plans is that they are available for anybody, including telemarketers. In England, where we paid for our phone calls by the minute, we were rarely interrupted with calls from people selling siding or magazine subscriptions. It was not a cost effective way to do business.
Now a telemarketer can call us from anywhere in the United States for relatively small overhead and sell me whatever it is they are trying to sell. A charitable organization in New York can use a service from another city where the cost of business is less expensive. The organization gets a higher percentage of the intake and the service makes a good profit on their work. The difficultly with this is that those telemarketers are not really familiar with the people they are serving with their calls. To them it is a job. They act as though they are selling a product they have used for years, but they do not have answers to the simplest questions.
The few times I have purchased these products I have been disappointed. A cable subscription never worked out and caused me months of fighting on my cable bill. A set of books was nothing like they were described over the telephone. On one occasion, we made an appointment with one company when we had already dealt with another company, thinking they were the same thing. Though I can’t say the telemarketers have lied, a certain amount of deceptiveness seems to be part of the way they do business.
“And they watched him, and sent forth spies, who feigned themselves to be righteous, that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Teacher, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, and acceptest not the person of any, but of a truth teachest the way of God: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription hath it? And they said, Caesar's. And he said unto them, Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. And they were not able to take hold of the saying before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.” Luke 20:20-26 (ASV)
The Jewish authorities were not happy with the things Jesus was teaching to the people. They knew He was talking about them and they wanted to catch him in some mistake for which they could have Him arrested and turned over to the Roman authorities. They were not willing to do anything to Him themselves, for they were afraid that the people would rebel. So they pretended to be sincere. This version says they feigned to be righteous. Another version says they pretended to be honest. They set out to deceive Jesus, to get out of Him what they wanted. It was the only way to catch Him, they thought. In the end, Jesus quieted their questions by being both truthful and God-centered.
God doesn’t ask us for our coins, He demands our hearts. He looks for a righteousness we cannot pretend, for a faithfulness that will never be feigned because it is a gift from Him. Too many telemarketers have lost business they might have gotten from me because they have been deceitful in our conversations. If only they had been honest, I might have considered their product. Jesus had something wonderful to give, but the Jewish authorities were more concerned with themselves to hear what He was teaching. In the end they were silenced by the truth as is all deceit. Thanks be to God.
Wildfire A wildfire tore through the landscape of Arizona in June 2002. It destroyed a half million acres of land and nearly five hundred homes. Thousands of firefighters worked to stop the blaze including a man named Leonard Gregg. Gregg had long desired to be a firefighter, watching them work since the days of his youth. For some, he was perhaps a bit good interested in fire, but his interest eventually led to his work as a contract firefighter. It also lead to his fall.
In June 2002, Gregg wanted to work. As a contract firefighter, the only time there would be a paying job was when there was something bigger than the fulltime fighters could handle. So, Gregg decided to take matters into his own hands. He was charged with arson soon after the wildfires began and was recently convicted of the crime. He has been sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine that will be impossible for him to pay. His desire for money has led to a most incredible debt. He tried to take power over his life but actually lost control.
“And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. For the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment. Consider the ravens, that they sow not, neither reap; which have no store-chamber nor barn; and God feedeth them: of how much more value are ye than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit unto the measure of his life? If then ye are not able to do even that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass in the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven; how much more shall he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: but your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. Yet seek ye his kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:22-34 (ASV)
There are not many people who are willing to set a fire to get a job, yet we are not much different than Leonard Gregg. We take things into our own hands every day, not sure that God is really taking care of us through our troubled times. Whether it is pursing money, friendships, health or happiness, when it becomes a more important part of our life than God, then we have made it our own god in this world. We all worry about something, but it never helps. So, to solve the problem we end up taking action that is not always in our best interest. When we try to take power of our own lives, we actually lose control and we show our Father in heaven that we do not trust Him to take care of our needs. Today, seek the face of God in the midst of your troubles and ask Him for help. You will find that there was never really anything about which to worry because God knows how to give good and perfect gifts to His children, exactly what we need. Thanks be to God.
Pony On an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry and the crew were having dinner with an ancient relative of Jerry’s. They were all sitting at the table eating and talking about everything. Somehow the conversation turned to ponies and Elaine commented about how she always wanted a pony. At this point, for reasons unknown – perhaps he wanted to make Elaine feel better for never having a pony – Jerry blurted out “I hate people who had ponies.”
As it turned out, the old woman – an immigrant – had a pony when she was a child. She became quite upset about Jerry’s comment and eventually died from it. Jerry apologized and said he didn’t mean it. Then he tried to justify the comment by saying he didn’t know she had a pony and he questioned why anyone who had a pony would leave a country where kids have ponies to go to a non-pony country. He said something that was misunderstood and caused pain for a great many people.
We have all experienced this type of miscommunication at some point or another. We use a word that another person defines a different way and they think we are saying something different than we mean. Our experience colors our understanding, so if someone negatively speaks about something we loved, we take it personally. When we have a desire or need for something that someone calls silly, we react out of the pain and try to hurt the one who hurt us. The conversation becomes a “he said, she said” battle that leads to nowhere and misses the original point of the discussion.
“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his apparel, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul's servants.
In this story, Jonathon – the heir to the throne – loved David as a brother, willingly giving up his own inheritance for the man he knew would be king. He gave his own cloak and sword as a sign of his loyalty. Saul, on the other hand, became jealous of David. He saw his position at risk, though David had no intent on stealing the throne. As a matter of fact, throughout their relationship David had several opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to touch God’s chosen. God would give David the throne in His own time and way. In the end, Saul committed suicide. He pursued David for years, threatening his life over and over again, but he died on the battlefield with his own sword.
Things could have been different. His jealousy seemed to begin on the day described in our story. The women of Israel sang a song of joy, using typical poetic language of the day. If they had said, “David hath slain his thousands, And Saul his ten thousands,” the whole relationship may have been different. But Saul was insecure and anxious, so he misunderstood their song. He took it as a personal affront and thought the women were crediting David with a greater accomplishment on the battlefield.
Our words mean something and we should watch what we say lest we will hurt another, even if they misunderstand our meaning. We should also be careful not to jump to conclusions about what others say to us. We waste too much energy and break too many relationships because we do not hear what people are saying, we hear what we think they are saying. Today, may God help us to listen – not just to the words that are spoken but also to the meaning – so that we will be encouraged by one another rather than destroyed. Thanks be to God.
Big Macs We are obese, or at least a great portion of the U.S. population is overweight. We are incredibly blessed and we take advantage of the good things that are available, even to the point of abusing the blessings. When we go to a restaurant with a buffet, we eat until we can barely move, not wanting to miss out on something we would enjoy. After all, if we are going to pay for “all-you-can-eat” we should get our money’s worth.
There are those who have decided that it is McDonald’s fault that we are obese. They sell high calorie food and they make it incredibly cheap to get huge quantities of the food. For only 39˘ you can super size your order and get so much more for your money. It is almost foolish to not to spend the extra. The same is true of happy hour at the local bar. Why not take advantage of the half price drinks even if it means we might get drunk?
It is unfortunate when the overeating or overdrinking causes suffering. All too often, obesity brings on much greater health problems and even death. Drunk drivers kill too many innocent people each year. Overindulgence can bring pain to the individual, but it also affects others. Family members are left without a loved one who has suffered a heart attack. The strangest part of this phenomenon is that there is a tendency to pass the blame. McDonald’s is being blamed for the obesity in America. Bars are often sued for serving alcohol to a person who causes an accident. When we leave a buffet style dinner, we blame the cooks for our discomfort because they offered too much good food to eat. But in all this, where is the self-control?
“But speak thou the things which befit the sound doctrine: that aged men be temperate, grave, sober-minded, sound in faith, in love, in patience: that aged women likewise be reverent in demeanor, not slanderers nor enslaved to much wine, teachers of that which is good; that they may train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sober-minded, chaste, workers at home, kind, being in subjection to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed: the younger men likewise exhort to be sober-minded: in all things showing thyself an ensample of good works; in thy doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of us. Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters, and to be well-pleasing to them in all things; not gainsaying; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
We certainly have a great many opportunities in our world today to overindulge. We are tempted by the good things available to eat, drink and enjoy. However, just because it is there in front of us does not mean that we need to take too much. We can stop when we have eaten enough. We can enjoy happy hour without getting drunk. We can have self-control and limit the amount of food we eat and beverages we drink. When we do overindulge, we should not place the blame on another for causing the pain and suffering of our own lack of self-control. Passing the blame takes no responsibility and offers no repentance for our own sin. But when we accept our own failure we know that the Lord has offered forgiveness and will grant us the strength to overcome. Then in faith we live a life of self-control and teach others to do the same. Thanks be to God.
Holly Holly is usually considered a Christmas plant, used as wreaths to decorate doors or drawn on everything from cards to placemats to t-shirts. Perhaps it is because holly has red berries on the branches around Christmastime, or because it is an evergreen, giving hope for new life to come in the midst of the cold dark winter. Yet, there is a legend involving holly that makes it as important for the Easter season. It is said that a long time ago the berries on the holly bush were white. At the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the soldiers made a crown of thorns to place on His head. It was meant to humiliate Him, to give Him a crown since He was ‘the king of the Jews,’ but since it was made of thorns it pricked His head and made Him bleed. The legend says that from that day the white berries of the holly turned red from the blood of Christ.
What an incredible image that must have been – to see the King of all creation wearing raggedy crown of thorns. He deserved nothing less than the finest crown of gold and jewels, but He got a crown that pierced His skin and made the blood streak down His face. What is most amazing is that He took upon Himself that crown so that we might become children of God and heirs to His kingdom. In Christ we are royal, sons and daughters of the Most High and therefore princes and princesses who will one day rule over creation with our Savior. We will share in His glory because He suffered for our sin. He truly is worthy to receive the praise of heaven and earth.
“After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter. Straightway I was in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne; and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon. And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders. And there was seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6 and before the throne, as it were a sea of glass like a crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle and the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.” Revelation 4:1-11 (ASV)
This is one of my favorite passages from scripture because it tells what it will be like in heaven. We will spend eternity praising God for His goodness and mercy. We will take the crowns given to us by His grace and lay them at His feet, giving back to our Father that which He has given us – everything. I suppose when we think about our lives in this world, it may seem like it would get boring doing the same thing for eternity. However, when we are in the presence of God, living forever as His children and heirs to His kingdom, I can’t imagine anything being as exciting as worshipping Him all day long. All this will be ours because on Good Friday Jesus wore a crown of thorns and died on a cross. Our God is truly an awesome and amazing God. Amen.
Home I think we are nearly finished with making our house a home. A few boxes litter the hallway as we wait for good yard sale weather, but this week I managed to get the pictures hung and bookshelves put in order. The children are comfortable in their rooms and they are already messy or perhaps we should call it “the lived in look.” We have been working out our schedule for basic chores – when to do the laundry and who is going to take care of the dishes. We have settled into regular meal times and other daily tasks. Even Felix has settled into this new home.
We wondered how he would react to the new house. We have plenty of low windows with wide sills so that he can lie around all day watching the birds in the yard. There is even a window seat overlooking the backyard where he can sleep in the sunshine all day long. He has plenty of room to run – up and down the stairs, from room to room on both levels. For a little while every day he goes a little nuts and gets his exercise for the day. He seems to enjoy living here and settled in just like the rest of us.
Our only problem with Felix, besides his intense desire to go out to chase the birdies, is that he has been investigating every possible surface for places to sleep. We have caught him on the counter, on the table, on top of the entertainment center. I discovered a basket of dried roses we knocked from the top of an armoire – I don’t even know how he could have gotten to the top of it. We have prepared so many wonderful places for Felix to lie, but he wants to see what he might be missing in the other places. All it takes is one moment of discipline – a firm “no” and a tap on the nose or backside – and he never goes there again. He’s testing his place in this new environment, as are we all in our own ways.
We do this not only in the real world space in which we live, but also in our home in the Kingdom of God. We run around looking for a place where we might fit in, searching for a place of comfort and peace. We worry and wonder. We think that things must be better somewhere else – after all, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right?
Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go, ye know the way. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:1-6 (ASV)
We all have room to move and grow here in our new home. There are plenty of places for Felix to play and rest. I just hope he realizes it quickly so that we do not have to continue disciplining him for being in the wrong place.
I’m not sure there is really a wrong place to be when it comes to living in the kingdom of God, though we will suffer the consequences when we are living outside His will. We are in the right place when we trust that He is able to provide comfort and peace in all circumstances. He will provide us opportunities to serve and worship Him. When we begin to worry or wonder, we simply look in trust to God’s mercy and love, knowing that He is preparing a place for us. Jesus will come again to take us out of this world into our true home with Him forever. Thanks be to God.
Footsteps I am younger than my brother and sister. My brother is eleven years my senior and my sister six. In some ways this was an ideal situation. I was left as an only child through my teenage years, getting much more attention than if I’d had siblings around. Yet, I missed out on having a close relationship with them through our childhood years. We had different interests, different abilities, and different goals in life. It is interesting that now we are grown, we are close and have settled into lives that are similar in many ways.
One of the difficulties I faced was following a sibling through school. My brother was distant enough in age that though we went to the same school we had very different educational experiences. My sister and I, however, shared some teachers. She was a memorable student, one who did very well in school and who was popular with both adults and her friends. She left a legacy that was hard to step into. When I went into a classroom with one of her old teachers, there was an automatic assumption that I would be like her. It did not take long before the teachers realized our differences and expected my best, not hers, but for a time it was difficult. It is hard to follow in the footsteps of someone else and try to fill their shoes.
Imagine what it must have been like for Joshua. Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt and guided them for forty years as they wandered in the desert. Moses had spoken to God, face to face. He had received the Ten Commandments. He was deliverer, judge and lawgiver. He brought miracles of water, food and protection from the natural elements they faced. No one could fill his shoes. But Joshua was not being called to become a new Moses; he was called to do God’s will.
“Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of Jehovah, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it, as I spake unto Moses. From the wilderness, and this Lebanon, even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate thereon day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:1-9 (ASV)
It is hard enough to follow in the footsteps of a talented and gifted sibling or parent. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Joshua to become the leader who would take the Israelites into the Promised Land. They looked to Moses, not only in that generation but also for generations to come. It would be impossible to be like him. Yet, God called Joshua to do something different and promised He would be with him always. When He gives a command, He provides all we need to obey. When He sends us into the world to preach the Gospel, He provides the voice and the ears to hear. It does not matter who walks in front of us, who we follow through life. God is with each of us in the here and now, giving us His grace that we might serve according to our own gifts and abilities. Thanks be to God.
Mona Lisa I recently watched the Julia Roberts movie called “Mona Lisa Smiles.” It was about an art teacher in the 1950’s at Wellesley. She was a progressive woman – unmarried, independent and she loved modern art. While the girls were intelligent, their ultimate goal in life was to be married to the right man and live the perfect life as a housewife and trophy on her husband’s arm. This was the life to which they had been borne, the life to which they were raised. When she first began teaching the class, she put up a series of slides. The girls knew the facts about every one, but when asked their opinion of the piece or to compare two, they had difficulty looking beyond the service to see what lie underneath.
Julia Robert’s character showed the girls a new perspective and encouraged them to consider a different kind of life. She showed them it was possible to be happy with a career. She lived life by her own rules and upset people along the way. The college alumni refused to allow her to change the status quo. The mothers of the girls were firm with their expectations and their boyfriends were unwavering with their demands. In the end, the girls realized that there was indeed more to life than being a housewife and they stepped forth in faith.
Throughout the movie, the girls, the teachers and the mothers suffered consequences for their actions. If they went against the expectations of society they were outcast. If they disappointed their friends, the relationships became broken. If they did not follow the instructions, they failed. If they did something that was different, they ended up divorced or separated from those they loved. They lost homes, jobs, children, respect and honor in a world where such things were lifted onto pedestals. Adherence to the rules meant peace and happiness. Unfortunately, the rules were a confusing and contradicting mix coming from every direction. Some of the rules were meant to keep things as they were; others were made to bring change. Some seemed to protect and others to endanger. Which way should they go?
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances, which Jehovah your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it; that thou mightest fear Jehovah thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as Jehovah, the God of thy fathers, hath promised unto thee, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
The Lord’s Law was not given to oppress or burden the people, but to protect them. God’s Law is not a bunch of rules that we have to keep, it is a sign, a gift. The Law was given so that the people would remember God and look to Him always. Whenever they turned away, disobedient to the Law and their God, they suffered the consequences of a broken relationship. When they observed the commandments, they enjoyed the blessed life that God promised. The commandments are instructions about relationships, how to keep them strong – first with God, then with each other. The also affect our relationship with ourselves. When these relationships are broken, we have no peace and happiness. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we are unable to keep those relationships from being affected by the world. The confusing mix of rules we are expected to follow make it difficult. That is why our Lord Jesus came, to show the true purpose of the Law – so that by it we will turn our hearts and minds to Him for salvation rather than our own ability to be obedient. God has done great things for us, let us never forget. Thanks be to God.
Godincidences Godincidences are what I call those things that happen that are odd or out of the ordinary that works out in great and miraculous ways. We have all probably heard such stories, such as the time a man took a wrong turn and ended up on a dusty road where he found a lady with a broken down car in need of help. Or the mother who decided to buy two gallons of milk, who learned the neighbor was having financial difficulty and could not buy any for her child until payday, which was days away. I’ve answered the phone when I was running out the door, late for a meeting, only to hear the voice of a long lost friend who needed a listening ear.
Our realtor was a Godincidence – he helped us far more than just finding our new home and happened to be the only one on duty the day we called. He treated us like brothers in Christ, giving well beyond the call of duty. Though we did not buy any of the homes he offered, he continued to be our advocates with the new home dealer, providing the necessary phone numbers we needed to establish our home. He even suggested possible congregations where we might find a church fellowship. As I have been getting to know the neighborhood, I can see that there are definitely ministry opportunities – chances to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to pray with and for the people who live all around us. We have no doubt that we are exactly where God would have us at this moment. We recognize this through these Godincidences – those out of the ordinary coincidences that are blessings for us and those around us.
There are Godincidences in the Bible, stories that show that God has His hand in the everyday experiences of the people.
“For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, Wherefore dost thou prophesy, and say, Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes; and he shall bring Zedekiah to Babylon, and there shall he be until I visit him, saith Jehovah: though ye fight with the Chaldeans, ye shall not prosper? And Jeremiah said, The word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth; for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanamel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of Jehovah, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of Jehovah. And I bought the field that was in Anathoth of Hanamel mine uncle's son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the deed of the purchase, both that which was sealed, according to the law and custom, and that which was open: and I delivered the deed of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel mine uncle's son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the deed of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the guard. And I charged Baruch before them, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase which is sealed, and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel; that they may continue many days. For thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah 32:3-15 (ASV)
How ridiculous it must have seemed to Jeremiah to buy a field at such a time. The city was about to fall, God was going to allow Israel’s enemies to destroy the city. What good could it be to own a field when such catastrophe was about to happen to the people of God? But this was a Godincidence, He had a purpose for the transaction – it served as a promise that one day the people would return to their home and go about life as usual.
We must be careful not to count everything as Godincidences, especially those things which come from the lusts of our own hearts. For example, when we happen into a store that sells lottery tickets and find a dollar in our pocket, we should not say “God wants me to gamble and He will give me the win” just because these things happen. It is possible He is calling you to buy that gallon of milk, but you missed His voice in your pursuit of wealth. Jeremiah recognized God’s voice and did what seemed ridiculous at the time. In the end, it proved to be a blessing – God was glorified through the incident and the people of Israel had the hope of a promise for restoration in the future. Thanks be to God.
Silliness Teenage girls do not appreciate when their parents begin to act silly, especially in public. “Oh, Mom!” or “Oh, Dad!” are phrases that typically flow from the mouths of these girls. They are terribly embarrassed by anything that might be less than dignified. After all, their friend’s parents are all normal and act old like they should. Anything less than completely out of sight is unacceptable. They’d rather be dropped a block from the meeting place, walk twenty feet ahead or sit in a completely different row in the movie theater. She is willing to do anything to keep the world from knowing that those weird people are her mom and dad.
It is even bothersome if the silliness is in the privacy of our home. It is as if the whole world will know. Last night, Bruce and I were going through a pile of vinyl records, deciding which ones we would like to try to sell at our yard sale on Saturday. It was a journey down memory lane as we found our favorite albums. With each new discovery we began singing the songs, laughing together and enjoying each other’s company. Add to it the fact that we were sitting in a closet at the time and you have the makings of an entirely embarrassing situation for a teenage girl. Who would see us was beyond our understanding, but we certainly felt – as Vicki came by to glare at us – that she was about to close the closet door so that there would be no chance that someone might find out how weird we really are.
As parents we are expected to be dignified. We should not dance around the house when cleaning. We should not laugh and sing at a concert. We should not enjoy the things of youth because we have to uphold the decorum of our position in life. We aren’t teenagers; we shouldn’t act like we are! This is also true of those with prominent roles in our community. We don’t expect church leaders, politicians, company presidents or teachers to act silly in public. It would be embarrassing and upsetting.
“And it was told king David, saying, Jehovah hath blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God. And David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with joy. And it was so, that, when they that bare the ark of Jehovah had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David danced before Jehovah with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of Jehovah with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. And it was so, as the ark of Jehovah came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Jehovah; and she despised him in her heart. And they brought in the ark of Jehovah, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before Jehovah. And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Jehovah of hosts. And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a portion of flesh, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed every one to his house.
Saul’s children expected to be the ones to take over the throne of Israel when he died, but God anointed David to be the king. The event in this story is a most solemn and joyous occasion; the Ark of the Covenant was being moved into the city of David. God was to be honored with every footstep with sacrifices of blood and praise. David understood that he was in the presence of greatness and clothed himself appropriately – in linen without royal robes.
But Saul’s daughter was offended by David’s actions. He was not dressed as he should nor acting dignified as befitting a king. He was like a servant girl dancing in the streets. Yet, David knew that it was humility before God that would bring the blessings that Saul never saw. Saul sought his own agenda, raised himself above all others because he was king. David served the Lord and was lifted high and blessed beyond measure. Oh, perhaps there are times when we should, as parents, be a little more dignified in the presence of our children and for their sake. Yet, we should never let go of the joy and thankfulness of living. Most of all, we should be humble before the Lord even when we stand in positions of authority so that we remember the One from whom all blessings flow. Thanks be to God.
Seals There are several exhibits of seals at Sea World. Some of the seals and sea lions are used in a show, but others are there for educational and research purposes. One exhibit hosts a colony of harbor seals and sea lions. It was feeding time when we were there and most of the animals were quite active. They were honking and begging for fish, fighting over the ones that did not fall directly in their mouths. In one incident, one fish was cast into the water and a seal got it, but all the other seals practically flew over to the spot hoping that that one fish might still be there. For those who weren’t hungry, it was a lovely sunny day to lie on the rocks and rest. Whether awake or asleep, these seals and sea lions interacted with one another in some way and seemed to be quite happy.
Another exhibit housed a number of Hawaiian Monk Seals. These are very rare, with only a thousand or so left in the world. It was not quite as exciting watching these seals; they were all sleeping and uninterested in one another. We were there during a talk, so we could ask questions about the animals. One of the questions was about a seal that was in the water. She had her head underwater and did not come up for a long time. It almost looked dead. The caretaker explained that these are very unsocial animals. They can stay underwater for long periods of time and they’d rather be alone. So, while it seemed like that seal might be dead, she was fine. She was just being herself.
They were so antisocial that even the slightest movement toward interaction was taken almost as an act of war. One seal moved toward the water, only slightly leaning in the direction of another and that seal growled in anger. A question involving another seal sent the caretaker to touch the stomach of another female. She was so taken aback by this action; she rolled over and took a defensive posture. When the caretaker splashed some water to clean a spot near another seal, the seal looked at her as if those few drops of water was life threatening. I don’t know if we can tell whether a seal is happy or not, but compared to those harbor seals and sea lions, the monk seals did not seem happy.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.” Hebrews 10:19-25 (ASV)
Sad as this may seem, I know Christians who are much like these Hawaiian Monk Seals. They have forsaken the fellowship of other Christians, preferring to worship God alone. While we can worship God in the quietness of a field or under the shade of a tree, we are called as Christians to live together in community. We are called to serve one another in love and mercy. We are all part of the body of Christ, each a unique part of the body with gifts that make the body whole. We may not agree about everything when it comes to our faith, but with Christ as the foundation we have the Holy Spirit to bind us together in love. God is faithful to His promises, to all who believe. Loners tend to be those who have rejected some aspect of the Christian faith – angry, bitter or frustrated with other believers. They think they will be happier, or more spiritual, if they go it on their own. Yet, without others we will never really know the joy and peace of life in the kingdom of God. We were created – and recreated – to be in fellowship with one another. Thanks be to God.
St. Joseph Joseph was a man, a carpenter in Nazareth, betrothed to a girl named Mary. Imagine his shock when this virgin became pregnant. What was he to do? Societal expectation meant she should be stoned, since this was adultery according to the tradition of the day. It was an embarrassing situation for Joseph. Yet, the Word of the Lord came to him and told him to take Mary as his wife, that the child was not conceived in the ordinary way. This decision to be obedient to this command was a difficult one. It went against everything he knew as a good Jew, and it would bring him humiliation in the synagogue and with his peers.
Joseph’s troubles did not end there. He had to take his heavily pregnant wife a great distance to register for the census in Bethlehem where there was no room in any of the inns. Soon after they arrived, Mary began to feel the pains of childbirth. Joseph found a kind innkeeper who allowed them to sleep in the stable, and Joseph acted as midwife at the child’s birth. He watched as kings and shepherds came to worship the child. Then an angel warned Joseph that Herod was sending soldiers to kill the infant king. He ran away from everything he knew to Egypt to protect this child. Through it all, Joseph never lost faith and remained obedient to the Word of God. He knew that God would guard him as he guarded his wife’s son.
“Keep me, O Jehovah, from the hands of the wicked; Preserve me from the violent man: Who have purposed to thrust aside my steps. The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; They have spread a net by the wayside; They have set gins for me. Selah. I said unto Jehovah, Thou art my God: Give ear unto the voice of my supplications, O Jehovah. O Jehovah the Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” Psalm 140:4-7 (ASV)
King David wrote this psalm as a prayer for deliverance from his foes. David was a powerful man and had many enemies who were determined to destroy his kingdom and his life. Yet, David knew that God was his protector. Joseph was not a powerful man, but he was a man of faith who saw the troubled world around his tiny family. He did not have a great and powerful army to protect them. He trusted in God and obeyed his commands with practical use of the gifts given to him by God. Though little is said of Joseph beyond a few verses at the beginning of the Gospel narratives, Joseph has long been honored as the foster father of our Lord Jesus. His practical actions made him the perfect selection for St. Teresa of Avila as the patron saint of the friars and nuns of her order.
Today is the day we remember St. Joseph. He was so ordinary, just a man like the rest of us. Yet, he was given the most incredible gift – the responsibility to care for the Savior of the world through some very difficult times. He never did it alone, it was by the Word of God that Joseph was able to take Mary as his wife, to care for her in Bethlehem and take his family out of danger to a foreign land. God’s grace saw them through the extraordinary circumstances of this ordinary life. We are like Joseph, ordinary but loved by God, protected Him and led by His Word through the difficulties of life. Thanks be to God.
Spring Today is the first day of spring, though you wouldn’t know it by looking out our window. It is foggy, drizzly and cool. It has been this way for the last few mornings. You know the kind of weather I am talking about. It is not really wet – the windows on the car get damp driving through the moisture, but it is not quite wet enough to use the wipers on the windshield. The roads have just enough water to be dangerous and visibility is diminished. There is a hint of the sun, but the sunshine is hidden behind rainless clouds. It would almost be better for it to be a rainy day, at least the plants would benefit and the air would be refreshed. This moisture is dangerous, annoying and a hint of the humidity to come later today.
People without Christ are like mornings such as this. There are just enough good intentions to touch lives, but not enough goodness to do any good. They have reason for doing what they do, justifying it in some way. Though most good intentions have some benefit to others, there is generally a selfish and self-centered reason for the deed. At times it goes overboard and becomes apparent that the deeds are not good but wicked, but most often it is hard to distinguish between the good and the bad. They are like clouds without rain.
“Yet in like manner these also in their dreamings defile the flesh, and set at nought dominion, and rail at dignities. But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things are they destroyed. Woe unto them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah. These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn leaves without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved forever.” Jude 1:8-13 (ASV)
Without Christ we are all sinful and we suffer the consequences to our sins. Yet, in Christ was are made new creations, given faith and salvation by the mercy of God. There are, however, those who are rebellious and wicked. They reject the grace God so freely gives, denying His goodness. They hide themselves, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, making it seem as if their deeds are useful and good. However, they are dangerous, leading others astray with their seemingly wonderful deeds. While we are called to discern the actions of others, we are not called to judge. Not even Michael the archangel passed judgment on the devil. Instead, the wicked are given in to their own sins and the truth will be shown. They will suffer the eternal separation from God that comes from rebellion and wickedness. Woe to them who do not receive God’s forgiveness, but praise be to God that He has given Himself for the sake of those who believe.
Namesake Have you ever driven down a road and looked a sign that said “So and so’s Highway” or looked at the name on a building and wondered who that person might be? Schools are often named after famous educators, roads after politicians and parks after celebrated humanitarians. I recently learned of a golf course named after an avid golfer. No one knows if he was any good, he wasn’t well known professional, but he loved the game so someone thought the course should bear his name.
Sometimes these things are named for someone because they deserve the honor to be remembered for their contributions to society. Often, however, it is named after the person who gave the greatest financial contributions into its building. Hospitals and universities use this to encourage wealthy patients or alumni to get financial support. Thus, someone who has had a heart attack might give a new cardiac research wing to a hospital or a football star might give a new stadium to a school. To honor the contribution, the institution will name that wing or stadium after the giver. Sometimes, the donation is dependent on certain requirements.
There was once a church that was in the middle of a very large building project. One member of the contribution gave a substantial portion of the funds needed to build. The figure was in the millions, and this philanthropist held a great deal of control over the construction decisions. If he did not like something, it was changed, no matter what the other members thought. Though I doubt any part of the church was specifically named for this man, it had become his church in many ways. Most certainly there were plaques placed in conspicuous places honoring the man and his good deeds. He may have meant to honor the Lord with everything he did, yet in many ways he overshadowed the One for whom the church was built – the Lord God Almighty.
“Wherefore David blessed Jehovah before all the assembly; and David said, Blessed be thou, O Jehovah, the God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O Jehovah, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Jehovah, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou rulest over all; and in thy hand is power and might; and in thy hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as all our fathers were: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Jehovah our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee a house for thy holy name cometh of thy hand, and is all thine own. I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, that are present here, offer willingly unto thee. O Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee; and give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes, and to do all these things, and to build the palace, for which I have made provision.” 1 Chronicles 29:10-19 (ASV)
We cannot assume that a building, road or park is named after a person because they were greedy with their financial giving – requiring the special honor in exchange for the money. Very often the recipient of such a tribute quite deserves, as they have done great things for their fellow man. Many hospitals are built out of concern for a loved one’s healing, universities for the education of our youth. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure must be built and it benefits the whole community in so many ways. If someone is honored through the naming of these things, so much the better.
Yet, when it comes to church buildings, who is it that we are setting out to honor? Are any more deserving of special acclaim when it comes to the place where we gather to worship? No, we have nothing to give and none are greater than another when it comes to the kingdom of God. He deserves the glory because all we have to give is His already. Only God can read the hearts of men to know the motives for the giving, we are not called upon to judge the worthiness of a gift. Let us together glorify our God with praise and thanksgiving that we can give of our resources for the sake of others in our world today. Thanks be to God.
Stereotype The movie “The Breakfast Club” is a study in stereotypes. Five students from a high school are given a Saturday detention for their various crimes. Each student is unique, coming from different communities within the high school world. As they say, birds of a feather flock together, and these five students would not have been seen with one another during the course of a day. There was a rich girl, a sports star, an academic, a loner and a ruffian. They did things typical of their sub-group to earn the punishment of a wasted day in the library.
Through the movie, these students realize that there is much more to the other students than meets the eye. They discover that they each have pains and sorrows, joys and achievements. They learn that a person is much more than can be seen on the surface and that the group to which they belong is just a small part of themselves. As an assignment to be completed during the detention, the teacher left to supervise them to write an essay describing who they think they are. In the end, the academic writes in an essay for all five that the teachers will only see what he wants to see, but that there are parts of each stereotype in each one of us – part princess, part academic, part jock, part loner and part criminal.
Watching the interaction between these students, it is hard to imagine any good coming out of the criminal. He obviously deserves his time in detention and might even deserve far worse. Yet, we see a sense of honor and self-sacrifice late in the film. They kids decided to sneak out of the library and take a walk through the school. The teacher heard them and began the chase. The criminal told the other four to go one way while he took another route making as much noise as possible. He ended up in solitary confinement for the sake of his new friends – one person punished to save the rest.
“Many therefore of the Jews, who came to Mary and beheld that which he did, believed on him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor do ye take account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. Now this he said not of himself: but, being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad. So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed thence into the country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there he tarried with the disciples. Now the passover of the Jews was at hand: and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, to purify themselves. They sought therefore for Jesus, and spake one with another, as they stood in the temple, What think ye? That he will not come to the feast? Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment, that, if any man knew where he was, he should show it, that they might take him.” John 11:45-57 (ASV)
Jesus was not the only messiah wannabee hanging around Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. He was not even the only one to die for the sake of the cause. I suppose that there were probably other meetings between the chief priests and the Pharisees discussing the activities of zealots and other political rebels. Yet, Jesus was different. Men like Barabbas, who was set free by Pilate at the festival, could easily be arrested and put down for real crimes like murder. Jesus, however, did nothing wrong. He only spoke truth, a truth that touched deep in the souls of many people. He was more dangerous than the violent offenders because there was no way to stop Him. But He had to be stopped. His words held power – the power to destroy what they had in the Roman Empire. So, Caiaphas, said it would be better for one to die than for a whole nation to be destroyed. He was right, and it was for this purpose that Jesus came to live among His people.
Jesus may have seemed like nothing more than another messiah wannabee, but that’s where the Jewish authorities were wrong. He was the Messiah and they missed Him. Yet, this was how it was meant to be. The Spirit inspired the words of Caiaphas because they were the truth. It was better for one man – Jesus – to die for the sake of the world, for He was the perfect sacrifice who could bring true salvation to His people. Thanks be to God.
Splash The movie “Splash” starring Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks was originally released twenty years ago. To celebrate this anniversary, the movie is being re-released on a special DVD edition. DVD has definitely become the preferred format for home movies, because the discs include so many extras – games, interviews, blooper clips and other relevant material. On this particular DVD, we are treated to the original audition tape of Tom Hanks.
Now, “Splash” was one of the first thing Tom Hanks for which Tom Hanks is acknowledged as an actor, though over the years he has proven himself over and over again. Not only as a comic actor, but also in dramatic performances that earned him Academy Awards. Yet, it is really difficult to see his potential on that original tape. He had trouble following the script, stumbled over words. He really looked like he did not belong in this line of work. But Ron Howard saw something in Tom’s performance and chose him to star in the film. The movie was a hit and Tom was well on his way to a successful career as an actor.
This type of discernment often happens in the classrooms of good teachers. It is sometimes asked of such teachers, “Why do you spend so much time with that child. They won’t accomplish anything.” Yet, somehow the teacher sees potential that is not obvious and it is such a joy when he or she is proven right in the end and the child successfully overcomes the difficulties they face. It takes time, love and faith that there is something there to be nurtured.
“For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another: not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth. Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.” 1 John 3:11-24 (ASV)
When Ron Howard was preparing the anniversary edition of “Splash” he asked Tom Hanks if he minded if the audition tape was included on the DVD. Tom did not care, but wondered why anyone would even want to see it. Certainly his career has given us plenty of wonderful examples of the work he can do.
Have you ever really thought about how amazing it is that God did for us what He did? We were sinners, incapable of keeping His Law and constantly separating ourselves from His love, mercy and grace. As we look around at one another, and at ourselves in the mirror, we can’t help but wonder what made Him do such a thing. Yet, He saw something in His people – a potential to love Him and one another. He knew we were unable to accomplish such a thing on our own, so He sent Jesus to live and die for our sake. On the cross, Jesus overcame all that separates us from God and reconciled our lives with His. Now that He has been raised from death into eternal life, we too are given all we need to live in love according to His ways. Thanks be to God.
Fence We live right next to Zack’s school. Unfortunately for Zack there are some obstacles between our yard and the school. This means he has to walk nearly three blocks to school. Everyone has commented that we should just put a gate into the back fence to cut down his travel time, but it would not be that easy for him. There is a drainage ditch the runs along our property. It only fills with water when we have a great deal of rain, particularly during those gully washer storms that bring flash floods to our area. I’ve seen kids playing in the ditch, riding skateboards and scooters on the cement. I would rather my kids avoid walking or playing in the ditch because it can be quite dangerous. The water comes quickly when it comes and a few inches is all it takes for a bad accident.
There is another obstacle Zack would face on this path to school. There is also a barbed wire fence between the school and the ditch. I understand this completely. With three hundred students playing outside before and after school, at recess and at other times, that ditch provides a temptation for the kids, particularly when it is filled with water. Children can’t resist trying to put their hands in a stream, but they can easily fall and be swept away. The school has put up the fence to keep the students far away from the danger.
As for the gate in the fence, I’m not so sure I would want it there anyway. Since the school is right next to our house, there are no neighbors to see if someone is trying to get into our yard that does not belong. While it is still possible for them to enter by the gates in the front, it is more likely they will be seen. A gate in the back could be used unseen by those who might wish to do us harm. The fence gives us a sense of security that we might otherwise not have. We have lived in the gated military housing facilities for many years, relying on the security provided by the fences, gates that require ID to enter and the military police. Things are different now, but with the help of our neighbors and the precautions we have taken, we feel confident that we will be safe.
We have to remember, however, that in this world – even in the gated community of the military base – we are not completely safe from the evil that men do. It is possible that we will be victims of something, no matter what we do to protect ourselves. We need something else so that we will feel completely at peace – trust in God.
“They that trust in Jehovah Are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, So Jehovah is round about his people From this time forth and for evermore. For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; That the righteous put not forth their hands unto iniquity.
It would be dangerous for Zack to climb through the ditch and over the fence to get to school. It is much better that he walks the three blocks, though even that poses its own dangers. It might be convenient for us to have a gate in the fence, but it would also convenient to others with less than noble purposes. We have taken other precautions, yet we know that danger looms around every corner. How we live in a world of sin is dependent on our perspective. When we trust in God, we know that we will be unmoved even when tragedy strikes. If He is our refuge and strength, we can get through anything and live in the peace that passes all human understanding. Thanks be to God.
Birds We have a small oak tree in our yard, newly planted with our landscaping just over a month ago. It is establishing itself into our yard quite well; the leaves are beginning to poke out from the tips of the branches. Since our last few houses had no trees in the yard, we are looking forward to the shade it will offer when it has grown. Until then, we decided to take advantage of the tree, as it is today – empty branches crying out for decoration. Vicki prepared plastic Easter eggs to hang in the tree, and now it is filled with color. I suppose in some ways it looks silly, but it makes me smile when I see them blowing in the wind.
Yesterday, as I sat at my desk I noticed a bird was in the tree. He had a strange look on his face as he hopped from branch to branch, looking at the eggs. What he was thinking, I could not say, but he was obviously trying to figure out what those colorful things were. Would they be food? Is it a strange flower with nectar? He finally found one that was rightly positioned so that he might get a closer look. All of a sudden, he pecked at the egg and was taken aback when it was hard and came back at him. He hopped into a few more branches and then he flew away.
He may have found that the eggs were useless to him, but he would never have known if he had not tested it with his beak. It might have been something good to eat and the only way he would find out was to adventure forth and try. Sometimes we have to do that also, step forth in faith and try something new. Since my family is in a new place, we have had to test out new churches, join new Bible studies. I have even begun taking an art class. Since it has been twenty-something years since I picked up a paintbrush, I was unsure if I would even remember how to use the materials. Though I am definitely out of practice, I’m also enjoying the painting.
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, yea, even unto eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if a tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there shall it be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 (ASV)
There are so many wonderful things for us to do in this world, however we often avoid doing them because we do not know what it might be like. We reject new groups of people, new activities, thinking they will be useless. However, in rejecting them outright, we miss out on the adventure and we lose out on so many good things. Though there are things about which we should be cautious, God has called us to be like the birds, venturing forth in faith that He is with us and will guard us through any misadventures. When we trust in God and let go of ourselves, we find that He returns our faith with many blessings. If we stick to only what we know, we may find that it will fail eventually. But when we try new things and spread out our gifts, we will see success in something even if another thing fails. Thanks be to God.
Renovation Three years ago, when we moved to Little Rock, we joined a church that was in the middle of a major building project. The church was a mess – buried in dust and grime. Walls were being torn out to be replaced by new rooms. Sheetrock was hung, walls were painted and tile was laid. The congregation did much of the work. Though this saved us money, it took time to complete the work on nights and weekends when the members were available. It was an exciting time, however, to see a new building raised and God glorified through the gifts of each member.
Now, three years later we are joining another church that is in the middle of a building project. The congregation is doing much of this expansion, so we are once again enjoying the dust and hard work associated with such a project. I met a lady just the other day that was familiar with this church, and she spoke fondly of the congregation. “They have done amazing things over there. Not so long ago it was just a tiny little building and now look what they are doing with their resources.” Even as a tiny congregation with a little building, there was something special about them.
With both congregations, and perhaps others that have undergone such projects, there are always memories of what it had been. The long time members reminisce about when the building was first built. The people who had been part of the life of the congregation are remembered as boxes of memorabilia is moved or stored to be safe from the dust. At our last church, there were tears on the last day in our old sanctuary from those who had worshipped there for so long. It was not that they were sad to be leaving, because they recognized what a blessing the new place would be. At that point it was too late to go back anyway. That room where they had glorified God was a horrendous mess. In the midst of the tears was the promise that God would continue to be glorified in that place.
“In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of Jehovah by Haggai the prophet, saying, Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith Jehovah; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith Jehovah, and work: for I am with you, saith Jehovah of hosts, according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, and my Spirit abode among you: fear ye not. For thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations; and the precious things of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith Jehovah of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith Jehovah of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith Jehovah of hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith Jehovah of hosts.” Haggai 2:1-9 (ASV)
We have been part of two major church building projects, but both of them were to expand the already existing facilities. It is a messy job, but at least we continued to have a place to worship God while we did the work. The exiles had returned to a Jerusalem that was destroyed. The temple was beyond dust, it was a pile of rubble. But God promised that it would be restored and greater than ever. The greater glory would not come with the rocks and mortar, however. It would come when Jesus entered into the building several hundred years later, to teach and preach the kingdom of God to the people.
For many in our world today, their lives are not much more than a pile of rubble. They are bound by sin and death, overwhelmed by the inability to overcome that which has become master of their lives. They might be dependent on alcohol or drugs, obsessed with relationships, or working too many hours for treasures that will not last. When these things become like gods, they lead to emotional and physical destruction. Even worse, however, is when it leads to spiritual destruction, our dependence breaking the connection we have with our God. Yet, even when everything seems beyond help, there is always hope. Jesus Christ did come into the world, not only to teach and preach, but to restore our relationship with God by His death on the cross. He rebuilds our life so that the old glory, which was no glory at all, is made new and truly shines with the light of God’s love. Thanks be to God.
Surprises A brand new pizza delivery place has opened very close to our house. Though our small town is quickly growing with new homes, we are still somewhat in the country with few such conveniences close by. The first time I tried to order pizza, it took several phone calls before I found a place that delivered to our neighborhood. Now that the new store is open, it will not be so difficult. Opening night was Thursday, and this particular pizza maker is Vicki’s favorite. So as we thought about Friday’s dinner, Vicki said, “I’m really hungry for pizza.”
Zack was not paying attention when we discussed the possibility, and he did not overhear the telephone call. So, when he asked what was for dinner, I decided to play with him. “Oh, I think we will wait for the neighbors to bring us food. Surely they’ll hear you grumbling belly eventually.” Then when the doorbell rang, I joked, “See, I knew they’d hear us!” Zack new it was the pizza guy because he saw the car arrive through the window.
Sometimes it is very hard to keep surprises. When the children are very little, Mom and Dad can easily discuss presents while the child is in the room. As they get a little older, it sometimes takes some creative coding to discuss these things in a way they will not understand. Soon, however, surprises must be discussed when and where they will not hear because they begin listening for clues. They know and understand the meaning of key words and phrases, and pay attention so that they might figure out the surprise. It takes a sort of faith to know that Mom and Dad might be discussing so important as presents for some special event.
“And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them. And he saith unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables?” Mark 4:9-13 (ASV)
The message that Jesus had to give the world was a surprise. In this passage, the word ‘mystery’ is used. In other versions it is translated ‘secret.’ We normally think of secret in negative terms, as a bad thing. We teach our children they should not keep secrets. Yet, did not mean this was something we should never tell another. This mystery is more like an insight which is given only to those who will hear it, those who have faith. Too many listened to Jesus and did not see that He was speaking about things beyond this world – the kingdom of God. They only heard stories about farmers that really made little sense according to the ways of the world. It is even harder for us today since most of us have no real experience with farming or the terms that apply.
Yet, in faith we hear these stories and we understand that Jesus is talking about our relationship with God and one another. In this case, it was about sharing the message of the kingdom of God. We will throw seed, which is the Word of God, into the field, but not all of it will land on hearts that will believe. Only those with ears that hear will recognize the truth found in the stories. We have ears because God gives us the faith to hear His Word. Thanks be to God.
Gift Kids don’t have a great deal of money, but they have a very giving heart. This is particularly true when it comes to giving things to their parents. Stories abound about children who have taken their piggy bank to the store and emptied it onto the counter in hopes that they would have enough money for the perfect gift. It usually ends up being the biggest, cheapest bottle of perfume for their mom and the ugliest tie for their dad, but they are so thrilled to give so extravagantly to the ones they love. No matter how horrible the gift, Mom and Dad always love it because it came from the heart.
Spring has definitely sprung here in Texas. The bluebonnets are in bloom, the trees are becoming green with new growth. Though it has been quite cloudy for the last few weeks, there have been moments when the sun has shone brightly and the sky has been a lovely blue. Many days are warm, but not hot, with a cool breeze blowing. We recently saw a rainbow and some of the sunsets have been magnificent. All these things – the trees, flowers, sun, rainbows and sunsets – are gifts from God. Such beauty is beyond the ability of man to create, but God gives it so that we might rejoice and praise Him all of our days. Unfortunately, we often take for granted these things because they are such a natural part of our lives. It is when we see the miracles, the out of the ordinary supernatural signs of God’s love, that we tend to focus or thanks on Him. Yet, new life in springtime and the sun rising on another day are also gifts from our Lord.
“Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein. Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always.” John 12:1-8 (ASV)
Mary was overwhelmed by the incredible gift Jesus had given her sister and herself. He had raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. He was, most likely, their only livelihood. His death not only meant a loved one gone from this world, but it may have meant a life of financial difficulties. Yet, Mary knew that Jesus gave her far more than life in this world. He had given her the kingdom of God as she sat at His feet and heard Him speak. In every story we hear of Mary of Bethany, she is on her knees at the feet of Jesus. She has a humble, thankful heart. I can imagine, especially compared to her practical sister Martha, that Mary was the one who would notice the first wildflowers of spring or catch the sunset or find the rainbow after the storm.
In this story, Mary decided to give to Jesus a most extraordinary gift. Compared to all that God has done, even the most expensive bottle of perfume is nothing but a cheap dime store imitation, but it was the best she could give. There was so much more to this gift because it was filled with love and thankfulness for all Jesus had given to her. Jesus received it with grace. Just as a mom will put on that cheap perfume and a dad will wear that ugly tie and rejoice in the giving with their child, Jesus loved Mary even when the rest of the world rebuked her for wasting her resources on junk. Jesus knew her heart was pure and her reasons true. Let us, today, thank God for His extravagant gifts such as the grass and trees, sunshine and rainbows. But most of all, let us thank Him with songs of praise for the life He has given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
Place cards One of the standard jokes on any sitcom when dealing with a wedding involves the seating arrangement of the guests. There is always a scene that has a number of people standing around a board with hundreds of little pieces of paper. One person moves a few. “Uncle This and Uncle That are still feuding, they can’t sit together.” “Aunt Somebody will be offended if she is put that close to the dance floor.” “Cousin Knucklehead is too old for the kid’s table.” By this time, the bride and groom are frustrated and ready to run off to Vegas to get married rather than decide where to put the placecards.
There are just some people who can’t seem to take a meal together, even when the occasion is one that should bring joy and harmony to a family. Family reunions are often ruined by ages old arguments. People refuse to come to eat if their enemy is going to be present. “And I can’t believe you would eat with her after what she did to me!” Of course, there are other situations in which people are unwelcome at the dinner table. There was a time when people of different races or creeds would never be found eating together. Even today there are some who would never invite certain people into their homes, particularly for a meal.
In Jesus’ time, the sinners and the tax collectors were the ones who were outcasts at the tables according to the law. Eating a meal was a sign of agreement, of fellowship with not only the person but also everything about them. The Pharisees could not be seen with tax collectors because it would mean that they approved of the things they did. Eating with the sinners would make them unclean. Jesus saw things much differently.
“And after these things he went forth, and beheld a publican, named Levi, sitting at the place of toll, and said unto him, Follow me. And he forsook all, and rose up and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house: and there was a great multitude of publicans and of others that were sitting at meat with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with the publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:27-32 (ASV)
The Pharisees and teachers of the law had trouble with Jesus right from the beginning because he was willing to eat with all the wrong people. Jesus ate with those who desired to know about God’s kingdom, those who had ears to hear about the love, mercy and forgiveness He was here to give. The sinners and tax collectors knew they were sinners and tax collectors. They knew they needed a Savior. The Pharisees and teachers of the law thought they were perfect and that is why they refused to eat with those that were considered unclean. They didn’t want their eating companions to make them corrupt. They simply could not see their own corruption and rebuked Jesus.
Are there any we would never consider inviting to our table? Why? Is not the person we would reject exactly the person we should be welcoming? A meal can heal wounds and restore friendships. Inviting our enemies to our dinner table shows mercy and grace, and opens the door for reconciliation. It might be hard; it might be uncomfortable. In this story Jesus not only calls one sinner into His circle of friends, but He willingly joined their party so that others might hear about the forgiveness of God and be transformed. He calls us all to the table because we are all sinners in need of a Savior, and there He gives us a foretaste of the feast to come. Thanks be to God.
White-out I was helping at Zack’s school yesterday, making copies for one of the teachers. The copier repairman came into the room while I was in the middle of a rather large job, so he waited patiently while the copies were printed. He asked if lines were showing up on my copies and looked at one. Indeed, the complaint was true, two faint lines that did not belong were printing on every page. I had more things to copy, but I asked him how long it would take to fix the machine. He did not expect it to take very long.
When my first job was done, he took over the machine and made one copy, wiped down the glass scanning surface and then made another copy. The second copy was clean. The trouble was caused by two small dots of white-out that were left on the surface by someone who rushed a job without letting the white-out on their sheet dry properly. A moment of impatience caused problems for others and the repairman had to make a special trip to fix something that was easily avoidable.
There are a great many things we do that seem harmless but that should be avoided because they cause problems we do not realize. We rush into things because we lack patience. We let ourselves overreact to situations with bursts of anger or bad language. We think it is no big deal if we take a grape or piece of candy without paying. We tell a small lie or tolerate something we know is not right. We ignore the needs of our neighbors under the guise that it is none of our business. We watch things on the television or do things on the computer that seem harmless. No matter how small these sins seem, they can cause greater problems that we may not ever realize.
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him.
I doubt that the teacher who made the mistake of copying with a sheet wet with white-out even knows the lines were his or her fault. I don’t know whether the copier repairman would instruct the teachers about the problem that can be caused by wet white-out since he will get paid for every visit no matter how difficult the repair job. He was paid well for the two minutes of work. One moment of impatience caused trouble for the fellow teachers and cost someone unnecessary money.
We do not always know the effect of the small sins that seem so harmless. Children learn from what they see, feelings are fragile, lies lead to greater lies. This is not only true of the actions that can be seen, but also with the thoughts that are known only in our minds and by God. They can lead to greater sins, building ever greater until it is too late to stop the harm that is caused. Though we don’t have the strength on our own to overcome these things, we do have One who gives us the strength to reject that which leads us astray. Our Lord Jesus overcame all temptations so that His Word might bring us forth into new life. Thanks be to God.
Runaway Every child goes through a period of strained relations with his or her parents. Mom and Dad establish rules that do not fit into the child’s sense of their own maturity. They are put down from doing the things they think they are ready to do. A youngster decides that he can cross the street and when the parent says “No,” the child goes out to do it anyway. This leads to some sort of punishment – the child is sent to his room for the night. The child responds in anger, even yelling the words no parent wants to hear – “I hate you.” Sometimes they even decide to run away from home.
The child is usually very noisy about his or her decision, hoping it will lead the mom and dad to some sort of repentance. I have heard about parents that respond by letting them try, knowing they will quickly realize the error of their ways. They help the child pack, preparing them for what will happen, making sure they have a peanut butter sandwich for the road. The child takes the bag and says good-bye, expecting Mom will run after the child, promising to let him or her do anything they want as long as they won’t leave. Every few feet, those eyes look back in hope but Mom just waits by the door waving good-bye. It doesn’t take very long before the child begins to get tired. The thoughts of that peanut butter sandwich make his tummy grumble so he finds a place under a tree to eat and think. By the end of lunch, the child realizes that his mom really does love him and maybe it would be best to go home.
It is a risk a parent takes, letting the angry child out the door in the hopes that their love will draw them back home when they have had time to consider the consequences of disobedience. The child could get hurt, perhaps even by doing the very thing that started the argument in the first place. It seems almost cruel to allow the possibility, but it is often the best way to teach the lesson that must be learned.
Habakkuk was a prophet who lived at the time before the exile of the Israelites to Babylonia. He cried out to God asking why the evil in Judah was going unpunished. When God answered that the Babylonians would punish Judah, Habakkuk was even more upset. He did not understand how a just God could let use wicked foreigners to punish His people who were more righteous.
“Art not thou from everlasting, O Jehovah my God, my Holy One? we shall not die. O Jehovah, thou hast ordained him for judgment; and thou, O Rock, hast established him for correction. Thou that art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that canst not look on perverseness, wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he; and makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? He taketh up all of them with the angle, he catcheth them in his net, and gathereth them in his drag: therefore he rejoiceth and is glad. Therefore he sacrificeth unto his net, and burneth incense unto his drag; because by them his portion is fat, and his food plenteous. Shall he therefore empty his net, and spare not to slay the nations continually?” Habakkuk 1:12-17 (ASV)
Helping a child run away from home may not be the right way to deal with a situation, but for some children the best way to overcome willful disobedience is to allow them to suffer the consequences of their desires. It does not take long for the child to realize that it is better to be safe under the watchful eye of a loving parent than to be free in the world to do whatever they want. God knew this about His people also. His answer to Habakkuk was that He would indeed punish the Babylonians for the harm they would cause His children and their faith would be rewarded. The prophet must be patient to see God’s justice play out in the end.
I’m often asked why a just and loving God would allow some of the horrors of this world to happen. “Why do good people suffer?” is a question we’ve all asked at one time or another. We must first remember that none of us are good. We are all like children who want to do what we want when we want, thinking that surely God loves us so much that He will give in to our desires. He does allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions, but is always there to bring us home when we remember that His love and mercy cannot tolerate wickedness whether it comes from His children or their enemies. In the end, His justice will be true: the wicked will be punished and faith will be rewarded. Knowing this we can live in trust, joy and thankfulness. Thanks be to God.