Welcome to the May 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2003
May 1, 2003
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Anniversary We traveled home this past week for a very special event. Bruce’s mother and father celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. In this day and age, when divorce is so easy and too many people quickly discard the things that do not seem to be working, it is wonderful to celebrate such an incredible milestone. They renewed their vows at a service in the same church where they committed themselves to one another fifty years ago, and then we enjoyed a great meal and fellowship with family and friends. Berlyn wore the same tie he had worn so long ago, and Mildred carried the same hanky. It is not easy to make it to fifty years as man and wife. They went through good times and bad times. It took hard work and commitment, love and patience.
It is not surprising when we see a successful marriage such as Berlyn and Mildred’s that God chose to use marriage as an example of His relationship with His people. Throughout the scriptures, we see the image of God as our husband – both individually and as the people of God. The apostle Paul established guidelines for a good marriage in his letters to the churches, encouraging love, respect and submission to one another. Jesus made it clear how important marriage is by telling the Jews that they were hardhearted for needed an excuse from Moses to escape. He even used the marriage banquet in a parable describing what will happen to those refusing to come into the Kingdom as designed by God. The most wonderful images of the coming of Christ describe the ultimate wedding dinner when Christ comes for His bride, the Church.
“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God. And I fell down before his feet to worship him. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren that hold the testimony of Jesus: worship God; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:6-10 (ASV)
It was nice to be home, to celebrate such an awesome event and to enjoy the worship, food and fellowship together. We worked hard to make it a lovely day for two special people and everyone seemed to have a great time. Yet, no matter how wonderful the party was, it pales in comparison to the great banquet to come. God is planning a marriage feast to which we are invited and it will like nothing we have ever experienced in this life. Until then, we will live in this relationship with have with our Father, with our beloved Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit keeping us bound together through thick and thin. It isn’t easy. Some days it takes a great deal of strength to hold on, to walk with Him, to keep from turning away in sin. Thankfully we do not have to do it ourselves. God is like a good husband, loving each of us so much that He provides every thing we need to get through every day no matter what the circumstances.
Berlyn and Mildred accomplished a great deal over the years they have been together – three children who are living lives of faith in committed marriages. They have six grandchildren who love God and are growing up well in this messed up world. They have touched many lives. Most of all, they stand as a testament that marriage can last if only we commit ourselves to the daily walk of faith together, hand and hand through the good times and bad. I look forward to that day when we will all gather together to celebrate and worship God at the great feast He is preparing. Until then, I am thankful that I was able to share such a special moment and I look forward to more of these quick glimpses into the heart of God as seen through the love of His people for one another. Thanks be to God.
Storytelling Our trip home from our visit took us through Tennessee on Tuesday. We stopped for lunch in the outskirts of Jackson, where the tornado ripped apart the town Sunday evening. Unsure of the condition of the town, we called ahead to ensure the restaurant where we were planning to eat was open. Though they had been closed Monday, they reopened as quickly as possible, despite the damage that had occurred during the storm. Along the highway there were trees broken and signs ripped from their poles. There was a huge sinkhole in the parking lot of the restaurant. Pails of water indicated where roof tiles had blown off allowing water to drip into the building. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, did a bit of shopping and heard stories from the locals about their experience.
When I paid for our purchases, the lady behind the register was more than willing to share how she survived the storm. She said the intense wind lasted thirty minutes. The whole time she could hear things slamming against the side of her home. I told her that we had seen pictures of the devastation on the television earlier that morning and the downtown area looked like a war zone. She said, “You probably know more than I. I haven’t had electricity or TV for two days.” Our chat was brief, too short to learn more about the woman, her previous experiences or exact location of her home in relation to the damage. Even still, the few things she shared helped me to understand her fear during the event and thanksgiving that she had survived to live another day.
It would have been interesting to spend time in town, listening to the stories, hearing about their hopes and dreams – some of which were undoubtedly shattered that Sunday night. Yet, I’m sure we would have also seen incredible faith that tomorrow will be a better day and today’s trials are just one step in a lifetime of experiences. People respond to things so differently. Some will take every hardship as an excuse to complain and claim to be victims of circumstances. Others will look for God’s grace among the rubble and look forward to the glory He will reveal on the other side.
Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, chosen by the apostles to be a leader among the people, along with six others, to be administrators of the new church so that the apostles could dedicate their time to prayer and preaching. The Jews seized Stephen because he was doing great wonders and miraculous signs. Some men who could not stand up against the power and wisdom of God that was found in him convinced others to lie and claim Stephen had committed blasphemy against Moses and God. When the high priest asked Stephen if the charges were true, he answered with a story.
He told them the story of God and His relationship with His people from the days of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. He reminded them how God’s hand had led them out of difficulties into the Promised Land according to His good and perfect will. He showed them how God had chosen these men to be His servants and how the people always rebelled against their leadership. He reminded them how their forefathers had rejected God by turning their backs on Him and refusing to obey His Word. Even David, who was a beloved son and the king of Israel, could not build the temple due to his disobedience. It was left for Solomon to build, though the Most High God can’t be shut away in buildings of stone.
“As saith the prophet, The heaven is my throne, And the earth the footstool of my feet: What manner of house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: Or what is the place of My rest? Did not my hand make all these things?
The brief chat with the lady in the store gave me some idea about the storm and its affect on her life, yet I would have enjoyed hearing more of her story Tuesday afternoon. To know her history, her experience and other information would have made it all more real and personal to me.
When Stephen faced his accusers, he knew it was not enough to just tell them about Jesus, but to show them, as He had shown the disciples, how the crucifixion and resurrection fit into the whole story of God. The persecutors had to see how this had been the pattern of their response to God from the beginning, so that they could see the error of their ways and turn back to God. Stephen’s testimony did not soften their hearts, however, and they became angrier than ever. They rushed him, took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Stephen was the first martyr for Jesus Christ, killed for telling the story of God’s people to those who did not want to hear.
When Stephen finished his storytelling, he looked up to heaven and saw heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He tried to show them this wonderful sight by saying, “Look!” but they refused. They put their hands over their ears and yelled at the top of their voices. They didn’t want to hear what Stephen had to say. The same might be true when we share our own witness of the Glory of God. As the history of God’s people clearly shows, some people – even those among the chosen race – will be unwilling to hear. They will be like the people in the aftermath of a tornado complaining about their troubles. Stephen was about to die but rather than sink into despair he looked up at heaven and saw God’s glory in the midst of trouble. May we all tell our stories with the same hope and peace as Stephen and look forward to the better days that do lie ahead, no matter how bad today may seem. Thanks be to God.
Storms The middle region of the United States has been under a cloud of bad weather conditions for weeks now, suffering from severe storms, tornados and flooding. Each morning we wake to news of another town destroyed by the fierce winds and too many people have perished. The local and state governments have asked for financial aid for clean-up and charitable organizations are trying to serve the needs of those who have been affected by this horrible weather. Unfortunately, though we may have a few days of peace, there is still bad weather expected.
It is really hard to see the good that can come out of such experiences, particularly for those who are trying to clean up the mess. Words of comfort and hope can seem like no more than a cliché when you are knee deep in rubble. Yet, for many, the only way they will get to the other side of this disaster is to remember that God is merciful and filled with grace. Those who walk in faith, knowing that God is in control and the source of all good things, will find peace in the midst of this disaster. He provides the comfort and strength they need to get through the storms of life. Those who become victims, complaining about their troubles and refusing to see the hope offered by God, will find the road more difficult.
Though most of us are not waking today to the destruction of a tornado or flood, we have all dealt with the storms of life. This world is not trustworthy. Sin has caused suffering and pain in this life, but there is always hope. For God has not abandoned His people, but rather is close at hand to redeem the world and reconcile us to Himself. We can walk our journey of life in despair whenever we face difficulty, or we can praise God and worship Him even when it seems like the world is preying on us. We need to live each moment knowing that God is in control and that tomorrow is another day.
“Bless Jehovah, O my soul. O Jehovah my God, thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honor and majesty: Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain; Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; Who maketh the clouds his chariot; Who walketh upon the wings of the wind; Who maketh winds his messengers; Flames of fire his ministers; Who laid the foundations of the earth, That it should not be moved for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a vesture; The waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away (The mountains rose, the valleys sank down) Unto the place which thou hadst founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; That they turn not again to cover the earth.
It would be nice if we lived in a world where there was no suffering and pain. Yet we know that the storms of life will continue to come. Let us each look to the Lord God Almighty in faith, trusting in His mercy even when our world seems to fall all around us. For those of us who are blessed to be in a quiet moment, let us pray together for the well being of all those who have been affected by the storms and back up those prayers with whatever help we can provide for the needs of those who need more than just words of comfort. Yes, tomorrow is another day. But until then, may the Lord provide all we need to get through today. Thanks be to God.
Sinking An elderly woman was driving in Port Ritchie Florida when her car went off the road into a pond. She was unable to escape the slowly sinking car, but Tracy Olson came to her rescue. When he saw the accident, he grabbed a hammer and swam to the car. He broke a window, dragged her out of the car and carried her to safety on the shore. After it was all over, he remembered that the pond was filled with alligators. Then he remembered that he could not swim.
We have heard this type of story before – people who overcome their inabilities and accomplish incredible feats of strength and courage. When we hear their stories, we wonder how they could do such a thing and shake our heads with amazement. “I don’t think I could have done that,” is our response, and yet we never really know what we can do until the moment comes. Men have found extraordinary strength to lift cars off accident victims; women will do anything to save their children from harm. Aron Ralston amputated his arm to escape dehydration and death after being trapped by a boulder during a hike in the mountains. He did what he had to do, it was his arm or his life.
Throughout the scriptures we see people doing extraordinary things for God. Sometimes those men and women wondered how it could happen or why God would choose them. Moses told God he could not speak. Elijah didn’t think he could stand up to Jezebel. Jonah didn’t want his enemy to repent. Ananias wondered why he should heal the persecutor Saul/Paul. These men were called to do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing, or simply did not want to do. Yet, God gave them the strength, courage and will to obey His commands.
It is fun to talk about hypothetical situations, such as “What would you do if…?” But until we are faced with the actual experience we never really know how we will handle it. This is especially true when we are called by God to go out of our comfort zone to do things we would not normally do. How do we handle those times when God calls us to go beyond our abilities to do things for the sake of His kingdom?
“But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in theirs synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. ” Matthew 10:17-20 (ASV)
Tracy would never have gone for a swim in that pond filled with alligators, but for the sake of the elderly woman trapped he didn’t think twice. Aron did not plan to remove his arm on that trip into the mountains, but he knew it was a life or death situation. God calls us to be His witnesses, and yet most of us are much like Moses. We doubt our ability to speak the words that would bring hope and peace to the people. We think that we have not testimony that could convince the lost that they should know Jesus as their Savior. We would rather leave that job to those who are trained to speak God’s Word – the evangelists, the pastors and the bible teachers. We don’t think we could handle the persecution we would receive at the hands of those who reject the truth that is found in Jesus Christ.
Yet, God gives us all we need to do His work in this world. It wasn’t until after Tracy finished saving the woman’s life that he thought about all the reasons he shouldn’t have gone into that pond. When we are called by God to do things, sometimes we don’t even realize how foolish it is to complete the task until after it is all over. Then we realize that it was God’s hand that brought faith and not our own words or abilities. Throughout the history of God’s people, He has chosen those who do not seem capable of doing extraordinary things, but He uses them as vessels for His glory, hope and mercy. Do not be concerned when you think you can’t handle the circumstances you face, for God is with you and will give you all you need. Thanks be to God.
Treasure Have you ever gotten lucky at a yard sale or flea market? I recently heard a story of incredible luck. Someone purchased a wicker basket of costume jewelry for fourteen dollars at an antique store in Rhode Island. They found a pearl inside, though not just any pearl. It was from a quahog mollusk, a lovely purple that was double the normal size. The “Purple Pearl of Venus” is so valuable that if it were put up for auction, the bidding would start at a million dollars. How’s that for finding treasure in a basket of junk!
Today I found a treasure and it was staring me in the face. As a mother, I have so loved to watch my children grow and mature, especially in their faith. It is fun to hear the young children singing “Jesus loves me” during a Sunday school program. It is great when they can say the “Lord’s Prayer” or quote special scripture verses. It is heartening when they do something nice for someone out of the blue, showing their faith in action. Yet, every mother wonders if they’ve had any affect on their children. We usually get a glimpse of the good things on Mother’s Day, when our kids go out of their way to be sweet and wonderful. It is a lot harder to see it when they come home late from playing at the park covered in grass and mud stains. Or when they tell us at 9 p.m. that they have a major project due the next day and they need a poster board to complete it. Or when they yell “I hate you” because we have disciplined them for some disobedience to the rules we’ve established for their welfare.
Our day was special, not only because it was Mother’s Day, but also because our daughter Vicki made a public confession of her faith. As she stood before the congregation and read the statement of her beliefs, I saw the fruit of the years of Sunday school, bedtime prayers and Bible lessons. I saw that my life as a mother was not in vain. Vicki truly does believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and she is ready to go out into the world and share the Good News with others. She knows where the true treasure is found and with her confession of faith today she showed the world that He dwells within her.
“For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.
Vicki’s journey is not complete. Today was the first day of the rest of her life that will be filled with times of doubt and uncertainty. Yet, as with all believers whether they are new in faith or lifelong Christians, we are called to encourage one another to look to Christ who is the greatest pearl. He was like the pearl hidden in a basket of junk jewelry, unrecognized by many but worth more than we can imagine. In the years to come, Vicki may face those who would have her reject the faith that she confessed today. They may try to convince her that there better ways to see God. I can only hope that as she grows and begins to live her life on her own, that she will know that we are with her in spirit and that her faith will remain as firm in those days as they are today. Yet, I know that the Lord is with her eternally and that He will safely guide her through the good and the bad. Thanks be to God.
Violin Ole Bull was a noted Norwegian violinist who was widely known as a composer and artist of incredible skill. He lived in the nineteenth century, taught himself how to play and appeared throughout Europe and America. While traveling through a forest in England, Ole lost his way and ended up in the home of a hermit who fed and lodged him for a night. While they sat together that evening before a warm fire, the hermit began to play a broken and worn violin. The instrument squeaked as he stroked some simple songs on the strings. Ole asked the hermit if he could have a try. The hermit did not know Ole’s fame as a violinist and warned that it had taken him years to learn how to play that instrument and did not think Ole could do it. Ole said, “Let me try,” and the hermit wept as he heard the beautiful music produced by a master violinist even on such a battered and worn violin.
I can imagine how horrible that violin must have been, with loose strings and chipping paint. We do not know how bad the bow might have been. There are many musicians who would never even consider using an old violin to play their music. They prefer to have a brand new instrument with tight strings and a supple bow. Yet, the master violinist longed to touch the violin and make it sing despite its imperfections.
Isn’t that how it is with people? We are all battered and worn by the world, and yet there are those who are in worse shape than others. These are the outcasts of society, the ones who are rejected and ridiculed. In Jesus’ day it was the lepers. These people suffered from a skin disease that set them apart from the community. No one could even touch these victims and they were separated from everything they knew and loved. The disease ate away at their flesh, but the human reaction did far more damage, destroying their heart and spirit. I imagine that for many, death was the only escape. Jesus offered hope to those who suffered such a terrible disease. When they heard about the miracles and authority of Jesus, they knew that He could make a difference in their lives.
“And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Matthew 8:1-4 (ASV)
The man didn’t ask Jesus to be disobedient to the laws of the Jews, but Jesus knew that the man needed more than just a healing of his flesh. He needed to be touched personally by the Master, even though he was broken and worn. Jesus could very well have healed this man with just a word, taken away the leprosy without ever being near the disease. He could have even healed the man and then touched him, saving himself the problem of being made unclean. But Jesus gave more than what was needed or expected. He reached out and touched the man in His dis-ease, repairing the damage that was done not only to His skin but also to His heart and mind.
The master violinist knew there was beautiful music in that old instrument despite the squeaky sounds produced by the hermit. He did not let his host convince him it wasn’t worth his effort or put off sharing his gifts. He took the violin and it was transformed in the hands of the master.
Who are the lepers of today? Who are the ones we cast out of society because they are battered and worn by the consequences of living in this sin filled world? Who are the ones we are unwilling to touch for fear they will make us unclean? Jesus reaches out and touches all in their need, no matter what their appearance or malady. He reaches beyond the visible need and touches the heart and spirit, bringing healing and peace. He brings out the beautiful music of our lives even if it seems like we are nothing more than broken old instruments to the world. Thanks be to God.
Trading places Katie Couric and Jay Leno traded places yesterday. Jay Leno took over Katie’s job at the Today Show in New York while Katie went to Los Angeles to be the host of the Tonight Show. The two shows followed the preparation of these two professionals who put themselves into very different roles for one day. Jay had to learn how to be a hard-hitting reporter and Katie had to learn to be a comedian. The two shows are run very differently – one is three hours with pre-recorded segments while the other is one hour of live broadcasting. It was fun to see what goes on back stage, even if some of it was set up for the entertainment of the audience.
We do not realize how much happens behind the scenes at something like a television show. We would be amazed if we could stand behind the curtain at a play or behind the camera to see all that goes into such a production. We see only what the producers, directors and performers want us to see. Everything else is hidden from view. Anyone who has been involved with such a production will tell you that sometimes what goes on behind the scenes is not very pretty. The set disasters, ripped costumes, forgotten lines and missing props are quickly covered up. The viewer enjoys a good show which informs or entertains the audience.
Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It is a running joke for many women that we don’t want to see them first thing in the morning before they put on their make-up because the sight is frightening. There are those who put on a façade for work, acting much differently in front of the boss than they would with their friends or family. There are others who have a personality specifically designed for church, but when they walk out the doors of the sanctuary they live a much different life. For all too many Sunday morning Christians, a trip to worship is a chance to network and show their face. It isn’t about heart but what can they get out of it for themselves.
“And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 (ASV)
There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that goes on in our lives – our hidden sins, our false fronts and our preparation to meet the demands of life. We cover up the things we do not want the world to see with a little make-up, the right words or a big show. I love to see a live theatre performance or enjoy a funny television show and I am glad we don’t see behind the curtains or cameras all the time. It would be a distraction and take away from the show. Yet, it is good when we can see that things do not always run perfectly, to see how they make it happen and know that sometimes things go wrong.
When it comes to our Christian living, however, we have to remember that even when we cover up our true selves and make a show of holiness like the hypocrites, God is always watching and He sees behind our closed doors. It is not a bad thing to go to church, to enjoy the fellowship of others and worship God in a corporate setting. As a matter of fact, it is vital to our Christian lives to be in the presence of other believers regularly and share in prayer, the sacraments and God’s Word. Yet, it can’t just be a show. God sees our hearts and knows our motives. So, when we pray, may we always do it to the glory of God, in humble submission to Him, not caring whether or not we have made a good impression on those who might see. Let’s always keep our worship about the hearts, not about what we can get out of it. For God blesses the humble servant who desires only His glory in their lives. Thanks be to God.
Loneliness There was an article in Newsweek several years ago that talked about loneliness on the World Wide Web. Though many people have seemingly found deep and wonderful friendships on the Internet, they actually show signs of loneliness and depression. It is because they isolate themselves, abandoning the real world for their chat room buddies, and they lose touch with flesh and blood people. These friendships are not necessarily bad – I have some very wonderful friends I’ve met on the Internet. Those friends were vital to my well-being when I lived overseas and they have helped me in many ways. Yet, the Internet becomes the whole world to some people and they end up destroying the relationships that might truly provide the support and love they need. A study found that the more time people spent at their keyboards – even if they had made good friendships, kept in touch with family and accomplished good things – the more depressed and lonely they were than when they started.
I suppose this is true because it is so easy to get hurt by people over the Internet. Because the whole medium is rather anonymous. It is easy to wear a façade when you can’t see a person’s eyes or hear their voice. I have ‘known’ people for long periods of time, thinking they were one thing but later finding out they had lied to me about their real selves. Because these relationships are built on communication that relies totally on words, it is very easy to misunderstand something that is said which leads to hurt feelings and broken relationships. Sarcasm never goes over well and humor is often taken wrongly. Without body language, tone of voice and eye contact, it is difficult to know the truth about these relationships. Disappearing is no problem – a person can easily change their screen name, block instant message buddy lists and delete mail. Most of the people I have met are fair weather friends, never willing to work through problems or do whatever is necessary to build and maintain the friendship. I still hear from certain people only when they need or want something from me, others have disappeared completely when things went wrong.
The Internet has created this new type of loneliness and yet it is no different than what has been suffered through all the ages. Even our Lord Jesus Christ suffered from loneliness in the midst of crowds. Imagine what it must have been like at the end of His walk on earth. He was so popular in the beginning of that final week, with crowds yelling “Hosanna” as He passed through the gates of Jerusalem. He had an inner circle of twelve – twelve close friends with whom He spent every moment – and that doesn’t include the women and other close friends with whom Jesus spent time. Jesus also had a close and abiding relationship with His Father. Jesus should have been the least lonely person in the world. And yet, in His final moments, He suffered a greater loneliness than anyone can imagine.
As He was dying on the cross, Jesus cried the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a quote from the Psalms, repeating the cry of David who suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. While Jesus hung from the cross, most of His friends went into hiding. Those who stood by Him to the end could do nothing but mourn the loss. Even God seemed to leave His presence as He took upon Himself the sin of the world to put its power to death forever. Yet, if we read the entirety of the Psalm which begins with such heartbreaking words, we find that God is never far from us, even in our loneliness moments.
“But be not thou far off, O Jehovah: O thou my succor, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth; Yea, from the horns of the wild-oxen thou hast answered me.
We may all have moments of loneliness in our lives, times when we feel everyone we love has abandoned us just when we need them the most. Yet, there is one who is always near. The Lord God Almighty is never far off. Though it may seem He is farther than anyone, He is close and ready to help. Sometimes we simply do not understand the type of help we need, but God knows. We may not see the people we meet on the Internet or ever know them well enough to trust they will always be there when we need them, and sometimes it seems like God is just like them. After all, we never see Him and sometimes it feels like He has abandoned us. But God is not a chat room acquaintance, wearing a façade and quick to flee when things go wrong. He is God and is worthy of our trust and praise. So, the next time we feel so lonely and depressed because everyone we know has disappeared, let us remember the words of David. He never lost sight of the Lord, even when he faced the suffering of persecution from his enemies. He knew God was near. Thanks be to God.
Rumors Gossip can be a pretty dangerous thing. Some gossip is malicious, revealing things about people that are personal, intimate or sensational, meant to destroy another person’s reputation. Even if someone is not very nice, it is improper to spread tales about him or her. Most gossip is trivial and yet even those things that might not harm another person should not be shared indiscriminately. I don’t think most people mean to gossip, I know I do not. Yet, there are times we feel we should share what we know with others and we justify it for several different reasons. First of all, we want to know if what we have heard is true, so we share with another to get their opinion and listen to what they know. Secondly, we may know someone who has been through the same thing and can help in some way. We share the information to get advice or help for the person suffering. Sometimes we just tell the tales because we can’t keep it to ourselves.
Though there are times it work out just fine, there are situations that end disastrously, even when we have good reason to share. It isn’t our place to get involved in another person’s life unless he or she has come to us seeking aid. We should not base our opinions on things ‘we have heard’ and we should never spread such rumors to others. Even when the news is good, it is best to stay silent rather than share false information. Imagine how awful it would be if Suzi heard she was receiving an promotion, but later found out she was not even selected as a candidate. Some sitcoms and movies have even used that idea as a joke on the show. Suzi ends up buying something very expensive based on her expectation, then is forced to take it back when the truth comes out.
It is difficult to know what to do with rumors, but it is a fact of life in this world. Even Jesus dealt with it as He traveled around the Holy Land. There were often whisperings behind his back, “Is He the Messiah or isn’t He?” “I heard the chief priests want him dead.” “What good can come out of Galilee?” They didn’t know what to think about Jesus. Who was He really? What is He going to do? There was a lot of confusion about Jesus even though He was forthright and open with the people.
"Some therefore of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? And lo, he speaketh openly, and they say nothing unto him. Can it be that the rulers indeed know that this is the Christ? Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when the Christ cometh, no one knoweth whence he is. Jesus therefore cried in the temple, teaching and saying, Ye both know me, and know whence I am; and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. I know him; because I am from him, and he sent me. They sought therefore to take him: and no man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come. But of the multitude many believed on him; and they said, When the Christ shall come, will he do more signs than those which this man hath done? The Pharisees heard the multitude murmuring these things concerning him; and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to take him. Jesus therefore said, Yet a little while am I with you, and I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, ye cannot come. The Jews therefore said among themselves, Whither will this man go that we shall not find him? will he go unto the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What is this word that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am, ye cannot come?” John 7:25-36 (ASV)
There wasn’t much anyone could do to stop the whispering and questions about Jesus. The people wanted to know if what they heard was true. The wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah, if the chief priests intended to kill Him. They wanted to know what to believe. Some people did not rely on the gossip, they had faith because they’d heard Jesus and knew in their hearts and spirits that He is Lord. Others did not know what to think and they confusion was exasperated by the rumors.
I know too many Christians who base their entire understanding of Jesus one things they have ‘heard’. Though it is vital for our spiritual growth to have good bible teachers and pastors to help us with understanding the scriptures, we need to be careful that we are hearing the truth and not just some sort of gossip. Too many times I’ve heard Christians share an unbiblical doctrine, but defend it to the end because they heard it from some evangelist. They pass on these teachings with others, spreading the false doctrine to others bringing confusion and doubt to those who hear. But Jesus is not the Lord of confusion; He is the Lord of life.
How do we know what to believe? Does it agree with the character of God found in the scriptures and seen in the Lord Jesus? Is it based on mercy and grace, or does it burden you down with law? Who is the center of the teaching – Jesus or self? When the people heard the rumors about Jesus, those who became confused did not keep their eyes on Jesus. They tried to find the answers on their own by listening to rumors and lies. There are some things we should not keep to ourselves, particularly the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as we speak, let us be sure that what we are sharing is the truth and not some gossip being spread by someone who really does not know God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the word of God, we can know what is right and true. Thanks be to God.
Green beans Many children do not like to eat their vegetables, yet it is important to their growth and physical well being to eat foods rich in vitamins like green beans. For the parents who have children who refuse to eat the green things on their plate, have you considered growing a garden? A recent study has shown that children are more likely to eat the things they have grown for themselves. Saundra Lorenz, the author of the study, is quoted in Reader’s Digest as saying, “Gardening lets children make a connection between their food and where it comes from.” So, the next time your children turns his or her nose up at green beans, go plant a garden full of them and teach them how to care for it. It might just make a difference.
All children learn best when they have hands on experience. Math teachers use manipulatives to help children see how one plus one really makes two. Science labs give the children a chance to explore how things work. Field trips to historic sights give the children a first hand look at the way things used to be. It is not enough to hear the lessons taught with words or read in a book. Children need to use all their senses to really learn.
We all do. We might like to think that as we grow older we can learn things more intellectually, using only our brains, but we really need the whole experience to be connected to the things we are learning. It is good and wonderful to be involved with fellowship with other Christians in bible study, either in a church, home or even on the Internet. Yet, it is not enough for our spiritual growth and maturity. We need to experience God in worship and know His presence with out entire beings. Though many people do not appreciate high church worship on a regular bases, I know very few who have experienced it without having a sense of the Divine presence. Why? Because that type of worship takes advantage of every sense – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. You are drawn fully into the worship with your eyes, ears, hands, mouth and nose. You become connected through your senses to the others present as well as with God Himself. That’s how Jesus lived, and it is how Jesus calls us to live out our faith in this world.
“At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ASV)
The fully lived Christian life is not passive or merely intellectual. We have to become part of it with our minds, hearts and bodies, sharing in the life of Jesus in every way. Like the children who are more willing to eat green beans because they have grown the vegetables themselves, we are more willing to step out in faith when we understand in every way the lessons taught to us by Jesus. As we pick up our cross and follow Him, we find that we do not carry a heavy burden like those who try to become righteous by their own work. But rather, we find our connection to Jesus is greater because He is working in and through us making the burden light and it is there we find rest. We cannot do this without Him, for we are sinners by nature unable to do good works on our own. But in Him we are forgiven and reconciled to God and by His power and love we can walk the Christian walk. We only know God through the revelation of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. We could never participate again in fellowship, worship or growth of a Christian life and still by faith be saved. Yet, it will not bring us the joy and peace we can know when we have that deep connection that comes from the experiences of learning about Him in our gatherings with other Christians where our whole beings are drawn into His presence and we enjoy fellowship with the Divine. God has made it possible to enjoy Him in every way and gives us the opportunities to participate in His kingdom so that we will fully know Him and live our whole lives in His service. Thanks be to God.
Chicken or the egg? Certain questions have plagued the human mind for generations. “What is the meaning of life?” “Why is there suffering in the world?” “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Though most of the people know that there is no easy answer, some people are very passionate about their answer. For those who believe in God, there is no question. For those who have found their purpose in living, it seems silly to ask what it all means. Those who believe in evolution generally believe without a doubt that the egg came first and creationists believe the chicken came first based on the biblical narrative. Everyone has a reason, whether logical or emotional, for why they believe their answer is right. There is even a joke that lists many favorite people and their reasons for giving a certain answer.
So, which came first? This question can be put into other contexts also. When it comes to religious faith, one of the greatest theological questions ever asked is “Is our salvation dependent on faith or works?” In other words, “Do we choose God or does God choose us?” The scriptures certainly give us some indication that both answers are correct, and yet it always comes back to the basic question, “Which came first?” The bottom line is that God came first. He was before all things and will be long after all things have passed away. God is the Creator, Redeemer and King of all creation. We can go back into the lives of the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets to know that in all things God comes first. Moses could not have been the deliverer if God had not revealed Himself first. David would not have been king if God had not anointed him. Isaiah could not speak the words of truth to the Israelites if God had not put those words in his mouth. Yet, they all believed and then God put them to service. Yet, how and when does faith enter into the picture?
“Is this blessing then pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness. How then was it reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision: and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them; and the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.” Romans 4:9-12 (ASV)
The people in Jesus’ day thought that their act of circumcision was what brought them the blessings of God. But in this letter from Paul to the Christians in Rome shows us that it was not Abraham’s actions, which brought God into His life, but rather because God was there that Abraham found blessings and he responded to the call of God. Faith did not come because Abraham chose to be obedient or because he had done anything to bring it about. God came first, revealed Himself to Abraham who believed and in faith he walked as God commanded.
That’s how it is for us. The question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” may never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction for even those who believe in the creation as given in the scriptures, can wonder if God created the actual chicken or an egg first. But when it comes to faith, there is no question. God came first, He reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ through the scriptures and the fellowship of the saints over the ages and by His Word we believe. In faith we respond to God’s love in worship, service and witnessing to others in this world. Which came first? God is always first, in love, mercy and peace. All else comes after by faith in that which God has promised. Thanks be to God.
Clouds We have had some pretty terrible weather in the last few days. We were blasted Friday night with a wave of severe storms and potential tornados. Luckily the damage was minimal and there were few injuries. I have heard no reports of death due to this recent weather. Though the danger was never headed directly to us, it was somewhat frightening Friday night to watch the black clouds pass overhead, to listen to the storm reports and TV and to experience the lightning and thunder. I made some brownies and we enjoyed them in the hallway of our house as we waited through the tornado alarms.
Though things have settled down quite a bit, the sky is still filled with an unusual array of clouds. As Bruce and I drove home from a party yesterday evening, we couldn’t help but notice the strange clouds on the horizon. They did not look quite as threatening as the black clouds the night before, but there was something very strange about them. There were some pure white fluffy clouds, almost like ice cream. Others were gray and seemed heavy with water. Some were flat, and the light of the setting sun shone on the edges of a few giving them an orangish hue. It was as if we were seeing every type of cloud all in one place. I commented to Bruce, “Those clouds do not look real. If I were to paint a picture, I could not duplicate it because it wouldn’t be believable to the viewer.”
Have you ever thought about how ridiculous our faith really is? We believe in a God who created everything and loved all His creation, who created man in His image and gave us the freedom to fail and turn from His love, who sent His Son to die in our place so that we can be forgiven our sinful ways, who does not require good works for the fulfillment of His promises. Some of the stories about God and His people are preposterous, who could believe them? Men leaving their homes for unknown lands, women having babies when they are old, prophets taken away in flaming chariots, donkeys talking and armies defeated with song. Its no wonder that so many have not come to believe in Him, it is unbelievable. The true miracle, the most incredible act of God of all, is that some do believe.
Add to it the realization that there is no way to prove that God exists. We can talk until we are blue in the face about the way God has impacted our lives, about how the scriptures are truth and that Christ really did die for our sake. We can share our story, tell of miracles we’ve witnessed or describe visions of angels we’ve seen. We can explain what the scriptures mean and point to God’s creation with the belief that such beauty did not occur by accident, but by the hand of an Almighty God. Yet many will continue to reject the Lord because it seems so incredible to believe something you can’t see, feel, hear, touch or taste. The whole idea of God loving or blessing anything unworthy is far-fetched and mind-boggling. And yet, it is all true.
“The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” Acts 17:24-28 (ASV)
A great artist might be able to put onto canvas the incredible vision we saw in the sky of so many different types of clouds in one place. He may be able to make it beautiful and inspiring, but even a master painter would have difficulty making it seem real. We had to experience it ourselves to know that clouds can look so strange during a storm such as we’ve had this weekend. The same is true when it comes to our relationship with God. The Christian faith is truly ridiculous to those who have not experienced the Lord God Almighty. Yet, despite our reluctance to believe the unbelievable, God gave us everything we need, most especially Jesus and in Him we see the love of God, receive His forgiveness and abide in the Kingdom of God. We may never come up with the words that will paint a picture of what God is really like for those who do not yet believe so that they too might become one of God’s children. Thanks be to God.
Project The school year is drawing quickly to its end. The children are filled with expectation as summer vacation is within their reach. It is a hectic time filled with anxiety and excitement. We enjoyed an awards program last week for Vicki’s school and saw a large number of students rewarded for their accomplishments. Zack’s program will be next week. Many schools are having special field days and picnics to celebrate a wonderful year. There is still work to do, however. Teachers are concluding the final lessons and preparing end of the year exams. Students are making up missing work and finishing their closing projects.
Zack’s final project is about China, the country they have been studying all year. He has chosen to report on the geography of the nation and has worked hard preparing for his presentation. We found a wonderful website filled with information about the different parts of China, which is as diverse in its terrain as the United States. He chose seven areas to show how there is some desert, some farmland, some mountains, some rainforest and even a place where it snows. We found pictures on the Internet from these places to include with the map. He wrote a report that answered the questions included with the assignment and created a visual to show the location of the most important features of the land.
Now, Zack is a very intelligent boy and can accomplish great things, but he’s not always motivated to do his best. And I tend to be a perfectionist, expecting 110% out of my kids. So, I get my hands dirty with them on projects like this, helping them in any way I can and encouraging them to go the extra mile. I try not to do too much, but I do not allow them to take the easy way out. So, when they try to take shortcuts, I push them to work harder. We usually end up in a battle over some aspect of the project that he or she has not done as well as I expect. Yet, I know I have to let go, let them do the work themselves. I can’t do it all, or it would not be their project. There will come a time when they cannot rely on me to help with ideas, research or even choosing the right materials. They will have to do it all on their own. Vicki is already nearly entirely independent when it comes to schoolwork. I can only hope that in these younger years I will give them the skills they need and that they will have a desire to do their best in all they do.
I imagine it was hard for Jesus to let go. He loved the disciples very much and desired the greatest blessings to be on their lives. He knew that they would find joy in the work He was training them to do, even when it seemed too hard at times. Even after three years with Him, they seemed like a rag-tag bunch of misfits, unable to go out on their own. I wonder if He ever said, “Father, I know what has to be done, but can it wait a bit? These guys just aren’t ready to be set out into the world without me.” Yet, He knew the only way they could ever do the work is if He left and gave them the Holy Spirit to fill them and finish the work.
“These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.
I can’t give Zack everything he needs to do his schoolwork. Some of it has to come from within. It is my hope that with each passing year Zack will grow in ability and desire to do better with each project so that he will reach his potential. Yet, each year I have to let go a little more and encourage him to go out on his own, to find his own solutions to the problems he faces, trusting that something I taught will stay with him. We will never really know what he can do if I do too much of his work.
Jesus knew the only way the disciples could really serve God was for Him to leave them and give them the Holy Spirit. He planted the seeds of faith and then gave them the fire, wisdom and gifts to do all He had commanded them to do. They couldn’t have done it if He stayed with them. There are times I wonder what it would have been like to live in the presence of Jesus, to walk with Him and talk with Him face to face. Yet, we truly live in the more blessed time because not only is Jesus with us, but He dwells within us and fills us with all we need to do His work in this world. Thanks be to God.
Clone My daughter Vicki is almost my clone. It is amazing how many ways she is like me. She shares many of my physical attributes as well as emotional and intellectual. Over the years she has done many of the same things that I did as a child, much to my dismay. The ways in which she is most like me are the things that drive me crazy. I can remember often calling my mother before she passed away and saying, “Mom, I’m sorry.” She would respond, “What did Vicki do now?” We would laugh while I recounted some story that would be nearly identical to a story she could tell about me. Watching Vicki grow up is like watching myself in a mirror, a strange and sometimes horrifying experience.
It is very easy for us to look at others and see all their faults. We curse at other drivers for cutting us off on the highway, but forget we do it ourselves. We grumble about the suffering in the world expecting others to take care of it, while we do nothing to make a difference. We list the sins of our neighbor without really considering our own. It has been quite a blessing to have Vicki as my daughter, because we rarely have a chance to see ourselves as we really are, though with every judgment we make it is like looking in a mirror. Isn’t it strange how the things we notice most clearly in the lives of others are the very things that dominate our lives? I have heard it said that we should be careful about pointing the finger at someone, because when we do there are four pointing back at us.
“Hear my prayer, O Jehovah; Give ear to my supplications: In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. And enter not into judgment with thy servant; For in thy sight no man living is righteous. For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; He hath smitten my life down to the ground: He hath made me to dwell in dark places, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy doings; I muse on the work of thy hands. I spread forth my hands unto thee: My soul thirsteth after thee, as a weary land. Selah
Many of the Psalms are filled with pleas to God to save them from their enemies. They speaks of those who pursue and persecute them, asking God to silence and destroy their foes and claiming for themselves a special place in God’s heart. Though I too long for God’s protection on my life, I don’t find much comfort in this type of Psalm. I can’t help but wonder if I am doing the very things that have made my neighbor my enemy. In this particular Psalm, however, David realizes his own sin and begs for God’s mercy before he seeks God’s help. He knows that he is not righteous before God and he turns to the only one who can provide his needs. “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” (vs. 6, NIV) Only after admitting his own fault does David seek an answer to his prayer, and in doing so asks for God to transform his life as much as he asks to subdue his enemy.
I learned a great deal about myself when I started seeing myself in Vicki’s actions. When we see something we don’t like in another, are we quick to pass judgment, to rebuke or correct their faults? Do we even take one moment to consider our own sins against our neighbors? There is a place for judgment in this world, to help others to become the person God has created them to be. We should not let sin continue in the lives of those we know and love. Yet, when we see something negative in the life of another, let us stop for a moment and consider what it is we are really seeing. Is God holding before us a mirror so that we can see ourselves and that which He is trying to transform in our own lives? We certainly can seek God’s protection on our lives, because there are those who are enemies trying to destroy us, but let us go before the Lord with humility, knowing that we are not any better or more righteous than those who pursue and persecute us. It is only by God’s grace and unfailing love that we can be saved. Thanks be to God.
Croesus Croesus was the king of Lydia five hundred or so years before the birth of Christ. Herodotus the Greek historian related a story about the king and happiness. Despite the small size of his nation, the people of Lydia were hardworking and prosperous people and Croesus was said to be the richest man in the whole world. He had everything that could possibly make him happy and considered himself the happiest man in the world. A wise man from Greece named Solon visited Lydia and was a special guest of the king. Solon was considered the wisest man in the world and Croesus was overjoyed and proud to have him as a guest. After showing Solon his palace and the treasures he had collected, he asked Solon who he thought was the happiest man in the world, expecting Solon to answer “Croesus”.
Solon thought for a moment and then told Croesus about a poor man who had lived honestly and raised his children well, then died for the defense of his country. “Can you think of anyone who is more deserving of happiness?” Croesus was disappointed but could not argue with Solon’s point of view. He asked, “Who is the second happiest?” once again expecting his name to be the answer to the question. When Solon again offered the example of two poor young men who managed to care for their mother after their father’s death and when she died they gave their lives in service to their country.
Croesus was quite upset by this answer. “How can you choose poor men as the happiest when I have this great wealth and everything I could possibly want or need?” Solon answered that no living man could be named the happiest because we never know what will happen tomorrow. Croesus’ entire fortune could disappear in a heartbeat, and then would he be happy?
Sometime later an Asian king named Cyrus conquered nation upon nation until he eventually arrived in Lydia. Though they gave a good fight, eventually Croesus’ army fell, the palace was destroyed and he was marked for death due to his proud and arrogant ways. The enemy soldiers tied Croesus to pile of firewood and prepared to set it on fire. Croesus cried, “Solon, Solon, Solon,” realizing how true were the words he spoke. When Cyrus heard him cry that name he asked Croesus why. Croesus told him the story of Solon’s visit and Cyrus was deeply moved by the lesson learned. He realized that one day he might be the one suffering such a great loss and ordered Croesus to be freed. “After all, ought not men to be merciful and kind to those who are in distress? I will do to Croesus as I would have others do to me.” *
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.
Solon was certainly quite wise in the way he dealt with Croesus’ pride. Instead of passing judgment on the foolish behavior of the wealthy king, which may have caused him to respond with violence, Solon simply warned him of the possibilities. Croesus most likely continued to live with the idea that he was the happiest man alive, thinking his wealth was all he needed for happiness, but when the day of his downfall came, he remembered the wise words of Solon. Though he was left with nothing in terms of material possessions, those words saved his life and helped another to see the error of his ways.
Our Christian life is not always going to be one filled with happiness and prosperity. We will all suffer the consequences of our sin, just like Croesus was sent to be burned to death because of his pride. We may find ourselves living in conditions of poverty, with barely enough to survive. We will suffer heartache and pain, anger and humiliation. But when we Christians live all our days loving and forgiving one another, the mercy and grace of God will be returned to us a hundredfold for the sake of the one who lived, loved and died for our sake, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
*Story adapted from “As Rich as Croesus” by James Baldwin, found in “The Book of Virtues” by William J. Bennett.
Second chances If you had the chance to live your life all over again, would you do it the same or would you make changes? Unfortunately, this is a strictly hypothetical question since none of us will be able to be born again from our mother’s womb and begin life anew. And yet, we do get second chances in this life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything we do is wiped clean, but we have the chance to start again with the knowledge we gained from our mistakes so that we can do things better. Yesterday we heard about Croesus who was given a second chance at life. He was given a new chance to live when Cyrus freed him from the fire. He suffered the consequences of his overconfident lifestyle – lost everything he loved and nearly lost his life. His new life was to be much different than before. Yet, he had the chance to start anew.
Such was the experience of another king, whose kingdom was eventually destroyed by Cyrus also. Nebuchadnezzar lived in the sixth century B.C. and was a powerful, wealthy king. God used him in the discipline of His people Israel because they had disobeyed God’s Word. He besieged Jerusalem and took some of the things from the temple. Daniel was among the young men taken to serve in the king’s palace. They were trained in the ways of Babylon and given everything they would need to live. Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo suffered incredible persecution when they refused to eat and worship according to the Babylonian ways, but God protected them and they were given even more responsibility.
It was found that Daniel was gifted by God to interpret the dreams and visions of the king. One night Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a large tree that grew large and strong, but was then cut down according to a command given through an angel. The stump and its roots were bound by iron and bronze, and then covered with dew. For a time he would live with the wild animals, his mind like that of the animals until seven years passed. The king asked Daniel to interpret the dream, but Daniel feared telling the king the truth of what he had seen. The dream was about the king himself, that he would be driven away to live with the wild animals. Seven years would pass before the king would acknowledge the Lord God Almighty as King over al the earth, but when he repented his entire kingdom would be restored to him.
Indeed, just a year later, Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his royal palace basking in the glory of his kingdom when a messenger from God appeared before him and told him that God has taken his royal authority from him, just as Daniel had predicted. For seven years Nebuchadnezzar lived with the animals, eating grass like cattle and being drenched by the dew of heaven.
“And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time mine understanding returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added unto me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways justice; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” Daniel 4:34-37 (ASV)
It was some time later, after the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, that Cyrus moved swiftly across the land taking down kingdom after kingdom as he built the Persian Empire through conquest. Nebuchadnezzar’s new life did not come from the mercy of man, but rather through the sovereignty of God. The enemy of God’s people, the one who had taken them away from the land they loved, repented and began to praise God. God had humbled the mighty king and made him to suffer the consequences of his pride for a season, but then restored to him the former glory of his kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar praised God and exalted Him as King of heaven and testified to the rightness and justice of His ways.
We, too, will be given a second chance through Jesus Christ our Lord. Now, as we live in the faith He has given us by the power of His Word and Spirit, we are given many chances to live life anew. He transforms us daily into that which He has created us to be. Sometimes we suffer the consequences like Croesus and Nebuchadnezzar, but God is faithful. He will restore us according to His good and perfect will. Sometimes things return to the way they were before, sometimes our life is made new and we are sent in a different direction. No matter what, let us praise God because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. Thanks be to God.
Instructions Imagine it is Christmas Eve. You’ve bought your child his or her first real bike. It is midnight and you’ve just sat down with a pile of parts and a few pages of instructions that make no sense at all – sometimes they aren’t even in English! Ok, we’ve all been there in one way or another at some time in our lives, trying hard to follow the instructions but unable to distinguish between the poorly drawn pictures on the instruction sheets. Five-thirty rolls around, the kids are beginning stir under the covers, anxious to see what surprises await them under the Christmas tree, and you are still trying to make pieces fit into the right slots. It seems like an impossible task, but you are concerned about finishing the project for the safety and happiness of your child. It usually takes just one experience like this to make parents choose to have the bike assembled at the store, particularly if the child wakes to disappointment that they can’t ride their new bike because it isn’t safe.
The biggest problem seems to be the identification of some of the parts in the instructions. They call the pieces strange names and included hand drawn pictures that do not look like anything in the box. You spend half your time just trying to identify which screw goes in which hole, and then there is often not enough to go around. It doesn’t help that we tend to ignore the instruction to read through the entire booklet before beginning (which often makes a difference when you get to the final stages of building.) So, we try to do one step at a time, not understanding the terminology and thinking we know better ways to accomplish the task, only finding out later that we have used the wrong parts or put together things which make it more difficult later.
We do the same thing with our relationship with God, trying to build up our knowledge of God without really understanding what we should do. We do not know the terms and do things in the wrong order thinking that we know better than God about how to gain salvation from our sin. The Jews understood God’s law from the perspective that if they did everything rightly they would be saved and there are still people who think that’s the way to heaven. When reading scriptures such as Psalm 119, where the focus seems to be the keeping of the law, they see the writer striving for perfection in obedience to the rules but they misunderstand the meaning of the words found in those passages.
“For ever, O Jehovah, Thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They abide this day according to thine ordinances; For all things are thy servants.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the bible, with 176 verses. It is divided into twenty-two segments, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It is “acrostic poetry” with the first word of each segment beginning with that letter, and seems contrived in the English, but is said to be quite beautifully written in the original Hebrew. Each segment repeats the same thoughts – how wonderful it is to live in the law of God, obedient to His word, which is His covenant with His people. The words precepts, commands, statutes, decrees and ordinances are used alongside law and word, all synonyms for the same thing. Those words are typically understood as things we must do, so we do what they say in the hopes that God will bless us because of our obedience.
Yet, we’ve learned that we can’t do it all. It is impossible for human nature to be perfectly obedient to God’s Law, which is why Jesus Christ came to take upon Himself the wrath we so deserve and bring us forgiveness and eternal life. We can’t do those things and earn our way to heaven; we are given our place in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. When we know the whole story, when we’ve read to the end of the instruction sheet, we can see that Christ is the word, law, command, precept, statute, decree and ordinance of God. We are not obedient to God by keeping those things, but by humbling ourselves before the One who has become all those things for our sake. So, as we read the Psalm, instead of seeing all the things we need to do, we see that the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God. To the parent who cannot put together a bike on Christmas Eve, the gift becomes a burden and realizes it may have been best to allow someone else to do the work so that it would have been done properly. As we look at the Psalm from the Jewish perspective, it is a burden we are unable to keep. But on this side of the Resurrection, they are no longer a burden but rather a gift from God through which He produces in us the fruit of salvation for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
*For those who have difficulty coming up with words or keeping themselves focused during their times of prayer, Psalm 119 can be a very helpful tool. You can pray through Psalm 119, using one segment a day and praying that God helps you to live according to His Word. As you do so, remember that His words, laws, commands, precepts, statutes, decrees, and ordinances are not burdens, but are fulfilled in Jesus. It may even help to replace those words with His name, focusing totally on the grace He has given us to live in His kingdom as we live in this world.
Promises Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher in England, spoke these to his congregation about promises one Sunday. “Trade much in promises. The promises are great supports to faith. Faith lives in a promise, as the fish lives in the water. The promises are both comforting and quickening, the very breast of the gospel; as the child by sucking the breasts gets strength, so faith by sucking the breast of a promises get strength and revives. The promises of God are bladders (floatation devices) to keep us from sinking when we come to the waters of affliction. O! trade much in promises; there is no condition that you can be in, but you have a promise.”
The interesting thing about promises are that there is actually more joy in the hope of them than in the fulfillment. Oh, yes, we get excited when the wonderful day arrives when we see that which we’ve been waiting for, but then the hope is gone and eventually the joy fades. Human promises aren’t always trustworthy; sometimes the day does not ever arrive. Unfortunately, we have all at some point used promises for the wrong reasons, suggesting that if a child quiets he will get a piece of candy, or telling an acquaintance we will do something to gain their friendship. These types of promises are rarely kept and they result in hurt feelings and broken relationships. Those who use promises with false motives lack integrity and their words cannot be believed. Yet, we all fail to keep promises at some time or another, life is unpredictable and some things are simply impossible.
There is, however, One who is trustworthy. His promises are true even when we do not see the fulfillment of them in our lifetime. Those closest to God throughout the scriptures knew this to be true and they lived their lives in the hope of His promises. Abraham willingly left his home for a land in which he would never personally abide. Even David, who was given the crown of Israel, lived on the hope of the promises of God.
“The covenant which he made with Abraham, And his oath unto Isaac, And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, The lot of your inheritance; When ye were but a few men in number, Yea, very few, and sojourners in it; And they went about from nation to nation, And from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones, And do my prophets no harm. Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols: But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and gladness are in his place." 1 Chronicles 17:16-27 (ASV)
David praised God for His wonderful blessings, but then he praised Him even more for that which He promised. He knew the Word of God is trustworthy, that what God promises will come to pass one day, even if he would never see it happen. In our lives we will make promises that we cannot keep and others will make such promises to us. We will also enjoy the fulfillment of promises between people. We will never be perfectly trustworthy, but we will live in the joy of waiting for wonderful things. Yet, there are promises that we can believe, for God’s Word is true even when they are far in the future. We live in the joy of knowing that there is none like God and hoping for the great things He can do. We belong to Him and through His Son Jesus Christ He has revealed the most wonderful promise of all – that we will live in His presence for eternity. We are like the fish in the water or the child at the breast of his mother, gaining strength and being revived by the very thought of what God has planned for tomorrow. Thanks be to God.
Terra-Cotta Warriors When Zack was doing his project about China, he found information about a special museum in Xi’an, a city in central China. This museum is located underground and is the excavation of an army of terra-cotta warriors created to guard the tomb of China’s first Emperor. These 7500 amazing life-size clay statues are being carefully exhumed and restored for modern archeologists to study and people to see. Since Zack has shown an interest in archeology, he was fascinated by this place and wants to visit it some day.
Qin Shi Huangdi, began his life as a ruler in China when he was just thirteen. He was a warlord who fought against other warlords for twenty-five years, taking control of more and more men until he had an army of over a million men. He dominated the people, using violence to gain power over his enemies until he was the most powerful man in the land. He then took on the name Qin Shi Huangdi, which means “First Divine Emperor in China.” He was in some ways a good ruler. He unified China, built the great wall, and developed a capital city with excellent infrastructure. He was so confident about his power and position that he claimed that his dynasty would last ten thousand years.
Qin Shi Huangdi was afraid of death, so he built hundreds of palaces that were connected by underground tunnels. He could sleep in a different palace each night and avoid assassination. He even refused to die a normal physical death, so he sent his wise men to locate the fountain of youth, which they never found. Though the Emperor accomplished great things, he did it with excessive cruelty, slaughtering people and destroying the treasures of the culture. Finally, the prime minister conspired with others and the Emperor was assassinated when he was just forty-one years old. The conspirators sent a forged letter to his only son and convinced him to commit suicide, leaving the legacy that this dynasty was the shortest in China’s history.
“Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye may love one another.” John 15:9-17 (ASV)
Qin Shi Huangdi lived in fear, for though he was a very powerful man, he did not know grace, mercy or love. He knew only his desires to live forever and treated his people as if they were only the means by which he would get what he wanted. He was the exact opposite of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to gain power, but to bring forgiveness. He came not to build a kingdom through violence, but to unify people by the Word of God. He came to give us the love of God so that we can live in that love and share it with others.
The terra-cotta warriors stand as a testament to the life of the first man to unify China and who brought good things to the people of that great land. Yet, it is also a testament to how human ways pass quickly, but the things of God are eternal. The dynasty of Qin Shi Huangdi lasted less than a lifetime because the emperor did not know the power of love, only the power of the sword. He came to an end as he brought the end to many. But the kingdom of God still reigns after two thousand years, because it is built on love and mercy.
There are still rulers in this world like Qin Shi Huangdi, kings that have done great things, but that have done them without mercy. They do not bring peace, but live in fear for their own lives. But we know the Lord Jesus and have found the salvation He so freely gives to those who believe in His name. We are heirs to a kingdom that is built to last, to endure even longer than ten thousand years. It is in that kingdom we are called to live. Thanks be to God.
Memorial Day Today is day we honor those who have died for the sake of our country, but it is also considered the first day of the summer season. In the next few weeks, schools will finish for the year and families will begin they age old tradition of summer vacation. They will jump in planes, trains and automobiles and head off in search of entertainment at tourist sites around the country and the world, theme parks being a particular favorite of many families. Billions of dollars will be spent (the tourist industry hopes) on gas, entrance fees, food and souvenirs. Shops are filled with silly little trinkets that have “Welcome to wherever” stamped somewhere on it. There are postcards, snow globes with miniature versions of the place dusted with tiny flecks of white and sparkly glitter, yo-yos, pins, whistles, pens, pencils and hundreds of other things to buy as a remembrance of the trip.
You would think that such frivolous notions are a modern invention, but they aren’t. I remember when visiting a castle in England, some people were play-acting ancient artisans on the green. One was creating tiny pewter figurines that had been used as tokens for pilgrims to take home after a visit. The bible even refers to the craft in the book of Acts.
“And about that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no little business unto the craftsmen; whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this business we have our wealth. And ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands: and not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be made of no account, and that she should even be deposed from her magnificence whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. And when they heard this they were filled with wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesus. And the city was filled with the confusion: and they rushed with one accord into the theatre, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel. And when Paul was minded to enter in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain also of the Asiarchs, being his friends, sent unto him and besought him not to adventure himself into the theatre.” Acts 19:23-31 (ASV)
Those small images were much like our modern day souvenirs. The Temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus, and was a favorite destination for travelers from all over the world because of its great beauty. The statue of Artemis found in the inner sanctuary was said to have fallen from heaven. Souvenir shops most likely lined the street leading to the temple, offering miniatures of Artemis for the visitors to take home. These were not likely used for worship, any more than the gifts purchased at Disneyworld.
The faith being preached by Paul and his companions was a danger to the business of these craftsmen. If this Christian understanding took off, they would be out of a job. Demetrius needed to do something that would get the disciples to leave Ephesus – let them go elsewhere to set up their own temple to their God. So, he hit the crowd where he knew it would hurt, that their goddess would be destroyed. The city began to riot and the lives of the disciples were threatened.
Things are not so different for us today as they were for those who lived in the days of the early church. We still preach the gospel to folk who do not want to hear it because it is a danger to their way of life. Perhaps we aren’t selling images of Greek and Roman gods, but the Gospel could close down porn shops, gambling establishments, bars, stores that sell new age books and supplies. Faith in Jesus could halt the sale of illegal drugs, prostitution and gangs. As such, there will always be people like Demetrius, crying out against the Gospel and creating riots to get rid of those preaching. Though Paul was not directly involved with that riot in Ephesus, it was eventually used against him. We do not know how the people of this world will react to that which we preach about Jesus. But it should never stop us from preaching. We will face persecution, because there are many who do not want to lose what they have. We can rest assured that God will see us through, even when we are faced with possible death, false testimony and imprisonment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Doll The television show “Seinfeld” was very popular because it used the ridiculous and mundane to make the people laugh. They even played on that aspect of the show in a long running story about Jerry and George trying to sell a show about nothing to NBC. One episode of the show focused almost entirely on George’s fear of a doll his girlfriend brought when she moved in. The doll looked almost exactly like George’s mom. He could not stand the piercing eyes looking at him all the time, and tried to get rid of it. His adventures with this doll brought many good laughs for the audience.
It seems ridiculous to think that a doll might look like a mother, and yet I found one recently. We were at the mall and stopped into the card shop to buy some graduation and Father’s Day cards and I took a few moments to look at the different types of gifts. Hanging from the ceiling were a bunch of adorable angel dolls, a most unusual design. The faces were very realistic and were of elderly ladies, with wrinkles and hair pulled up in buns. With shock I realized one of them looked just like my mom. It was so cute I almost purchased on the spot, but it was more money than I had to spend. On our way home, I could not decide if having such a thing in the house would be freaky or cool. Mom has been gone several years now, and there are times I definitely miss her, but I’m not sure a cutesy little doll will make me feel any better.
The other day I realized both how much I miss her and how much she did for me. Vicki is preparing for performances at her dance recital, which will be next weekend. Her costumes arrived recently, much later than expected, leaving us very little time to have the pants hemmed. Mom was such a wonderful seamstress that I wished she were here to do the job for us. Though she never directly taught me what to do, I had watched her over the years and knew the basics. I was able to hem the pants and though the job is by far not professional and I’m not sure it will last through the recital, at least I was able to do it for my child. There are many times I realize how much I learned from my mom even though she never really taught me anything, and it gives me hope that my kids are picking many things up just by watching.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ASV)
George could not stand the thoughts of having a doll that looked like his mother staring over him day after day. I still don’t know how I would feel about having such a doll in our house. I do know that it is such a blessing when I remember mom in those daily tasks and mundane ways – knowing that I learned a great deal from her over the years that have helped me accomplish the things I do for my own children today. It is comforting to know that the same is happening to them. They are learning the life skills that will help them along the way, even if I do not directly teach them how to do these things. When it comes to the things of faith, it is not only the very conscience effort I make to teach them the things of God, but also the Christian witness I give them in my daily walk with Christ, in which they will learn about their own faith and respond to God’s mercy and grace. Then even when I am no longer around, they will know what to do. Thanks be to God.
Gloating You’ve heard it said, “I hate to say ‘I told you so’ but I told you so.” Who are we kidding? We love to say “I told you so.” How many times have we said it to our kids? They come to us for advice and we offer the best we know, explaining why our answer is the best. They don’t believe it and try their own way, finding quickly that we knew that what we were saying is true. They suffered the consequences we tried to help them avoid, and then we put in that little dig, “I told you so.”
The timeliest example of this has to do with those end of the school projects. Each day when the children came home from school, I would ask about homework and nudge them to get right to work. With our busy schedules of scouts, sports and other activities, we can’t wait until the last minute to do anything. Yet, it seems that just when I think they are working, I find they are in front of the TV or playing a game. “You are going to regret not working on that thing now when you are forced to do everything at the last minute.” The due date arrives and indeed they have to push to accomplish the task, working hours at a time. “I told you that you should have been working rather than watching TV,” I said when they began complaining about how tired they were of working on the project. “Maybe next time you will listen to your mother,” I say, basking in fact that I was right, again.
We don’t always warn people about what we know, particularly our enemies. Have you ever seen someone you dislike and thought, “Gee, so and so is going to suffer this or that if he does that.” We think it, but we do not offer any warning or advice. After all, of our own children won’t listen to us, why bother telling our enemies? Besides, he deserves a little suffering, a little punishment for all the harm he has caused others. Then we sit back to watch the show, gloating in joy over the possibilities. Now, certainly we don’t do this if the consequences will be disastrous, but if we are completely honest, we will all recognize that we have gloated at some time or another about the affliction of our enemies.
“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, And let not thy heart be glad when he is overthrown; Lest Jehovah see it, and it displease him, And he turn away his wrath from him.” Proverbs 24:17-18 (ASV)
Gloating over the pain our enemies suffer when they stumble is certainly not a very Christian attitude to take. God does not want to see anyone suffer, He desires all to know Him and have the peace that comes from reconciliation through Jesus Christ our Lord. If we are laughing at our enemy, how is it that He will see the love and mercy of God? It really does not help a situation, like the end of the year projects, to spend the day saying, “I told you so.” We simply have to get through the experience and remind our children of the valuable lesson they have learned. Yes, we certainly hope they have heard our words and will not forget, but to gloat over their suffering will not make the lesson any more real. Rather than “I told you so,” it is much better to ask, “What lesson have you learned?” This will have a far more powerful impact than reminding the children of how right you were in the first place.
What should we do when our enemy falls? We are called to pick them up, dust them off and share the message of Christ so that they will no longer be our enemy but will become our friend. It is by the word of God that all are reconciled not only to Him, but also to each other. Oh, it doesn’t always happen the immediately, we may not even see the fruit of our actions. However, Christ is never glorified in our gloating, He is glorified by our faith which is evident in our witness. We may continue to suffer at the hands of that enemy, despite our mercy and love, but laughing at our enemy will only chase them further from the Lord. By the grace of God, let us always lift our enemies rather than tear them down so that they might come to know the Lord Jesus and become our brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God.
Bob Hope Bob Hope turns one hundred years old today, an incredible feat even with our modern technology and medicine. I don’t think there are many who have not heard of this man. He is known the world over for his humor, talent and kind heart. Many generations have laughed at his jokes, seen his movies and television shows or seen him perform live. For many, the greatest experience were his appearances with the U.S.O. in shows given for the military troops stationed all over the world. He has given so much of himself for the joy of others and he will long be remembered for the contribution he has made to our lives over the years.
Though we have all heard of him in some way, there are far fewer who can say they know him personally. It isn’t that Bob Hope tried to keep himself away from his audience; it just isn’t practical or logistically possible for any one man to know millions of people personally or call them friends. We know him, love him and consider him a part of our lives, but there is no way that Bob Hope will ever know me personally.
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if you had known Jesus personally? Have you ever wished that you were one of the original followers of Jesus, in that day so that you too could have experienced the Living God in the flesh? What might it have been like to hear His voice, eat with Him and follow Him as He journeyed around the Holy Land? It was surely a more difficult life than we lead today, but what a joy it would have been to be with Jesus.
So, why didn’t He stay? After His resurrection, Jesus stuck around only forty days, long enough to share a few final thoughts with the disciples and ensure that there was no doubt that He was real and alive. Then He ascended into heaven, never to be seen again. Would not more have believed if only He had stayed? As generation after generation of people died, and Jesus still lived, the world would have truly seen the power of God. Yet, Jesus in the flesh is not much different than Bob Hope – trapped by time and space in a way that makes it impossible for either to know all people or even be known by all. Perhaps the world would have heard of Him, but they wouldn’t know Him. We can only know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
It has been forty days since we joyously celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In those days, so long ago, Jesus continued to reveal the love of God to His disciples and prepare them for the work they would do for the Father in this world. How wonderful it must have been to be part of those first few days. Yet, it would have been impossible for the church to grow as it has over the past two thousand years if Jesus had just stayed to do the same thing. Eventually many would have heard of Him, and in today’s world may even have seen pictures or video of Him. They may even have seen Him in person, in some stadium appearance with thousands of other people. But they would not know Him.
It was necessary for Jesus to be taken into heaven so that He could send the promised One, the Holy Spirit, who now dwells within the hearts of all who believe. Though Jesus is not here in flesh, He is here in a much better way, a way in which we all can know Him and partake in His blessings. The Ascension may have been a sad moment for the disciples, for they were losing the flesh and blood presence of their friend and teacher, but it is a most joyous moment for us because it assured that we too would be able to have a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus.
Bob Hope is one hundred years old today, and we rejoice in his life and service to our world. But, Bob Hope will die one day. Jesus Christ lives; He lives in the hearts of His people and they share His love with all those with whom they have contact. What an incredible gift we have been given. Thanks be to God.
Germs Robert Morgan, the author of a book I use regularly called “Stories, Illustrations and Quotes” tells several stories about germs in the water as an example of sin in our lives. He relates a story from his childhood of a trip to foreign country. While swimming in the pool, he was warned that he should not allow any of the water into his mouth; the germs in the water would make him sick. He had heard from some friends who had gone swimming in the ocean near a large city in South America who had gotten sick because the pollution was so great in the water. He even found the problem in the lovely woods of the Appalachians. He was warned not the drink the water from the bubbling springs because even there the water contained bacteria that could make him ill.
Isn’t it amazing how we can suffer the same consequences drinking water that is obviously polluted as we can from the water that seems to be crystal clean and safe? It is the same with sin. There is no sin that is greater than another; all sin separates us from God. The murderer, the thief, the liar and the cheat are no worse than each of us, our own sins keeping us from a right relationship with God. This is why it is impossible for man to be saved by our own works, for we are all sinners to the core.
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one: Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
We need to be especially careful when we are traveling to drink only water that we know is safe. This is not only true when we are traveling to other nations that do not have the same laws concerning water cleanliness, but we need to be careful even in the protected areas of our own natural environment. Pollution is everywhere, affecting the world in which we live.
Sin is also everywhere, affecting our lives from the inside out. We do suffer the consequences of the sins of other people, but we cannot forget that we too are sinners. The joy we have is that we know by the Law that we need a Savior as much as the guy who has brought harm to our lives, and in the knowing we turn to the Lord Jesus for reconciliation. We are all sinners, but those who confess that Jesus is Lord have a peace that comes from the forgiveness that we receive by the blood of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Heifer International Yesterday Zack’s class went on a field trip to the Heifer International Ranch, which is located a few miles outside the Little Rock City limits. It was a wonderful trip and very educational for the children as well as the adults. The Ranch is an learning center, where visitors can learn about this program for helping poor families all over the world lead a better life. They have been around since the 1930’s when Dan west was doing mission work in Spain during a civil war. He was feeding the people powdered milk, but it did not take long before there was not enough of the milk for the people in need. He realized that they needed cows, so he began shipping livestock to poor nations. The cost was great, and they decided if they sent a heifer (a young female that had never borne a calf) that was pregnant, they could send two at the cost of one.
The organization has grown, and over the years they have given animals to families in over one hundred countries. The recipients are not allowed to eat the animal. It is for milk and breeding. The calf, when grown, is given to another family. They continue breeding the females and sharing the young with more families until whole villages are able to sustain themselves on the gifts. Heifer does not give only cows, but also water buffalos, llamas, rabbits, poultry and goats. The larger animals are used for muscle – to produce more crops for the people. A water buffalo can help a man produce four times as much rice as the man by himself.
They have an area called the Global Village where they have built huts representative of the homes in which seventy-five percent of the world’s population lives. Some of them were nothing more than shacks. The final house was a three-room cement block building. By the time we reached that example, the children realized that it was not the home of a poor family, though if they had seen it first they would have said it was. It was an eye-opener for even the adults that were along – how lucky we are to have been born where there is abundant wealth and healthy living conditions. This last home was an example of the type of dwellings Heifer International seeks to give all the families. With a self-sustaining garden and some animals for milk, eggs and meat, a family can live healthy and well. Children can even go to school with the extra money that is made with the sale of the excess produce.
I learned some things that I found interesting during our trip to the ranch. Animals are rated by seven ‘m’ words which represent the needs of the people which are fulfilled by the animals – meat, milk, money, materials, manure, muscle and motivation. While the animals given by Heifer International provide the most value for the dollar, the goat is the best. The goat is better on the environment, a browser rather than a grazer. Cows and sheep eat everything in their path, leaving the land vulnerable to erosion. A goat does eat as much food as the larger cows and they do not produce as much milk as a cow. This is a big deal in a place where this is no refrigeration. It is important to get the most out of the animal, to have no waste. Even the manure is used – as compost for the gardens and for heating in the winter (the piles are dried and burned in the stove.) Heifer International does not just give food away, it helps people learn to be good stewards of God’s wonderful gifts.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” Matthew 25:34-40 (ASV)
We are called as Christians to ensure that those who are hungry have food, those who are thirsty have drink and those who are in prison (whatever kind of prison that may be) are set free. The people who are helped by Heifer International are given all those gifts – milk to drink, food to eat and they are set free from a life imprisoned in poverty. They are healthier, happier and share in their goodness with others, passing the blessing from family to family. Even the children benefit because they are able to afford to go to school and learn to read, write and do math, which will help the family even more.
The children in Zack’s school did several projects this year to buy a water buffalo and some goats to send to families in China. By visiting the Ranch, they learned that they indeed made a difference to those people who will receive the gifts. Most of those children thought of themselves as lacking many things. They left the Ranch on Friday with a new appreciation for all they have, having seen how difficult life can be without the basic necessities of milk, water, food and shelter. Now perhaps they will continue to share their own blessings with others through ministries such as Heifer International, where the people are not just fed, but they are also set free. Thanks be to God.