Welcome to the May 2005 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 2005
Runaway Not so many years ago, it was police policy to wait twenty-four hours before beginning a search on a missing person. It was a time when things were safer and most people who disappeared did so of their own free will. They were running away from something – stress, frustration, fear or pain. They could not handle being in the midst of their life and thought a few days away would help them to find some answers. Those who ran away did so because they did not want anyone to try to convince them to stay around; they did not want all the advice they would get from well-meaning friends and family. They just wanted some time along.
So, police waited twenty-four hours in the hopes that the person would come home or at least call and let someone know they were safe. It was not until then that the person was assumed missing and a search begun. Unfortunately, in recent years this waiting period has meant the difference between life and death for many missing people. The quicker a search is started, the more likely police will find clues that will lead to the safe recovery of the victim and capture of the perpetrator. So now, as soon as a person is reported missing, the police jump into action. Such a search is expensive and labor intensive. Many people step forth to help, giving their time, resources and prayers for the safety of the missing person.
We have all heard about the woman who was missing last week. She was making the final preparations for her wedding – an extremely large affair with hundreds of people. It was overwhelming. She decided to go jogging and while she was gone she went to the bus station and ran away. She just wanted a few days to think about things, she was afraid and did not know what else to do. Unfortunately, in today’s world her disappearance caused a different kind of fear in the hearts of her loved ones. They insisted that she would never run. There were insinuations that the fiancé was guilty of something, some questioned why it took him five hours to report her missing. They began an intensive search and found no clues. Meanwhile, she was on a bus to Las Vegas and had no idea how much trouble everyone was going through for her sake.
When she realized what was happening, she called a police station and told them she’d been kidnapped. Fear sent her running, fear began the search and fear brought on her lie. Her story did not sound true and she eventually admitted that she had cold feet and needed a few days. Now the police are deciding if they should charge her with filing a false police report. She faces yet another kind of fear. None of it would have been necessary if only she’d told someone where she was going. But fear sent her running and took over the situation.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, and though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered his voice, the earth melted. Jehovah of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of Jehovah, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariots in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” Psalm 46 (ASV)
We all suffer from some sort of fear. For some, the fear is in the unknown, for others it is caused by doubt and uncertainty. Our world is filled with things and people that can bring us harm – some fear is helpful in keeping us safe. The current practice of searching immediately has saved the lives of many possible victims. Yet, we can’t let our life be run by fear. The young woman was afraid of what was to come and she ran. Then she was afraid of the consequences and she lied. Fear ran her actions and sent her into even more difficult circumstances.
We will face things that we fear. We will be afraid. However, as Christians we are called to live in the knowledge that God is our refuge and our strength. The world can be a frightening place, but when we walk in faith we need not live in fear. We should not allow our fear to run our lives, because it will only lead us down a path of destruction and into more fear. God is with us and though we will face tough times we can rest in Him. Thanks be to God.
Friendships As Christians, the world expects us to get along with everyone. They hear of our Lord’s commands to love one another and to love our enemy and think that we should be people with hundreds of friends. If we love everyone, then certainly we should be popular – loved and liked by the world. Yet, we know that it is impossible to have that many friends. Our daily experience is that there are people in this world whom we can’t stand. For some reason or another, our personalities clash and we just can’t get along. Though the Christian response to such people in our life should never be hate, there are just some people that make it so easy.
I knew a person like that a long time ago. I tried to be friends, but everything about this person grated at my nerves. She was like nails on the blackboard of my soul. I think, perhaps, I had the same affect on her. I dreaded our encounters and even found ways to avoid them. We could not avoid one another completely, we shared friends and activities. We had children about the same age. We went to the same church. We were just different – had different perspectives, different ways of doing things and different goals in life.
Now, the world does not expect to see that kind of relationship among Christians. After all, we are supposed to love one another. Yet, we did love one another. If I needed something, she was there to help. If she needed something, I willingly gave back. We may not have enjoyed the time together; we did not pretend to like one another for the sake of appearances. Our love manifested in very real action and I will be forever grateful for the things she did for me and my family.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits. Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:9-21 (ASV)
Loving someone does not mean that we have to be best friends with them. I am sure we can all name someone in our life that has the same effect as that friend so long ago. They grate on our nerves. They do all the wrong things. They annoy us, frustrate us and even make us angry with the things that they do. It is impossible for us to like them. Yet, if that person is part of our life – particularly if they are a co-worker, family member, fellow Christian – it is impossible to avoid seeing them. We have to find some way of living in the relationship despite our dislike. When it is particularly difficult, or impossible, for us to love our neighbor, we need only look at them through the eyes of faith – through what I like to call “Jesus-colored glasses” and God will love them for us, giving us the strength to act boldly in Christ’s love for their sake.
We might be tempted to hate, but we are called to love. In this passage from Romans, Paul writes that love should be sincere. This does not mean that we need to have close relationships with everyone in the world. However, if we claim to love someone, then we should live out that love in very real action. This passage is a list of ways we should love and we will be looking at them over the next few weeks.
Let Love be without hypocrisy.
National Relationship Renewal Day Today is National Relationship Renewal Day. The origins for this wacky day long holiday are unknown, but it is meant to be a time for setting aside old problems and forgiving old debts. I have no idea why someone would choose May 4th for this particular day, since relationship renewal is something that should be happening constantly as we daily forgive and encourage one another.
However, there is a biblical precedent set for having a special time set aside for forgiveness. It is called Jubilee. In Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to count out seven times seven years and then to declare the fiftieth year a year of liberty. All debts were forgiven, all slaves set free. Every person returned to his family land and clan. The land was even given a year of rest as they were allowed to go fallow. The year was a holy time, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. It was not a choice, the people could not decide to set some slaves free but keep others. “In this Year of Jubilee, everyone is to return to his own property.”
Can you imagine what it would be like if we forgave all debts every fifty years? It would certainly have a negative affect in our world today, but then we have a more difficult time understanding and giving forgiveness. Turn on the television at nearly any point in the day and you will find advertisements for lawyers telling victims that they deserve payment for their pain. Some talk show hosts or advice columnists have built their careers by telling callers that they need to walk out of relationships and never look back. Entertainment media offerings show us that it is tolerable and even acceptable to go looking for love in other harbors when our spouse or significant other is not attentive enough. We only forgive so far and then we take matters into our own hands. We walk away or we try to hurt them back.
“Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, that owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred shillings: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.” Matthew 18:21-35 (ASV)
Jesus says to Peter that we should forgive seventy times seven times. When God instructed the people to have a Yar of Jubilee, it was not just a year when everything was put on a shelf and then returned to normal the next year. The Year of Jubilee was a time of renewal. Everything was made new, even the relationships. Jesus did not say that we should forgive a few times; He linked forgiveness with the Jubilee. There comes a time of renewal, when everything old is put aside so that our relationship can be made new.
This is what it means to love without hypocrisy. If we are holding on to the debts of our neighbors while claiming we love, then we have not forgiven. If we stop forgiving at seven or seventy times, then we do not truly love our neighbor. Paul is calling for our love to be sincere and this love is manifested in the forgiveness we grant over and over again until the day of Jubilee when we give it up completely. We live in the Year of Jubilee for all eternity thanks to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been forgiven a much greater debt than any of our neighbors could ever have against us. If we can be forgiven, and we have, how can we not also forgive from our hearts? Thanks be to God.
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
Prom The older we get, the more we realize how little we really know. The more I learn, the more I realize that I need to keep learning. It is a matter of constantly moving forward, growing and maturing day by day. Unfortunately, when we are young, we think we know it all. When we are teenagers, we think we know better than our parents. We have all the answers; we are the sole source of all wisdom. It is a time for young people to establish independence and find their individuality, so what seems like an arrogant attitude is actually necessary for the child to have the courage to go out on their own.
Unfortunately, this is also a time for great aggravation for parents. We watch our growing children and know they are making mistakes. We know there is so much they still have to learn and when we try to show them their error they ignore our advice. Since the beginning of time, human beings have made the same mistakes; each generation has had to learn the same lessons because it is a natural part of growing up.
Though human beings are the same now as they have been since the beginning of time, each generation has its own set of difficulties to face. The pressures my parents and grandparents experienced are different than what I experienced. The things my children will face are much different that what I saw as a youth. It appears as though they have it tougher than I ever did, but the reality is that each generation has had its temptations to overcome, some evil to face. All we can do as parents is to lay the Word of God on the hearts of our children and hope that they will face those evils with His Word. Today’s message from Paul has spoken to all generations, we’ve all had to find the way to abhor the evil in this world and cleave to the good.
The prom has always been one of those defining moments in a young person’s life, but in more recent years it has become a right of passage into adulthood – particularly in terms of physical intimacy. For some students, like those who have had steady boyfriends or girlfriends, the prom is the night when they plan to take their relationship further. It is such a romantic experience – for some it is the first time they go out to a fancy restaurant or buy an evening dress. The night is filled with music and dancing, sentimentality and highly charged emotion. Alcohol and drugs are present no matter how well the event is chaperoned. It is easy for young people to think they are indestructible on such a night.
I heard a story today that many students are choosing to attend their prom alone or as part of a group of friends. The students have decided that they did not want to face the pressures of prom night. They don’t want to be forced into some coupling relationship with someone they do not know or pressured into sex just because it is prom night. They want to enjoy their friends, dance with whomever they like and be themselves. In years gone by, there was a stigma put on those who did not have a date. They were expected to be the ugly or unpopular. The stereotype is passing, but it is still tough. Most students that do not want to face the pressures are more likely to decide not to go than to go alone.
“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:11-14 (ASV)
The students choosing to go to the prom alone, avoiding the pressures of their peers on that special night, are choosing to cling to the good while staying away from the evil. Many parents have come to fear prom night because of what it has come to mean for the young people. Yet, that night is not meant to be some right of passage into a new phase of life, but rather as a celebration of the friendships and accomplishments of the students in the years gone by. It is a time to share with each other that last hurrah before they move on to the new phase of their lives. By attending alone, they have the opportunity to enjoy that fellowship without being forced into actions that might be harmful to their future. This is a very mature decision and perhaps those students have realized already that they have so much to learn before they experience some things – like physical intimacy.
The same is true when it comes to the decisions we make about our faith journey. When we realize that we do not know it all, that we have much to continue to learn, we will approach the questions of evil and goodness from a more mature perspective. We will not jump into action thinking we are indestructible, like many children tend to do, but rather we will walk in God’s Word with true courage and strength. Thanks be to God.
In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another.
Westminster We had many wonderful experiences during the four years we lived in England. I particularly enjoyed visiting the many different churches and cathedrals around the country. We must have visited hundreds of places, worshipped in many of them. Since Bruce was involved with the local choir, we enjoyed services in a dozen ancient churches very close to our home. We also stopped into church whenever we visited other cities and we were extremely blessed to find ourselves there at the right time to join the congregation in worship. We were made to feel so welcome. We attended an evensong service in Truro and were approached by a gentleman who was thrilled we had visited their cathedral, particularly since we had the children along. Staff and volunteers were always ready with information and a kind word.
One of the most amazing experiences was when we visited Westminster Abbey in London. We were there just after noon, following the crowd through the walking tour. The path led us past hundreds of different graves and tombs, all with incredible stories. After all, Westminster is the eternal resting place of kings, queens, political and religious leaders as well as poets, writers and artists. It is fascinating to see Mary and Elizabeth – sisters who fought over the crown, enemies in life – lying side by side. The chapels honor individuals and groups that have had an impact on the world in which they lived. <,p> When we were about halfway through the tour, we heard an announcement that worship would begin shortly. Every day at 12:30 the cathedral holds a Eucharistic service of worship, for those in the city that would like to use their lunch hour to worship God. We located a staff member and asked where to go for the service. He helped us to get through the crowds, taking us over barriers and through quiet corners so that we would be seated on time. I was surprised how few people in the church actually came to worship. They continued to wander, looking at the tombs of dead people while we worshipped the living God.
The most extraordinary moment for me was when we went to the altar to receive the bread and wine. As I knelt there, praising God and receiving His gift of forgiveness through the Lord’s Supper, I thought about all the people who had knelt there before me. I was greatly humbled by the thought that some of those kings and queens, political leaders, poets, artists and writers, whose names you would recognize, might have knelt at the very same place I was kneeling that day. I was also awed by the fact that in Christ, and through Christ, those great people were my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The sacrament is timeless and in our liturgy we say that we are receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus along with all other saints in heaven and on earth through every time and place. So, when we kneel for the Lord’s Supper today, we are joined with every Christian everywhere who have at some time and in some place also received the sacrament. We might find it hard to identify a relationship with someone we have never met, but in Christ they are our brothers and sisters and we are called to love them. How much more can we love those whom we do know?
“And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you.” 1 Peter 1:17-25 (ASV)
We are called into a relationship with God, to love Him with all our beings. He abides in us and His love flows out of and through our lives into the world. It is a great joy that we have been adopted into the family of God, so that all Christians in every time and place are our brothers and sisters. If we can love strangers, sharing our blessings with those who are in need, we can, through the power of God, love all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our bond is much greater than flesh and blood. We are bound together by the Spirit of God.
I have to admit that I was disappointed that there were a thousand people continuing to look at dead people while just a few dozen people joined together to worship the living God. However, as I look back at that time, I realize that as I knelt there receiving the body and blood, I was in a relationship with many of those dead people that the tourists will never know. For we are brothers and sisters in Christ, having received His body and blood together outside of time or space and we have a love that the world will never understand. Thanks be to God.
…in honor preferring one another…
Mothers Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the United States, a day set aside to honor our mothers. My family decided to take me out to have a nice lunch after church, but they planned on going somewhere without reservations. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the restaurant shortly after opening and there was already a fifty minute wait. I do not know if the guests had arrived early to get a place in line of it the restaurant had opened early for the special day. All I knew is that we did not have that much time to wait because we had other plans for the afternoon.
We were disappointed because we thought all the restaurants would be that crowded, but as we passed by another favorite we noticed the parking lot was nearly empty. We were quickly seated when we went inside and had a wonderful meal. It was probably better than at our first choice because the restaurant was much quieter and the waitress was not so busy, so she was able to give us attentive service throughout our visit.
She was a very friendly waitress, joking with us about Mother’s Day expectations. When it was time to consider dessert, she reminded everyone not to eat so much so that there would be room for chocolate and I said, “And you need the leftovers for supper since I am not cooking!” It was a fun time. She told us about her three year old child who was spending the day with the grandparents and how they were going to go celebrate at one of those noisy, kid-friendly pizza joints. She did not think her three year old would enjoy eating at a stuffy, fancy restaurant. I said, “You are a wonderful mother, willingly going into that place on your day for the sake of your child!”
We have been looking at the love passage from Romans 12. In this passage, Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can live in the love of Christ Jesus. He tells us that love must be real and that our love is lived out in action. It means putting others first, humbling ourselves for the sake of their needs. Just like that mother who is willing to go to the pizza place on her special day because she knows it will make her child happy.
“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)
Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. This is certainly something our Lord did for us – He died on the cross that we might have life. He took the heat for our sin and left us free to live in His love. We automatically look at this passage as being about our willingness to die for another, to physically lose our lives for the sake of someone else. I know few mothers who would not do such a time. We’d risk our lives to save theirs.
However, I don’t imagine many of us will actually be in a position of physical danger for the sake of another. In my fifteen years as a mother, I have never been in a situation in which I had to risk myself to save my children. I have, however, had to sacrifice a great deal for their sake. As any mother of young children can attest, those first few years are spent constantly devoted to their needs. It does not get easier as they grow older because we give them everything they need – our time, our resources and our energy. That mother at the restaurant gave up her wishes for a pleasant, quiet evening for the sake of her child. She knows the day will come when things will be different, but for that one moment she died in the sense that she put herself aside for another. This is what Christ did for us and what He gives us the strength and courage to do for others as we share His love unselfishly. Thanks be to God.
…in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
Chores Life was so easy on Mother’s Day. Since it was my special day, my children were very helpful, meeting all my needs even before I asked. They were attentive, loving, accommodating and willing to submit to my desires. It was a lovely day. It didn’t last long, however. We were back to normal on Monday.
I had difficulty getting them to do their normal chores. Both have major projects due this week, so they had a great deal of homework to accomplish. However, their normal chores do not take more than a few minutes. I know they watched TV while they were working – they could have easily taken a quick break to take care of the things I needed for them to do. Unfortunately, my own work was dependent on the completion of their tasks.
It was not that they couldn’t accomplish the task in a timelier manner. They were simply too lazy to come downstairs until they had something else to do. They did not realize that their procrastination made it more difficult for me to do what I needed to do and they did not understand why I got so mad that they were late with the task. They both figured that I just wanted them to do it eventually, not exactly when I wanted to do it. The problem with waiting is that all too often they forget that I have asked. When I call the second or third time, or begin doing the task myself, they admit “I forgot.”
Love fades. At least the response to the love we have seems to fade over time. We see it in all our relationships. Marriages begin with great passion, but we eventually come down off the mountain top and are less zealous about the relationship. The love is not necessarily less, it is just manifested differently. Unfortunately, we often become lazy about the relationship. When love is new, we are quick to meet the desires and needs of the other. The same is true about the love found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we are new to faith, we are zealous – quick to do everything and anything that we know would please our Lord. We do Bible study, pray continuously, and serve every ministry with gusto because we know that our love shared glorifies God. Eventually the passion fades and we become less zealous about those actions.
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak: for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and the love which ye showed toward his name, in that ye ministered unto the saints, and still do minister. And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fulness of hope even to the end: that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:9-12 (ASV)
At the end of Mother’s Day, my children wanted to know if I had a good day. It was nice – they gave me thoughtful gifts, took me out to dinner and spent the day loving me. I was thankful for all they did for me. However, I wondered what happened the next day. They were uncooperative and lazy, and I thought that I would much prefer daily reliability to one day of overwhelming love.
The love of which Paul talks in Romans and the actions that are manifested in that love will never save us. Our salvation is dependent only on the grace of Jesus Christ. The same is true of the love of a mother. I will never love my children more because they do things right or love them less because they do things wrong. I love them because they are my children. Living in the love of Christ means that we will manifest that love in our daily lives. Jesus does not call us to be lazy, but He gifts us with the Holy Spirit so that we will share that which He has given in very real ways. It is easy to put things off and to weary of being zealous. We can’t live on the mountain top forever, but we can live constantly in the love of Christ, giving to others what He has first given us. Thanks be to God.
…rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation…
Sister Act “Sister Act” was a movie in which Whoopy Goldberg played a singer from Reno who saw her married mafia boyfriend kill a man. She went to the police who put her in hiding to protect her until they could put him in prison. The detective in charge made an arrangement with a convent in San Francisco where he felt she would be safe. Unfortunately, Dolores’ preferred lifestyle meant that she was quite uncomfortable in the setting. She hated the habits, the early mornings and the slow pace of life hidden behind the walls.
In one scene, she is with several of the other nuns, including Sister Mary Patrick, an amazingly chipper person. Sister Mary Patrick always had a smile on her face and seemed to exude a very sincere joy. Sister Mary Clarence – the name given to Whoopi’s character – was facing a very difficult time. She was running from danger, unsure about her role in putting her boyfriend into prison (at one point she wanted to go back to him, it seemed the easier route to take). She hated being in the convent and could see nothing positive in her life. She had no joy. She turned to Sister Mary Patrick and asked “Are you always this happy?” Sister Mary Patrick told her that she had always been that way, so much so her family expected she would either become a nun or a stewardess.
There are indeed people who live constantly with that kind of joy – a smile on their face no matter what they are facing. Even in sickness or other problems, they can find a reason to be happy. They see the glass as not only half full, but running over. Most of us are not like Sister Mary Patrick. We hurt, we worry, or we feel sad. When things get bad enough, we find it difficult even to see the hope beyond our troubles. We can’t rejoice when we are facing death, poverty or rejection. We can’t smile. Yet, the world expects all Christians to be like Sister Mary Patrick – always happy. After all, with our faith we should not hurt, worry or feel sad, right?
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election, how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake. And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit; so that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (ASV)
The joy Sister Mary Patrick experienced was much deeper than the apparent happiness she exhibited constantly – a happiness that seemed to drive Whoopi’s character crazy. She could not understand such joy when she was facing so many problems in her life. Yet, as the movie progressed, Dolores realized that there is joy in the world as she became involved in sharing her gifts with and through the church. In the end she rejoiced in her work with the choir and was willing to face the danger for the sake of the nuns. She found joy because she was no longer worried about her troubles, but was looking beyond herself.
We aren’t expected to be happy all the time. It is impossible for anyone to expect that of themselves or others. We will hurt, worry and feel sad sometimes. We will mourn and suffer. However, as Christians we are called to rejoice in hope. That hope is not in something that is undependable. Our hope is in the promises of God, the God who is faithful. We can rejoice in the midst of our troubles because we know that in the end He will have taken us through our pain, fear and loneliness into His loving embrace for eternity. Thanks be to God.
...continuing steadfastly in prayer…
Mutual Every relationship is different. A mother and son will have a much different way of communicating than twin sisters. Old friends meet each other on certain terms, new friends deal with one another on a different level. Relationships grow and change with time and circumstances. The relationship between a mother and her infant child will not look like their relationship later in life. The roles and needs of the people in those relationships might change over time.
In the beginning of life, a child can not do anything for himself, so the mother must put the most energy into the relationship. The mother receives great joy from caring for her child, but the child can’t do anything in return. The relationship changes as the child grows. As he or she gains some independence, two way communications become part of the relationship. The child can not only express his needs, but he can also give praise and thanksgiving to the caregiver. While the parent willingly does everything necessary to care for the child, it is such a joy when that child has an active role in the relationship. Eventually, the child grows mature enough to make the relationship mutual. Parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, the good and the bad, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
We’ve all had friends that are like the infant child. It seems like when these friends make contact, they are in need. They need a friend to listen, they need advice, or they need some sort of help. When their needs are met, they disappear again until the next time they need something. The friendship is a one way street – one party giving constantly and the other taking. There is no real communication, no mutual enjoyment.
How often are we like that with God? We go to Him when we have a need, seeking His mercy and His grace, but we don’t bother when things are going well. Our Father does not mind when we go to Him for help, He finds great joy in giving good gifts to His children. However, He wants to hear from us constantly – in the good times and in the bad. God hopes that our relationship with Him will grow and mature, so that we will communicate our joys as well as our fears. He wants to share in the good times, to be present in our ordinary daily existence. It takes conversation to make relationships strong. With God, that communication comes through prayer.
“Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ASV)
A child loves a parent, but in the early years they do not know how to exhibit their love or speak of it. As they grow and mature, they realize how much their parents do to keep them healthy and happy. Eventually, the relationship becomes mutual, the child giving as much back to the parent as the parent gives to the child. In many cases, old age makes it difficult for parents to do things for themselves, the child often takes the burden. There are times that the relationship is one way – one party is unable to anything but seek help. And God does not mind meeting our needs, He loves us and will give us every good and perfect gift.
However, it is very easy for us to get into the pattern of seeking Him only when we are in need. Those friends who are only there seeking help may not even realize they are doing so and we don’t realize that we are ignoring God in the good times. Paul encourages in the passage from Romans to pray faithfully – not just when we want something from God, but at all times. We know God is with us always, but He wants more than just to be in our presence. He wants to be our friend, our companion. That takes conversation, communication. It takes a life of steadfast prayer – daily, in the good times and the bad.
…communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality.
Community We live in a typical American suburban housing development, with hundreds of houses lining the streets. Though it is not quite ‘cookie cutter’ styling, there are many similarities about our homes. Some houses are one story, some two. All the homes have brickwork, though there are bricks of many different colors. There are about twenty different floor plans, so that means the face of our homes are slightly different – it is difficult to find two that are the same. As these homes become lived in, the differences expand because each homeowner chooses to put in landscaping unique to their own personalities.
Though the outside of our homes are similar, each family is different. Some families rent, others have purchased their homes. Some families are made up of many children, others are just a husband and wife. We have people from every generation. Many of the families are military and are here for just a short period of time. Others are native Texans who would never consider leaving. Then there are those who are like us, who have come to this place and love it enough to stay.
One of the unfortunate aspects of living in this kind of community is that we do not really know our neighbors very well. We are friendly, waving whenever we see someone on the street, occasionally stopping to chat as we are talking a walk around the block or to the mailbox. We’ve come to rely on our immediate neighbors for things we need like a cup of sugar or to keep an eye out for trouble. We are planning on inviting many of our neighbors to a picnic later this year as a chance to get to know them better.
Though we have this amiable relationship, I can’t imagine this neighborhood ever becoming like the early Christian community. Most of my neighbors are Christian, but we come from different backgrounds so rarely relate to each other on that level. I know that my neighbors have suffered from some very difficult times during the year we have lived here. We have also had moments when we weren’t sure how we would make it to tomorrow. Though we have stood by one another in prayer, words of comfort and we have shared our resources when necessary. But I can’t imagine even considering selling everything I own to make sure my neighbor has as much as my family.
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.” Acts 2:44-47 (ASV)
Love of God naturally manifests itself in the actions which show our love of our neighbors. God’s love flows out of our hearts into the world, so that He is glorified by all that we do. Part of that is sharing all the resources with which He has blessed us. That early Christian community is much different than the world in which we live today. Though we are Christians coming from different backgrounds, we are all bound together by the Spirit of God. Would we sell our possessions for the sake of our neighbor?
Unfortunately, when a Christian community does like as the early Christians, sharing everything with one another, we look at them with cynical eyes. Many of them are cults, not a true Christian community but a gathering of people following a charismatic and controlling presence. Yet, there have been examples throughout history of communities that did share everything equally, communities that were hospitable to the alien and poor. They cared for one another deeply, ensuring that all were without need. In today’s world, we are more likely to give our resources to strangers than we are to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Though it is a good thing to share our blessings with the lost so that they might see God, Paul tells us that the sincere love of a Christian will manifest all the more with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are bound together by something greater than ourselves, the love of God. Living in that love will mean that we are one in all things. Thanks be to God.
Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not.
Nurse Corrie Ten Boom has written extensively about faith from her perspective of being a prisoner of the Nazis during the holocaust. It was a difficult time for her, and the recovery took many years. She watched people she loved die and she suffered horrible humiliation. She learned how to forgive, but it wasn't easy. In her writings she tells of times when she came face to face with some of her enemies and though she thought she had truly forgiven, she found that she met them with hatred.
In one incident, she came across a nurse who had been serving at the concentration camp. This nurse was cruel and harsh, particularly with Corrie's sister Betsy. Corrie took Betsy to the infirmary to see the nurse and though Betsy's feet were paralyzed and she was dying, the nurse had no compassion. At first she did not recognize the woman after ten years and the woman would not look her in the eyes. When Corrie discovered that she was that nurse, she was so angry. The only thing she could do is ask God for forgiveness. She cried out, "Forgive my hatred, O Lord. Teach me to love my enemies." She was deeply touched by the love of Christ and her heart warmed to her enemy. She invited the woman to hear her speak. The woman was shocked but agreed to go. There she listened very carefully to everything Corrie had to say. She heard the gospel and learned about God's love for all people. The woman met Christ Jesus and believed, through the message of forgiveness manifested by Corrie Ten Boom.
"Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:38-48 (ASV)
Our natural inclination is to seek justice against our enemies. If they have harmed us in some way, we seek repayment for our loss. I've been shocked in recent years with how many television commercials are devoted to selling law services and how much importance has been placed on the whole judicial system. We are bound and determined to ensure that we get our due; to ensure that our enemies pay for their crimes against us. We have no desire to reconcile unless it is on our terms.
Christ calls us to live differently than the world, however. He calls us to forgive, really forgive. That does not mean saying that everything is fine after we've gotten our revenge, but that we should forgive and walk with them. Corrie Ten Boom was angry and she had every right according to this world to lay guilt upon the head of her enemy. The woman knew she'd done wrong, obvious from her inability to look Corrie in the eyes. Yet, with Christ's help, Corrie was able to forgive, truly forgive, and share the greatest gift with her enemy. She sought no recompense, but rather gave the woman the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that she would no the forgiveness of God and live in His love.
Jesus' words in today's lesson are radical, nearly impossible for us to keep. Which one of us would actually walk with the thief who stole our clothes or allow our enemy to beat us? However, we are called out of the world by the love of Christ to be sent back into the world with that love for others. We too were once enemies of God. In His love we can bring others into His loving embrace so that they will no longer be enemies, but brothers. Thanks be to God.
Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep.
Doll In the book "Perfect Peace", Charles Allen writes about a young girl who went on an errand for her mother. She came home late and her mother demanded to know why. The little girl told her mother about a friend who fell down and broke her doll, so she stopped to help. Her mother could not understand how her little girl could help fix a broken doll. Her daughter answered, "I sat down and helped her cry."
It is natural for us to want to do something to help someone in need. If they are hungry, we want to feed them. If they are naked, we want to clothe them. If they are without shelter, we want to find them a place where they can rest. It is natural for us to want to go out and do things for people. However, there are many ills that have no solution. We can't heal terminal disease or bring back a lost loved one. We can't turn back time to give people the chance to make better decisions or avoid mistakes. We are often too quick with unwanted or unhelpful advice. We want to fix the doll that we can't fix. Sometimes there is nothing we can do, no physical act that will change the circumstances and make things better.
Missionary work is difficult for many reasons. The missionaries are in a world much different than the one they know. The people are often hostile to the evangelism and the missionaries do not fully understand the cultures in which they live. The natives in their mission field definitely do not know much about the missionaries. In Papua New Guinea, the natives thought white men could not cry. When Bob and Carolyn Thomas served in that region, they experienced a death in the village. When Bob went to be with the village to mourn with the people, he saw the enormity of their grief and he began to weep. The villagers were shocked, because normally the white men were reserved and emotionless. When the crowd saw his tears, two men tackled him and held him tight. Afterwards, they explained that when someone is sad and cries just a little, they jump on him to help the mourner cry hard and get it all out. They say it is no good if the sorrow stays inside you and kills you.
"And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest." Matthew 9:35-38 (ASV)
It is natural for people to want to help other people. We have seen that so clearly in recent years during the incredible disasters that have struck different parts of the world. After the hurricanes last summer and the tsunami in December, the response with money and aid was overwhelming. So many people wanted to volunteer to go and do something – rebuild homes, prepare food, make clothes and help find survivors. We were moved to action and did what we could.
We don't know what to do when there is no physical action we can take to help. We are uncomfortable with the thought of just empathizing with the victims, as if it is not enough to cry with them. However, sometimes the best thing in the world we can do is to cry with those who are sad and rejoice with those who are happy. There is work to do, and there are needs to be met. The dis-ease that Jesus saw could have been overwhelming because there was no way even He could supply their every need while He was in the flesh. It was more than the twelve disciples could handle, more than the early church. There is always pain that can't be fixed and hurt that won't go away with even a million acts of kindness. So, we are called as Christians to live in empathy with our neighbor, to join them in their pain and in their happiness.
Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Harmony. One of the most popular advertising campaigns in the history of television was a song written for the Coca Cola Company. Many will remember humming along to the New Seekers as they sang about loving the world. "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I'd like to buy the world a coke and keep it company." This might seem like an impossible ideal, especially as we watch the hate and violence that occurs around the world daily.
There is an interesting story behind the song. When Coke decided to do a new campaign, they gathered several people together to write the music. Bill Backer, the creative director for the advertising agency, was on his way to London to meet with the song writers Billy Davis and Robert Cook. His plane was diverted because of fog and landed in Ireland. Conditions were uncomfortable, many of the passengers were angry with the disruption to their plans. The next morning, Bill joined the other passengers in a coffee shop to wait for clearance. He noticed that many of the travelers that were irate were laughing and telling stories over bottles of coke. He saw that there was more to the product than just a liquid to drink. Coke could draw people together, bring them through difficult times and give them something common even if they have many differences.
I grew up in the haven of a local church, of a flock of believers who agreed about many things. Our basic doctrine was the same, we enjoyed the same type of worship and we practiced our faith in much the same way. It was not that we were brainwashed or unable to think for ourselves. We had our disagreements, sometimes about the silliest things. However, in general we were of one mind and we lived together in harmony.
Imagine my shock when I got into a more ecumenical experience. There was a time when it became difficult for us to find a church home, so we attended a military chapel. The community of believers was made up of people from every point on the spectrum of Christianity. The disagreements about doctrine and practice were so immense that it was often as if we were from completely different religions. About the same time I became active with Internet conversations, both in chat rooms and via email. Many of my discussions became heated and angry. It was difficult to believe that we had anything in common. There certainly was little harmony in those relationships.
"If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:1-11 (ASV)
The people on that airplane that was grounded in Ireland found something in common – the coke brought them together and they found some peace and joy in each other's company. As I have grown older, I have realized the idea of a perfect church – a church where no one argues about anything – is an impossible ideal. We are unique individuals that have unique perspectives about issues that face our churches. Sometimes our arguments are ridiculously simplistic – small stuff – sometimes our disagreements are about important issues.
No matter what it is we are discussing, we are called to love one another. This was manifested at the church of my youth – the members loved one another despite the disagreements they had about the issues that faced our congregation. We run into difficulty when we hold ourselves higher than our brothers and sisters, when we consider ourselves wiser than anyone else.
Living in love, the love of Christ that binds us together, Paul encourages us to be of one mind. Does that mean we have to agree about every question? No, it means that we are to find a way to live in harmony by living in the foundation of our faith that we have in common. We have all confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. Now we have to find a way to live together in love, according to His Word.
Render no man evil for evil.
Desperate Watching the television drama called "Desperate Housewives" has become a nasty habit of many Americans. We should not be interested in the lifestyles and antics of the women and men who live on Wisteria Lane, but we are drawn into their world. The women, and the men they love, represent the best and the worst of all people. We identify with aspects of these people. We've faced their questions, their doubts and their fears. Perhaps their problems are extreme – few of us have to deal with murder, arson, blackmail or embezzlement. While youth rebellion is a fact of life, most of our kids are not nearly as troublesome as the kids that live on Wisteria Lane.
Yet, we have faced many of their problems. Who hasn't faced financial troubles? Too many marriages deal with unfaithfulness. We like some of our neighbors and enjoy their company while disliking another neighbor. We can find a tramp, a supermom, a sweetheart, a spoiled brat and stepford wife on most streets in America. There is also the town snoop who is involved in everyone's life.
The big difference between the normal world and that of Wisteria Lane is that the troubles are always magnified on television. And for the sake of entertainment, the wives generally choose the wrong solution to their problems. They aren't willing to ask for help when they need it. They lie because they feel it is easier than telling the truth. They fill their empty lives and empty hearts with the wrong sort of love and chase after the perishable while ignoring the virtues that will bring true happiness. They pay back evil for evil rather than seeking to do what is good and right and true.
A perfect example of this is the way Bree responded to the infidelity of her husband Rex, she decided to pay him back. Though they had been talking about divorce, she welcomed him back into the home after illness struck. Since they had been separated, another man sought the company of Bree. She was so upset by the affair that she agreed to the date and she flaunted her friend in front of her husband. As the story has grown, Bree has continued to make bad decisions concerning this man, though she wants to reconcile with Rex. She has hidden the relationship and fallen for the other man's charms. Whenever she remembers his indiscretion, she vows to get revenge and one day she will fall to the temptation.
"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah." Leviticus 19:17-18 (ASV)
This chapter of Leviticus lists a number of laws by which the human race is called to live. We are to treat our neighbors with respect, doing to them only as we would want them to do to us. We are pretty good at living that way when others treat us with that type of respect – loving us first. But when we are hurt, we are quick to forget what God expects from us.
This is why Paul reminds us how to love in this passage from Romans we have been studying this month. There is so much we can do to live according to God's word. Some of these encouragements are easier than others. We are hospitable and generous. We like to rejoice with those who are happy. However, it is more difficult to let things pass when we have been hurt. We want vengeance. We want retribution. We are willing to do whatever is necessary for our enemies to pay. But God tells us to love our neighbor as our selves. We are to love our enemies as well as our brothers. If we do not like discovering that our spouse has been unfaithful, why would we want to return that hurt? In love, even if the one we are to love is our enemy by something they have done, we are to find a better way than repaying evil for evil. Returning the favor does nothing but multiply the hurt. Forgiveness, grace and mercy go a long way to bringing reconciliation between people. We do this and are able to do this because our Lord Jesus Christ – rather than giving us the just reward of our sin – brings forgiveness, grace and mercy to us and He gives us His love to pass on those gifts to others. Thanks be to God.
Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men.
Career As we draw nearer to the end of the school year, the children are getting restless and anxious for summer vacation. It does not matter their age, they are all having difficulty concentrating. Even my preschoolers have the end of the year excitement. They can't sit for more than a few minutes; they only want to go outside to play. They are much louder and more disruptive than usual right now. As we were having difficulty rounding them up yesterday, one of the other teachers commented on the fact that we can almost see which students will have difficulty transferring into the big school. She may be right when it comes to several of our students, but not based solely on their actions the last few weeks. These are the children that despite our effort to train them into the kind of behavior necessary to succeed in school, they do not receive the same encouragement elsewhere.
Our curriculum focus this month has been on work and careers. We have been talking about the different jobs available for them in the future. Though it is unlikely that many of those children will even remember in a few years what they wanted to be in preschool, it is fun to hear of their goals and expectations for their life. One child wants to be a superhero, another a ballerina and yet another a doctor. While none of these children are likely to succeed at these efforts, it is not my job to bring them down but to lift them up. We have been excited about their choices, cheering them on and telling them to reach for the stars. No one ever succeeded having their role models and mentors telling them to reach toward the bottom of the ladder.
Yet, when it comes to love and our relationships, we often encourage one another to take the low road. When we have a fight with someone, our friends encourage us to break the relationship. We consider it impossible to live up to the expectations of Paul in his letter to the Romans, so we do not even try. We do only what we think is good enough and we do not consider the feelings or beliefs of others. We will fail. We will make mistakes. We will not reach the stars in this life. But just because we will not achieve something fully does not mean we should stop trying. It is in the journey we learn our gifts and abilities. When it comes to the things of faith, it is not about us anyway and as we walk in the light of our Lord Jesus, we see that He is the one who accomplishes the good work through us.
"Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Isaiah 55:6-13 (ASV)
Some of our preschool kids will never attain the career they are thinking about right now. For a few, it will be because they are simply not able to do the work necessary to accomplish the task. Yet, we should not put them down, but rather encourage their gifts for the next twelve or so years so that they will find their calling in this world.
When we look at the scriptures, especially passages like this one from Romans that we have been studying, we see the expectations as an impossible ideal. We think that there is no way we could accomplish this kind of love, and we are right. We can't love our enemies or continue faithfully in prayer. We can't do it on our own. But God tells us that His ways are higher than our ways and He encourages us to reach for the stars. As we live in our faith and walk in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, He manifests His fruit in our lives. The love we can't give is given by Him. The strength to pray comes from His power. Though we will fail often, we are called to consider others in all that we do, that the love of God will shine through our lives into the darkness of this world. Thanks be to God.
If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.
Siblings My kids love one another. I know this is true because they do treat one another with courtesy and respect. They help one another and they do sweet things for one another. They share in each other's joys and sorrows. They make me so happy when I see them getting along, cooperating and loving one another. They do these things often, but not all of the time.
I don't know what it is about my kids, but when one is disagreeable, the other is equally disagreeable. My kids prefer setting the table, it is somehow easier than cleaning it off after dinner is over, but they rarely do this task without my asking them to do it. They know that it is the job of the person who did not set the table to clean it off. I usually ask whichever child is in the room, whichever one is more accessible at the time, but occasionally they are both around. So, when I tell them to set the table, they fight over the task. Zack wants to help, but Vicki – knowing that if she lets him help then she'll also have to help after supper – says "I can do it myself." This argument goes on until all the dishes are in place, even if I raise my voice in frustration.
At other times they argue about not doing the task. When we are deciding on a movie, despite what choices are available, they will choose different movies. They have willfully disagreed about which movie to see, claiming to not want to see movies they've said they wanted to see. They do this when we ask their opinion about going out to eat, or what to do with our free time. The most frustrating times are when they fight about who is going to take the high road. They both get in the 'unselfish' mode at the same time, and then fight about who is going to be more unselfish. They argue for the sake of arguing and refuse to compromise no matter what. This is typical of siblings, but it happens within other relationships. We want to win. We want to be in control, even if we have to create the fight so that we can be the victor.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace." James 3:13-18 (ASV)
It is not easy being the one to give in when we have a quarrel with someone. After all, if we always give in and let others get what they want, we will never get what we want. If only my kids could learn to take turns and keep track of whose turn it is to do the task, then we would get through that dinnertime without argument.
We've been learning all month, however, that loving someone means putting them first. So, to be at peace means giving up our own desires for the sake of another, willingly taking the hard road for the sake of the other. Perhaps one day the kids will realize that the best way to take care of the dinner chores would be to share them – both setting the table and both cleaning it off so that the work will get done more quickly. All too often we harbor attitudes of bitterness and jealousy, which is why we are unable to give in to other people's needs or opinions. But Paul encourages us to be at peace with all men. That means dying to self and living for the sake of others. It means finding a way to overcome bickering and petty arguments. This takes wisdom, wisdom that comes from God. The sibling battles that we deal with regularly in our house show the self-centered attitudes that drive the needs of my kids. As they grow, they will learn to find peace in their relationship and do better at living together.
The same is true of all of us. As we grow in faith and in the wisdom of God, we discover ways to be at peace with others. We realize how futile the petty arguments we have really are and that we could do so much more together if we learn to put one another's needs ahead of our own. As we grow in this love of Christ, the love He gives so freely to all who believe, we find peace, not only in our hearts but between people. Thanks be to God.
Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.
Assistant Donald Trump runs a rather large corporation. Between all his different enterprises, he probably has thousands of employees. The whole point of the television show "The Apprentice" is to hire high level help that will work directly with Mr. Trump. On the final episode of the latest series, Mr. Trump commended his first apprentice and announced that he had been extended for another year. The second apprentice seems to be doing as well and now there is a third person to aid Mr. Trump in his work.
Early in the program, Donald Trump developed his special way of telling the contestants that their time is over. We wait anxiously each week for the name and those two little words, "You're fired." He has certainly become very familiar with that phrase after firing dozens of contestants. It is comfortable on his tongue and he seems to take great joy in the task. However, I highly doubt that Mr. Trump does much of the firing in his daily business. In a conglomerate as large as his, Mr. Trump no doubt has people that take care of the hiring and firing of employees at every level in the company. The apprentices he has hired through the show will be responsible for that type of task within their own organization, and in the corporate office there is probably a whole office dedicated to personnel. They take care of the dirty work for him, so that he can focus on the business of making money.
Throughout this month we have been talking about love, and how we are called to love. In Romans, Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can love, encourages us to live in the love of God. Without a doubt, none of us could do it without God's abiding love. We could not care for others, consider others first, serve the Lord if He had not first loved us. The world knows that God is supposed to stand for love, that He is love. The hard part for the world to understand is how Christians can be so unloving.
Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with sin and though we have been changed by God's love, we still fall into sin. The sin into which we are all born is that desire to be in control, to be like God and do God's work. We curse our persecuters because we think we have the right to get back at them for the harm they have done. We hate our enemies because they do not deserve our love. We avenge our hurts because we seek justice. We take upon ourselves the work of God, unleash our wrath so that God need not do it.
"Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation." Romans 5:1-11 (ASV)
There are many reasons why we take it upon ourselves to do God's work. Sometimes we become impatient, thinking that God is taking too long to take care of the business of justice. We see the sin and pain in the world and wish He would unleash His wrath on the situation to put it to an end. At other times, we think God is not doing justice in the right way. Our motives are not always self-centered. Since the world expects God to be a God of love, and they identify that with no wrath at all, we take it upon ourselves to do the wrath so that God's reputation will remain spotless in their eyes. We do the dirty work so that God can look good.
However, God does not need our help. He does not need us to step in to make Him look good to the world. We need not avenge ourselves because God has already taken care of the business of justice. His wrath came down on One, our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross heals much because God's grace reaches out to all men from there. We may not think it is fair for our enemies to get the same forgiveness we have received, but God's love is big enough for us all. God will take care of the sinners as well as the saints. Thanks be to God, since we are all sinners, even while we are saints.
But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in doing so thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.
Miracle on 34th Street The Miracle on 34th Street is a favorite Christmas movie. It is so popular it has been remade several times, with each new version making the setting and the character up to date so that the viewers can identify with what they are watching. Though it is in black and white, I still love the original most, but the storyline has a wonderful message no matter when it was made. It is a story about faith, about believing in something that is beyond logic and proof.
In the movie, the world has become a very cynical place and Santa Claus travels to New York City to see why things have gotten so bad. He gets a job as a department store Santa enjoying the daily and personal contact with the children. He does not hide his identity, perhaps his greatest mistake, because an extremely cynical young lady thinks he's crazy. He establishes a relationship with her daughter, whom she has taught to be unbelieving. The child has not developed an imagination because her mother thinks make believe is a waste of time. She has no hope or faith because anything that is beyond proof is unworthy of her time and energy.
Santa encourages the child to pretend and to reach for that which is unreachable. In the process he creates havoc in the store because he has a rather unconventional method of dealing with the customers. A child sat on his lap one day and asked for the impossible to get toy of the season and Santa promised that it would be under the tree. The mother came back angry because she had been unable to find that toy in the store. Santa recommended that she go to the nearest competitor because they'd be getting a shipment that day. These stores were like enemies, constantly fighting for the same customers, doing everything they could to get the people through their doors without ever setting foot in the other store. When the store manager discovered that their Christmas Santa was sending people to their competitor, he was ready to have him fired, until the customers began giving very positive feedback. They were so thrilled that a company was more concerned with the customer's needs than making a dollar that they declared that they would be loyal customers as long as the store carried what they needed. The advertisers took this technique to heart and even began advertising the better deals that the people could find at the other store. The other store was forced to take a similar tactic and the companies spent that Christmas shopping season trying to outdo one another with their generosity and goodwill.
In the Romans passage for today, Paul tells us to give food and drink to our enemies. In some ways this seems like a rather impractical suggestion. After all, our enemies are not usually hungry and thirsty. They aren't the poor who need food and drink. In the case of the movie, the enemies were two prosperous companies. Yet, there was a way one could feed the other – with customers. In doing so, the two companies tried to outdo one another in kindness. In the end, people were transformed and the spirit of Christmas returned to the world as many supported Santa in his fight to convince one little girl that there are things in which we can believe.
"Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready unto every good work, to speak evil of no man, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness toward all men. For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men: but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned." Titus 3:1-11 (ASV)
It seems odd that Paul would encourage us to do something like pour burning coals on the head of our enemy, even if it is done in such a good way as feeding their hunger or thirst. It is not the typical motivation that we learn for serving God. However, we don't want to pour heap burning coals on the head of our enemies because it will punish them, but rather because it represents the transforming power of God's love. Feeding our enemies will not hurt them, but rather will win them over.
Perhaps the motivation for the battle between department stores began as a fight for customers, but it ultimately led the transformation of the world, and more particularly one small family. When we feed our enemies – not necessarily food and water, but with whatever it is they need – we draw them into the heart of God where they will find the transforming grace of God's love. The world changes with each enemy that becomes a brother. Thanks be to God.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Honey Over the past month we have been looking at Paul's letter to the Romans, particularly in terms of how to live in the love of Christ. Some of his words are hard for us to hear because they are in opposition to the ways of the world. In many ways the world is double-minded – while it is good to put others first, it is also fine to put oneself first when it comes to career decisions. We are supposed to love our neighbors, but it is acceptable to sue somebody for ridiculously petty offences. In the world justice means an eye for an eye and peace is only for those who agree. We are expected to avenge ourselves or those we love for the sake of justice and peace.
Yet, as we look at the way Jesus lived and the way Paul is encouraging us to live, I can't help but notice that their attitude is extreme. We are to put others first, not only when we will not be harmed, but even if there is some risk to our own situation. We are not only to say we love our enemies, but we are to do good and wonderful things for them. We are to hold up those whom we would rather ignore, blessing them when they really deserve nothing but our disdain. Achieving peace might mean losing something important, serving the Lord might mean sacrificing ourselves – our flesh, our opinions, our way of life. This is true love. Love means giving up everything for the sake of another.
The thing we forget, though, as we desperately try to hang on to the things of this world, is that the blessings of God's kingdom are far greater than anything we can imagine. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived and loved for the sake of the world, so that we would all see and receive His mercy and grace. In doing so – sacrificing everything, including the glory of Heaven – He overcame the world and began the transformation that would ultimately end at the Day of Judgment when all will finally see the Lord as He is. The world did not change instantly the moment Jesus rose from the dead, but through His death and resurrection He opened the door for the gifts that He would give all believers to overcome the world, bringing the Gospel and the message of peace that would transform one heart at a time.
"These things have I spoken unto you in dark sayings: the hour cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in dark sayings, but shall tell you plainly of the Father. In that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father. I came out from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father. His disciples say, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no dark saying. Now know we that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:25-33 (ASV)
They say that it is better to catch flies with honey than vinegar. When we look at the world in which we live, we see that it can be a terrible place. The news is filled with stories of hatred and violence, of self-centeredness and greed. The television commercials advertise lawyers and drugs – the lawyers to help you overcome the evil outside your flesh, the drugs to take care of the insides. Yet, do those solutions really help? Do they really make a difference? Perhaps for the moment, but ultimately others are hurt or more drugs will be needed. You can't overcome the world by doing what the world does.
Jesus Christ overcame the world, through His death and resurrection He gave the mercy and grace to all who believe. Forgiveness and reconciliation were the greatest gifts of His life, and also the purpose for our lives of faith to this day. We continue the work He began so that He is still overcoming the world through us. We won't overcome the evil that exists by doing what is expected in the world, but by living in the love of Christ. And when we love, truly love with that sacrificial and abiding love we have been given through faith, we shine the light of Christ to others that they might see and believe in His name. We might wish to cry and to do whatever it is we think might overcome the world, but we are called to be of good cheer. Jesus Christ overcame the world with love and He gives us the love to share with others until that day when there will be no more tears forevermore. Thanks be to God.
Teachers Yesterday was our last day of school. The kids finally finished their finals and had their end of the year parties. I have been keeping notebooks full of work and pictures for the children in my preschool class all year, and we happily shared the memories during our final class. The children also kept picture journals through the year and it was fun to see the different ways they expressed themselves over the last nine months. The changes have been amazing – their handwriting and creativity developed as they grew and matured. The pictures in one student's journal were little more than scribbles in September but by the end of the year she was drawing recognizable figures.
As the children were leaving yesterday, I received many hugs and everyone said thank you. One mom got a little teary eyed and told me how much she appreciated the impact I'd had on her child. She said that when she came to the graduation ceremony we had the other night that she didn't think it was that important. As we went through our songs and gave out special certificates to the children moving on to Kindergarten, she realized that it was far more important than she ever realized. She just wanted me to know that I had made a difference and she is thankful that I was there for her child.
There is a famous saying about teachers, "Those that can do; those that can't teach." It is a negative maxim that is often used to insult college professors. Some students use it against their professors, particularly when the teacher gives negative feedback about a report or project. The student responds, "What do you know? If you were really good at this, you would be out there making the real money instead of hiding behind these ivy covered walls." There may be some people for whom this saying is true, but not very many. Those who can't do what they what they are teaching do not make very good teachers. The teachers that make a real impact on the students are those who choose to teach, not because it is their only option but because they want to share their gifts with others.
As we have looked at the passage from Romans 12 over the past month, it has been easy for us to think of Paul as that professor who can't do what he says, so he teaches others what he wishes he can do. While Paul would be the first one to admit that he was not a good person – he called himself the greatest sinner – he did try to live by the words he spoke and his life has impacted millions of people over the last two thousand years. Most teachers are happy to know they touched one life!
"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews; how I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth unto me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:17-24 (ASV)
As the school year closes, we should not look at our teachers as people who were unable to succeed in the real world, but rather as those who have chosen to sacrifice their opportunities for making a better life for their families so that they can have a positive and life changing impact on the lives of their students. Paul often sounds as if he is boasting, even when he is explaining we have no place to boast. When it comes to living the Christian life, most people would much rather see the actions than hear the words. Yet, as we carefully read what he has written, we see that his words provide his witness to the power of God in his life. This is his list of credentials for those who would rather see him as a teacher that can't do what he insists of others. He's not just teaching, he's living the life. If Paul, who calls himself the greatest of all sinners, can live in the love of Christ, we can be assured that there is hope for us. There is hope because all the power we have over sin, hate and death is found in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Memorial Day I've spent most of the morning preparing for company that is expected later today. We have invited many of our friends to ring in the summer season with food, fun and fellowship. The kids have had so much fun planning for today. They have been preparing games, helping with food and setting up. Bruce worked hard to ensure the yard was trimmed. Luckily we had some rainy weather over the last few days, which left the grass green and fresh. The storms have passed and the sky is blue. We are expecting to have a lovely day.
Memorial Day is known as the start of summer, with many people taking trips to the beach, the lake or the mountains. Others have picnics at home. Yet, there is something even more important about today, something that is often forgotten. This is a day to remember those who have perished in service to our country. Some cities plan parades. Many homes are decked out with patriotic decorations, American flags are waving everywhere. Last Friday the boy scouts went to the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to put small flags on every grave. It is a time to remember.
It might seem pointless to some to take the time to remember something that is past, particularly since it is so sad to think about people who have died in war. Yet, remembering is important because as we review the past we learn from it. As we look at their lives, we can't help but think about why they died. What purpose did their death serve? Did it save another? Did it change the world? If not, what can we do differently? How can we keep such horror from happening in another time and place?
There are a great many Christians who would prefer to ignore the Old Testament scriptures, considering the message within its words much different than that in the New Testament. However, the God of the New Testament is the same as the one who we see manifested in Jesus' life and ministry. We'd rather ignore the death and sin found in the stories of our forefathers, but like the stories of the wars we remember on Memorial Day, those stories are important for us to see the grace and mercy of God. As we remember, we can see God's mighty hand in the midst of tragedy and His forgiveness in response to sin. We look back and thank God that His will is done despite our inability to live according to His Law and we remember His promises so that we can continue walking in faith.
"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…" 1 Chronicles 16:8-12 (ASV)
In this song of thanksgiving, David goes on to sing of all the good things God has done and he calls all the people to sing His praise. In the end, David sings, "Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise." Though God's goodness is everlasting, our flesh is frail and perishable. We fail, constantly, to live up to the expectations of our God. Even in Christ we fail daily to love our neighbors and serve our God with our whole bodies, hearts and minds.
This is a difficult Memorial Day for many because we still have men dying all over the world for the sake of our nation and for the sake of others. Many people do not believe that our current war is good, right or just and the attitude gets worse with each body bag that comes home. This was also true of other wars we have fought, and there are those who would rather not remember the experience because there is nothing positive to remember. Just as the Israelites were imperfect and failed to live up to God's blessing, so too we still live in the flesh that fails. Soldiers are imperfect and war is unwanted. Yet, we should continue to remember so that perhaps tomorrow we can avoid that which has brought us to this moment. And though many of those men and women who we honor today died in a way that might be seen as less than honorable, we can honor them by thanking God for all the good He accomplished through their lives. Thanks be to God.
Resume This summer vacation is going to be a busy one with the kids headed off to camp and the whole family taking our trek to the east. However, in between our fun and sun we will be trying to accomplish several major projects.
Since Bruce is less than a year away from retiring from thirty years in the Air Force, we need to begin the process of recalling his career. We will plan a special retirement ceremony which will include remembrances of his life in pictures and words. Vicki, who has gotten into scrapbooking in the last few years, wants to help create a special book just for her Daddy. Today I sent her into the garage to start going through his boxes. She is supposed to separate all his commendation certificates from the other papers and put them into chronological order. This will make it easier when it comes time to put it all together in the book.
It will also help Bruce when it is time for him to write his resume, which he will need to get a job in the civilian world. The commendations will help him with the dates of his different assignments, a task I am finding quite difficult in my own resume writing. That is another major task for me to accomplish this summer – to write a resume for me so that I can work on finding a long term position somewhere in town. I managed to find an old copy of my last resume, which was written nearly twenty years ago. I can easily remember the jobs I held since then – not many since most of the time was spent as a stay-at-home mom. However, I’m having difficulty remembering the dates. I moved rather quickly through jobs when I was in retail, some of which lasted only a few months as I moved up the corporate ladder.
What stuck me most when I was thinking about my work history is that several of my jobs were with a company that has gone out of business. A good resume is accurate with enough detail that a potential employer can see the history of the employee they are considering , and offering a time period helps the former employee recall the necessary information if the record is checked. Yet, I think that we sometimes worry too much about time and dates while not being concerned about the impact that experience. We do this with history, memorizing dates without really understanding what happened. We even do it with religion.
There are many who spend their time concerned with the date of Jesus' second coming. Some believe it has already happened and can point you to an exact time and place. Others believe He is coming soon and can show you in prophecy the time it will occur. When talking about personal faith, many people want to know the exact moment of salvation, a time period that is impossible to pinpoint for many Christians. Though there is a great witness in our own personal stories of faith, does the time really matter? Or should we be more concerned about what it means to be saved?
"And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation)." 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (ASV)
Resume writing is an important task not only for the potential employer to have a record of the work experience of the employee, but also that the employee can look at their life and realize their growth. We see where we came from and where we are going. Our history helps us to learn from our mistakes and take advantage of the right things we have done in our career. The same can be said with our faith. Looking back to the beginning, when we first met the Lord Jesus helps us to see where we have come over the years. We can see our silly, childish beliefs and how we have matured. However, we must take care not to concern ourselves too much with the time. The past is important, but all we have is today. While some may have a specific time and place they remember as the beginning of their faith, now is the day of our salvation – this moment. Now is when God is blessing us with His grace and now is when we are living in that grace. Thanks be to God.