Welcome to the May 2011 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 2011
“I love Jehovah, because he heareth My voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, Therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The cords of death compassed me, and the pains of Sheol gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of Jehovah: O Jehovah, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is Jehovah, and righteous; Yea, our God is merciful. Jehovah preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he saved me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; For Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before Jehovah In the land of the living. I believe, for I will speak: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, all men are liars. What shall I render unto Jehovah For all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints. O Jehovah, truly I am thy servant: I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people, in the courts of Jehovah's house, In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 116, ASV
I went to camp this past weekend to enjoy a restful time of fellowship and crafting. Several very talented women were on hand to give lessons in different types of crafts, from lampworking to candle making to calligraphy. The guests were welcome to take as many or as few classes as they wanted. Some guests brought their own work and a room was set up with tables where we could gather with our crafts. Everyone left with something beautiful that they created and we learned about how God created us and gave us everything we would need to be creative. It was a wonderful weekend.
I only took one class, a workshop on quilling. Quilling is an artistic technique that uses strips of cut paper that is curled and shaped into beautiful flowers and other pictures. I’ve tried to quill before. I even had all the supplies I needed, but I became frustrated when I tried to create something with the technique. The paper is tiny, the curls even tinier, they are difficult to handle and it seemed impossible to make the pieces look nice. I always had glue gooping all over the pieces and I couldn’t get the different sizes of curls to glue consistently. I have a container in which I kept all my tries, and I still shake my head at how terrible they look.
So, I took the class, hoping that the teacher would be able to show me what I was doing wrong. It was very simple: I used too much glue. I was trying too hard to make it stick and in doing so I made it impossible for it to stick. We think that more glue is what we need when something is not staying in place, but the reality is that sometimes it just takes the patience to hold it for another moment before letting it go. The teacher told the students in the class, “Just use a tiny bit of glue, then sit and wait for it.” We did, and it worked. I ended up with a lovely card with two flowers and a bud, stems and leaves. I began by following the instructions for a flower, but then went out on my own to create something new. It was fun and I laughed when I realized how simple it was to solve my problem and now I look forward to making more. As a matter of fact, I have at least one canvas that is painted with a background that will take the quilling perfectly. I can’t wait to get started on this new project!
Isn’t it funny how sometimes our most frustrating moments can be solved with the simplest solution? I know that I’ve been able to help my kids get through tough times with suggestions that seem insignificant, but when tried have had a powerful impact. Too much salt in soup can be reduced with a potato. A wet cell phone can be dried in a bowl full of rice. Some computer problems can be fixed with a simple click of the mouse. We often think that we need to go through a long and complicated process to fix our problems, just as I thought that something so beautiful was too hard for me to accomplish. I was even ready to use the materials in a much different way, but now I can quill with confidence and certainty.
When the world around us is falling apart and it seems like there is no way out, there is a simple solution: trust in God. Will God come in like a knight in shining armor to rid us of our enemies and make everything perfect? Perhaps not. Will He take away the pain of disease or the reality of physical death? Not necessarily. However, God can give us peace in the midst of our troubles. He can give us hope for tomorrow. He can give us the strength to stand in the midst of our suffering and use it for his glory. When we trust in God, nothing is too hard to overcome, even death, for God has saved us for a life of praising Him forever.
“And he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold, saying unto them, It is written, And my house shall be a house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of robbers. And he was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him: and they could not find what they might do; for the people all hung upon him, listening.” Luke 19:45-48, ASV
When we read this particular passage, we might think it is simply about selling things in and through the church. Some congregations have responded to this text by creating very strict rules against fundraising in the church. There is some wisdom in these rules because people get very tired of being constantly bombarded by requests for money. Our local school district allows very little fundraising for that very reason. This makes it difficult for groups and organizations to do their work or have events because they have no money to do so. The same is often true in the church. How are we going to minister if we don’t have enough funds? Fear and worry can send a congregation to either extreme, either allowing too much fundraising or not having any funds available.
In the Temple, another problem existed, and that is the fact that many of the sellers and moneychangers were cheating the pilgrims. We all know what it is like to go into the gift shop of a tourist site: the items are much overpriced. We usually buy them anyway because they are specific to the place we have visited and we want a memory, or we know that the high prices help to support the work of that particular museum or landmark. Yet, in this case the pilgrims were not buying souvenirs, but were changing their money and buying items to honor God with their offerings. The sellers and moneychangers were making a fortune off the needs of these pilgrims, and dishonoring God because they were taking some of the funds meant for Him.
These are good lessons for us to learn from the text today, but there is something else to consider. The moneychangers and sellers set up their booths in the outer court of the Temple. The visitors purchased whatever they needed, like lambs or birds for sacrifice, and then moved inside for the ceremony. Some visitors were then allowed to go even further into the Temple. The priests had most access. Men were allowed to go deeper than women, and the women were allowed to go deeper than the Gentiles. Gentiles were only allowed within the outer court. Perhaps some of those Gentiles were only there to gawk at the building and decorations, but at least a few went to the Temple because they wanted to pray and honor the God of Israel. They may have been searching, drawn to this God who was so different than the gods of the nations. They wanted to meet God, and they knew that He was in the Temple, but they could not enter into His presence like the Jews.
Can you imagine what it was like for those seekers to arrive at the Temple and see the chaos of a market in the only place they could go to pray? Could they ever meet God in that mess? Jesus may have understood the necessity of offering those services to the visitors that came from so far, but He was certainly upset by it as well. He was upset that the faithful were cheated as well as God. But that wasn’t His only problem. He came to reach not only the Israelites, but also the whole world, to share God’s message of hope and peace with all the nations. How could they meet Him, hear Him, embrace Him, if all they saw was a den of thieves?
We probably don’t have a marketplace in our church buildings, but there might be other things that will leave a bad impression on those who come to visit our own temples. What do visitors see? What blocks their way? What makes it difficult for them to pray and meet God for themselves? Who are our moneychangers and sellers? If Jesus walked into our temples today, what would He turn over? How have we made God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves? How do we make God unapproachable for the nations?
Scriptures for Sunday, May 8, 2011, Three Easter: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-36
“For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him.” Acts 2:39, ASV
I went to a retreat this weekend, a group of women gathered to do crafts together. Classes were arranged with teachers well versed in certain crafts, but the guests were also welcome to bring their own things to do. Though most people did manage to do some crafting over the weekend, there were a few who were there to enjoy the company of other women, to rest and relax away from the hubbub of life. I did some crafting, but also spent time finishing a novel I was reading and checking out the work of the women. Everyone enjoyed sharing not only their crafts, but also their stories.
One evening was especially fun, because every story led to other stories. Someone mentioned their cat and all the other ladies had stories to tell about their own cats. We laughed at the antics and were fascinated by how extraordinary our animals can be. We discovered very quickly that though we were women who were from different places and backgrounds, we had much in common. Our lives were diverse but we had shared experiences. We talked about books, our families, our camp experiences and whatever else came to mind, and in those conversations we got to know each other.
I’m sure on Sunday, when families gather around Mother to celebrate her day, everyone will have their own stories to tell. It is important for us to tell our children the stories of their life, to share their history with them so that they will remember their forefathers and where they came from. The person we become is built by adding the places we’ve been and the people who have been a part of our life to the person we were created to be. I would not be me if it weren’t for those people and experiences. As we hear the stories of our past, we better understand our own lives and they bring to mind our own memories, our own stories, that get added to the tapestry that is our world.
My husband and his brother were talking at dinner last night, remembering their favorite foods from when they were just kids in their mom’s house. They each had their favorites, some of which have been continued by their wives. They also remembered the food they hated and how thankful they are that their wives haven’t continued those meals. They didn’t always remember the same things and spent a long time describing items to one another to see if the memories came back. They tried to piece together some things, trying to remember how their mom made it so that they could have it again. As with the conversations over the weekend, one subject brought to mind another, and the discussion went on for a long time.
We read the text from the Gospel lesson and wonder how those disciples could possibly not know that they were talking to Jesus. Yes, there was a difference in His appearance and they were walking to Emmaus under the belief that Jesus was dead, and yet we still wonder how they could not know. I usually approach this text from the point of view that Jesus revealed Himself in different ways to different people with specific purpose, so that we would know that He is revealed to each person in a personal and specific way. To these disciples, Jesus was revealed in the breaking of bread, and we can know that He will be revealed to us that way, too.
Yet, as I was thinking about this Sunday being Mother’s Day, I thought about how storytelling helps us remember other things. The stories our mothers tell us help us remember our past, our experiences and the foundation of our lives. Jesus was doing the same thing. Though they recognized Him in the breaking of bread, I’m sure the teaching of scriptures built upon everything He had done before He died. He taught them these things, and in the storytelling, Jesus reminded them of the foundations of the future Church. “This is where you came from,” He was telling them, “this is who you are.” Then He showed Himself to them to guarantee His authority and the truth He was telling them.
The disciples were under a wrong impression. They thought Jesus would be their Messiah, but when He died they were lost. Everything they expected went wrong. They didn’t expect Jesus to rise, despite the number of times Jesus told them He would. He was rarely blunt about His future; He told them through His teaching of the Law and Prophets. But He did tell them that He would suffer and die. He told them not to worry. He told them God had a plan. When Jesus died, they thought God failed. They went on their way. They returned to their homes. They were disappointed and confused. But Jesus came and reminded them of the foundations of their faith. And from His storytelling, they believed.
In this story we see that God does not necessarily come to us in dramatic and forceful ways. Sometimes He comes to us slowly at first, laying out His story in a way that draws out our own memories, gifts and relationships. Though some Christians have extraordinary experiences of Jesus, like Paul on the road to Damascus, most of us learn about Jesus through Sunday school teachers and our parents and the stories they tell. Slowly, but surely, we hear the stories until one day we finally see Him and understand. Even then we wonder how we could have not seen, just like the disciples. “Was not our heart burning within us?” we ask. But in the stories of God’s grace we see that we are just like those who were there at the beginning, learning and growing in grace each day.
In the lesson from Acts, we see the end of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. He just finished telling the story of Jesus and how they came to be at that moment in time. He summed it up with the statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, for whom they had been waiting. Despite the strange circumstances of Jesus’ death, Jesus is the One. Peter said, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.”
This is important news; this is a life-changing proclamation. It demands a response. The people wondered what they should do. Peter says, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He tells the people to turn around, to see God’s grace in His gifts to His people. In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, the faith and strength and hope to live in this world. Jesus met those disciples along the road and walked with them. He shared the stories they had heard perhaps hundreds of times before, but in telling them again, He helped them remember and become transformed by them. They were changed when He was revealed. And so are we.
It is often our mother who gives us the first stories about Jesus. She got us our first bible, a picture book with the stories about God’s people. She took us to the font and made sure that we received our first communion. She made sure that we went to church and sat beside us in worship. She taught us about giving our offering, sharing our resources, taking time for others. She made sure our name was in our underwear and that we had plenty of batteries when she sent us off to summer camp. I suppose it is possible that some who read this won’t remember those experiences with their mothers, but most of us can say that it was our mother who taught us about Jesus.
The transformation might take time. St. Augustine’s mother patiently prayed for her son and lived as a faithful example for him. It was a priest, after a long life of wicked living, who gave him to words that convinced him that Jesus was the way. For the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it took the breaking of bread. What was it that brought about the change in you? Were you baptized as a child or did you learn about Jesus later and choose to be baptized? Did you reject God but learn about the peace and joy that comes from recognizing that Jesus is the Christ? What stories did you hear that changed you? And when you heard those words that gave you faith, how did you respond?
The Gospel message—that Christ died for your sake, His blood shed for your ransom—demands a response. It is not enough to believe. It is not enough to simply accept Jesus is the Messiah. He died so that you might live and live abundantly. This Good News calls us to turn around, to go back into the city, to tell others that Jesus is not dead. He is alive, and He’s calling His people into relationships of love. In faith we live forever, no longer condemned to death.
We inherit from our past so many things: health, tradition, culture, finances, property, business, personality, habits, politics, biases, debts, feuds, religion and interests. Some of these things can be good and are worth continuing into another generation. However, some of the things we inherit from our past have no value and can actually be harmful; there are things that we have to set aside to become the person we are meant to be. Jesus made it possible, redeeming us from the failures of our past. The sacrificial system had little value because it was not lasting. Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God finished for all time the need for atoning sacrifice. In His grace, we are called to trust in God and love one another.
The disciples recognized Jesus at the breaking of bread, and we are given that same opportunity every time we approach the altar for the Eucharist. Is that what we are experiencing at Communion on Sunday morning? Do we really recognize that in the bread and wine we are seeing Christ? Have we lost touch with the purpose of communion? The cup bears the very blood of Christ which was offered for our sake on the cross. “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” Christ did this for you. And there at the table, whether once a year or every day, Jesus Christ is revealed anew in that cup. We are made new every time we receive that gift, forgiven, transformed and purified by His Word so that we can go forth another day to trust in God and live in love.
When the disciples recognized Jesus, He vanished from their sight. They did not sit around waiting for something special to come. Fed and renewed, they ran back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples. “The Lord has risen indeed!” So too should we, strengthened by our Lord Jesus Christ, go out into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation found in Christ.
The psalmist sings, “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” The Lord God is gracious and merciful. He hears the cries of His people and He answers their prayers. Our psalm was used as part of the liturgy for the religious festivals throughout the Jewish year. It is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for God’s deliverance from death. The worship of God was tied up in many aspects of their lives. Each festival had significance at several levels. They were times of remembrance and looking ahead, times of feasting and fasting, times of joy and sacrifice. They worshipped God with their hearts, their minds and their resources, bringing Him into their ordinary world.
That’s why our New Covenant experiences include the sacraments. God did not simply speak to us; He gave us ordinances that were connected to very real, very tangible things of this earth. In Baptism the word is joined with water, reminding us of all those times when God used the water to make the world clean while cleansing us for the future. In the Eucharist the word is tied to the bread and wine, reminding us of the last supper, Christ’s death on the cross while also giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. In this way God’s story has woven together the ordinary with the extraordinary, reason with mystery, the past with the future, the grace of God with our response.
Every year someone asks the question of the pastors, “Do we celebrate Mother’s Day or do we follow the text of the day?” Some of the resources give other texts that might be used, like the ones involving Jesus’ mother or the commandment to honor father and mother. One Mother’s Day sermon included Proverbs 31, the perfect woman. But we don’t have to separate the two. Jesus as Jesus is revealed through the bread and the wine, He is also revealed to us by the people who love us and the stories they tell. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus and the two men, but replace that scene with a mother sitting there and carefully teaching the scriptures to her children? Mother’s Day might be a secular holiday, but our mothers are among the tangible gifts that God gives to us so that we might see Christ active in the world. With the bread and wine, and the water of baptism, God reveals Himself through those we love so that we’ll go out into the world and proclaim that Good News to others.
“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14, ASV
I looked at a photo of myself the other day and I was surprised. I have a mole on my face that has been there for as long as I can remember. The mole is on the right cheek and logically I know that. However, when I look at myself in the mirror, the only way I can see myself, that mole appears to be on the left. I know that the mirror gives me a reflection and that physically it is still on my right cheek, but logically I see myself in the mirror as if I were looking at another person. When I looked at the photo of myself, I was taken aback because the mole appeared to be on the wrong side.
No one’s face is absolutely symmetrical; most of the differences are insignificant making it hard to notice. If you split your face in half, then put a flip of the right with the right side and a flip of the left with the left side, you will see two completely different faces. So, it is not surprising that the face I see in the mirror is different than the face others see when they look at me.
We don’t see the same thing as our neighbor. Of course, the lesson here seems very superficial because I’m talking about appearances, and yet I think the same is true when it comes to other aspects of our being. We see ourselves from inside and other see ourselves from the outside. We know what we think and what we feel. We know ourselves from the perspective of our experiences, good and bad. Others may think they know us and that they can read what we are feeling and thinking, but they can’t. They might interpret a facial expression as sadness or fatigue when it is really just a contemplative moment. I recently had a battle with a friend over words said, interpreted to be sarcastic when they were meant to be helpful.
Though others might not see us the way we see ourselves, we should not ignore or reject their impressions because they might just see something we are missing. We are not meant to be islands, but to be part of a community. That community will see us from a different point of view, but that can be helpful. They can help us because we can be blinded by our biases and our emotions. If we are angry, we can’t see beyond the anger. If we are afraid, we can’t see beyond that fear. Though we do know ourselves better than our neighbors, we should listen to what they have to say because it might make a difference.
When we do hear advice from others, we might automatically judge that they don’t know anything about us or the situation, so the advice is meaningless. But we should remember that they see us differently than we see ourselves, so what they see might warrant the help they want to offer. We can encourage one another to live as we are meant to live, to be all that we are meant to be, to love God as we were created to love.
“For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Galatians 5:13-18, ASV
I was driving on the frontage road along a major highway this morning. In this particular area, the frontage road is one way, with lights or four way stop signs at the intersections of crossroads. In one spot I had to cross a bridge over a dry creek bed. The bridge is large enough for two lanes of traffic, but there is no shoulder along the side. For the safety of pedestrians, the bridge has walking pathways on each side; the pedestrians are protected by large concrete barriers.
As I was driving down this road today, I noticed a man walking on the bridge. I’m not sure what he was doing there or where he was going, but what surprised me was that he was walking on the roadway even though there was a walkway for pedestrians. I was in the other lane, and the road was not terribly busy at that moment, but there was nothing safe or reasonable about the man’s actions. He didn’t belong on that part of the road for his own sake. There was nowhere for him to go if a car came along too fast, and the cars had a hard time getting around him because there was no medium. He could have just as easily, more easily in fact, walked on the part of the bridge meant for pedestrians. He had to step out of the pathway on which he was walking to get around the concrete barriers onto the road. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would anyone willingly put themselves and others at risk for no good reason?
I can only think that the man had no concern for others, but only for himself. He wanted to walk on that part of the bridge, and even though it would have been easier and safer for him to walk on the right path. Was he too deep in thought to see where he was walking? Did he want to inconvenience the drivers along the road? Did he think walking on the blacktop was better than walking on the concrete, even though they were part of the very same bridge? Was he more afraid of the railing on the side of the pathway than the speeding cars on the road?
I’m not sure if the man broke any laws, although I suspect that a police officer would have stopped to encourage him to walk on the pathway the next time. There have been too many stories of pedestrians who have been hit by cars because they have taken foolish chances. It frightens me every time I see someone running across the highway. It is like playing Frogger, but with real lives.
Christianity is about faith, of this we can be sure. We can’t do what is right with our own strength and ability, but we know that when we fail we are forgiven. Many Christians ignore or reject the law completely, for this very reason. We can fail and be forgiven. If we rely too heavily on our own perfection, we’ll be seriously disappointed. Even Paul, who was a great and righteous man, recognized his own inability to obey the law completely. And as the scriptures tell us, if we fail at the smallest thing, we have failed it all.
But that doesn’t mean we should run around willy-nilly. Though the Law is given so that we might see in it the truth of our unrighteousness, the rules also serve a purpose. Pork was dangerous in the ancient times because it is more likely to carry dangerous disease. They didn’t know how to treat the meat to make it safe. We know about refrigeration and proper cooking. We know what to use to make it safe. It would be foolish to take pork, even pork today, and use it as it might have been used in the ancient days because it is possible we could still get sick from it. All too often, when we choose to disobey the laws, we do so because we are being self-centered or self-obsessed. There is no good reason for it. We do what we want because we want to, even if it might be harmful for others. Though we don’t need to follow the rules to be saved, we should be careful to recognize how our unlawful behavior can affect others.
“For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:26-29, ASV
I read an article today about personality types and the color of your couch. Apparently, the color of your couch tells others about your individual style and personality. Yellow is happy, orange is warm but commanding, Red is confident, purple is invokes spirituality and creativity, pink is whimsical, blue is calm, white is clean and pure, black is elegant and traditional. I can see why this might be true, but I’m not likely to choose a couch based on my own personal preferences. Interestingly, I have a dark tan couch, which isn’t even mentioned in the article. It seems like shades of brown are probably the most common colors. Green is also missing. When I checked at a furniture store, the colors shown in the pictures with the article are not even available. The fabrics tend to be muted and patterned with other shades.
So, it made me wonder who the subject of the article is. I know that designer rooms tend to include unusual features like bright furniture, but the average family is more practical about their choices. If I see a white fabric couch in a house, I assume that the family does not have young children or wild dogs. I’ll pick a lighter color couch in a dark room to help brighten it. A dark couch helps hide stains. A big cushy couch is great for snuggling in front of a movie or for reading, but a firmer couch helps a crafter be comfortable while working. I do choose color for some of my décor. I have two calming blue chairs in the den, perfect for reading or conversation. The linens in my bedroom are a deep red and the guest room has a brightly colored, welcoming comforter. But in general, the large pieces are more neutral and the color is added in the accessories.
I wondered how this article was received by the readers and I discovered something interesting. In the comments, a majority brought up the question of why brown was left off the list. One respondent said, “I guess people that own brown couches have well balanced lives, excellent taste, and are brilliant beyond description. It's obvious that brown had to be omitted so others wouldn't feel bad about themselves.” Another said, “How about a rich beige with colorful pillows? Mine is elegant and warm with just enough color to add for harmony and warmth. This works better than a bright colored sofa!” One respondent wrote that the style of couch is far more important than the color.
So, why do we try to identify people by the choices they make? In this case, the writer of the article apparently didn’t think about other reasons why we make decisions, or she was thinking about a very small and specific group of people. The writer has other articles, all of which are aimed toward young, chic, trendy women. I’m not sure what that means, but since I don’t like any of her ideas or agree with any of her theories, I must not be one of them.
So, what does this mean for us? I think the question we should ask is whether or not we allow the world to define who we are by what we have and what we do. Are we really whimsical just because we have a pink couch? If purple invokes spirituality and creativity, why haven’t I even considered that color? Am I not confident just because I don’t have a red couch? No, I would rather be defined by my relationship with God than by the material possessions that happen to be a part of my world.
“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:14-25, ASV
I woke up with a song in my head, which doesn’t make sense because it is a song I haven’t heard for years. We all have this experience, but usually the song gets stuck in our head because we’ve heard it or because someone has referenced it. Sometimes it is a song that is used in a commercial, or we hear it is the soundtrack of our favorite television shows. But I can guarantee this song is not found anywhere. I won’t ruin your day by mentioning the title, but I can almost guarantee it is a song that the younger readers have probably never even heard. I hated the song when it was popular and yet it had one of those annoyingly catchy tunes. I doubt I could even come up with all the words, but tune of the chorus is running a continuous loop through my brain.
Why is it that the things we don’t want to remember keep playing in our minds, but the good memories and thoughts just slip away? We are more likely to remember the details of a nightmare, and less likely to remember those wonderful calming dreams. I harp on my mistakes and ignore the successes. I’ll remind myself over and over again about the things I should have said or done, but even when pressed I find it difficult to think of the gracious moments of my day.
Our brains are incredible organs, capable of extraordinary things. Just think about the abstract concepts that human beings can consider, the knowledge we can gather, the things we can invent and produce. We were created like God, given reason and will and the gift of joining in His work in this world. We are co-creators with Him, and in modern days we have seen how amazing our brains can be. Who would have thought, in Jesus’ day or even a hundred years ago, that we’d fly or cook food in a minute or talk to people across the world instantaneously with tiny wireless phones that are capable of doing more than the first computers!
Despite the wonder of all we can do with our brains, they are imperfect. We forget things. We remember things we should not remember. We hang on to our failings and disregard the gracious moments. Even Paul, whose Christian faith can be held up as a model for us all, had problems with his brain and his flesh. He didn’t do what he knew he should do, and did what he shouldn’t do. He, like the rest of us, at times harped on the negative and ignored the positive. He, like all of us, is a slave to the sin which we have all inherited. We are people of flesh. Though one day we will be set free forever of the flesh that binds us and keeps us from being everything God created us to be, for today, let us remember that we are not unique in this. And let us look to God to help us overcome our flesh and live as we were meant to live: with God’s song in our hearts and our minds.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 15, 2011, Four Easter: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
“And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.” Acts 2:47b
When Hurricane Katrina hit a few years ago, we all asked the question, “What can I do?” The same question is being asked around the south this spring as storms and floods are destroying homes, businesses and even whole towns. Giving opportunities were abundant then, and they are today for those who feel the call to help. In New Orleans, groups responded not only with money and food, but also with hands to help clean up and rebuild. The usual organizations have requested financial help, but there are always other individual groups that need our support.
For our part, and since Zack at one time showed an interest in attending the University of Alabama, I discovered a fund that has been put together to help those students, teachers and staff who were affected by the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago. Six students died and many others lost their homes. The campus was shut down early, finals canceled and students sent home for the summer. The disaster will have a lasting impact on their lives in ways we may never truly understand.
Another group affected by the storms is the Heifer ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. Heifer International is one of my favorite charities for the work they do and how they accomplish it. The Ranch in Arkansas is an educational center where guests can visit for a day or overnight trips to learn about their work and help care for the animals. They have a hike that takes you through displays of homes around the world, huts built of cardboard, old metal sheeting and other materials, shelters that don’t give much shelter. The storage shed in my backyard is sturdier than those dwellings.
Heifer keeps a number of animals on the Ranch so that visitors can see what it is like to take care of the animals. Though they no longer send animals overseas from this site, the Ranch does offer the opportunity to learn what they can do and how they can help families overcome poverty. A barn shows how every part of an animal gets used, from the manure for fertilizer, the milk for drinking, the meat for eating.
Unfortunately, even the strongest buildings rarely stand up against the power of a tornado, and a tornado hit the Ranch a few weeks ago. Thankfully they did not lose any people or animals, but the damage to the ranch is substantial. Some of the damage will be replaced by insurance money, but the deductible is significant, money which might have to be taken out of other fundraising and away from the work they do.
It is very easy to text a ten dollar donation to the Red Cross or some other organization that is doing work on the ground in these cities that have suffered so much at the hands of nature, and many of them are excellent organizations and should be supported. But if you feel led to do something, but aren’t sure what to do, there are lots of ways to help. I know of at least one church (I’m sure there are many) in Alabama whose building was completely destroyed by the storms. While they surely have insurance, they don’t have anywhere to meet while they are rebuilding. They may need to pay rent, or even find a place to use. They’ve lost everything. Perhaps they could use some bibles or hymnals or wine for communion. Other organizations have lost offices and office equipment. The organizations that are traveling to those areas have people that need places to stay and food to eat. While it is best to give cash rather than send our old used items to give to others, there may be ways to share what you have with the groups and people who are helping those who are suffering.
We don’t often realize how disasters in other places can affect the people in our very own neighborhoods. When Hurricane Katrina hit a few years ago many families left New Orleans when the storm threatened and traveled to family or friends away from the danger zone. We have several neighbors with family that live in New Orleans, and they all made the pilgrimage to our street to wait out the storm. One neighbor welcomed several families, making their home crowded and their burden great. At first they expected the visit to last for a few days, but the damage after the storm was so excessive that they ended up staying for weeks and months.
Though they were happy to have their family and grateful that they were safe, it became very stressful to have so many living together. It was like a vacation at first, but financially it became a strain on budgets. Though the family was able to help out at first, the concerns for what they would find at their home when they finally returned made them more careful with their money. It took time for them to get the emergency money provided by the government for the victims of the storm, and my friend was worried about how they would feed so many people. It wasn’t much, but I was able to give them a gift card for the local grocery store and it helped them get through those first few days.
It is amazing how quickly we respond to these disasters with generosity and strength. If the need is for water, truck loads of water are on the road within hours. We are generous with our money when there are calls for donations. After Katrina, cities took in refuges, provided for their needs and welcomed them as if they belonged there. Some of the visitors became permanent residents of the new towns. We respond naturally when the call is issued. This is true of all people, despite religious point of view, but I like to think that Christians are particularly good at hearing the voice and responding to it in gracious and merciful ways.
I think that’s what Luke means when he talks about the early Christians sharing everything they had. While that Christian community in Jerusalem might have been a model of literal equality, other stories in Acts show us that the Christians continued to have control over their own personal property. The story of Ananias and Sapphira show us that it isn’t about giving everything, but about being honest about how much we give. Peter did not expect them to share the whole profit of their sale, but expected them to give everything they promised to God.
So, when we are thinking about how this scripture manifests in our own lives and communities, we have to consider what we mean by our own Jerusalem community and what it means to share everything we have. We don’t live together under one roof, and therefore we have individual needs to fulfill, but we gather together with other Christians in our churches. We share what we have with that community, giving as we are able. Admittedly, as we can see by the financial stresses suffered in many of today’s congregations, we aren’t always good about this kind of giving. I suppose it has to do with the financial realities in today’s world. Churches have bills that many do not see as important or vital to God’s work in the world. People withhold their giving from the church because they are unhappy with programs or policies. People aren’t willing to give to an organization that is wasting their resources. When the stewardship call is voiced, they don’t respond because they simply don’t see it as a real need. This is a problem, and I don’t have the answer, but that’s not what we are talking about today.
Many of the same people that throw a five dollar bill in the offering are extremely generous when a neighbor is in trouble. They respond with food for funerals, buy baked goods from the youth to help them go on a mission trip, volunteer at their children’s schools and text a donation to the Red Cross every time there is an emergency. They hear the voice and respond in their own way according to their own ability. I don’t know many people who I would say are without mercy, rich or poor, when someone is in trouble.
That’s what the outsiders saw in the Christian community: a willingness to give to share with one another. It wasn’t forced or even expected: it just happened. When someone was hungry, someone else fed them. When someone needed a new robe, someone helped them get one. When each was comfortable, they ensured the others were comfortable, too. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that doesn’t worry about money and resources?
If you ask many people why they aren’t part of a church, I expect you will hear two answers the most. First, they’ll talk about the apparent hypocrisy, unwilling to commune with people they think say one thing but do another. Inside the community we understand that we are all sinners and imperfect, it is understandable that those outside the community might see us as two-faced, especially if we are particularly passionate about an issue. There is no excuse for this apparent hypocrisy, but if they saw some value to enter into the community they would experience the reality of God’s grace.
The other reason people most likely give for why they refuse to be involved in ‘church’ is money. They will tell you that all they hear in church is “give, give, give.” Stewardship programs last months, every newsletter has an article begging for money, someone is always standing with their hand out. Over and over again we hear are guilted into giving so that God’s work might be done. And when money is not forthcoming as expected, then the people are blamed for not hearing God’s voice. This does not appear to be a very gracious community to the stranger.
Something was different about the Christian community in Jerusalem that made strangers want to be a part of it. Luke tells us that day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. With congregations failing and churches dying, we have to ask ourselves what we are doing that is different than what they were doing. I don’t think the answer is in holding all things in common, but instead trusting in God, hearing His voice and responding accordingly. Instead of forcing, manipulating or coercing one another, we will look like that early church if we support each other by responding to God’s voice.
That early church devoted themselves to the work of God. They studied the scriptures and the teachings of the apostles, they gathered together for worship and praise, and they prayed. Do we do this? Yes we do, for an hour or two a week. Many of our members are faithful about bible study and prayer, but do they gather on a daily basis for worship with others? Do we even talk to other members of our congregations throughout the week, encouraging each other every day with words of grace to help each other live as God calls us to live? No wonder outsiders see us as hypocrites! It is not enough to be good Christians on our own, praying, studying and working on our own. Many people, even non-Christians, are gracious and merciful, giving and responsive to the needs of the world. People from every religion worship and pray in some way. Even the atheists, though they may not realize it, live ‘faithfully’ to a set of principals, follow their own rituals and belief in their own moral standards.
What makes the Church unique is that it is one body, Christ’s body, working together to accomplish God’s Work in the world. And we don’t do it according to our will and purpose, but according to God’s. We trust in Him. We listen for His voice and we respond by faith with strength and everything we have. We might fail. No, we will fail at times. But if we continue to work like those first disciples, devoting our time to the teachings of the apostles, worship and prayer, then we will learn to recognize God’s voice above all the others.
See, it is easy for someone to claim they are speaking for God. Judas kept the money bag and in doing so apparently had a dominant say in what they would do with the funds. When Mary poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair, Judas was offended. He wanted the perfume sold and the money given to the poor, but the scriptures give us a different motive. He stole money from the money bag whenever he had a need. Thankfully we do not hear many stories, although there are some, of people stealing from the church. What we do hear, however, is how many insist on the church running as they wish. They will fight for every penny of the budget, refusing to allow any ministry if their favorite is not supported. We hear of those who refuse to give if the church stands for something they reject. We hear of fights over buildings, salaries, even which wine to serve. In all these battles, each side claims that they are doing what God wants, as if God cares about whether the carpet is red or blue.
So, to keep things going, we demand more and more from one another, expecting others to meet our needs instead of listening for God’s voice in the circumstances. Sometimes we are meant to suffer, but we do so knowing that God is with us and that He will help us through. Peter writes, “For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.” Instead of fighting with one another and forcing others to give according to the voices we hear, we are called to obey God with our own lives and resources.
God’s work will get done if His people truly listen and obey. The trouble with us is that we rarely listen or obey. We do what we want to do and even convince ourselves that we are doing what we are supposed to do. But if something is not working in the community, I think we must ask ourselves if we are really listening, and if we are trusting in God.
Have we lost touch with His voice? Do we hear Him when He calls? Are we ready to respond with mercy and grace to meet the needs of those who are suffering in the world? Or are we following the voices of strangers? Have we allowed the thief to come into our community to steal the gifts God has given? Are we willing to trust God even when we are suffering? Is Jesus our focus, or are we chase after our own agendas, theories, expectations? As we follow Jesus, listening to His voice, going only where He leads, we will find that God’s grace will multiply in ways that are beyond our ability to imagine. Even if we don’t think we have enough, we’ll be able to find more than we need to help our neighbors just as they will help us. This is the kind of community that others long to join.
So, let’s devote our time to the work of God, learning how to hear His voice through study, worship and prayer. Then when God calls, we’ll hear and respond with mercy and grace, just like Jesus, and our community will look a lot like that one in Jerusalem so long ago. The work we do might not be what we expect. It might be giving a grocery store gift card to a neighbor or helping rebuild a barn. It might be giving a little bit of hope to a stranger that lost everything in a tornado or providing the resources a church needs to continue their work. The work God calls me to do will be different than the work God calls you to do, but together we’ll accomplish incredible things. And the Lord will add to the numbers daily those who are being saved.
“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:14-18, ASV
My family bought me a game consul for Mother’s Day. That might seem like a strange gift for Mother, and several friends have asked if it was actually meant for the kids, but it isn’t. I wanted one. I didn’t want it so that I would spend all day glued to the television playing games, but because this particular system has great programs for active play, with sports games that get the body moving. My first game purchase is a walking program. In the past few days, I’ve walked several miles using the game, and had fun doing it.
Now, the instructions for these games leave a lot to be desired. I thought I might be able to pick up the nuances of the game by playing, but I didn’t understand why some things happened as they did. I thought I was doing really well in the game until I looked at my results. While I was doing great at the walking part, I didn’t seem to be making any progress at the other parts of the game. The instruction manual that game with the game didn’t answer any of my questions.
Yesterday afternoon I did a search on the Internet and found a site that game me more detailed instructions. I discovered what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to succeed. I also learned ways I could discover more information about my game: how to find the things I needed while I was walking. Though the whole point of the game is to exercise, the other parts of the game make it fun. The information I gained when I finally looked up the information will make playing the game even more fun.
A Christian can certainly go about life without being educated in religion and dogma. We do not have to read through the Bible or attend Bible classes to live merciful and gracious life. We don’t have to have knowledge of the prophets or the evangelists to have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t need to read in the scriptures how to take care of our neighbors or be a good person. Much of what makes us a Christian is either inborn or given by God in faith.
And yet, there are always questions that can’t be answered in our heads or our hearts. If we are not versed in the scriptures, we can’t know how to deal with the errors of those who lead us astray either by will or accident. False prophets abound, foolish people are everywhere. We don’t want to walk around the island or play the game without some information because we’ll end up doing the wrong things and failing at the game. But if we study, pray, gather together with other Christians, read our scriptures and listen for God, we will be better prepared when the false Gospel is preached and the false prophets try to lead us astray. We are all called to be theologians because it is in knowing God we will be all that God has created and called us to be.
“But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching? Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for war? So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification. If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me. So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else if thou bless with the spirit, how shall he that filleth the place of the unlearned say the Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:6-17, ASV
We lived in England for four years, and during that time we had several interesting experiences with language. My mom and dad came over to visit, and we spent a couple of weeks wandering around the country in search of adventure and heritage. My mother’s grandparents had immigrated from Cornwall and Wales at about the turn of the 20th century, so it was possible that the places were much like they would have known. We visited on very small town on the coast of Cornwall and had a soda in a pub. Though we didn’t make any connections with people, my mom was happy to know that her own grandparents may have had something to drink in that very same pub.
During our travels we went into a restaurant that is much like a Denny’s. My mom was having a lot of trouble with the waitress’s accent. They were both getting frustrated with one another, unable to understand what each other meant. Finally my mom said, “I just can’t understand your English.” The waitress answered, “It is our language, you know.” They say that America and England are divided by a common language, and that is often true.
I stopped in a Disney store during a trip to France to buy some gifts for my children. I had a few years of French classes when I was in school, so I tried to communicate using my limited knowledge. He answered me with a long monologue in his native language. I stood there with glazed eyes as his words just passed by me without understanding. I said, “Wait, I don't speak that much French." He said, "I know, I'm just joking with you.” He spoke perfect English, but wanted to have some fun. We could not communicate because his words seemed like gibberish to me. It was only after he spoke English that we could actually conduct business.
There was a problem in Corinth. The worship services were not being conducted in an orderly manner; the worship did not glorify God before the world. One of the problems Paul needed to deal with was the misuse of tongues. In this passage, Paul is not suggesting that we should rid ourselves of the use of tongues; it can be a powerful form of prayer. However, he is calling for us to speak God's Word in a manner that will be understood by others, so that the church will be edified. Yet, we continue to have difficulty sharing the Word of God with others. It even happens when we are all speaking the same language. Theological terminology and differences in understanding can cause confusion and chaos.
How many times do we expect people to understand what we are saying, even when we are saying it in a way that is different than they communicate. Even if we speak the same language, we can become confused by the various uses of certain words. I might mean one thing, while you mean another. That’s part of the problem we have in today’s religion and politics, too many people use words with their own definitions, making it impossible to understand one another. God is not glorified if we muddy the conversation with confusing terms. It is good for us to ensure that we mean what we say and say what we mean, using language common to our neighbors so that they will know what we mean. In this way God will be glorified and people will experience the saving grace of God.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:2-14, ASV
There’s a commercial that shows a family arriving home to an empty house. They were robbed. As they walk in the door, they click off the items that were gone: a television, stereo, furniture, etc. In the den they discover that the computer is still connected, on the floor, just where it would have been on the desk that was now gone. In other words, the crooks found more value in the furniture than their old computer. “I guess it is time to get a new computer.” They go to the store to buy a new one and the guy behind the counter promises to set them up well, moving all their old files to the new computer. They are so excited and respond, “Now this is a computer someone would want to steal.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think this commercial is ridiculous. Even though the computer was obviously out of date, crooks don’t take computers for the hardware. The value of a computer is not in the parts, but in what is on that computer: our data, information that will help them steal our identity. How many of us have copies of our tax returns, shadows of our credit card numbers from things we have bought online, passwords to all our accounts. With those passwords, they can connect to our friends on social media and through email. Even those outdated computers are a treasure trove of opportunities for the right thief. They might now know how to use it, but they know who does, and those electronic thieves are willing to pay good money for the old computers. Old computers are easier to break into; they do not have updated security programs.
While a new computer might have more monetary value than an old one, don’t let that commercial lull you into a feeling of security if you have one like it. If you use that computer for anything, someone out there in the world can use it against you. What makes you feel secure? The experts can give us dozens of ways to keep our homes and families safe. We can pay for services that will guard us from criminals. But then we see a commercial that gives us an irresponsible image of what the criminals want to take from us. Will we allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security because we don’t think there is value to stuff?
Perhaps, at least in the spiritual sense, these things do not matter. Our eternal life isn’t dependent on our foolishness when it comes to the material possessions we have accumulated. But what about our spiritual security? Do we get lulled into a false sense of security by relying on the wrong things? Do we expect that we’ll go to heaven because we have been good people? Or because we have the right doctrine, or because we have given enough money to the church? Do we expect to spend eternity with the Father because someone has told us that everything will be fine?
There is only one way to be secure in our life after this life: trust in God. He is faithful, and He has promised to keep us forever as His beloved children. Jesus Christ has won for us the reality of those promises and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of those promises for us. We can be lulled into a false sense of security by the thinking of the world. How many people do you know who think heaven is ours by our own works? But like that commercial that gives us the idea that our old computers are unwanted, so too are those ideas about our heavenly future. When we trust in our own ability to make it to the heavenly gates, we’ll find that our security will be broken. But when we trust in God, believe in His Son and rest in the promises, then we can know with certainty that we’ll spend eternity with God.
“Continue stedfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving; withal praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:2-6, ASV
We have company coming for the evening and I’ve been busy cleaning all day and preparing in other ways. With every chore I said to myself, “This would be much easier if I didn’t wait until the last minute to clean.” See, I’m not a very good housekeeper. My home is livable, without much clutter. But I don’t care about dust. I vacuum when it is necessary. A few dishes in the sink never bothered me. I know these things need to be done on a regular basis, but they seem to get done only when I’m expected guests. Sometimes I wish more people would just stop by for tea, and then I’d always be ready for them!
The way I think of it, though, is that even if I did vacuum on a weekly basis, I’d feel the need to freshen it up if I knew someone was coming, so I just wait until the last minute so it will be as clean as possible. The same is true with the dust. The dishes do get done regularly, but sometimes only when my favorite glasses are dirty or I need a specific pan for cooking dinner. I don’t mind putting off until tomorrow what I probably should do today.
One of the best reasons to be ready at all times is that you never know what circumstances you’ll face in those last moments before company arrives. I was vacuuming one day, thankfully not when I was expecting guests, when one of the belts on my vacuum cleaner broke. I could not finish the work at that moment. I’ve had to put off work because I’ve been called to other tasks, like driving one of the kids someplace or running an errand. I’ve been caught in traffic or delayed in other ways that has caused a rush to cook dinner. I would have been less rushed if I didn’t have to do the dishes before I started preparing the food.
What else do we put off, besides housework? Do we ever put off prayer? We wait until we will have more time, or more information, or more peace. Do we put off forgiveness? We wait until we feel better and less angry, or we wait for the person who harmed us to repent or apologize. Do we put off telling those we love that we love them? We don’t want to take the risk or be the first. We don’t want to be hurt, so we wait until we are sure everything will be right with the relationship. Do we put off telling others about Jesus? We do wait, afraid of being persecuted or rejected. We wait to help our neighbors until we have enough resources or even until it is too late. We miss out on the opportunities that God sends our way because we wait until tomorrow.
And then it is harder to get the work done. It is harder to pray when we haven’t built that daily relationship with God. It is harder to forgive when we allow our emotions simmer and build into bitterness and resentment. It is harder to share God’s love and our own love when we wait until tomorrow because the fears have time to build walls between us and others. It is harder to tell people about Jesus when we miss the opportunities that abound, because the walls built by our fears make it impossible to connect.
So, let’s not wait until tomorrow to do what God is calling us to do. Pray today, thank God for His blessings even if times are hard. Walk through the open doors, speak without fear. Don’t wait until tomorrow what you can, and should, do today. God is with you and will be your help as you do His work in this world.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 22, 2011, Five Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13, ASV
We were in the car early this morning, headed to the airport, when I threw out the question, “So, who died on your show last night?” See, we had a house full of girls, part of a group of students from Victoria’s college who were traveling to Germany on a learning trip. Several of the girls were coming from far away and the flight left very early in the morning. It was easier for them to gather in one place and I willingly took them all to the airport. During the evening we had two televisions turned to favorite shows that were airing their season finales. A couple of the girls were interested in only one of the shows, the others in both. Both shows expected someone to die, one typical of the show, the other a shocker. When I asked the question of the girls who watched the other show, the girls that watched with me screamed “NO!” They didn’t want to know until they were able to watch the show for themselves. They didn’t want the surprise ruined.
I’ve seen this played on sitcoms regularly. A character generally records a game when they have to do something else while it is being aired. Then they spend the entire show avoiding anyone or anything that will ruin it for them. The quest is made harder by the other characters who have already seen the game and want to talk about it. They’ll ask anyone, “Can you believe so and so did this or that this team did that?” As the question is being asked, the character who wants to see the game will cry out “NO” and cover their ears so that they will not hear.
What other reasons do we have for covering our ears? Children will do it when they don’t want to hear a parent’s chastisement. An angry person will do it when they refuse to see the other side of a story. A jilted girlfriend will do it when she no longer trusts the man she thought she loved. A passionate believer will do it because nothing will change the way they believe. We stop listening when the words coming out of another’s mouth will destroy something in our own life: our security, our ego, our faith.
In the case of those Jews in today’s story from Acts, they placed their hands over their ears because they believed that Stephen’s words were blasphemous. They were afraid that even hearing the words would be destructive. Stephen claimed to see Jesus at the right hand of God, a description of the Messiah that is based in scripture but they were not ready to accept that Jesus was actually the fulfillment of the prophecies. Besides, for them the expected Messiah would be nothing but a human king, not an embodiment of the Living God. It was blaspheme to give Jesus this honor.
Stephen knew Jesus was who He said He was and willingly spoke the words to the crowd, despite the certain death he would face. He was stoned for speaking out against the Temple and the Law, but the crowd became overwhelming angry because he claimed to have a vision of heaven that was completely against their understanding of God.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine a stoning to be a chaotic moment. I suppose it is based on representations I’ve seen on film or in paintings. It seemed to me that a stoning was like a lynching: a mob gets angry about something (real or imagined) and take matters into their own hands. In the case of a stoning, I thought they simply picked up the stones at their feet and began to throw them at the criminal (or victim). This seemed like a foolish way of dealing with a criminal. After all, few people have really good aim. The crowd risked injury as they surrounded the victim. The stones throne at the criminal might actually reach the people on the other side.
A stoning was actually much more organized. The crowds gathered around a pit that was about four feet deep. The trial happened at the edge of the pit, with witnesses giving their testimony before the crowd and a prosecutor who was present to insure that the trial and punishment was done properly. If the party was deemed guilty and deserving of a stoning, then one of the witnesses pushed him from behind into the pit, head first. If he did not die from the fall, a second witness dropped a stone on his heart. If he still did not die, the crowds were given leave to throw stones at him until he died. In this story, it seems that Saul was there to stand as the prosecutor, to ensure that everything was done properly.
Stephen did not fear death or the consequences of his words, for he knew he was speaking the truth. As they were stoning him he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” He asked for their forgiveness even as they were about to murder him. In his life and in his death, Stephen exemplified the life Christ calls us to live and the mission He calls us to do: share the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is true that we would live in a better world if people would be kinder and more compassionate to one another. Yet, I don’t know a person that would disappoint me if I truly needed help. We see it every time there is a natural disaster: the public comes through with donations of gifts and money, as well as with a helping hand. Could we all do more? Yes, I’m sure we could, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Perhaps I am naïve, but I do not think we are as self-centered as many make us out to be. We have gotten lost. We don’t always respond as we should. We don’t always speak out when our words might make a difference in another’s life. We are, all too often, blind to the problems of our neighbors, not only because we do not see but sometimes because they don’t let us see. But, when the going gets tough, we do get going.
Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us. This is true. It is also true that it is our personal responsibility to share the gifts God has given us with others. But what we need most in this world is reconciliation and forgiveness. Yet how many even think they need to be forgiven? Rather than seeking the justification of God, we justify our sins as if they are God-given rights or even personal expressions of our own lives. Even worse, we no longer recognize that sin is more than just the things we do wrong. It is the separation that was created between God and man in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word and chose to believe the serpent. So today we ask the question, “Did God really say?” and we find ways to juxtapose our wants and desires alongside God’s truth. Then we wonder why we are not doing the greater things Jesus promised us in today’s Gospel lesson.
Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Did Jesus mean that we would do greater signs than He, like raise the dead and heal the sick? Certainly the apostles continued to do such signs in Jesus’ name as they took the Gospel to the world. There are those who would say that we are not doing these things because we do not have enough faith. Others claim that the age of miracles is over, that God is no longer working in that way.
However, I would like to suggest that we aren’t doing the greater works because we have forgotten the source and reason for those miracles. As we begin to accept all belief systems as valid ways to the Father, then there is no need to share the message of reconciliation and forgiveness that makes Christian faith unique. Yes, people of all faiths do good works, care for the poor and are merciful. We’d rather not insult or offend others, so we keep silent. We allow others to set Jesus alongside the other great men of faith, to make Him equal or even subordinate to the prophets of the past and present. He is teacher, friend, prophet, healer, radical, community organizer, one way of faith, and we are afraid to stand like Stephen and proclaim the reality of Jesus. We do good works in the hopes that someone will see God in our actions, but we never say the words that bring forgiveness and true salvation to the world.
I love the wise saying of St. Francis of Assisi which says, “Preach always, when necessary use words” for this teaches us that we should always be walking in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in everything that we do. But this wise saying is used as an excuse for silence. We refuse to share our witness with others because we feel that it is enough to act. People are not saved by good works. They are saved by the Word of God: Jesus Christ. If we never proclaim His place at the right hand of God or tell the world who He is, they will not hear and be saved. If we never talk about sinfulness, our innate imperfection, they will never know God’s forgiveness.
If those good works are enough to ensure God’s mercy and grace, then there is no need to trust in God. If we are not sinners in need of a Savior, then we have no need to cry out to God to be our refuge. I imagine that Stephen may have prayed the words of today’s Psalm, seeking God’s mercy in the midst of the world’s persecution. “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” But if good works are enough, then we do not need to commend ourselves into God’s hands. If good works are enough, then our prayers for God’s shining light become less a need for salvation and more a demand for glory.
Jesus’ grace is not exclusive, for He reaches out to people of every time and place. But there is a chasm much greater than we ourselves can ever cross. We try to do so with good works, following His example of kindness and compassion. We are merciful to our neighbor and do good things for the sake of the world. Yet, there is no hope in works righteousness because we can’t do enough to earn the grace of God; we have no assurance that we have done everything necessary. The good people in every religion are making the world a better place, but they are doing so with their own strength and ability. The world will never truly be at peace until Christ rules over all.
There are those—many, some that are even found in the Christian church—who would like to think of Jesus as merely another chapter in the story of God. To them, Jesus need not be the only way to God, but rather an example of the path we are to take to know God. Yet, Peter identifies Jesus as the foundation of our faith. He is the chief cornerstone on which faith is built. Without Him, there is no foundation, no faith. He is, to those of other religious, a stumbling block. They know they need to speak on Him in their writings, but they have to reduce Him to less than He is so that their works of faith will seem to be enough.
Peter writes, “But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” We have been called to be people of God, not just to serve the world, but to belong to God and declare His praises. That includes Jesus, for He is one with the Father.
Jesus is the cornerstone. The cornerstone of modern buildings is little more than a marker, often with dates and other information so that people who visit will have information about the building and builders. That’s how some want to think of Jesus: He is little more than a marker, a part of God’s story, pointing people toward the Father as others have done.
But in the days of those first Christians, the cornerstone was much more important. The stone was generally laid at the northeast corner of the building site, a placement that promised prosperity and fortunate circumstances for the people who would work, dwell or worship in the building. It was the cornerstone that laid the lines of the building. Each stone was set in relation to the cornerstone. If any of the sides were off by even fractions of an inch, the entire building would end up out of alignment. It had to be perfect, which is why the builders often rejected many stones before choosing the one to be used for the foundation.
When laying a cornerstone, the builders held a ceremony with offerings of grain, wine and oil or blood. In some places even today, a chicken, ram or lamb is slain on our near the cornerstone, its blood washed over the stone and then the body buried beneath the stone. In even more ancient days the body was human. It was thought that the offering gave strength and stability to the building. Jesus willingly became the cornerstone of the New Covenant. It was His blood that was washed over the foundation and it is Him that God uses to line up the other bricks in His Church. We are the bricks, and one by one we are laid on the foundation established by and with Christ.
I think some of the hardest words for us to hear is the promise in today’s Gospel lesson, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked God for many things. I’m pretty sure I even asked for those things in Jesus’ name. Some of those prayers have not been self-centered. I’ve prayed for healing, for peace, for salvation for friends and neighbors. I’ve asked God to reveal Himself to the people who desperately need His grace. I’ve even asked for the courage and the strength to speak the words they need to hear. Yet I’m often disappointed. I don’t see miracles. I’m not so sure those greater things ever happen, even though I have asked in Christ’s name.
We are so skeptical about the promises of God. After all, we’ve heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch. How did Stephen feel when his faith in Christ led him to the stoning pit? How do we feel when our faith in Christ leads us to some sort of persecution or rejection? In this world, all things are reciprocated. A free lunch requires something in return, a type of repayment. So, we question the reality of the words we find in these texts because we know that is not how things work. Promises are not enough; belief is not enough. We want something tangible.
Philip said, “Show us the Father.” He wanted to believe, but without something on which He could grasp his senses and his mind, he was having a hard time with belief. He just wanted Jesus to show him some tangible evidence. It is certainly not too much to ask from a man who was demanding such an extraordinary sacrifice of His followers. Don’t be troubled? How can we go through even a day without a bit of worry, especially when our world seems to be falling apart? Believe in someone? People fail us every day. They break promises. They break our hearts. It is no wonder that Philip wanted something to help him hold on to the hope which Jesus was promising.
But God’s way is different. He does not need anything we have; He gives freely out of His love for His creation. That is why we take refuge in God when we face difficulty, committing our souls to His care no matter what should happen. For no matter what happens to our bodies, God has rescued us from death through the blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our good works will fail us because we will fail to do everything that needs to be done. We can’t solve the world’s problems with our physical labor or all the money that exists. We need something greater. We need someone greater: Jesus. He has laid down the future not only of an earthly Church that does good work, but of an eternal kingdom where we will dwell in the presence of God forever. These are words that need to be heard. Unfortunately, many will cover their ears. They don’t want to hear this. They don’t want to know that Jesus is the way because they like the path they have chosen.
Because they do not want to hear, we will face persecution and rejection. We probably won’t be stoned and I doubt we’ll see a similar fate of the other disciples. That doesn’t make the message any easier to speak, especially since the persecution we face might mean the difference between a job or friendship. We might even lose our family over our passionate proclamation of God’s truth. But this is what God calls us to do: speak the truth with grace and mercy. They can’t believe if they don’t hear. They can’t experience God’s forgiveness if they don’t know they are in need of it. They won’t be saved if they never realize that they need a Savior. Though they will cover their ears, preach it louder; speak more boldly with love.
Do not be troubled, because even when the world rejects what you, God will not. He will be with you through everything: good and bad. Ultimately, His promises will be fulfilled. Even if we suffer at the hands of enemies that refuse to listen, God has rescued us from the greatest enemy, death. At that moment, we’ll see Jesus at the right hand of God, as He welcomes us into God’s glory for eternity. We’ll see Him with outstretched arms ready to draw us into His bosom forever. There in the glorious presence of God we’ll know real joy and peace forever.
We are called to live in hope no matter what circumstances we face. In faith we can join with Stephen in crying out to God to be our refuge, so that we might dwell in His presence today, tomorrow and always. And in faith we are sent out to share the hope of that promise with all those who cross our path. It is in the words of forgiveness that all people will be reconciled to God and welcomed into His presence forever. When we speak the words, we will truly see greater things happen because He went to stand with the Father so that we can have His Spirit through whom we can take forgiveness and reconciliation to the world.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ASV
I had a childhood friend whose name was Fuzzy. That wasn’t her real name; that was the name we called her because she had incredibly fuzzy hair. Her family lived near our family in the country, and we kept in touch after we moved to the city. Unfortunately, my friend and I followed different paths once we were in high school and she passed away shortly after we graduated.
Fuzzy and I spent a least a week together every summer, usually two weeks, sleeping over at eat other’s houses. When we were young, we slept inside, in sleeping bags, and played a million different games. As we got older, our adventures took us outside into tents, and though we were never far from home, we did try to ‘rough it.’ The older we got, the farther away we planted our tent. Of course, at my house we couldn’t go very far, but she lived in the country and her family had acres of land. Some of it was in the woods, near a bubbling brook. It was fun to think that we were in the middle of nowhere even though we were just a short walk from the safety of home.
Now Fuzzy had a neighbor, a boy a little older than us, who enjoyed scaring us when we were out in the woods. He would sneak up on the tent and growl like a bear or rush up screaming like a banshee. He’d get a kick out of making us scream, then we would share s’mores and he’d go home. He got us really good one time, we weren’t expecting him and when he hit us, we were truly afraid. We took off out of our tent, ran through the woods, over the creek and across the lawn barefoot. We ran through thistles and slipped on the stones, but then made it into the safety of her home a little worse for wear.
See, we probably let down our guard because a few years into this traditional visit, we began setting up boobie traps near our tent, so that we’d have some warning of his visit. We set trip lines with little bells, obstacle courses with miles of yarn, buckets of water set to fall when a branch was moved. Every year we got a little more creative with our traps, and we usually heard my friend’s neighbor coming. He got very clever, though, and I guess that year we ran home he managed to beat our game. We usually set similar traps at my house, and my friends knew about the challenge. It wasn’t quite as exciting in my neighborhood, since we were camping right next to my house, but it was still fun to set the traps. We did manage to catch a few people over the years, and whether we won or lost, we always ended up laughing hysterically at the end of the game.
Sometimes I miss those simpler times, when we didn’t need much but the woods, s’more ingredients and a skein of yarn. I miss being able to laugh when we fail as much as when we win. Our life is not a game, but it seems like it sometimes, doesn’t it? The traps may not be buckets of water or miles of yarn, but we still have to run through an obstacle course on a regular basis. We face choices, most of which are not easy. We run into walls and roadblocks set up by others to keep us from going the right way. One path may seem to be right, but we all too often discover that the path does not lead us to where we should be going.
The greatest trap, of course, is money. We need money to pay our bills, to keep a roof over our heads and to purchase the things we need. However, we often think we need more than the necessities. We don’t need the bigger car, the bigger house, the finest china. We don’t need another pair of shoes or the bag that matches. We don’t need designer clothing or every new gadget. Because we think we need these things, we get trapped in the quest for more, and miss out on the opportunities that present themselves for us. We miss the chance to help our neighbor or share our resources with those who really do need food, clothing and a sense of well-being.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6, ASV
It seems hard to believe, but Zack is just a couple weeks from graduation. He’s finished his tests, and his classmates are in countdown mode. I’m sure a few of them can probably enough tell you how many seconds are left until they don’t have to go to school anymore. I have a million things to do before then, but it is such a wonderful achievement that it is worth my time and energy. We’ll be having a party and there are a few things I would like to get for him to celebrate.
I also have been preparing a special gift, a remembrance of his school years. I did one for Victoria, and now it is Zack’s turn. It is a framed collage with pictures from his life and items that describe Zack’s interests and accomplishments. Three-dimensional stickers are great to use for this type of project, because they make just about anything you can want. I’ve purchased stickers representing Boy Scouts, golf and school. We ordered an extra tassel and I found a sports card from his years of playing basketball when he was a kid. I’ll have to make some of the items like his school mascot and a chessboard, but with the Internet that is an easy task.
The hardest part of this job has been organizing pictures. I’ve been trying to get all our pictures sorted into containers so that certain pictures would be easy to find. I have a drawer for pictures of just Bruce and I, some of the whole family, some with just the kids. I have separated our travel pictures from our personal pictures, and even organized the pictures we have from our family and friends. Now that the pictures are separated, I’m trying to scan everything so that we have a digital record. I did it with Victoria, and now I’m working on Zack.
Now, I have hundreds of pictures of Zack, besides all the pictures of Zack with each of us and with the whole family. It might take me weeks to get this work done. I probably won’t worry about getting everything done at once because I couldn’t possibly need that many pictures for his project. As a matter of fact, I only need twelve. How do you choose twelve pictures out of hundreds? I can’t even use all his school pictures because I have more than twelve of those!
With Victoria’s project, I tried to use pictures from every age, including the most important moments of her life. I had her baby picture, her baptism, her confirmation and her graduation photo. I also included a picture of her with a baton, since she took baton lessons for a few years, and the picture of her first day of Kindergarten. I included a couple really cute pictures of her as a baby and of course a picture of her in theatrical dress. It was hard to choose those pictures, and I hated to leave behind so many others. I have to make similar choices for Zack, but despite the difficulty, I have to admit that it has been fun. I love looking at the pictures, remembering the times and places where they were taken.
Graduation is a time of transition. I’m sure there are many people who are going through similar times. People are getting married. The number of houses on our street that are for sale indicate that many people are moving to new places. This is natural in a military community, as active duty members often get orders to a new base during the summer to avoid issues with children and school. Graduation means jobs or college. Those times of transition give us an opportunity to see where we’ve been and think about where we are going. Zack’s pictures include activities that no longer interest him, but also experiences that helped to build him into the young man that he is. It is so wonderful to see him today, to feel confident of his future and to be thankful for everything that led to this moment.
Though it all, I’m reminded that it is time to let him go, time to give him the room to grow into the man he’s been created to be. I have to trust that those experiences we shared with him have given him a good foundation for the years to come, that he’ll do what is right and live according to the faith we’ve shared. This is a sad time, in some ways, but it is a good time.
“And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart. And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities, and outwent them. And he came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.” Mark 6:32-34, ASV
I ignored the story last week. I purposely did not write about the prophecy of Harold Camping that the world was going to end on Saturday. I suppose part of the reason why I ignored it had to do with the fact that I knew most, if not all, of my readers did not take the prophecy seriously. On my Facebook, many people were joking about what they would do since it was the end of time. One friend was baking cookies for Jesus. Another was mowing the lawn so that it would look nice. Yet others decided that since there would be no tomorrow, they didn’t need to dust or do laundry or even plan dinner. I also did not want to give the man any credibility by discussing the prophecy in a devotional context.
Another reason I ignored the story had to do with the story itself. The details of prophecy were ridiculous. The earthquakes and rapture were to start at 6:00 p.m. in each time zone and then roll across the earth every hour on the hour? Really? The reality of our earth, which we learned during the earthquake in Japan, is that once the earth starts trembling, it affects other places. While the major earthquake might be in one place, other earthquakes rumble across the globe. We even had some very minor tremblers in Texas (unfelt, but recorded on machines) after the Japanese earthquake. If the earth started shaking at 6:00 p.m. in those first time zones, it wouldn’t take very long—not 24 hours—before the entire earth was shaking. Yes, Jesus can do anything, but if we are going to take the Bible so literally as to be able to predict the exact hour in every time zone that the end of the world will occur, using mathematics and science, shouldn’t mathematics and science also be considered when considering the affects of what is happening literally?
Victoria is in Germany this week, and she managed to get on to the Internet after 6:00 p.m. German time. I joked throughout the day that I hoped Victoria would put in a good word for us, and then joked again when I saw her online, that I was glad she wasn’t raptured without us. At 6:00 p.m. local time, my online friends all posted their disappointment to still be around, mostly in jest, though I know at least a few of us, myself included, wouldn’t have minded spending the evening, and eternity, with our Lord.
So, why write about this story today, after it is all over? First and foremost, the reason for today’s devotion is that it is a story of religious significance. We are interested in these predictions because they are based on the Bible, which we believe to be true even if we do not believe such literal interpretations of the text. It is always good to know how others understand the scriptures, even if we do not agree with it. Knowing how they see the world helps us to know how to share God’s grace with them. We know, of course, that another date looms in the future, 2012, and there will far more people jumping on the belief bandwagon for that time. How will they react? How will we react? Are we already joking about something that some believe is a compelling truth? Are you prepared to answer the questions as to why we can’t actually know the year, day or hour of Christ’s coming?
The other reason to write today has to do with the believers who have been left behind, the ones who believed what Harold Camping assured them was true. It is so easy for us to think they were foolish to follow a man whose understanding of God is so twisted. The worst of his teachings, worse than the end of the world prediction, was his insistence that his followers leave the church. He believes that all organized churches are apostate and encouraged his followers to leave the churches and worship at home or in small groups. While I agree that today’s churches are imperfect, it is still better to dwell in the midst of a Christian fellowship than to try to face the world alone, and a radio and online community is never enough.
Unfortunately, many of his followers believed what he said. Some of them were so confident that there would be no May 22nd that they rid themselves of everything earthly. They quit their jobs, sold everything they owned and used every resource to boldly proclaim the message that May 21, 2011 would be judgment day. They had to listen to the joking and the ridicule, but did so with faith. The news stories today continue to count them among the foolish and many are demanding an apology from Harold Camping. While I agree that we need to hear something from Mr. Camping today, I want to caution my readers to be compassionate toward those believers.
Remember, though they believed the words of Harold Camping, those families who are shocked and disappointed today had put their faith in God, albeit a misplaced and poor understanding of God. The end of the world was a reality to them according to the way they understood the Bible. Unfortunately, they’ve found out the hard way that it was twisted and wrong. That does not make their loss any easier. Some of those believers have lost everything: their homes, their lives, their faith, their ‘church.’ And they have nowhere to turn. They don’t have a community of faith that will help them stand again. Their families have possibly rejected them. And every television is blaring their foolishness to the world.
What those ‘believers’ need today, more than anything, is God’s grace. They need strong, faithful Christians to knock on their door, not with ridicule, but with food. They need to hear God’s promise that He will come in His time and in His way. They need to know that even though their own personal worlds have come crashing to a halt, the world still goes on and there’s hope for tomorrow. They need to know that whatever Harold Camping says, there is a Christian community ready and able to welcome them with open arms. They need a group of believers willing to study the scriptures with them to discover what was wrong, and perhaps what was right, with the teacher’s ideas.
They need to be told, with compassion and grace, that God’s time can’t be defined by numbers or dates but that God will come when every heart He has called comes to Him. Only He will know the day and the hour, because it is at that moment when the final believer will submit to Him. Surely we look forward to the day Christ comes again because that day will be the beginning of eternity for all who believe. But do we really want it to be today? Or December 2012? Or even in a hundred years? I am looking forward to sharing my faith with the children yet to be born, for I am certain they are among those whom God will call into His kingdom. Let’s share this hope with the world and encourage all those who are disappointed today with the reality that God knows better than we the plans He has made, and let us dwell together in faith whatever tomorrow holds.
The quotes from today’s writing come from a live blog on the Huffpost Religion page, by reporter Jaweed Kaleem on Harold Camping’s Monday evening Open Forum on Christian Family Radio. I make no apologies for the judgmental tone of my reporting, and humbly admit that there is no way I can know God’s heart on the matter of Harold Camping’s salvation. But this interview makes me wonder about Harold Camping’s heart. For the blog, see Harold Camping Speaks.
“For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Hebrews 4:12-13, ASV
I saw a video of Harold Camping on Sunday when a reporter approached the door of his house for an interview. He refused, telling the reporter that this was a big deal and he needed to think it out. He planned to return to work on Monday and would address any issues then. He looked tired, disappointed and even humbled. I was taken by his words, that he had to think it out rather than pray about it, but I thought after so many years of this preaching that perhaps he’d finally seen the light. I thought, maybe, God had finally touched him with the true Gospel.
I was wrong. Or, I should say that surely God has tried to touch him, but Harold Camping refuses to accept it. During an Open Forum on Family Radio Monday might, Harold Camping repeated all the same errors. He came up with all the same excuses and proved by his words the very un-Christlike nature of his ministry. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I dealt with Camping followers when I was ministering online years ago. They are convinced that they are right and anyone who disagrees with them are, very simply, unsaved and unable to speak of spiritual things with any credibility.
Even at the beginning of the Open Forum, it seemed as though Mr. Camping was going to admit his error. He began by saying, “I went through all the promises God had made… everything was fitting perfectly. What in the world happened?” That would have been an excellent time to admit that he misunderstood the promises or misinterpreted the text. It would have been a good time to realize that he couldn’t use numerology to discover God’s mind. It would have been a great time to accept that no one knows the hour.
Instead, he maintained that it did happen, and that the end of the world will still be October 21, 2011. He thought that the five month judgment into which we just entered would be a difficult time, but has decided that no one could have survived God’s wrath for so long. So, the May 21st judgment was spiritual, invisible. Now, according to Harold Camping, the end of the world will come suddenly and violently on October 21st.
The excuses and explanations justifying his ministry and the years of false teaching were bad enough, but the Open Forum discussion changed focus from the prophecy to the people. Mr. Camping was callous in his answers about the followers who were left with nothing. He has refused to help them (although Tom Evans, a spokesman for Family Radio has suggested that help might be available.) Mr. Camping said that lots of people have lost their jobs and homes across the country due to the economic recession. “They survived. People cope.” He reminded his listeners that he never told anyone to give up everything. “There are people who have given up their jobs…to work for Family Radio, giving their time, and they do because they love the Lord.”
He refuses to take responsibility for the near suicide/murder by a woman because of the prophecy. He thought, at first, that they were telling him that she succeeded, but felt “much better” that she failed because “death is terrible. It’s contrary to all that the Bible teaches.” He said that he did not take responsibility for her or any of the other followers because he does not rule anyone spiritually, except his wife. During the forum, he was repeatedly asked if he would apologize for the prophecy. He answered, “If people want me to apologize, I will apologize… I did not have all that worked out as accurately as I should have had it. That doesn’t bother me at all.” Some apology.
When questioned about money, Harold Camping claims to have no idea how much has been received in donations, but says it is much less than has been reported. That may be true, because he certainly lives in a humble home and does not seem to flaunt any wealth, but there must be money in the bank. There is no word as to how the ministry funds will be used in the future. They do not plan to continue the advertisements and billboards. The end of the world preaching will end and Family Radio will focus on Gospel music and scripture readings. “We are spending it (the donation money) as wisely as possible. Maybe by October 21st, we will only have $10 left.”
I think the most telling statement of the evening, however, is his answer to the question, “On October 21, will you give away all your worldly possessions?” He answered, “I still have to live in my house… I still have to pay my bills… I still have to live until the end. The end is five months away.” The answer didn’t quite answer the question, so the reporter continued, “How about on the day before, the 20th?” Camping answered, “What would be the value of that? If it’s Judgment Day, it’s the end of the world.” It might just be judgment day, not for the world, but for Harold Camping. Let’s pray that sees how he has gone astray and discovers the real heart of God’s promises before then.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 29, 2011, Six Easter: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
“Come, and hear, all ye that fear God, And I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16, ASV
There is a commercial on television for a new product that looks absolutely fabulous. I was excited to try it, and thought that it would be something I would enjoy using on a regular basis. I found the product in the store the other day and bought it immediately despite a cost I thought was a little high. I thought it would be worthwhile. I have to admit that while the product was not bad, I was disappointed. I expected spectacular, but I got ok. Now, a friend had a completely different experience with the product, finding it to be every bit as amazing as expected and more so. When I mentioned that I was disappointed, my friend was shocked. Another friend jumped into the conversation with a similar point of view. Their posts made me feel like I should love this product because they do, that I’m missing out on something spectacular. Though they may not have meant to do so, they made me uncomfortable with my words. I thought to myself, “I should have just kept my thoughts to myself.”
Of course, my opinion about some new product is not really very important, but I have to admit that I often feel that way about other topics, like modern issues and even religion. Though I know I should be bold with my faith and willing to speak up, I find myself shy and uncertain, afraid that I can’t make myself clear. I might seem bold and courageous in this devotion, but I am less so when I am face to face with dissenters. I don’t want to get into a battle. I don’t want to hurt others with my passionate thoughts and I don’t want to be hurt by theirs. It is easy to be outspoken in the relative anonymity of this devotion, but much more difficult over dinner and conversation.
The opportunities to speak about God’s Word are great. A friend was just telling me how he was able to boldly tell a relative the harm he was causing by his foolish behavior. My friend hopes that it will make a difference for the wife and children. As he told me the story, it was obvious that it was his faith that gave him the courage to be strong and firm about the realities of the problems. I wondered, as I listened, if I could be so honest if the opportunity arose.
I don’t think I’m alone. I’m sure there are times when most of us, if not all, decide it is just better to remain silent than say something. We can even justify our silence with scripture; after all there are plenty of verses that tell us wise men keep their mouth shut while the foolish rant on and on. We all know that there are just some times when it is better to just keep our mouth shut. We decide that it is better to just live peacefully as we believe we are meant to live and allow others to live as they want to live. But there are times when we should not be silent, when a word from God is not only helpful, it is vital. There are times when God calls us to speak words we would rather not speak. We think, perhaps, that doing the right thing is enough.
But the scriptures are clear that actions are not enough. Jesus says over and over again, “Listen.” He tells His listeners to “hear the word.” He calls His followers to be witnesses, to testify, to say the words that bring forgiveness, salvation and hope to the world. It is good to do what is right, but I think we use actions as a cop-out. It isn’t enough to do what is good. People aren’t saved by good works. They don’t receive faith in a sandwich. Faith comes from hearing the Word.
Peter talks about the harm you might experience for doing good, but is he talking about good works? He’s talking about testimony, proclamation of the Good News. Who will harm us for sharing the message of Christ? We might hope no one, since His mercy is the only thing that will truly bring peace to the world. But we know differently. We know that being evangelists, acting as witnesses to the reality of Jesus Christ, is likely to bring persecution. Doing what is good, in this passage, is proclaiming that Christ is Lord and calling people to repentance. We are called not only to do good works for our neighbors but to take the saving WORD of Christ into the world, no matter what others think, say or do.
Peter gives us two tools to help us through this instruction: do not fear and be faithful. We are invited into the work of God’s kingdom on earth, to continue what Christ started. We need not fear what will come, just have faith that God is with us. Now, this doesn’t mean we should be arrogant or hostile to those to whom we have been sent. God’s Word will have enough affect on the heart and mind of a listener without our giving our own spin on the truth. What is the truth? The truth is that Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. He died so that we might be saved. He died so that your neighbor might be saved. He died so that your enemy might be saved. But no one can be saved without hearing that Word.
The Athenians had a lot to say about religion. As a matter of fact, it seems like they spent all their time just gathered around in discussions about all things religious. They had temples everywhere, honoring every type of god. They even had a place set aside where philosophers and theologians might gather to discuss the latest ideas. They were so open to ideas that they even had an altar honoring a god they could not identify. I can just see the city planners at that meeting. “Ok, so we have a temple for this god and that goddess and this other one. What if there is some god we’ve missed?” “We better put up another altar just in case.”
Paul was impressed by their devotion to religion and education. He went to the place where the discussions were happening and stood up before the other philosophers. This was a culture that accepted everyone’s ideas, tolerated any point of view, and welcomed all believers of every faith. To insist on one answer being right, or truth, was unacceptable. Paul didn’t care; he was there to speak the truth to the thinkers of the day. The God they did not know but worshipped was the very God that created everything. He is the God that doesn’t need human help or desire human sacrifice. He is the God that is not served by human hands because He is greater than even the gods of the Athenians. Everything they knew came from Him. They couldn’t give Him anything because it was already His. Paul says, “in him we live, and move, and have our being.” He created people to search for Him, to hear Him, to believe in Him. He told the people listening that it was fine that they were ignorant of this God they worshipped but did not know, until that day. “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
They didn’t know, but now they know. Now they’ve heard the word and the rest is up to them. Will they believe? Will they agree? It is out of Paul’s hands. Some rejected the word outright, ridiculing Paul for believing in a resurrection of the dead, but some wanted to hear more. The Word was working through Paul’s confidence and bold proclamation.
This story helps us see that it is good to be interested in the beliefs of others, to know what they think and why. We can understand other people’s points of view, but we should never be afraid to be confident in our own. Just because the God we worship was nothing more than an off-hand choice of someone in Athens doesn’t mean that He is less than the others. I’m sure the temple for Athena was absolutely fabulous, and that most of the people spent at least some time worshipping there. She was their goddess, and while it was fine to remember some other god, it was not good to put any of the other gods before her. Paul not only knocked her down a rung or two on the god-ladder, he told them that she was nothing compared to the God they worshipped but did not know.
It is good to gather for conversation with people of other faiths, to talk about our common ideas and share our differences with one another, but are we willing to be like Paul, to speak the truth about God to them? When we run into someone who is willing to leave room for the possibility of an unknown god, are we willing to tell them who He is? Are we willing to stand firm in the reality that without Christ, every other religious idea else is useless?
I know. People are not going to like it. We are supposed to be open to everyone’s ideas. Even in the church we are supposed to accept other world views for the sake of peace. We will be persecuted if we stand so firmly in the truth of Jesus Christ. We will be ridiculed. We will be called intolerant, bigoted, haters. We will be blamed for the violence and for the hatred. We will even be blamed for the wars. That’s why we remain silent. Sometimes it seems better to keep our mouth shut. But is it? Are we remaining faithful if we keep silent out of fear? Our words might bring persecution, but our goal is not acceptance by the world, but eternity in the arms of Christ.
Jesus says, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” The word here is often confused with the laws of the Old Testament. Should we live according to God’s Law? Yes, because God’s Law is best for people. It is best to honor our parents, to not steal, cheat or kill. It is good for us to want what we have and not envy our neighbors. It is wrong to lie or bear false witness. And it is right to live with God as our Lord.
But what is Jesus talking about in this passage. We heard the context of this lesson in our text last Sunday. Jesus is talking about believing in Him. His command is to believe in Him. He is the way, the truth and the life. If we love Him, we will believe in Him. We will believe He is the way, the truth and the life. If we love Him, we will stand so firmly in everything He has said that we will not be afraid to tell those who do not yet know Him about the reality of their unknown God. If we love Jesus, we will keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will be faithful to His promises. Even if we have to suffer for this faith, He will be ready to receive us with open arms.
Jesus told the disciples that He was about to go away. He will be invisible to the world. He will no longer be with them in the flesh. But He promises not to abandon them. He promises to send them the Spirit who will give them the knowledge, the faith and the courage to stand firm in Christ. If we believe in Him, we’ll not have to speak these words on our own. We’ll have His Spirit in our hearts and His voice in our mouths. And when we face the persecution, we’ll have the promise of eternity to keep us strong.
Do not fear and be faithful. These are probably the hardest words any Christian can hear and follow. We don’t even have anything tangible on which to hold to give us the confidence that we need. How much easier is it when we can hold someone’s hand through tough times? Or have someone literally standing beside us. Jesus said that He would no longer be seen. It is no wonder that the disciples were so afraid in those first days after His crucifixion. He could no longer be seen. Then, after the resurrection, they saw Him for forty days as He repeated the commands and promises. “Do not be afraid. Be faithful. The world won’t see me, but you will see me. You will have my Spirit and then you’ll know without a doubt that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
If we love Jesus, we will obey His commands. We will not be afraid. We will be faithful. We will speak the truth with the same love. We will not be intimidated by the world because we will know that there is something greater on which we stand.
Sometimes the words we speak will be difficult. We’ll have to tell people that they are wrong. We’ll have to correct people of their errors. We’ll have to call people to repentance, to turn away from the ways of the past and follow the light into the future. We will have to give our own testimony, admit our own sinfulness, and proclaim the forgiveness we have experienced through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we do, we’ll face times that cause us to look to God for help. We will cry out to Him, beg Him for relief from our troubles. We’ll remind Him of His promises. Will we trust Him enough to know that He will answer even before we call? Will we trust Him enough to do whatever it is He has called us to do?
I think the most important question to ask today is this: Do we bless God because He has blessed us? Or do we live in the blessing and respond without fear and with faithfulness? Are we willing to give to God even when we will risk everything to do so? Are we willing to speak the truth when you come across those altars to an unknown god? Do we even know how to answer? We are encouraged to know our defense, to be ready to give an answer whenever we have the opportunity to share our testimony. Are we ready to proclaim the Good News that Christ died and rose again so that we can be part of the work of God’s kingdom in the world?
Selah. This word is often used in the psalms, and has been understood to be a musical command to rest. In today’s Psalm this word is followed by something important that the Psalmist wants to tell the people. “Come, and hear, all ye that fear God, And I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” Come and hear and I will proclaim God’s grace to you. Jesus is the answer to all our problems.
My disappointment in new products doesn’t matter. My opinion about today’s issues is really not that important. Even my thoughts about religion are worthless if I don’t stand on the truth, which is Christ. Here I stand, I can do no other. He is the Savior of the world, and without Him, nothing else matters. May the Lord grant us all the strength and courage to be obedient to His commands, to stand firmly in His truth and proclaim the reality of His promises for the world so that all might hear the Word and be saved.
“My heart is fixed, O God; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah, among the peoples; And I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And thy truth reacheth unto the skies. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, And thy glory above all the earth. That thy beloved may be delivered, Save with thy right hand, and answer us.” Psalm 108:1-5, ASV
I have been doing a little house hunting. I haven’t visited any homes or talked to a realtor yet, but I’ve been looking online at the houses that are available. See, we are thinking about moving. It isn’t that we don’t love our house, but we live too far away from Bruce’s job. He spends way too much time commuting and way too much money on gasoline. Now that Zachary is graduating from High School and headed to college and Victoria is well on her way to her own life, we feel it is a good time to move closer to Bruce’s office. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the process very much, because we are going to need to sell our current house, too. And then we have to move everything. And then we have to establish a new life in the new house with new neighbors. It is an overwhelming task.
The joy of this, however, is that we can make this our dream home. We have lived in a lot of houses, most of which were either rentals or military housing. We’ve owned two houses in our 22 years, and while we enjoyed living in both, and in all our other homes, we have settled because of the circumstances. Now we can be choosy. We may not be able to find ‘the perfect home’ but we can try. And we know what we don’t like about our previous homes and what we need in the next one. I have a long list of expectations. A realtor will either love me because I am prepared with details or will hate me because it’ll be too hard to find the right house. We will be as flexible as necessary, but we want to get it right.
I’m not sure what Bruce thinks of the links I’ve sent him. I tend to like the unusual houses. I don’t want another big brick box like so many that are on the market in our city. I’d love an old farmhouse, out in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and yet close enough to be convenient. I want some land, plenty of trees so that it doesn’t seem like our neighbors are right on top of us. Newer houses have an open layout, which can be great, but I seem to love the houses that are mazes of tiny rooms where people can escape to be alone. I want a house with character and with features that make it unique.
I found one house that I think could be fantastic, although it is completely impractical. It is too far in the country, a little too big, on the upper end of our financial comfort zone. There are a million other little things wrong with it, but I’m drawn to this three story house because I get the sense that it is a peaceful place to live. It sits on top of a hill with levels of decks that overlook a lake. I can just imagine watching the sunrise each morning and greeting the day with birds chirping in the trees all around. The house has more bedrooms than we’d ever need, but they could be converted into other types of rooms. I could have a room just for painting and crafts. Bruce could have a man cave. We could have a guest room or two, plenty of room for visiting children or other guests. And if we lived with a lake view, we would need room for guests!
I guess what I find so interesting about this search is how I’m drawn to those houses where I feel like I will be able to experience peace, quiet and solitude. I cringe when I see a house that is so close to a neighbor that you can practically shake hands out the side windows. I’m not interested in the houses that are located on busy roads or even those in the middle of large subdivisions. I love our house, but I’ve never felt like it was particularly conducive for time alone with God. As summer vacation looms and the kids are going to be around the house, I know that I’ll once again be wishing I had a place to escape.
Where do you go for your quiet time with God? What do you do to relieve the stress of the day and to escape the hustle and bustle of life? Do you have a place set aside for prayer and bible study, a place where you won’t be interrupted by kids or phones or the world? Can you keep your heart and mind focused on God, steadfast in praise even when the world makes it difficult?
“Thus saith Jehovah, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; who bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the mighty man (they lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinct, they are quenched as a wick): Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise.” Isaiah 43:16-21, ASV
I was driving down our road the other day and I noticed a long line of children walking along the sidewalk. This is a sight we see every year at this time: the pilgrimage of the fourth graders. They were making their way to their new school, the Intermediate school where they would spend the next two years of their educational career. The Intermediate school transitions the students between the closed classroom of elementary school and Junior High where they have specialized teachers and change classes each period. This particular school uses team teaching, with two teachers sharing two classes, one teaching science and math and the other teaching social studies and language. The students learn a little independence while still having a limited classroom experience.
Many of these students will be given the freedom and responsibility, if not next year by the sixth grade, of getting to school on their own. They will either ride their bikes or walk from home without a parent tagging along. They will have to deal with school books and more homework. They’ll have opportunities to make choices about music or art activities. They are growing up, and that pilgrimage to the big school is just the first step.
It is tempting, both for student and for parent, to keep the child young. It is hard to watch our children grow up. I know this very well this year as I watch my youngest children get ready to go to college. The school years are behind us. The pilgrimages that both my children will take in the future will be journeys that take them farther from home. That’s the way it should be, because as they go forward they can become everything that God has created them to be. If they keep returning to the past, doing the old things, staying in one place, they can’t live the full life of thankfulness that God truly deserves.
He has done great things for each and every one of us, and each new day can be the beginning of something new and terrific in His kingdom. It might mean going on pilgrimages to new and exciting places and changes that are outside our comfort zone but taking us in the right direction. We can’t live in the past or keep looking back. To honor God and sing His praise, we must be open to the new things He has done and continues to do in this world.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:1-8, ASV
We went shopping yesterday and at the door were several people giving away paper poppies. This is something you see in your own hometowns, as Veteran’s groups get out around Memorial Day to remind everyone of the sacrifices that have been made for the sake of our country and every American. The “Buddy Poppy” program helps disabled American Veterans, who are paid to make the paper poppies. Donations also support VFW programs that help veterans and the families of fallen service people.
The poppies have been used since the program started in 1922, but the idea of the poppies comes from an older poem. Moina Michael was inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field” written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. Poppies are flowers that leave behind abundant seeds that begin to bloom when the soil is disturbed. So, when the bodies of soldiers were buried on the fields of Flanders, the ground was covered with these bright red flowers, leaving the impression of the blood of the fallen on the hearts of those who were left behind. McCrae is said to have been mourning the loss of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.
Though we may not understand the concept of the poppies, the poem “In Flanders Fields” continues to leave a lasting impression on our hearts. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow… Between the crosses, row on row… That mark our place; and in the sky… The larks, still bravely singing, fly… Scarce heard amid the guns below… We are the Dead. Short days ago… We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,… Loved and were loved, and now we lie… In Flanders fields… Take up our quarrel with the foe:… To you from failing hands we throw… The torch; be yours to hold it high… If ye break faith with us who die… We shall not sleep, though poppies grow… In Flanders fields.”
Moina Michael was so touched by this poem that she began wearing a poppy in remembrance that same year. She began making and selling the poppies to help servicemen in need. Madam Guerin from France took the project to France and earned money to help widows and orphans. People in other countries followed suit. By 1922, the VFW was involved, and now you’ll see veterans handing out poppies in front of Wal-mart or at the mall or on Main Street around Memorial Day. When you do, remember, they aren’t just trying to help you remember the fallen heroes of our nation. They are helping those who continue to suffer because of the loss. I wish I had known that yesterday; I would have been far more generous.
For many, Memorial Day is a time for picnics, for gathering with families and friends and for getting started on the summer season. I remember as a child, we used Memorial Day weekend to get the pool cleaned and refilled and the patio straightened up from the long winter. Today our family is going to take advantage of everyone’s day off to spend time together. But I hope, as we go about of lives and enjoy our day, we all will think about those who have made great sacrifices so that we can live freely and share generously all we have.
And, we can take today and consider the sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of others. Few are called to give their lives, but we are all called to give of ourselves and our resources generously. How can you make a difference today? Is there a program you can join to give your time to help others? Is there some need in the world you are drawn to meet? Have you seen something like those poppies in the fields of Flanders that can be used to remind others of the people whom God has sent to us so that we can be His hands in the world?
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you.” 1 Peter 5:6-10, ASV
I love to have the birds visit, so we have plenty of birdseed hanging around our house. In the front, we have a hummingbird feeder and several birdseed bells hanging near the window. We also have a few feeders in the tree in the middle of the yard. The birds love the bells and we constantly have visitors, and the cats certainly enjoy their visits. They spend hours watching the birds, although they usually don’t try to attack. I suppose they know the window is in the way, but even with the window open this morning, they are lying calmly but watching intensely.
They cats go a little crazy, however, when the squirrels decide to visit. Now, one of the reasons we have the feeders in the tree is for the squirrel. I discovered a few weeks ago that the squirrels knew about the food hanging outside my window. They are amazing little pests, able to get at the most difficult places to steal the food. I watched as a squirrel jumped on my windowsill, climbed up my shutters, flew a couple feet into my hanging basket, and then climb the chain to the food. On another occasion, I found a squirrel was at the bell, scraping the seed to the ground, where another squirrel was gathering it. At least they know how to share and how to work together. But I knew then that I’d have to offer food they could reach more easily or I’d have a mess on my hands. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to the store this weekend and the feeders on the tree are empty. This morning I noticed the kitties getting all excited, and once again the squirrel was back. I have to go to the store, and when I do I think I’m going to buy extra seed so that I’ll never be left without something for the tree.
Now, thought the squirrels are a nuisance, they aren’t evil, but as I watched him try to get at the birdseed this morning, I was reminded of how pesky temptation can be. The devil is always hanging in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to jump. He may tempt us to do what we know we should not do, or try to steal from us the very things that keep us alive: hope, peace, joy, love. We need not worry, however, because our God has promised to be with us through all our trials. We must know that it is a possibility or we’ll not realize we are even being tempted. We must recognize that there is an enemy, a devil, who is working against all God has done in this world. He can’t win, that devil, because God is always faithful. But if we aren’t prepared, watchful, steadfast, we can fall and experience the attacks that will bring pain, despair, anger and hate.