Welcome to the May 2012 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 2012
“And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Mark 4:26-29, ASV
Mother’s Day is in a couple of weeks, and in the past week or so many preschool and young elementary students have had a lesson in plant growth. Teachers take the opportunity to teach several lessons at once. They plant a flower seed in a small pot, which grows into a flower just in time to be a gift for mothers. The plan includes lessons on science, generosity, patience and the calendar. They learn how to take care of the plant, when to water and how much. They probably do some art projects to wrap the pot and make a card. The children love to go to the pots each day as they arrive to check and see if there is any growth. It is exciting for the children as they see the plant poking out of the dirt. They talk about each stage, keeping track of the changes to their plant each day. By the time it is ready to go home with the children, the plants usually are large enough to have first buds.
It is an amazing process to the children. They know what they put into the ground, but within days that tiny seed is a green stem with leaves. With nothing but a container, some dirt and that seed, the children grow a beautiful flower. They don’t know how it happens, it just does. Actually, in the science lessons they learn how it happens. They learn the stages of growth, they see diagrams of what is happening in the dirt. They learn how the sun and water affects the seed. Many teachers will even do an experiment with a bean seed. They put it in a clear plastic bag with a damp cotton ball. The seed sprouts and grows inside the bag, with the cotton acting as soil, and the children can see what is actually happening. It is an amazing process.
I’m sure they didn’t do preschool lessons like these when Jesus was a child. I don’t know if anyone really understood the science of growth. That’s not the point of this lesson. I’m sure farmers had a rudimentary understanding of what was happening under the ground when they planted the seed. But Jesus is making a very important point: even if we know the stages of flower growth, we don’t make it happen. We plant the seed, give it water and make sure that it gets some sunshine, but we can’t cause a seed to grow. Unfortunately, in every classroom some seeds fail. Some child is usually disappointed when they never see the tiny sprout poking out of the dirt. The child did nothing wrong; the seed simply did not grow.
We understand what happens under the ground, but we still have no control over whether or not the seed will grow. The same is true of the seeds of faith that we plant. We are sometimes disappointed when faith doesn’t grow in someone we love. We can’t make people believe. We can’t force growth in a relationship between a person and Jesus. We aren’t in control of what will happen. We can only plant the seeds and pray that God will make it grow. The best we can do is take care of the seed: feed it with God’s word and nourish it with Christian love. It might seem like we’ve failed when the person does not believe, but we can trust that God is able to make life spring out in His time and way.
Sunday, May 6, 2012, Five Easter: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
“And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:21, ASV
You may be tired of hearing about it, but we are in the process of moving. We’ve managed to sell our house and we have found a great house in the area we want to live. There is a lot to be accomplished in the next few weeks, but hopefully we can make it all happen and be settled in a month or two, we just have to take it one step at a time. We are buried in boxes and paperwork, and it is exhausting but such a blessing. As it is with every move, we are learning lessons about priorities and appreciating what we have. We have given away truckloads of things we’ve collected over the years and are still collecting things to give away as we empty closets and cabinets.
I spent a few hours at the new house yesterday, wandering the rooms while the inspector made sure that it was in good shape for us. It is much different than the house we own now, and all our other houses. We’ve been very lucky over the years, able to use the same curtains in house after house and we have found a place to put all our furniture. I’m not sure that the same is true in our new house. Instead of nice ninety degree angles, the living room is more of an octagon. Instead of having plenty of wall space, we have millions of windows and several built-ins. These aren’t bad differences, but I have had difficulty figuring out how to make all our things fit.
When you are house hunting, you walk through dozens of homes trying to find the right one. I could find things I liked and things I didn’t like about each one. Then we had to go home and discuss what we saw. Which house would be best? Do we need to continue looking? Can we make our favorites work? What are our priorities? We finally chose a house. Unfortunately, no one’s memory is perfect, and we never really spent much time in any one house, so we had a hard time truly remembering which features were in which house. Did we see granite countertops? How many closets? How big was the extra room? It was hard to remember.
I was so glad I spent those few hours wandering around the new house yesterday. There is some furniture that I will have trouble placing, and we will need to buy some furniture to fill the holes, but I left fully confident that we can make it work. Over the years as a transient military family, we’ve known our homes would be temporary. We knew that we would only have to live with it for a few years. We have lived comfortably and every house has been a home because we have lived there together, but there is something different about this house. We don’t expect to move for a long time.
Yesterday as I was reading the text for this week, I found myself focusing on the word “abide.” We won’t just live in this house, but we will abide. “To abide” means “to remain stable or in a fixed state.” This is the house where I will try to build a career as a painter and writer. This is the house where we will celebrate Christmas with grandchildren. This is the house where we will establish friendships and entertain neighbors. This is the house where we will finally find that stability that has lacked for the past twenty-three years, our lives with be fixed in one place. We will abide there.
Perhaps the difference between living and abiding is insignificant, but I wonder how our life of Christ would change if we made a conscience effort to abide in Him rather than just live. We live in a world where change is not only acceptable; it is thought to be inevitable. I’ve known too many people who got married with the understanding that if it doesn’t work out they can just get a divorce. People don’t stay in a single job for forty years anymore; they get jobs on their way to the next job which will lead to the next job. I met a lady who buys a new car every three or four years. “I always want it to be under warranty.” Thirty years ago the cars were made so well that we could keep it, and drive it for decades. We live, but do we abide in anything anymore?
Even our church lives can be transient and changing. So few of us belong to the church where we were baptized. We often leave because we’ve moved too far away, but we also leave because we have been hurt or we don’t agree with policies or practices. Many people jump from one type of church to another, hoping one will be perfect and will be filled with perfect people. Few people are committed to a particular set of doctrinal teachings, choosing a church because of location or because it has the best programs. Some even mix religious ideas, picking and choosing what they like about different religions, creating an eclectic faith that isn’t recognizable in any religious institution. Are we abiding in Christ if we are blown by every wind of belief?
The other question I pondered is what it means to love. The definition of love from Merriam-Webster dictionary is this, “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; attraction based on sexual desire; affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.” For many, love means acceptance, tolerance, happiness. Some say that love means never having to say you are sorry.
Love is sacrificial, but what does that mean? Does love require that we accept everything about the one we love, allowing them to continue in a life we think is harmful? A woman who loves a man who beats her is sacrificing her health for love? Is that the kind of sacrificial love God demands from us? A mother loves her son and accepts him as he is, but does she love him if she allows him to continue dangerous and unacceptable behavior? Is it love to give someone the freedom to follow their heart, even if we can see their heart is taking them in a wrong direction? Is it love to remain silent when we see error? Is it love to tolerate sin?
Jesus often talks about love. He talks about loving your neighbor and loving your enemy. Love is active. Love is watching out for the well-being of others. We serve those we love. We share with those we love. We pray for those we love. This love is deeper than the dictionary definition, but the scriptures for today delve even deeper. I know people who do not believe in God who love their neighbor. I know people who do good works who would never worship Jesus. I know people who are kind, accepting, tolerant and happy, who love in ways that are visible and right.
But in today’s text we talk about abiding in Christ, loving like Him. This is more than the love we witness in the world. John writes, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus, the Son of God, suffered the humiliation of the cross, quietly died for our sake, paying the price for our sin. This is what Philip told the eunuch on that road to Gaza. This is the Gospel message: that God so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Even more so, Christ came and died so that we can abide in God.
We are to love our neighbors and our enemies, but the focus for today is the vine. Jesus says that we cannot love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters. While we can use those terms for all humanity, I believe this text is a commandment about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about abiding with one another in the same vine, the vine that is Christ. We can’t possibly love God and abide in Him if we do not love other Christians.
Unfortunately, many churches are dealing with terrible schisms and issues. Those issues can be national or local. What is our mission? How do we love? What color is the carpet in the sanctuary? How do we view scripture? What doctrines matter? What is adiaphorous? How do we deal with the troubles in the world? How do we love? I’ve heard stories that break my heart about churches that are fighting from within and Christians who are being persecuted by other Christians. Some have dealt with the pain by separating; churches are being torn apart. Sadly, there are even lawsuits pending. Where is God in these relationships? What kind of love is this? Can you sue a fellow Christian and claim to abide in Christ?
John writes, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.” Here we see the use of the word “hate” as the opposite of love, although this has a much different meaning in the ancient languages. To hate is to separate oneself from another. It means to ignore, reject, turn our back on. When we hate someone, we purposely do not meet their needs. Love is active. It is sacrificing oneself for the sake of another. Hate is sacrificing another for our own sake
In this passage, hate is apathy. Apathy is the opposite of love. Not caring whether someone lives or dies, is happy or sad, is sick or hungry or unclothed is the opposite of love. This is especially true when we use another definition of love, which is the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as the fatherly concern of God for humankind or brotherly concern for others. If we love God and abide in the vine, we will be concerned about the welfare of all those who abide in the same vine. We may not hate them, in human terms. But do we really love God if we choose to ignore or reject our brothers and sisters in Christ?
It isn’t easy. I have agonized over the issues that my own church has faced. I’ve agonized over the decisions that have been made and still have to be made. I’ve agonized over my own place in this vine. The best I can do is to know that God loves me and to abide in that love. He will love for me and through me, just as He loves me. He will make it possible for me to love when it seems impossible and to abide next to those with whom we might disagree.
This means that we can’t ignore their needs, even if we would rather separate ourselves from them. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot love God and reject them. We cannot sue our brothers and sisters in Christ and still abide in the vine.
It isn’t easy being a Christian. It isn’t easy abiding in God. The demands He makes on our lives can be difficult. Take, for example, the story of Philip. He was a successful evangelist; he was one of the deacons chosen in Acts 6. It appears from this passage, he was doing very well. The people were experiencing the joy of the Lord, watching Philip do incredible things. He was healing and casting out demons. They believed what Philip had to say.
We read on in Philip’s story that an angel whispered in his ear, “Go now.” “Now?” we would ask, “but I’m just beginning here. There is too much work left to do. There are too many people left to save!”
That’s not the way Philip responded to this call. Luke tells us that Philip “arose and went.” He was so confident in the word of God that he willingly left a successful ministry to go into the unknown. He was so confident in his relationship with God that he knew he was hearing God’s voice. It was illogical command, but it was also dangerous. The road from Jerusalem to Gaza was infested with criminals—killers and thieves. It was not a place where one would wander alone. The Ethiopian eunuch was certainly not alone. He was probably accompanied by a large entourage, including soldiers, servants and guests. He was representing the queen of Ethiopia, so he had the resources of a kingdom at his disposal.
We might allow these hurdles to keep us from the ministry, believing that it couldn’t be God sending us into such a strange and dangerous situation. He was abiding in God, loving as God loved him, and he responded with action. He loved because God first loved him. He loved by sharing the Gospel with a stranger.
I think there is something about this story we need to consider. The eunuch was a learned man, able to read and apparently able to read and understand Hebrew. Yet, he willingly admitted that he could not understand what he was reading in the prophecies of Isaiah without someone’s help. “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” How many of us would rather understand the scriptures from our own point of view, to give it our own interpretation, to accept only what we think it means? Many in today’s church reject the classical and historic understanding of scriptures, preferring a modern take that fits their own agenda and passions. There is good cause to look at the text in a new way, but we must be careful not to reject the witness of those who have come before us for the past two thousand years.
It is ok for us to say that we need someone to explain. It is ok to seek the help of someone who has a solid understanding of the scriptures to help us see what God is saying. If they abide in the vine, if they abide in God, they will speak His word. And if we abide in the vine, if we abide in God, we’ll hear God’s voice in their explanation. That’s what happened to the eunuch. He knew by faith that the words Philip spoke were true. He knew that God was speaking and calling him to this new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He knew that he was being grafted into the vine and asked to be baptized so he could be fully and wholly part of the Church.
Do we abide so completely in the vine that we know when we are hearing the voice of God from our neighbors? Or do we think so highly of ourselves that we ignore or reject our brothers and sisters in Christ? Loving God means that sometimes we must respond in radical and unexpected ways. We might be sent on that lonely highway or into that entourage to speak the Gospel into the lives of those whom God is calling to faith. We might also be sent into a fellowship of Christians with whom we disagree, to love them as God loves us.
Loving as God loves means not concerning ourselves with our own faith, passions or agendas, but continuing to speak God’s Word into the lives of those who come after us. It might seem frightening or illogical, but we need not be afraid. God does not send us into unknown or dangerous situations without going with us. We abide in Him and He abides in us. He abides in us and we abide in Him. The psalmist writes, “For the kingdom is Jehovah’s; And he is ruler over the nations.” It might seem to us that it was foolish for Philip to approach someone that was unapproachable, but God had already prepared the eunuch for Philip. Philip, in his obedience, fulfilled the very will of God to share Christ with the world. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” T
he vine is eternal, and it reaches through every generation. The love we share today will be experience by others who abide in Christ from the beginning to the end, because it all comes from God.
Jesus came to fulfill the prophecy found in today’s psalm. He came to bring salvation to those who seek the Lord, life to those who turn to Him. And one day the whole world will remember God, for it all belongs to Him. The rich and the dying and all those in between will serve Him and they will worship Him and feast at His table. There was a time when the people did not remember. They had gotten all caught up in themselves, in their self-righteousness. That time still exists for all those who do not dwell in the heart of the Lord. They are like the branches of the vine that have been cut off; they will wither and.die. They cannot love, not truly, without God. They might do nice things for others, but they (we) love only superficially if we do not love with the heart of God.
We are confused and divided. We may want love to mean that we accept and tolerate one another as we are, but we have some very real differences. Sadly, we are more likely to love our neighbors and our enemies than we are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t know how to live with one another anymore. We are like those who live in one house while anxiously looking for somewhere else to go.
But we are called to abide with one another in the only home that matters, the heart of God and the vine of Christ, where we will truly love our brothers and sisters, so that together we can do the work to which God calls us: sharing the Gospel message with the world. We can’t do it alone. We can’t even do it together. So let us abide in God so that He can do the work through us, His vine, producing the fruit of salvation in the world.
“And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. ” Romans 8:26-28, ASV
There is a commercial that makes me laugh every time, but it also hits a little close to home. In the commercial we see a mother and daughter enter a phone store. They are composed but obviously on the edge of upset. As it turns out, the daughter is getting ready to move to an apartment. They are obviously close and are working out how they will stay in contact during their separation. They are in the phone store to buy phones that will give them everything they need. Mom is afraid that she’ll never talk to her daughter again, but they discuss using skype to video talk. Mom is afraid that her daughter will get lost, but the daughter shows her mom that the phone has GPS.
Throughout the conversation, the mom and daughter get choked up, to the point that their conversation is nearly indiscernible. The only words you understand are the phone features like skype and GPS, but knowing about those features makes them both feel better even though they can’t talk for the tears. What makes the whole commercial particularly funny is that the daughter is only moving 4.2 miles away.
I’m sure part of the reason why this commercial makes me laugh is because I’m in a similar position with my daughter Victoria. She is just days from graduating from college and she is job hunting. Her choices are limited, but there are possibilities. Unfortunately for me, most of them are far more than 4.2 miles away.
I hope I can stay composed over the next few weeks, but I’m sure there will be moments when I can’t speak. Though there is some sadness in the tears, most of them are of pride and joy for Victoria’s accomplishments. I am confident that she will do well. I’m happy that she is on the verge of a career she will enjoy. I’m sad that she might have to move far away. Hopefully I can keep from getting so choked up that my words are indiscernible.
I love the way that the store clerk responds in the commercial. Though he has a confused look on his face, he knows what they want and he heads to the back to get them two phones. He understood even though the actual words were impossible to understand. I think that is the way it is with God when we pray. Sometimes it is impossible to say what we need in our prayers, and our words are indiscernible, but God understands. He knows what we need before we do, and He provides us according to His good and perfect will.
So, let us pray to God, even when we don’t know what to say. The circumstances we face may seem extreme and impossible, but God is in control. He is faithful to His people, and though we may have to experience some difficult times, God will use them to make us stronger; He will bless us with everything we need.
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not; and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:1-7, ASV
The kitties just do not understand. First, they had to deal with strangers walking around the house when we weren’t here. The house has had to be available for showings, inspections and appraisals, and it is better for the homeowner to be out of the way. I’m sure they were disturbed by the strangers; they were certainly clingy when I got home each time.
The other upset comes from the packing. I spend at least a few hours every day packing boxes. Everything we own is disappearing into those boxes. Piles of paper and bubble wrap litter the house. I have been trying to organize as I go, putting similar items into boxes so that I know where everything is, so I gather like items into one spot. My latest task has been to pack my collectibles and knick knacks. I gathered all these things from the house, put them on the coffee table and packed from there. Tigger has been unhappy because I’ve made it impossible to lay on his favorite spot, that coffee table. As each box is packed, it is stacked in any available spot, and as each box is packed, the kitties have to sniff it because it is something new.
Sammy does not seem quite as upset about the changes, but the uncertainty of this experience has made the other kitties particularly affectionate. None of the cats are really lap cats, though Delilah will climb on my lap on a rare occasion. Lately she has asked to cuddle three or four times a day. She even falls asleep on my lap, something she’s never done. She demands my attention when she is there, not allowing me to use the computer mouse to surf the Internet. She is not willing to share me with anything.
Tigger normally likes to ‘take a nap’ with me; we lie on the bed together for a few minutes, as long as I can give him. He gets so excited when I make the move to lie down. I pet him and he purrs until he decides it is time to really take a nap and then I can get up and continue my day. Lately, however, he has demanded my attention at other times, too. He has been very affectionate at night; the other day he even climbed onto my pillow and lay there, purring in my ear. I love that. On another day he jumped onto the desk, which is not unusual, but this time he actually walked on the sliding drawer where we keep the keyboard. I pushed the keyboard out of the way and he just sat there. I thought he might even get on my lap. He did not let me do anything on the computer; he wanted my undivided attention.
They are looking for comfort and for assurance. They have lived with us in this house for a long time; they are afraid that we might be leaving them behind. Though we speak the words of assurance to them every day, they need something more tangible. They need our touch. They are seeking our affection because it makes them feel secure; the changes aren’t as scary if we continue to show them love. I think we are often like the cats, particularly when circumstances around us are scary and confusing. We need comfort and assurance in our own times of trial. We need to know that someone cars. We need to know that we won’t be abandoned.
The kitties seek us out when they are feeling uncertain, and we give them the love and attention they need. God does the same. We need not fear the uncertainty of our life because God is always near. He won’t abandon us; He will carry us through our tough times.
“Thine, O Jehovah, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Jehovah, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou rulest over all; and in thy hand is power and might; and in thy hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.” 1 Chronicles 29:11-13, ASV
It is overwhelming to pack up your life, even when you know that you will unpack it again in a few weeks in a new home. You do not realize how much you have until you start trying to fit it into boxes. You can’t put too many books in one box because it gets too heavy, but it is overwhelming to see piles of books stacked in the library. I have two boxes that are full of books written by Lutheran authors. There are four or five boxes of bibles and religious reference. I have a half dozen large boxes full of general religious and inspirational books. My encyclopedia took six boxes.
That’s just the books. There are dozens of boxes that contain everything else you can imagine: collectibles, dishes, pictures, electronics, clothes, movies, music, linens, trophies, office supplies and kitchen equipment. My craft supplies fill a closet and I have enough stuffed animals to populate a zoo. I have packed more than half the house and I still shake my head with the amount of work that needs to be done.
Now, what makes this totally amazing is how much we’ve given away. We are usually very good about purging as we go along, but we have lived in this house for eight years, so we do have more than we need. We started purging for this move about ten months ago, when the kids were preparing for 2011-2012 school year. We had a huge yard sale in August, and ended up giving two carfuls to the church’s preschool for their annual rummage sale. We’ve made trips to Goodwill about once a month over the past few months. I gave a car load of craft supplies to the preschool, office supplies to our favorite camp, and other things to friends and neighbors. You’d be shocked to know how much I threw away or recycled. I found one can of vegetables that expired before we even moved into this house. I could have filled an eighteen wheeler to overflowing with the things I got rid of before packing, and it is still overwhelming the amount of things we have.
Yet, this is my life. Could I live with nothing but the clothes on my back? With God’s help I can do anything. I don’t think I’d like it very much, but I hope that I could find God’s grace and will in the midst of it. As I have been packing my boxes, I have been thanking God for so many blessings. I have walked through memory lane as I found items that were given by friends and family. I laughed when I watched an old video of my kids when they were little and I cried when I discovered a video of a birthday party for my mom that showed my mom and dad laughing and dancing. I have been thankful to have more than enough so that I can give the kids a piece of our past for their future. I’m happy to share what I have with others. And I pray that God will use what we have given away and what we still carry to His glory.
I know we all complain about having too much stuff; it is right to consider our priorities and to check that we aren’t possessed by all our possessions. We need not feel guilty about what we have; we need only seek God’s counsel on how to use our stuff to His glory. He may ask us to give it up; He may ask us to share it. He may ask us to open our homes and lives to others so that they have a safe place or a listening ear. He may ask us be patient and to live our life until the day when He has something for us to do. It is obvious when in the midst of a move how much stuff you have, but we should all be watching carefully every day. What place does our household goods have in our lives? Could we live without it? Are we overwhelmed because we are clinging to the stuff we own, and are we letting it own us? Do we truly understand that everything we own belongs to God and are we ready to let God use our lives, and our stuff, in ways we may never expect?
“My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” Psalm 62:5-8, ASV
When we traveled when I was little, I remember the go to place along the highway was Stuckey’s. Stuckey’s was a place where you could use the restroom, get a snack or a meal and buy souvenirs from the USA or from the local area. They were famous for their pecan logs and other nut products. I have a charm bracelet of all the states I’ve visited; most of those charms were purchased in a Stuckey’s somewhere in the United States. Another favorite for many today is Cracker Barrel, where you can get good home cooking and buy country gifts for all your friends.
When we moved to Texas, we discovered another chain of rest stops, focused thus far near Houston. Less than an hour from our house is a place called Buc-ees. Buc-ee is a beaver, a silly little character that keeps the kids entertained along the way while guiding weary drivers to a place with “fabulous restrooms.” We discovered this place when we traveled to and from Houston. It is hard to miss. In the 200 miles between the two cities, there are dozen s of signs with Buc-ee advertising all the wonderful reasons to stop at the store. They have cheap ice. They have pork rinds. They have fudge. They have fabulous restrooms. The signs encourage you to stop for Beavers.
It is hard to believe that there are fabulous restrooms, after all, rest area bathrooms tend to be well used. The walls are covered with graffiti and the doors never close right. The floors are covered with a substance you’d rather not identify. It is frightening to use the restroom in some gas stations. How could any rest area call their restrooms ‘fabulous?’ So one day we decided we would try it, and I have to say that it is fabulous. The restrooms are nicer, and probably cleaner, than mine at home. There are plenty of stalls, even if a bus arrives while you are there.
A new Buc-ees has opened much closer to our house. Now, it might seem ridiculous to be excited for the opening of a travel rest stop close to home, but Buc-ees is so much more, especially this one. The store in New Braunfels is the largest Buc-ees ever, a whopping 20,000 square feet larger than the original store. This store is so large that it includes, along with the meat department with too many choices of jerky and brisket. They have dozens of different types of salsas and hot sauces, everything from mild to killer. The new store even includes a farmer’s market of fresh vegetables, for those who would rather healthier fare than the typical junk food like pork rinds and the yummy Beaver Nuggets for which Buc-ees is known.
The grand opening was yesterday and I had to laugh at the reports about the event. The visitors tended to be locals who have been watching the building go up, anxious for the day every time they passed the sign promising that the new store would open in 2012. I even took a picture of the Beaver when I noticed that the sign had arrived a few weeks ago. I saw one story about a guy who thought that the grand opening would be Wednesday, but when he found out it was yesterday he dropped everything to go.
Many people don’t understand the ‘cult of Buc-ees,’ and perhaps it is silly to get so excited about a store. The draw is good marketing, excellent products and of course, the fabulous restrooms. As with the old Stuckey’s the draw is the experience and the availability of things that are just not offered anywhere else. General Manager, Dan Parkinson joked, “This is just another step in Buc-ee’s quest to take over the world one clean restroom at a time.” In a time too many people want to take over the world for their own benefit, it is nice to see someone who wants to give people what they need, when they need it, in a place that just makes people happy. For tired travelers, a good rest stop can make the rest of the trip safe and pleasant; it can be a refuge from the tediousness and dangers of the road.
The real refuge is God, of course. The thing is, our relationship with God is seen by the world much as the love of Buc-ees is seen by people who don’t get it. Blogs have reports from people who do not think there is anything special about the stores. Someone even said they were disappointed with the restrooms. I think they were just looking for something negative to stay. The same is true about those who reject God and His people. They don’t understand how God provides us everything we need, that He makes our journey safer and more pleasant, that He really is a refuge. But we know, and we can sing His praise today, even while we are headed out to Buc-ees for some Beaver Nuggets and a quick trip to the restroom.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2012, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
“Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments.” 1 John 5:2, ASV
The passages from John’s Gospel and Epistle use the words “obey” and “command” several times. It is so easy from our human perspective to embrace those words but miss the message of these lessons. We like to know that we have done something good, that we’ve had an impact on the world. We live in a time when we expect people to make a difference, to leave a legacy.
Based on the text above, we proudly list our good deeds as proof of our love for God. We justify this attitude with today’s scriptures by saying, “See, this is how God told us to live!” That’s the way it was for the Jews in Jesus’ day. They believed that if they lived according to the Law, if they were good enough, gave enough, did enough, then they would be children of God. The trouble is this: we can’t be good enough. Those who thought they could be of God by their own works were blind to their own sin, hiding behind a facade of self-righteousness and justification by excuse. They pointed their fingers at others while denying their own inability to live rightly before God. They saw themselves as greater than the others and had no mercy on those they deemed as sinners. They aren’t much different than us.
We have an advantage, though. We know that God sent Jesus to reveal the reality: we are saved by God’s grace, not our works. God does not love us because we have done good things or because we have obeyed all the rules. He loves us and because He does we can love. When John tells us that we can be assured that we love our brothers in sisters in God by loving God and obeying His commandments. But are we to obey? John tells us in the gospel lesson. “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you.” We know we love by obeying, and the commandment is to love. It is a circle of love and the circle begins and ends with God. It’s a lot easier to do good works than to show love.
Sometimes love is obvious. Sunday is Mother’s Day. A mother’s love is obvious. Mothers glow with a special light even when they are still pregnant with their child. Even on the birthing table, disheveled from hours of hard labor, a mother looks on her newborn with a face full of joy, twinkling eyes and unconditional love. Mothers are proud of every accomplishment, from the first giggle to the college degree. Mothers sacrifice for their children, choosing to buy $12 sneakers so that her child can have dance lessons or go to camp. Mothers lay down their lives for their children; they do so willingly and happily out of love.
Sometimes love isn’t so obvious, even for mothers. Love does not mean giving in to every want and demand of a child. It means sometimes saying “No.” Some children need a harder kind of love. True love isn’t proud of the sins of the child, but does what is necessary to guide the child back on the right path. Tough love is probably the hardest thing a mother has to do; tough love is the kind of love that allows a child to suffer the consequences of their poor decisions. The love of a mother punishes a child so that they will learn the lessons that will help them grow and mature. That kind of love isn’t quite so obvious. As a matter of fact, it sometimes looks less like love and more like hate. The response from the child is often the dreaded, “I hate you.” But the love of a mother forgives and continues to do what is best for the child.
The love of a mother lets the child go. This is also not so obvious, after all, how can love release a daughter into the mean world or a son to fend for himself? But love does not just embrace; true love sets free. There is no greater love than that of God, who loves us so much He has given us the freedom to reject Him. A mother goes on being a mother even when her child says, “I hate you;” despite our failure to love Him, Jesus died for us.
In dying, Jesus set loose the Holy Spirit, through whom we can believe and love. Jesus says, “Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” Faith is a personal gift and that we live in a direct and intimate relationship with God, our Father. We are His children. He loves each of us, gifts us with our own gifts: He calls us personally and separately. We are His friends, not because we have an individual and intimate relationship with Him, but because we are chosen to live in love with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the passage from Acts we see what happens when we love beyond our own little corner of the world. Peter went to Cornelius and his community to share the message of Christ. They all gathered around to hear what Peter had to say. As he was speaking the Holy Spirit came upon the entire community. God touched each person and changed the whole family. It was particularly surprising to those who had traveled with Peter because that community was not Jewish. The people were Gentiles, but God showered them with His love just as He had showered the community in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
It was a sacrifice for Peter to go to the house of the Gentile centurion named Cornelius. It was a sacrifice for him to go in to a room filled with Gentiles and speak a message he thought had been given solely to His people. It was a sacrifice for the community to welcome these new believers into their midst, knowing that their whole world could be turned upside down by the message. Peter decided to be obedient and take the risk. He decided to follow God’s vision for the Gospel.
God decided to adopt the community around Cornelius into His family. John writes, “Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” We know that this refers to God as the parent and those who have been born of God through faith—His children. If we love God, we will also love His kids. Yet, we all know people who have had kids that are impossible to be loved. What makes it hard to love them? My experience suggests that disobedience makes some kids hard to love. We do not like the child because he or she shows no respect to their mother or father. We do not love them because they do not seem to love their parents.
So, we have trouble loving when our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t live up to our expectations. I imagine that those present with Peter wondered what would happen with these new Christians. Living in community with Cornelius and his family would go against many of the rules by which they had traditionally lived. Some even suggested that the Gentiles had to become Jewish before they could become Christian. What do we do when those who claim to be Christian do not live according to the rules and practices we have established? We put conditions on the love we know we are supposed to share. We say, “If you love me you will do what I say.” These commands are burdensome; they are demands that separate people from each other and from God. The love we are willing to share is dependent on obedience to our expectations. God does not demand this of us, so how can we demand it of others? We don’t choose those whom God calls into the family. We are just called to love His children.
With Christ the command to love is not burdensome because the love is not dependent on obedience. Rather, obedience is dependent on the love. It is in faith that we abide in the love of Christ, obeying His command to love one another with a sacrificial love while bearing fruit that will last. Faith and community are connected. Christ loved us, chose us and calls us friends so that we will obey His command to love one another. In love He has made us part of a family, calling us to love everyone in that family. As we love one another, we will see the fruit God calls us to bear and that fruit that is the witness to our love for God. The love we have for God and for His children becomes obvious in the joy we have and in the praise we sing.
Today’s psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving for the good things God has done. The psalmist tells us about those things: about how God has won the victory over Israel’s oppressors and how He has saved them from exile. The psalmist sings about God’s faithfulness and His love for His people that is lasting. Telling others about the great things God has done is just one of the many ways we can sing His praise. Peter praised God by telling Cornelius and his family about Jesus. Peter loved God by doing what God called him to do.
The psalmist tells us other ways to praise God. We can sing a new song. We can sing praises with a harp. We can sound trumpets. The creation even gets involved with the heavens and earth joining in the noise of praise. The sea roars, the floods clap their hands, the hills sing. Most of all, today we learn that we can praise God and love Him by living as He has set us free to live, by loving God’s children in word and deed.
Our works will never be proof that we love God, but when we love like God loves, our lives will be manifest with sacrifices that help others become children of God. It is a never ending circle that begins and ends with God. That might not make sense, for how it is possible for a circle to have a beginning and end? This is a matter of trusting God, just as we trust Him to help us love the children of His family even when it seems like an impossible task. He will give us more than enough love and grace to share, and we will know that we are truly children of God because we’ll see His love transforming the world.
“They that go down to the sea in ships, That do business in great waters; These see the works of Jehovah, And his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, Which lifteth up the waves thereof. T hey mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths: Their soul melteth away because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble, And he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, So that the waves thereof are still. T hen are they glad because they are quiet; So he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, And praise him in the seat of the elders.” Psalm 107:23-32 (ASV)
The weather is stormy around here today, that’s why I am so late getting this written. I don’t like to keep the computer on during storms, since an electrical surge can destroy the equipment. We are in a brief respite; the sky is blue and the ground is dry. But more rain is expected later this evening. The weather reports have suggested that the worst of the storms are yet to come. Most of the severe weather has been to our south; even now some of the cities are being warned about tornado and extreme lightning. Despite the wonderful blue skies, another storm is on its way. Tonight could be bumpy for us.
I really needed to go out this morning, but I don’t like to drive in the rain. At this point I can wait until another day to do what I need to do. I definitely do not want to be trapped out on the roads if the coming storm is anything like they have had to our south. The street flooding, high winds and pouring rain makes it dangerous to be anywhere. The possibility of tornados and other severe weather means the best place to be is at home.
I can't imagine what it must be like to be a fisherman or sailor, having to go out into the open sea knowing there is a possibility that the ship will face stormy waters. On land, we can find shelter; even in a car we are relatively safe from the ravages of the weather. On the open water, however, a boat has no way of being stable. It is tossed and thrown over the waves, rising up and falling down at the whim of the winds. There must be a helplessness in the midst of a storm that is unshakable until it passes and the sea becomes calm again.
I am not concerned about the storm that is coming, I will be safe and dry in my home. However, we are not always so blessed. The rain falls on our lives, we go through the storms. The storms are not always weather related. We face health and financial issues; we experience broken relationships and heartache. There are disappointments and pain. In the midst of those experiences we feel like we are being battered by a wind, like the ship on the ocean. We are raised up and thrown down into the sea, rocked to and fro.
Yet, all we need do is cry out to the God of mercy and grace, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though we may still need to walk through the experience, to get to the other side of whatever we face, He will quiet the waves around us and give us the stability to stand firm through it all. He will get us through and take us to the place where we will find the peace we seek. He is faithful. If you are facing difficulty today, cry out to your God and ask Him to quiet the storm. He will bring you through.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” Acts 16:25-28, ASV
As I have been packing my household goods, I have been gathering a pile of things that I plan to leave with the house. We have all the original owner’s manuals for the appliances, along with all the extra pieces that came with each. We have filters for the air conditioning unit and one for the refrigerator. I plan to leave rolls of toilet paper in the bathrooms and possibly the scented infusers that are currently making my house smell good. Our contract called for leaving all the curtain rods and some of the curtains, so we are deciding which ones will not fit into any of the windows in our new house.
Our realtor told us a story about a couple who was selling their very expensive house who argued over every little thing to be left in the house. She did not want to leave the refrigerator, which is typically expected by homebuyers. She refused to give even a penny toward repairs. She even wanted to charge the buyers for a few leftover filters for the air unit in the house. She fought over every penny even though she was getting an excellent price on her home. Our realtor said she even went throughout the house, collecting things like the toilet paper to take it with her. To me, the cost of those things I am leaving is insignificant and can be a real lifesaver for those who are moving into the house. After all, have you ever gone into an empty home, needed to use the restroom, only to discover there is no toilet paper? If something so small can make such a big difference, how much more does the grace of God do for us?
Paul and his companions were in jail in Philippi. They had been arrested for causing a riot, even though the riot was caused by others. They made the best of things, patiently waiting for justice, worshipping God together despite their difficult circumstances. I can imagine that they even prayed for a miracle to set them free. It is natural and human for us to look to our God to get us out of trouble—after all, He has promised to take care of us.
They got their miracle. As they were praying and singing hymns an earthquake struck. The earthquake was so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were opened and the chains were unfastened. Sounds like a miraculous gift from God to me. In an earlier story in Acts, Peter miraculously escapes from a different prison.
However, freedom for these prisoners would have meant punishment for the jailer. It would have been a punishment so great that the jailer thought his best option was to kill himself with his sword. Instead of running away, Paul, his companions and all the other prisoners in the jail stayed. Paul called out to the jailer and told him that they were all still there. Paul believed that if God intended for them to be free at that time, then He would accomplish it in a way they would be truly free. Escape would have meant that they would all have been fugitives and the jailer would be dead. The real grace in this story is not that the prisoners were set free, but that this event drew another person into the Church. The jailer and his family believed in God.
I don’t know what to expect when we arrive in our new home. Our homeowners might be gracious, leaving those small touches that will make our first moments feel like we have come home. I can’t control others, but I can be gracious, knowing that God will do what God does and when He does, He’ll change lives. I may never have the opportunity to save a jailer’s life, but I can share the love of God in the little things, trusting that God is at work in ways I may never understand.
“Preserve me, O God; for in thee do I take refuge. O my soul, thou hast said unto Jehovah, Thou art my Lord: I have no good beyond thee. As for the saints that are in the earth, They are the excellent in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that give gifts for another god: Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, Nor take their names upon my lips. Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; Yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless Jehovah, who hath given me counsel; Yea, my heart instructeth me in the night seasons. I have set Jehovah always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; My flesh also shall dwell in safety. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:1-11, ASV
I drove to Lubbock yesterday, a trip of just over 400 miles. Road construction on my usual route and a new gas station with relatively inexpensive gas, took me on a different path. It was through the Texas Hill Country, with lots of hills and valleys and curves. The road was lovely, still littered with late wildflowers amongst the drying grasses and by a beautiful lake. Unfortunately, I also got stuck by a train and behind cars with drivers that had a less hurried purpose. It was, after all, Mother’s Day, and I am sure at least a few people were simply enjoying the country on a lovely day.
My usual route takes me on major highways with speed limits of 70 and above. This new path was much slower. Along the lake I passed by resorts and through small towns. I dealt with lights and narrow roads. It was slow going. I realized how slow when I turned onto one road that I would travel for twenty miles. I was able to travel well on that road, though not fast. It seemed to be going well and at one point I thought to myself, “I must be almost at that town.” Just as I did, I found a sign that told me that the town was still fifteen miles away. I was shocked. “I only went five miles? This is taking forever!”
The trip went faster after that road, though I still had to travel through some towns along the way. I bought gas at the halfway point, and was finally in West Texas where the roads are straight and level and the speed limits reflect the easy driving. You can see for miles, farmlands that seem to reach all the way to the horizon. I watched some ominous clouds which concerned me, but they were so far away that they didn’t even hit Lubbock. I had the exact opposite thought into this part of the drive. At one point I estimated my drive to be about forty miles to the next town, but I soon saw a sign that said it was only twenty. I was as surprised about how fast I was going as I had been about how slow the other road was.
Even though the trip took a little longer, I was actually happy to have the slower, country drive in the morning. I did the entire trip by myself, so I not only had to drive the whole time, but I had to find ways to keep myself alert. Those long, fast, straight, boring drives can be very dangerous because they are so monotonous. There were plenty of interesting things to see in the Hill Country and though it was taking longer, I did not feel the tiredness that usually affects me in the morning.
By the time I got to the long, straight, boring roads, I was wide awake and anxious to get to Lubbock. I was happy for the flat earth which made the way easy after hours of driving. Though I knew it wasn’t true, I felt like I was making up for lost time, and in the end I did get there in decent time. Was one path better than the other? I don’t know, each path was right for the moment in my journey.
Think about your Christian journey. Has it always been smooth sailing as you’ve traveled a long straight road? God has promised to lower the mountains and raise the valleys to make our path smooth. Yet, there are also times when the road, by necessity, must be difficult so that we learn to rely on God. There are times when we need to travel more slowly, times when we need to see the beauty. There are times when we need to be stopped by a train or slowed by someone who blocks our path. We need to experience life with other people like I did in the small towns. There are also times when God lets us see the goal so that we will become excited about the opportunities. Those times might be easy.
The thing to remember is that along our journey, though the paths might be long or short, fast or slow, easy or hard, God goes with us. He is there in those times when we have to study so that He is ready with His grace when we call for His help. He is with us on the easy paths, too, watching to ensure that we don’t become too comfortable and forget that He is our refuge. So, wherever we are on our journey, let us praise God and rejoice in His grace. God will use your journey, the hills or the straight paths, to build you into the disciple that He has called you to be.
“The Jews therefore answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he spake this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:18-22, ASV
Just over eight years ago, I used this text as our move to San Antonio was quickly approaching. We were preparing for the move, but decided to make it easier for the sake of the children. We were supposed to move in April, but it is so hard to start at a new school at that point in the school year, so we moved in January, instead. This meant I didn’t have months to pack, but rather weeks. Ironically, we are just days away from another move. This one has happened even more quickly. We thought it would take months to sell our house, but it sold in days. We had to rush to find a new house and rush even more to get the paperwork complete. Thankfully, everything is falling into place and we will be in a new house by Saturday.
We are finding it hard to believe that we’ve accomplished so much in such a short span of time. The house is nearly packed; much of it is already in a Pod waiting to be moved. The truck is ordered and people are coming to help load it this weekend. I can picture our things in the new house. There are still things I need to accomplish. I need to switch the utilities, go through some drawers, and clean my old house. I don’t know how, but it will all happen. I just wish I had more time to make it happen.
Jesus told the disciples many things during the three years of His ministry, yet they often did not fully understand what he was talking about. It was not until after it was all complete, after His death and resurrection, that they could see He was speaking about things they could not see. Everyone assumed that He meant He would destroy the actual temple in Jerusalem, several people later referred to this very remark particularly during His trial. Jesus meant something far different because He was not only working in the natural but also in the spiritual.
Can you imagine what it was like during those very short three years? Can you imagine learning everything the disciples needed to know in such a short period of time? This passage happens very early in the Gospel of John, just after Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers and cleared out the Temple. John puts this incident much earlier in Jesus’ ministry than the other apostles. Why rush this catalyst, this moment that sets Jesus toward the cross?
We live in an immediate world; we can change our lives in a heartbeat. Yet, there are some things that take time. It takes time to see the whole story of God play out in our lives. It takes time to understand what God is saying to us in the scriptures and through His creation. It takes time for it all to make sense. The disciples had no way of understanding what Jesus was saying at this early moment. They would need to see Him preach and teach and change people’s lives in ways that are beyond this world. Sometimes I wish that I better understood what God was saying in the scriptures or why things are happening to us, but I can trust that God will fully reveal everything in His time and way. Just as it was eight years ago, God has something planned for us in our new house; we’ll see it and believe.
“And the apostles gather themselves together unto Jesus; and they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught. And he saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart.” Mark 6:30-32, ASV
My phone is ringing off the hook today. We are so close to closing on our house that everyone wants to make sure that we are informed and prepared. Since we are selling a house, too, we are getting calls about that business. Plus, I’ve been making arrangements for cleaners, carpet cleaners and all the utilities. We have to cancel for our old house and set up our new one. It is insanity. Yet, it is very good insanity because it means everything is falling into place for our new life in a new house.
I will be inconsistent for the next week or so as we get settled into the new house. I have made sure that I have access to the resources I need to do the writing each day, but there’s one thing I can’t do: make more time. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, no matter how well I plan my schedule. I spent several house yesterday running errands, and unfortunately one place took much longer than expected. I can’t focus all my attention on just one thing; I have a family that needs my help and my attention. I need to sleep and eat and take care of my health. I have to keep things relatively clean in the midst of this chaos.
Time is something we just can’t control. There is a television commercial that shows people pulling up to a drive-thru window, like at a fast food place, asking for more time. They want an extra fifteen minutes here or a day there. Wouldn’t that be nice? I know there are times when I wish I could add a day or even an hour, just to get everything done. But we know that isn’t possible. So, we have to learn how to use our time wisely and accept when we can’t be superpeople.
God is blessed when we spend our time in worship and service for Him. He is glorified by the work we do and the words we speak as His witnesses. He does, however, know that we are human and that we have limitations. Time is eternal and limitless for Him, but we are bound by the clock and calendar. He knows that we need balance in our lives; we need time for work, but we also need time for rest. We need time to serve and we need time to rejoice. We need time to accomplish things, but we also need time for silence. It is up to us to find the balance. We might want that extra fifteen minutes, or another day to the week, but sometimes the answer is to say no once in awhile. The key is to accept that you can’t do it all, and that God does want you to take care of yourself. Your world might appear to be chaotic. You may see a million tasks that need to be accomplished. Sometimes, however, you just have to set something aside.
Unfortunately, we tend to think that setting aside ministry for something so mundane as doing the dishes is selfish and irreverent, so we do the dishes and the ministry but we don’t get enough sleep or spend that time with kids or pets that help keep us sane in the chaos. The disciples were very excited about the work they were doing, and they were probably ready to minister to those people who were gathering around Jesus. But Jesus knew they needed time to rest, time to eat, time to breathe, so He took them to a solitary place to rest. The break didn’t last very long; but we see in this story that Jesus is concerned not only that we are doing what He calls us to do, but that we are also taking care of our lives. It isn’t selfish to take time to eat and sleep. It isn’t selfish if we have to occasionally put off ministry for daily living. Our time is valuable and limited, and God wants us to use it well.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, My King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: They will be still praising thee. Selah” Psalm 84:3-4,ASV
We feel so blessed; today is signing day. By later this afternoon, we’ll have a new house. The next few days are going to be insane with moving and unpacking, but we are anxious to settle in and make this house a home. We are looking forward to the life we will live here. The reason for buying this house is because it puts Bruce closer to his job; his commute will be half or even a third of what it has been over the past few years. The new house will save us money on gas. It will give us more time together. It will give me space for a studio and an office where I can write without interruption. The kitties are going to love the low windows and the long track from one end to the other for their romps.
Through this process we have been calling this our ‘forever home’ because we are hoping this is the last house we will ever have to buy. Bruce and I have moved so often with the military, we want to know that we won’t eventually have to move again. Our realtor has focused on resalability of the houses, but I kept saying, “Don’t worry about that. It will be our kids’ problem.” We want roots. We want to be so entrenched that you’ll have to drag us out. We want this to be our permanent refuge.
Of course, we know that it will not be permanent. Any home, no matter how wonderful and comfortable we make it, it will only be temporary. This might be our forever home on earth, but we have an eternal home that is being made ready even as we live our lives here. When we go to that home, however, we won’t have to pack boxes or cancel utilities. We won’t even have to go house hunting, for God has already selected our forever home. The wonderful part of this story is that we don’t have to wait. Though we will leave this world and go to the next, we can already dwell in our eternal rest because God is that house. He is the Temple where we will worship for eternity. He is the home where we will rest. He is the bread we will eat. He is the living water we will drink. He has given the sparrows a home, so too He has made a place for us, in His heart and in His kingdom, forever.
“A friend loveth at all times; And a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17, ASV
We moved everything. We filled a Pod over the past couple of weeks with everything we could manage. Then on Saturday, Bruce and a bunch of our friends filled a large U-Haul truck. We put as much into cars as we could, and some cars made multiple trips. We have two car loads for today, but they will be out of the old house and into the new one by this afternoon. The plan was to empty the truck on Saturday so that we could return it quickly, and then empty the Pod as we were able over the next few days or weeks.
Now, to accomplish this we didn’t worry too much about where we were putting things. If we knew where it should go, it was taken to that room and dumped. If we weren’t sure, it was dumped in the dining room or living room. We didn’t place it with any rhyme or reason, it just got dumped. Toward the end of unloading the truck, I started saying, “Just dump it in the street; someone is bound to take it.” They didn’t do that, so our living room was wall to wall furniture and our dining room wall to wall boxes.
So, now we are trying to organize. It would probably be interesting to watch me as I go about the business of unpacking. I pick up a box in one room, take it to the next and then discover something in that room that needs to go to another room, so I pick it up and take it. I wander from room to room, never empty-handed, but never really finishing the job I started in the previous room. Around and around I go from one task to another. I can see some progress in the chaos, but there is still so much to do.
The plan was to take a few days to empty the Pod, but we have some amazing friends who emptied the entire thing in a few hours. Most of the boxes are in the garage, but that’s ok. Once we create order in the house, we can bring in a few boxes at a time and empty them. Once the bookshelves are in place we can put the books on the shelves. We have enough in the kitchen to live for a few days, and we’ll unpack the rest of the boxes when we get to them. It may take a few weeks, but eventually we’ll find a place for everything.
I have said it before, but I will say it again: we have some amazing friends. We are so thankful for those who came to help us on Saturday. The men worked so hard moving furniture and boxes; the women helped clean the house. We had good food, good conversation and in the end we had a place to lay our heads. It was such a blessing to see it come together so quickly with the help of those friends. You learn quickly who your real friends are when you ask them to help you move. I am looking forward to the day when I can invite those friends back to help us bless this home and fill it with joy.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.” Luke 15:407, ASV
I think the hardest part of moving is keeping track of everything. We can live without most of our things for a few days, but there have been a number of things that I have had to handy for the business of selling and buying a house. I couldn’t pack the cable equipment because I had to return it to the office. I needed to keep track of so much paperwork it was making my head swim. I have been collecting items that I will not need in our new house that will be helpful to leave behind for the new owners of our old house.
I was especially diligent about keeping track of the keys to the mailbox. The postal service gives three keys to each family and we’ve managed to go eight years without losing any of them. Yesterday morning I was headed out to the house for one last time, to grab the last items and meet the cleaning crew. My plan was to take the cable equipment back and to visit the post office to deliver the keys. I was in good shape, leaving the house early enough that I would beat the cleaners, until I checked on the mailbox keys. They weren’t where I thought they were. They weren’t in my purse or on the rack where I keep my purse. They weren’t in the box where the third key was stored. They weren’t in the kitchen or any other room. I couldn’t find them at all.
I dumped my purse twice and shook it several times; I was sure they were not in there. I had Victoria helping me, but there was no way to even guess where I might have laid them down. In the four or five hours from the last time I had touched them, I moved several boxes and unpacked a few. Victoria even looked in her purse, just in case they fell into it. Fifteen minutes later I decided to leave. I would just pay the fee for the lost keys. I didn’t want to be late for my appointment. When I got to the car, I took one more look in the pockets of my purse. I couldn’t believe it, especially since I had literally dumped the whole thing onto the kitchen cabinet, but there they were.
I might have just let it go and paid the fee, but I looked one more time and found them. I think that’s the way God is with us. God searches for us when we wander and get lost, but you would think there would have to be a moment when He just gives up. He’s a busy guy, too. Should He waste His time on our foolishness when there is someone else who is ready and willing to receive His grace? But God is bigger than you and I, and He never gives up. He keeps looking, searching until He finds every one of His lambs.
“I have called upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God: Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Show thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them that take refuge in thee from those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, my deadly enemies, that compass me about.” Psalm 17:6-9, ASV
This whole process has been especially stressful on the kitties. It has been stressful on all of us, but they don’t know or understand as we do. They saw that we were packing, and their experience is that packed bags mean they will be abandoned for a time. They saw furniture being moved, and they don’t know what to make of the changes. They saw us working so hard that we had little time to cuddle with them or play.
On moving day we locked them in a bedroom so they wouldn’t get underfoot or escape out of open doors. Then we put them in pet carriers, which they hate, and took them in a car, which they hate even more. We locked them in another room, in a house they didn’t recognize with smells they did not know. They each found a hidden corner to hide and they stayed there for hours. They refused to come, even when we offered treats and tuna fish to them. We opened doors when things settled down and all our helpers went home, but they still did not want to come out. It was late in the evening when the first kitty, Sammy, began exploring. Eventually they all came out. I think they all spent the night discovering this new house.
They are getting comfortable; at least they know we haven’t abandoned them. They started to relax when they discovered the furniture with familiar smells. They are still a bit confused; it will take time for them to find their favorite spots and get used to new patterns, but I think they will be very happy here. Unfortunately, the first few weeks of living in a new house generally means visits from professionals. I had the cable guy here one day, the cleaners here another day and a locksmith here today. Each time someone comes in this house the kitties disappear into some hidden corner. This house is big, with lots of hidden corners. They are going to be impossible to find. I found one kitty before I left this afternoon, but I worried the whole time that the others escaped when the locksmith was not paying attention. Fortunately, they were too skittish to even be near the locksmith and they appeared when I came home.
We may not be afraid of cable guys, housecleaners or locksmiths, but we have our own fears. We hide, perhaps not in closets, but from the things that concern us. What stresses are you experiencing in your life today? Where do you hide when you don’t want to face your fears? There may be good reason to be afraid, for there are truly things and people in this world that want to hurt us. But we do not need to hide in a closet; we can hide in God’s lovingkindness. He is our refuge.
“And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ASV
The toilet paper holders in our old house were on the left side in the bathrooms I tended to use. In this house they are on the right. Whenever I use the toilet, I reach to the left for paper, but it isn’t there. I have to consciously turn the other direction. It is a hard habit to break. Now, it is a habit, because my body is used to doing one thing and now I am making it do something different, but it isn’t a bad habit. I’m not trying to quit smoking or biting my nails. I’m not trying to establish an exercise routine (although I probably should.) I am simply trying to break the habit of looking left when I need to look right.
We are people of habit. At Lent and Advent and at the New Year we try to break ourselves of old bad habits or begin new good ones, but there are so many things we do naturally that are neither good nor bad. They just happen. We do things daily that become a part of who we are, muscle memories that we don’t even have to think about. How many actions do you do in just a few minutes of driving that happen naturally, but when you buy a new car you have to think about how to do them? Our latest car has the gear shifter between the front seats, but our last car had the shifter on the steering wheel shaft. It took weeks to retrain my hand to reach down instead of up.
We can’t compare our muscle memories to those habits that we truly need to overcome, especially those that are dangerous to our spiritual health. We can, however, trust that God will help us build spiritual muscle memories that will make us live the life He has called us to live. With His help we can learn new habits of daily prayer and service that will glorify God. His grace is truly sufficient to change our lives.
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40, ASV
It is not easy to love all our neighbors. I haven’t found anyone in this neighborhood that I don’t like; as a matter of fact, the neighbors have been wonderfully friendly and kind to us these past few weeks. However, I’ve run across a person or two in my life that I’d rather not have had to consider my neighbor. The previous owners of this house, wonderful as it is, have left us with mess after mess, problem after problem. I had to hire cleaners because the house was filthy. I had to hire a locksmith to make sense of their keys. I had the HVAC serviced because it didn’t seem to be working right. During his visit, we discovered that there are a number of issues that probably should have been found by the people they were supposed to bring in to service the HVAC before closing. The latest problem is a leak under the kitchen sink.
It is really hard to love this ‘neighbor.’ I don’t even know the people. I have never met them, and I will probably never meet them. Perhaps if I met them outside this circumstance I might even like them, but as it is I can honestly say that I don’t like them at all.
We met the people who bought our home, and it was a wonderful experience. They were so appreciative of the little details that we did before turning it over to them. They were first time home buyers and were very nervous about the process. They appreciated that we left behind some filters that we would never use and the owners’ manuals for all the appliances. We left the home clean and ready. We even left a few surprises for them, welcome home presents.
Now, it is definitely easier to love those who do nice things for us, but the reality is that love is not dependent on works. Anne Graham Lotz once said, “Our love for Christ is more important to Him than all our service to Him. Strict obedience and service alone are not enough. Love for Jesus must come first.” Love will manifest in good works. It will be made visible in the things we do for our neighbor. But love is not proven by works and works don’t create love. Love is not an emotion that we can give to one neighbor and not another. Love is a state of being that comes from dwelling in God. Love is where everything begins and ends. When we love, kindness and goodness will prevail.
I have to learn to love this ‘neighbor’ who left me a mess, if only to stop complaining about every problem they left behind. They will never experience love that I can give, but I will find peace in loving them because then I can let go my anger and hatred. No matter what they left behind, no matter what troubles I will face, I can’t hate, because in hating I am turning myself away from God. So, I will love God first, and with His help I will find love for those I would much rather hate.
Sunday, June 3, 2012, Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
“And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8, ASV
Zack has a wonderful job this summer working at camp, but his luck was not so great last year. He applied to many jobs, at fast food places and retail establishments. He even applied to the local tourist site that should have needed every able bodied young man they could get. Unfortunately, his summer schedule was full of some other events, including a trip to his college for orientation and a golf tournament. He wanted so much time off and the employers could hire people who would be available whenever needed, so they gave the jobs to the others applicants. It was very hard to be rejected over and over again; it is very easy to take it personally when employer after employer says “No.”
We wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” when we get rejected. We wonder what we could do differently. It is good to ask prospective employers the reason for the rejection so that you can be prepared for the next interview, but in today’s market it is as likely that there was just someone who was better suited for the position, and it may have nothing to do with qualifications. The guy with a car is more likely to get hired than the one who has to take a bus. The applicant who lives a block away is more likely to get to work on time than the one who lives a few miles away. These might seem like foolish reasons to choose one person over another, but employers are considering every aspect of the job when hiring. There is probably nothing wrong with the one rejected, it is just the other is a better choice for the position.
I know the feeling; I’ve been rejected, too. I once sent an article to a number of publications and received the standard rejection letter. Usually the letter states that the editor is thankful for the submission but the magazine does not need any articles on that subject at the moment. It usually goes on to invite the writer to submit something else at a later time, pointing the writer to a set of guidelines and a calendar of themes. No matter how polite and encouraging they are in that letter, however, I still took the rejection personally.
I remember when I was doing a lot of online ministry, in chat rooms and through mailing list discussions, many people took every disagreement as a personal rejection. If you didn’t agree with their point of view, then you were rejecting them. This attitude does not leave a lot of room for learning or growing. It also led to a lot of hurt feelings.
Jesus knew how to teach in a way that made people discover the truth. He guided the discussion with questions, asking the student to give input. Jesus’ lessons were difficult because they were so different than what was expected and known in that day, but He was willing to teach those willing to learn.
We do not know why Nicodemus happened to visit Jesus that night. It was late, and perhaps he did not want to be seen by the other Pharisees. It is also possible that Nicodemus was simply trying to find Jesus alone because he wanted to learn without interruption. Can you imagine this conversation in a crowded room? How many people would hear Jesus’ words and take it personally? How many would think that Jesus is telling them that they are going to hell? That’s what happens in those chat rooms and online discussion groups. Disagreement taken personally always leads to someone thinking the other is condemning them to hell.
Nicodemus was willing to listen and learn. Instead of being upset by the statement of Jesus, he asked how it would happen. It is difficult for us to know the tone of voice, or the intent of Nicodemus’ question. Was he confused by the idea of a second birth, or was he being sarcastic? His answer, “How can a man be born from his mother's womb a second time?” It sounds mocking and yet in Nicodemus we see a glimmer of faith. Later in John, Nicodemus stands up for Jesus at His trial, and he attends to the body with Joseph of Arimathea. These are not the actions of a man who has rejected Jesus. Yet, we do not know if Nicodemus ever experienced that second birth. We don’t see him at all after the burial. There are those who say that he was martyred, possibly by the leaders who disagreed with him about giving Jesus a fair trial. Other than that, we know nothing.
Isn’t that how it is for most of us? Do your coworkers or neighbors know you are a Christian? Can they tell by your daily actions that you follow Jesus? Or do you follow Him at night, worship Him only Sunday morning, serve Him physically but not verbally? Most of us would rather not wear our faith on our sleeve, not because we are afraid, but because we don’t want to be intrusive. We don’t want to appear as though we are rejecting someone because their faith is different than ours, so we quietly serve Christ.
How is the silent Christian any different than the secular volunteers in your neighborhood? Is your service any different than the guy who works for the lodge down the street or for the volunteer fire company? Does the world know that the reason you are sharing your resources, time and talent is because you love the Lord your God? You don’t have to be born of the Spirit to be kind and generous. But our kindness and generosity is self-serving if we don’t do it in a way that glorifies God. We might end up with nice certificates or even plaques, but if God’s name isn’t praised, then our work is useless. We hear all too often, “She was a good person; she is surely going to heaven.” There is no way for me to know, except that I know it isn’t goodness or service that gets us into God’s kingdom; faith in Christ is the only path to that kingdom.
This is a hard lesson; it is no wonder that Nicodemus was confused. It sounds impossible. We can’t be born again from our mother’s womb, but the idea of a spiritual rebirth is not tangible. How do we know? How can we be assured that God has changed us? How can we know that we have been born from above?
Perhaps there is no way to know for certain; there is no proof in flesh and blood. That’s why we live in faith.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for Isaiah? He had this incredible vision of God, who was sitting on a throne and surrounded by strange looking beings. The hem of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. Isaiah was frightened, certain that witnessing the Lord meant certain death. There, in the presence of God, Isaiah knew that he and the entire world were unworthy to stand before God. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.” He felt totally inadequate, but God had a purpose for his life.
Perhaps this is the way Nicodemus felt when he approached Jesus at night. Perhaps he thought that there was no way he could serve God as he saw the disciples serving Jesus. Perhaps this is the way many people feel about their witness for Christ in the world. They feel unworthy to speak, thinking that their lips are unclean and not good enough to speak the Word into the world. It is much easier to do something good for our neighbor than to tell that neighbor that God loves and forgives them. God answered Isaiah’s fears with a coal that singed his lips and took away his sin. For Nicodemus and us, the burning coal is the Holy Spirit who gives us new life. We know not by sight but by faith that we have been forgiven and transformed for His service. We have been joined with Christ, in His death and suffering, and thus in His glory.
Like Isaiah, we hear the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God does not force us to be His voice in the world, but He invites us to do so. He does not make us puppets, but gives us the opportunity to serve Him. Isaiah could have said, “I’m out of here.” But he didn’t. He responded to the invitation by God to go forth into the world to prophesy to the people. It was not an easy task. He was not going to be successful as we define success. As a matter of fact, if you continue reading on in Isaiah chapter six, you’ll see that God expected failure. The message that he was to take to the people of Judah would be rejected by most people. God said, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.”
We tend to serve quietly because we do not want to be rejected. We don’t want to be mocked for our faith, but we know that our faith demands that we serve God. So we do good deeds without speaking God’s word to our neighbors, hoping that God will make it clear to them that we do what we do in His name. We’d rather not suffer; we are afraid. Paul reminds us, however, that when we join with Christ we join Him in everything: His suffering and His glory. We need not be afraid, for God will use whatever we do in His name for His glory.
Jesus never said life walking with Him would be easy. We’re sent to share a message people don’t want to hear. It is ridiculous, even foolish. Take, for instance, the concept we consider on this special Sunday: the Holy Trinity. One in three, three in one. Is that one God or three Gods? What’s the difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? How can they be the same and different? How can they be one and yet three? How can they be three and yet one?
The Trinity is one of the most difficult doctrines; it is so hard that many people who claim to be Christian reject it. On Sunday we celebrate the Holy Trinity. Three in one, one in three is beyond our ability to comprehend. We can come up with dozens of different analogies to help us explain the doctrine, but those analogies always come up short. Something limits the validity of those human explanations of a divine reality. Take, for example, the analogy of water. Yes, water can be liquid, gas or solid when it is warm, hot or frozen, but it cannot be liquid, gas and solid at the same time. It is alright that we can’t reduce the Trinity to simple human terms. If we could, God wouldn’t be God.
Human beings do not want to be confused or have their world turned upside down, and that’s exactly what the Gospel does. Our analogies that describe God in human terms can be easily dismissed because there are holes in the logic. And the other questions that are asked, about evil and suffering and hypocrisy, give plenty of reason to reject God’s Word and those who take it to the world. That’s what makes it hard. We don’t like to be rejected.
But that’s why we live by faith. In Christ we are made heirs, children of God. We are brought before the throne and welcomed into His presence. We have a new relationship with God in Christ Jesus. This is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. We might be rejected by the world—we will be rejected by the world—but it doesn’t matter because we are embraced by God and made part of His Kingdom.
In Christ we can approach the throne and though God can rattle all creation, we do not need to fear. We are still awed in His presence, for the Father deserves our trembling worship. He is still the Creator and ruler over all the earth. We may be confused by doctrines that make no human sense like the Trinity. But God is God.
We are merely human, but despite our imperfection God invites us into His presence and makes us part of His kingdom. We are merely human, but we are heirs to a kingdom ruled by the King. We don’t need any special abilities, for it is God’s grace and His power that brings His promises to fulfillment. It is His Word that brings life and hope. The transformation of the world is not the task for mere humans. It can only be accomplished by God. So, this message is about the God who can do the miraculous, who can bring life to the dead and who can cause people to be reborn after they have been born from their mother’s wombs.
The psalmist describes God as powerful, majestic, strong, full of might. His voice breaks the cedars and makes the heart of the nations skip a beat. The voice of the Lord strikes like flashes of lightning and rattles the world. The Lord sits enthroned over history and over the future. He is King over everything past, present and future. This same Lord has the power to bring down giants, to end nations, to turn the universe to dust. Yet, what does this Lord do? He gives strength to His people and blesses His people with peace. He can rattle all creation, but with that same voice He gives us the best news we can hear: we are loved.
And we glorify God by answering His call to go into the world to share the Gospel message with those who are still hiding in the darkness, speaking the name of Jesus to all the world. We will be rejected. We will suffer. But we can’t take it personally. They aren’t rejecting us; they have hardened hearts. They have heavy ears and eyes that are closed. They can’t see, hear or believe. They are rejecting God. But despite the possibility of rejection and suffering, we are joined with Christ in the bad and the good, so we can know that we will be joined with Him in His glory.
“And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45, ASV
I can never find my phone. Our new house is long and narrow, and I can’t hear it if I don’t carry it with me everywhere I go. Sometimes it is difficult to have it in hand, especially now while I’m trying to unpack and organize everything. I try to leave the phone in the middle somewhere so that I might hear it wherever I happen to be, but then when I do hear it, I have a hard time finding it to answer.
Funny, isn’t it, how we’ve come to rely on these tiny devices? It is now possible to video chat with someone on the other side of the world. We can text information in a second, send emails with important documents. We can get the latest information from around the block or around the world instantaneously. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have access to cell phones. In the entire history of the universe, it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t even have telephones. High powered telescopes and other technological advances even make it possible for us to communicate with the far reaches of the universe. Most of us feel lost if we don’t have access to a phone or computer.
We joke about our reliance on technology, but I have to admit that even though I am annoyed by my inability to keep track of my phone, I would not get rid of it. It is so easy to text a question or offer a word of encouragement. What would I do without the computer? So much of my life is wrapped up in this ministry and in my friendships online. Yet, I often wonder if we aren’t missing something. We’ve made it so easy to live apart from one another that we don’t take the time to be together.
We have all this modern technology, yet some of the best communication has nothing even to do with words. There is something very special about a hug from a friend when we are sad. So much is said between a husband and wife as they sit on a couch holding hands. Friends can say so much with body language and silence. Facial expressions give away happy secrets and tears speak volumes. You can’t communicate in these ways from the far sides of the earth.
Today is the day when we remember this visit of Mary to her relative Elizabeth. On that occasion there was a great deal of communication happening that did not need words. Being in the presence of Mary gave Elizabeth great joy because she knew that Mary was the most blessed woman. Even John, growing in the womb of Elizabeth, jumped for joy at the presence of the Christ. There is no explaining such a miraculous event, particularly in our world where mechanical communication is so important. Would Elizabeth have been so happy to hear this message over the phone? Would the baby in her womb leap for joy when the email arrived in Elizabeth’s account on the Internet?
In the story of Mary and Elizabeth we see several different things—a woman too old and a child too young to have babies meet to share their joy. One child will be the last prophet of the old covenant and the other the first born and bearer of the new covenant. Mary went to Elizabeth’s house to escape persecution and Elizabeth offered to her a place to rest. Even more important in this story we see the fellowship of two women who have come together to support one another in their difficulties. It could not have been easy for either woman to bear her child. Emotionally, physically, even spiritually they faced questions, doubts and fears. Yet, together they could bear witness to the joy of their situation and praise God together for His amazing grace. In this story we see the sweet fellowship of two women and we are reminded of how wonderful it can be. There is communication that can’t be found on a cell phone or the Internet. I pray we will find the time to be with others, to have the kind of fellowship that does not need words. For in that fellowship we will find and even greater power.