Welcome to the May 2015 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 2015
"Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation; if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well." 1 Peter 2:4-14, ASV
The timing and position was absolutely perfect this past weekend when I was at camp. We went outside just after we were finishing our evening devotions and watched as the International Space Station streaked across the sky directly overhead. The evening was perfect for it, not a cloud in the vast Texas sky. We knew the time it was supposed to pass but we went out a few minutes early so we would not miss it. Those who are not familiar with the night sky were asking about every dot of light, "Is that it?" No, we said, suggesting that those first bright 'stars' were the planets making their appearance for the night. One person even joked about the moon!
The difference was obvious when the ISS finally did fly overhead. It is only about 220 miles from the earth's surface, and so it is significantly brighter than any star and it moves quite fast, much like an airplane appears at night. We stood on the earth below and waved up at the astronauts, as if they could actually see us so far below. I turned on my flashlight and waved it at them; who knows, maybe they did catch a glimpse of that light and knew that they are not alone.
The idea of people living 220 miles above the earth's surface is not really commonplace, but how often do we really think about the half dozen men and women that have been living and working on the ISS? There have been people there for over fifteen years, transferring in and out on cargo ships that deliver supplies. Have you ever thought how amazing it is that we can have bananas grown in South America delivered to our grocery store on a daily basis? Now imagine getting a box of oranges delivered into space?
It is a whole different world for those who have been selected to live and work there. Simple daily tasks that we take for granted are more difficult to accomplish than they are on earth. They can't even sleep in a bed; the lack of gravity makes it impossible. They have to zip themselves into a sleeping bag tethered to a wall in a private cubicle smaller than a closet. They have to cocoon themselves in the bag, even their arms, or they end up drifting out from the bodies during the night. Exercise is much different on a stationary bike that has no handlebars or even seat. They just pump the pedals strapped to their feet while floating suspended in space. Breathing is even a challenge; they can't stay in one place too long because the lack of gravity leads to poor air circulation. The carbon dioxide they exhale forms an invisible cloud around their heads, causing headaches.
The International Space Station is their home for six months, but they are in every sense of the word alien to it. It is work that barely a hundred people in the entire world have been called and sent to do. Their bodies deal with stresses that we can't imagine. And think about the loneliness; the astronauts have probably trained together, but are from other countries, cultures and speak other languages. It would be hard to work in such close quarters without becoming friendly, but they aren't spouses, family members or close friends. Modern technology that allows them to video chat with the people they love, but the distance makes it impossible for an intimate moment, a hug or a private conversation.
Our circumstances are much different than those astronauts, but as Christians we are also alien to the world in which we live. We are transformed by the love and grace of God, called to a life of love and grace to the world. It is not always easy. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us as it hated Him. The world will try to convince us that we should live according to their rules and act upon their expectations. They will try to justify their actions and tempt us into following, trying to turn us away from our God and Savior. When we believe, we become part of something much greater than ourselves, the kingdom of God. This also makes us alien to the world in which we live. Our Lord Jesus Christ died to forgive our sins, so that we might know the love and mercy of God. In that forgiveness, we become like Him, living stones that are part of an unmovable spiritual house. As Christians, we stand as a testament to a different way of living in this world. The world sees our failures even while we walk in peace, love and joy, but they also see the light of our Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. We can accomplish great and wonderful things with His help and Spirit.
"Jehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me. Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in Jehovah From this time forth and for evermore." Psalm 131, ASV
The television was always on in the house of my childhood. I admit that it is often still true in my house today. We don't really watch the television much, but it is there for background noise. I usually turn on some show that I've seen previously, something that doesn't require my attention. When I was young I used to say that I work better with the noise, whether it is music playing on the radio or something on the television. My kids are the same. I have to admit that it is harder these days and that I work better in quiet, but I know how they feel because I've been there.
Here's the thing: I think part of the problem is that we have a problem with silence. We are so used to being distracted by the noise of the day that we think that's the norm. We live in a noisy world. We can never get away from the whirring of the computers or the traffic on the roads. Cell phones ring everywhere, even in the sacred sanctuaries of our churches. People have conversations in their Bluetooth devices while walking down the grocery aisle as if no one is listening.
Perhaps silence scares us; at the very least it makes us uncomfortable. I've belonged to several different churches that have tried to create a still, quiet space in the sanctuary before worship so that everyone can take time to pray and prepare their hearts to meet God during the service. At one church we purposely tried closing the doors to the narthex and asked everyone to stop talking when they entered so as not to disturb those who were immersed in the silence. It was incredibly difficult. We see our friends and we want to say hello. We think of something we have to tell the person who sits next to us. The president of the lady's group needs to give out information for the next meeting while the women are in one place. Most of all, no matter how much we want to bask in the silence, it doesn't take very long before we begin to squirm. A minute of silence seems like forever.
We also tried having a moment of silence during our prayer time. After the prayers had been spoken, the pastor stopped to allow time for us to voice our own prayers silently. Again, a minute seemed like forever, and the moment rarely lasted more than a few seconds. Try it. Find a quiet space and sit there for a few minutes. Try to focus on the silence and not on the millions of things running through your head. Just be. Center yourself. No matter how hard we try, there will still be noises all around us. Our house will creak. The clock will tick. The cat will meow. But try. Don't watch a clock, but check the time before you begin and then try to stay in silence for a specific period of time, like five minutes, and then check the clock when you think you have made it that long. You will probably find that what you thought was five minutes was probably less than two. Stillness and silence seems to make time stop.
As Christians it is good for us to get into the habit of entering into the silence because it is there we can hear the voice of God. We want God to tell us where to go and what to do, we beg Him for guidance and encouragement. We want Him to make our purpose clear, to speak to us with a voice we can hear. However, we rarely, if ever, even take the time to listen. We surely don't enter into the silence long enough for Him to speak. We are good at prayer, talking to God, but rarely give Him the chance to respond.
I met a woman once who was a talker. I think she must have a quota of words she has to speak every day, and it is a ridiculously large number because she talked constantly and very fast. She says a hundred words for every ten words others speak. She has an answer to every thought, an example of every experience, she could better every claim. She does not give anyone else a chance to join the conversation. We might get a word in, but she begins to answer before we can even finish. I'll be honest and tell you that she annoyed me greatly. And yet, I wonder if that isn't what God sees when we pray. We do a lot of talking but we do not stop long enough for Him to get a word in. How can we possibly hear what God has to say if we are unwilling to listen? And how can we listen if we never enter into the silence?
There are certainly lots of ways to pray. We can pray while with the noise of the world around us, talking to God while we go about our day. We should have the kind of relationship that means we are aware of His presence constantly in our lives. However, we need to take the time to enter into the silence, to hear what He has to say. The silence may seem like forever, but isn't it? God exists outside time and space as we know it, and when we enter into His presence we join Him in that place. It is there we can most clearly hear His voice and receive the guidance that we need to walk according to His will in the world.
It isn't easy, but we aren't alone. The Holy Spirit is there to help us enter into the silence. It will take practice. The first minute might seem like forever, but it can become habit. Day by day, with God's help, the silence will become more comfortable and we will be able to focus on what really matters, listening for His voice.
"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 10:44-45, ASV
Cornelius was a Roman centurion living in Caesarea. He was a good and prayerful man. Though not Jewish, Cornelius feared God and respected the people of Israel among whom he lived and worked. He was generous to them by giving alms and he was constantly at prayer. He had a vision one day of an angel that came to give him good news: his prayers and his generosity had been noticed by God. Cornelius was told to send for Peter who was staying in Joppa. Cornelius sent two servants and a soldier to Joppa.
Meanwhile, in Joppa, Peter had a vision, too. He was waiting for dinner and fell into a trance. He watched as a banquet of unclean food was laid before him. He was commanded by a voice to kill and eat. Peter was shocked and at first refused because he had never eaten unclean food. The voice told him that whatever God has cleansed is good. This happened three times and Peter wondered about its meaning.
Then the knock came on the door; the men from Caesarea arrived to ask Peter to go with them. The Holy Spirit said to Peter, "Behold, three men seek thee. But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them." Peter must have wondered at the command because he had, until that moment, focused his ministry of sharing the Good News to the Jews. Why would God send him to a Roman centurion in Caesarea? Perhaps the vision began to have some clarity at that moment.
Peter went to Caesarea with the men and some of his own companions. When they met, Cornelius fell on his feet and worshipped Peter, perhaps out of a sense of amazement. He may have even wondered if there was a man named Peter and doubted that he would come. But the plan of God was falling into place as each person followed His words meant to bring them together. Peter told Cornelius to get up because he was not worthy of worship and then listened to the plea. Though they both might still have had some questions, it all seemed so miraculous and impossible; they listened to one another as God worked faith into the hearts of those who were once thought to be unclean because they were not from among God's chosen people.
Peter began to understand that his vision was given so that he would not be afraid to share the Good News with people outside Judaism. The Good News was given to the world, and God is able to work miraculous and impossible things even in those who have not been chosen or followed the Law of Moses. The Good News is given for those who have a heart to hear and believe. Cornelius began to understand that his vision was a call to true faith. Generosity and prayerfulness was not enough; he needed to hear the Word of God about Jesus and believe.
Today is a special day in San Antonio and a bunch of other cities around the United States. It is called "Give Local" and is a day in which community organizations vie for the generosity of the people in their neighborhoods. A website has been established in these cities where everyone can go and donate funds to their favorite charities. They've made it like a game, with the organizations competing for extra funding, prizes and matching grants. The organizations are even having fun with it, encouraging their fans to give at specific times or offering gifts for those who donate. I participate because I want my favorite to benefit from the day although I have to admit that I don't think that generosity should be bought with prizes and rewards. Something is wrong in the world, to me, if we think we have to coerce people into sharing their gifts. Even worse is that we probably do have to do these things for some people to do what they know in their hearts they should do anyway. There are many, too many, who will expect something out of their generosity.
Human interpretation of the scriptures doesn't help. Some will read the story of Cornelius and say, "See, his generosity and prayerfulness earned him his salvation. God granted it because he was a good man." Many today will pat their own backs for their own generosity and will expect God to bless their goodness. If goodness and prayerfulness could save a human being, then God would not have needed to send Peter to speak the Word to Cornelius. If goodness and prayerfulness could save a human being, then God would not have needed to send Jesus because most humans have an innate generosity that is revealed in times of need.
Although Cornelius was already generous and prayerful, the Holy Spirit he received that day surely made him even more generous and prayerful. We don't hear about Cornelius after this story, but I imagine that his life was changed significantly by the encounter with Peter. Give Local is a great thing and I hope my favorite non-profits will all benefit significantly from the day. Let us remember, however, that generosity will never save anyone, neither the giver nor the receiver. It is only the Word of God that saves, so let's be generous with it, too, on this day, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all those we meet. How much more generous will we all be every day if we have the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts and our actions for the glory of God?
Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2015, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13, ASV
Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States. Some have suggested that the American Motherís Day was first started in the late 1800ís by Julia Ward Howe, the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She intended the day to be one to promote peace. Mothers were encouraged to gather at an organized meeting in Boston Massachusetts each year. In 1872 she asked for June 2nd to be identified as "Mother's Day for Peace," but her campaign was unsuccessful. By 1893 she considered transforming July 4th into "Mother's Day." In 1908, Anne Jarvis held a memorial service for her own mother and then campaigned to make Mother's Day a nationally recognized holiday. By 1911, it was being celebrated all over the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday in 1914. Anne Jarvis was disappointed that only a few years later the day was already becoming over-commercialized; she intended for the day to be faith-based and include attendance at a special worship.
The American Mother's Day has taken on a character of honoring our own mothers, but in Europe the focus is a little different. While it, too, has become secularized, Mothering Sunday was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent and was a day when Christians visited their home church or "Mother church." The parishioners gathered together at a special service at a central church that connected local parishes. Domestic servants were given the day off so that they could go to church with their own families. It was not necessarily a day to honor each person's mother, but rather to celebrate the body of Christ and our "mother" the church.
Mother's Day has become a secular event, with children sending gifts and cards. The flower industry makes 25% of yearly sales for Mother's Day. Mother's Day is the most popular day for making telephone calls worldwide. Churches will likely be more full than usual, as families that have gathered to honor their mothers attend worship as a family, but the focus of the day will more likely be brunch and presents. Worship is not the purpose of the gathering, but a convenient coincidence.
It is good to honor our mothers. It is not an easy job. After nine months of carrying another being, a woman goes through intense pain so that child will be born into the world. That pain is set aside as a mother takes her child in her arms showing her love and beginning a life of caring for that little person. During the early days, the child is completely helpless. Mother must change diapers, carry, feed, bathe and love the child from sun-up to sun-up. As time goes on he learns to do things on his own, but Mother must continue to care for the needs of the child for many years, until they become independent adults. A mother's job does not end when a child moves out of the home. She always loves her babies and continues to pray for them.
Mothers not only provide for the physical needs of a child, but also the intellectual and emotional needs. From the day of birth, mothers talk to their children, holding them close and whispering love and encouragement through the tears, fears and hurts. Mothers sing songs, such as the Alphabet Song, that help her children in language development. Mothers provide opportunities throughout their toddler and school age years for continued learning and growth.
Mothers also provide for the spiritual welfare of their children. Christian mothers promise to provide every opportunity for their children to hear the stories of Jesus. They take the children to Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and worship, give them copies of the Bible so that they can read and study it on their own. Mothers teach the children the Lordís Prayer and other ways to speak to God. Mothers teach them the ways of living faith, so that they will be obedient to God our Father in Jesus' name.
Mothers suffer many things. They suffer through the pain of childbirth, the rambunctious toddler years, the preteen years when children begin to grasp their own independence and the teenage years that provide their own difficulties. Mothers do their best to raise the children in the ways of Christ, pray for them and hope that they will continue to walk in those ways. The children will rebel and they will even reject their mothers sometimes, but the seeds of faith that were planted in the hearts of our children will grow into lives of grace, thanks to the endless sacrifices of our mothers.
A mother lays down her life for her children. They set aside their own hopes and aspirations, at least for a time, as they love their children into the people God has created them to be. Oh, mothers aren't perfect, and there are many mothers who do not sacrifice everything for the children's sake. However, all mothers make sacrifices of some sort or another. Even if they are struggling to pay the bills they make sure their children are fed. They have sleepless nights as they worry about a sick child. They clean up the messes left behind by children of every age. They cry the first time their child says, "I hate you," and they forgive when the child has done something to disappoint.
Mothers do it because they love their children. They lay down their lives for the sake of their children because of love. They sacrifice and suffer so that they will provide everything a child needs and a few things they don't. In this way mothers are like Christ.
The Gospel lesson for today is from the final discourse from Jesus on the night before He was betrayed. Jesus offered the final lessons, the final encouragement, the final words of hope that were meant to help the disciples through the three days. They were about to lose Him; they would be scattered, confused and afraid. Jesus warned and commanded them to abide in His love. They were about to experience sadness beyond anything they ever knew or expected, but Jesus told them to be filled with His joy. The sacrifice was necessary and the suffering real, but it was the moment when God revealed to us His deep love and invited us to truly abide in it.
Together we abide in God's love, the Church called and gathered to be Christ in the world. We are sent into that world to bear God's fruit, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of His children. We will suffer. We will have to struggle to provide physically, emotionally and spiritually for those to whom God has sent us. We will have sleepless nights as we pray for those who are sick and dying in body and spirit. We will cry when we hear the hatred of those who reject our God and the words we speak on His behalf.
We begin to dwell in the love of Christ by living the life He has commanded us to live. We honor Him by keeping His commandments, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, taking time to pray and delve into His word, making time devoted solely to Him. With these actions we are obedient to the first table, the commandments that govern our relationship with God. We also honor Him by obeying the second table, the commandments that govern our relationships with one another. He has called us to a life of honoring those who are the authorities set above us, beginning with our mothers and fathers. That obedient life requires more than one special day a year, but a realization that our mothers (and fathers) truly do lay down their lives for our sake. The rest of the commandments, the ones that teach us not to do murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet, are summed in one verse, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
It comes back to love. John writes in the Gospel, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you." He tells us in his first letter, the second lesson for today, that we love because God loved us and His love has given us new life. We are reborn in faith b the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by His blood and through the waters of baptism. We are called to take His Word into the world and to call all those who are lost and dying to Him, where they will experience forgiveness, grace, new life, peace and His joy. We are sent into the world, as the Church, to invite the world into our fellowship, to make them part of us, so that they will benefit from the Spirit, the water and the blood as we have.
Peter was a great preacher and evangelist, but he had a fault. He was keeping God's grace confined to his own community. He thought the Messiah had come for his people, but Jesus came for the entire world. Today's first lesson from Acts finishes the story of Cornelius, the Roman centurion of Caesarea who had a vision from an angel telling him to send to Joppa for Peter. Peter also had a vision in which God showed him all things that He cleans are good. Peter went to Cornelius, shared the Gospel and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. The Gentile Pentecost showed to Peter that even the Gentiles could benefit from God's saving grace, that they, too, were called into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ.
All that fear God and do what is right is acceptable to God. This does not mean that those who are good and righteous, prayerful and generous are saved by virtue of their goodness. We are reminded in John's letter that the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is the one who overcomes the world. Faith is given by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by our efforts, but God has sent us into the world to speak the Gospel so that they will hear and believe. Peter says in Acts, "And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." He invites us to be part of His saving work in the world, to be like a mother to those who are lost so that they might be saved.
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, especially when we experience the sacrifice and suffering. He has called us to lay down our lives, and He will give us more than enough love and grace to share. We will know without doubt that we are truly children of God because weíll see His love transforming the world by the fruit He produces in our lives.
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. Today we are reminded most of all that we can praise God by living as He has set us free to live, abiding in His love. There we will find joy, the fullness of joy that comes from Jesus Christ our Lord.
"Give ear to my words, O Jehovah, Consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God; For unto thee do I pray. O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Evil shall not sojourn with thee. The arrogant shall not stand in thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou wilt destroy them that speak lies: Jehovah abhorreth the blood-thirsty and deceitful man. But as for me, in the abundance of thy lovingkindness will I come into thy house: In thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. Lead me, O Jehovah, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; Make thy way straight before my face. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is very wickedness; Their throat is an open sepulchre; They flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, O God; Let them fall by their own counsels; Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions; For they have rebelled against thee. But let all those that take refuge in thee rejoice, Let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: Let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. For thou wilt bless the righteous; O Jehovah, thou wilt compass him with favor as with a shield." Psalm 5, ASV
We have become an 'us versus them' world, thinking that we are the righteous and all those who think, look or act differently than us are the wicked. We can't have civil discussions without everything leading to ad hominen attacks, moving the conversation away from the issues and into personal assault. It doesn't matter which 'side' we are on, we tend toward name calling and accusations. We look at a passage like this psalm today and we think that some of the verses are about 'them' while the rest is about us. They are wicked, but we are righteous, and so we must be right about everything we think and say.
We aren't always right, though, are we? A friend posted a meme on facebook yesterday that claimed someone said something that sounded ridiculous. Along with the post, the friend wondered how anyone could think like this. The replies made the same sort of comments, name calling and accusing the subject of the meme of stupidity among other things. Eventually my friend realized that the meme was a lie, the person never said it. The friend apologized with a 'my bad' but I doubt that he has reconsidered his impression of the person. He definitely hasn't changed his judgment of others from that point of view. If they disagree with his opinion, then they are stupid.
We justify this way of dealing with our neighbor because we even see it in the scriptures. Look how often the psalmists compare the righteous and the wicked, including in this passage. And yet, we see something amazing in verse seven, "But as for me, in the abundance of thy lovingkindness will I come into thy house: In thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple." The psalmist recognizes his own sinfulness and confesses his own inability to come before God in prayer except by God's grace.
He goes on to describe the wicked and their actions, with their untrustworthy tongues and their hearts filled with destruction. We want God to call 'them' guilty and to punish them for their sins. It is natural for us to feel that way, to call our adversaries by names and to accuse them of wickedness. Even as my friend was calling those who think one way stupid, I was judging his lack of humility and grace.
None of us are righteous. We are all wicked and unworthy to come before God. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We would do well to recognize this whenever we are having a discussion about the issues that affect us on a daily basis. There is a right and a wrong answer to most of those questions and we all want to be on the side of right. We do, however, have to learn how to be humble and to listen. We all have to learn that we aren't righteous except by God's lovingkindness. We all have reason to fear the Lord.
God blesses those who humbly confess their own sinfulness and inability to approach the throne of grace by inviting us, together with 'them' who also confess, to come to Him in prayer. We might disagree about the issues, and these issues do matter, but God is willing to bless us together with His guidance and His mercy. We are righteous only by His lovingkindness and so are 'they'; God's favor is not dependent on our righteousness. Together we can seek God's answers to the questions that have plagued us for so long, to help us find a way to work through our issues and find a way to live together for His glory.
Today is the National Day of Prayer, set aside as a day for us to gather together to seek God's mercy on us. The 'us' in this case is not the 'us' in 'us versus them' but 'us' as in 'all of us.' We all need God today. We all need His guidance and His lovingkindness. We all need to make confession for our own sin and recognize that we might not be right. Today is a day to listen, not only to God, but also to one another, seeing that God's grace extends even to 'them.' Then, and only then, might we be able to hear God's Word for our world today and see where He is leading us. He knows what we need, and sometimes what we need the most is the very thing we are fighting against. Humble yourself and as you pray to our Father in heaven listen also to 'them'. God might just have something to say through them for us today.
"Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; Let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: As wax melteth before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God: Yea, let them rejoice with gladness. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: Cast up a highway for him that rideth through the deserts; His name is Jehovah; and exult ye before him. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, Is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families: He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a parched land." Psalm 68:1-6, ASV
Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States. It is a special day for many families, a day set aside to honor the woman who cooks and cleans, who makes sure that children are wherever they need to be. She loves and nurtures, encourages and disciplines. Mother takes care of everyone when they are sick and cries with them when they are sad. She's proud of the happy moments and suffers alongside those who experience heartache. Mother is not perfect, but she tries to do the best she can do, often setting her own needs aside for the sake of others.
It is a difficult day for many. There are women who desperately wanted children who were unable to conceive. There are other women who have lost children that were much too young to die. Many woman, though are blessed to be mothers, are remembering their own mothers who have died. Many pastors agonize over the question of whether to recognize mothers on Sunday during worship, understanding the pain it causes for those who cannot celebrate Mother's Day this year. Some suggest that everyone has a mother, and yet that does not necessarily help ease the pain of the childless on this special day. Others say a special prayer for them, but it isn't any easier to watch happy families while you feel very alone.
I looked up the word "families" in a concordance today and found this passage. Verse six is especially meaningful for those who suffer in this way. "God sets the lonely in families..." There is a woman in our life named Joyce. Joyce was a friend of Bruce's when he was stationed overseas. He was far from family, and though he had his work and his friends, those relationships did not fill a certain void in his life. His mother is still very much alive, but thirty years ago it was not simple to be in contact with the mother who was a half a world away. Joyce acted as a surrogate. She was there to answer the housekeeping questions, to hug him when he had a bad day, to feed him occasionally. He used her washer and dryer so he would have to go to the Laundromat. She stood up for us at our wedding. She helped ease me into life as a married woman far from my own mother and she helped me learn how to be a military spouse, supporting me when Bruce was away on temporary duty. We still call her Mum. Just when Bruce needed it most, God put a woman in his life to act as a mother and then He gave her to me. God sets the lonely in families.
I know it will be a hard day for many, and no one can take the place of a missing mom or child. However, God has not abandoned those who live in faith, trusting that God is true to His promises. If you are someone who feels lonely on this Mother's Day weekend, or any day, look around you. Has God set you into the midst of a family to help with your loneliness? If you are a family, look around you, too. Who among your friends need to feel as though they belong? Who is your mother? Who is your child?
God knows what we need, but sometimes we forget how gracious He is and how concerned He is for our welfare. We forget that God can even give us a family when it seems like we are all alone in the world. Don't be embarrassed to connect with people in a way that seems too familiar; trust that God has given you a gift in that relationship. You might just find that they need you as much as you need them. You might just make a connection that will be as deep and loving as that between a mother and her child and that will last forever.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you." 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ASV
Paul lived an incredible life. He was born an Israelite and a Roman citizen around 5 A.D. He studied at the Hillel School in Jerusalem, possibly under the famed rabbi and teacher Gamaliel the Elder who was a celebrated Pharisee and doctor of Jewish Law. Paul became a Pharisee around the age of thirty and was an extremely zealous persecutor of Christians. He stood in judgment at the stoning of Stephen.
Paul's life became even more interesting, and not necessarily in a good way, after his conversion to Christianity. He was met on the road to Damascus by a bright light and a vision of the resurrected Jesus who asked Paul why he was persecuting him. He was blinded by the encounter and three days later healed by a Christian in Damascus. He converted to the faith and became one of the most zealous adherents. Most of our understanding of the church today is found in the New Testament letters attributed to him.
Much of Paul's story is told in the book of Acts, which describes his missionary journeys to the far reaches of the civilized world. It was not always easy. Paul was beaten, imprisoned and rejected by both Jews and Romans. He survived heartbreaks and shipwrecks. He writes later in the second letter to Corinth, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." I don't know about you, but I don't think it would take so many beatings and shipwrecks to stop me in my tracks.
Paul recounted his suffering, but throughout his letters he also often pointed out his heritage and credentials. He had much to boast about, but Paul knew that he was the worst of sinners. He knew he was unworthy of the grace and mercy he received from Jesus Christ to be an apostle because he had persecuted the church. He was a frail, imperfect human being.
We all are. Paul boasts at being the worst of sinners, but none of us can claim to be better than him. He was a great evangelist, preacher, and encourager. He shared the Gospel with more people than we could ever count and he helped many churches begin, grow and get on the right path. His words remain important to us today, helping us to find answers to our questions and guidance in our confusion.
For Paul, the Gospel was truly a treasure in a clay pot. We don't usually pay much attention to the pot, especially when they are filled with beautiful blooming flowers. Clay pots are not fragile, but they are likely to get nicks and cracks over time with wear. They are still good enough to use for their purpose, even when they are not perfect. In this life, we as Christians are often beaten and attacked for our faith. I doubt any of us will ever live the life of Paul, but when we do face difficult situations, we must always remember that which we were created to hold. We were created to glorify God the Father. We do that by being the vessel that shares the Gospel. We will get chipped and cracked in the process, but we will not be destroyed. Those moments when the world thinks it is getting the better of us are the moments when God is doing His greatest works. I've often referred to myself as a cracked pot. It is my prayer that this cracked pot will always be willing to share the Gospel.
"But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:13-18, ASV
Paul had such confidence, and he had reason to be confident. He was a man of power and position. He was educated, came from the right background. He was both Jewish and Roman, so had a place in both worlds. He was probably an excellent speaker, and though he may not have been his own scribe, his letters show him to be a brilliant wordsmith. He had knowledge, bravery and boldness; people listened to him and he had an incredible impact on the world.
We are very different from Paul, so it is easy for us to think that we should let the evangelism and teaching of the Gospel to those who have reason to be confident. We would prefer to let our pastors do the witnessing and teaching. We'll happily serve in other ways, hidden away in the kitchen making coffee or mowing the lawns. We are willing to serve on committees, to plan events, to build new buildings. We might even give in and teach a child's Sunday school class, after all the kids don't need brilliant wordsmiths to hear that Jesus loves them.
We are much less comfortable dealing with the more complicated aspects of our Christian faith. We are afraid to be evangelists because we are sure that those to whom we speak the Gospel will ask us the questions we don't know how to answer. How do you deal with the reality of suffering when trying to encourage someone to faith in Jesus? How do you explain the trinity or the sacraments? How do you deal with the uncomfortable scriptures or the difficult aspects of God's Word, especially when it is countered by modern thought and expectations? How do you call a person to repentance when they know well your own failures?
We know, and understand, that we are cracked pots. We know that we are saints saved by Jesus and yet still sinners in need of His grace. We know that we are not worthy of the mercy of God, but so thankful for His lovingkindness; it seems almost impossible to share this truth with those who believe they are good enough. We'd rather give that responsibility to the professionals like Paul. They, at least, have the credentials to speak the words that might make a difference in someone's life. Who are we to think that we might be able to do the same?
It is good that our faith gives us the confidence to do the things we do, after all, we need coffee on Sunday morning and the grass cut. We need someone to serve on committees, plan events, build buildings and teach Sunday school to children. We cracked pots easily respond to God's grace by doing what we know we can do, as if the treasure is our works. Paul reminded us yesterday that the treasure in all the cracked pots is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The most important work we can do is to share the Good News with others. We don't have to have power or position, education or the right background. We don't have to be a great speaker or brilliant wordsmith. Knowledge helps, and so does bravery and boldness, but we don't even need those because we have the Holy Spirit to help.
Today's passage continues the text from yesterday. We know that we don't have to be the perfect vessel to share Christ with the world; we simply need to trust that God will help us. Jesus died for our sin, knowing that we will continue to fail Him. He grants us many blessings, knowing that we will be too afraid to share the greatest treasure with others. He knows that we will forget to live in the life He has called us to live. He continues to forgive even though we continue to disobey. Yet, He desires so much more from us. He hopes that our love and thankfulness will be so great that we cannot stay silent. He hopes that we will live in His light and walk according to His ways. God hopes? Yes, because hope is not wishes and dreams, hope is expectation. God our Father hopes, expects, that we will live as we are called to live, because Christ is in us and we are in Christ. It is because we believe that we can and will speak. As we grow in faith, that faith will overflow so others will come to know the truth and believe.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 17, 2015, Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." 1 John 5:10, ASV
I can't imagine what it must be like to be a judge. They sit on the bench every day and listen to the stories being told to them by both plaintiffs and defendants. I love to watch some of those daytime judge shows like "The People's Court" which takes small claims court cases out of the system and into the limelight. These cases have a financial limit, but there is not limitation on the strangeness and hilarity. The litigants tell stories that are unbelievable, not only because they are so strange, but because they simply are not truthful.
On a recent episode, the plaintiff obviously forged a signature to prove her case, even the name was misspelled on the promissory note. Others, both plaintiffs and defendants, forget their stories even while they are telling them, jumping from one idea to another. The judge will often call attention to something they have written in their statement to the court that is contrary to their testimony. They make excuses or justify their words to try to convince the judge to rule in their favor. In the end, however, the judge has to make a decision based on everything he or she hears according to the law.
The judge often says, "I don't believe you." We want to believe what they say, especially since they have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, many people do not take that oath seriously. They make the vow, but then say what they think will help them. Unfortunately, when their stories do not line up, the judge sees past the lies and rules accordingly. The litigants often respond, "I am not a liar!" yet their answers to the questions clearly show them that they lie. The problem is that many people think it is ok to be a little dishonest and consider themselves good people even when they twist the truth. The judge, however, has to pick through the lies and find the truth that will provide justice to both sides of the case.
"I don't believe you," always leads to the assumption that the person is a liar. Sometimes I question the judgment of the judge because I don't think he or she has really heard the person. I am surprised some days when the judge does not believe a story that seems to make complete sense to me. Of course, I'm limited in my knowledge; I only see what the editors and producers of the show reveal to the audience. It is possible that the judge has information that I do not know, giving him or her an insight into the character of the litigant or the case that is unavailable to the rest of us. Sometimes, however, it seems like the judge doubts statements that seem to be the truth.
"I don't believe you," makes a person out to be a liar, but we have to remember that our judgment is not always right. We are fallible human beings; we see the world through our imperfect and biased understanding of the world. Unfortunately, we live in a day when we say this often when listening to others. We don't believe politicians. We don't believe journalists. We don't believe the police. We don't believe the brutes that run on the streets and attack others. We don't believe our family or friends when they say something that does not fit our expectations. We don't believe others, and when we don't believe them, we make them out to be liars.
John writes, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." Those that do not believe that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that Jesus does what He says He does call God a liar. Disbelief is a judgment against God. John writes these things so that we know that we have eternal life.
Jesus does not need to prove that He is who He says He is, and yet throughout His life and ministry Jesus constantly pointed to the witness of God's promise fulfilled in Him. The Old Testament scriptures told God's people, and continue to show us, how He would make things right. We failed, but God knew all along that He would send Jesus to reconcile us. We can read those promises and see Jesus in the words, whose place is then proven through the stories of His life found in the New Testament.
This Sunday falls between Ascension and Pentecost. This is the one, very brief period of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when the disciples are left alone. It was a time of waiting, watching, praying, and hoping. I don't know how they were feeling at this point. Did they believe Jesus would send the Helper? Were they confident that they finally understood what Jesus was saying or did they feel abandoned after forty days of walking with the resurrected Jesus?
The Gospel lesson for today looks back to the prayer of Jesus before His arrest. Jesus knew what was coming and He prayed for His disciples that they would believe Him while they suffered everything that would happen in the next few weeks. "Hold on to them, Father, and give them the strength to survive until that day when they would be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Judas was already gone from their midst during this prayer. He had gone to the priests to betray Jesus, although we do not really know Judas' motivation. Some have suggested that Judas simply wanted to call Jesus out and force His hand. Judas was not much different than the other disciples in his misunderstanding of Jesus' purpose. They all thought Jesus was meant to be the king; they all expected Jesus to lead God's people against their oppressors. None of them ever really thought that Jesus would die. Judas acted on his expectations.
Others have suggested that Judas did not have control. The scriptures certainly tell us that Satan entered Judas, taking over his flesh to accomplish the final defeat of Jesus. Even Jesus suggests this is a possibility in today's prayer by saying that Judas' betrayal fulfilled the scriptures. Jesus called him the son of perdition or the son of destruction. Judas didn't have a chance, did he?
Luke tells us in today's first lesson what happened to Judas. Peter again reiterates the fact that the betrayal and destruction of Judas fulfilled the scriptures. He had been part of the disciples, a minister alongside Jesus and the other eleven. Peter also quotes the Psalm, "His office let another take." The disciples were taking care of business while they waited for the promised Helper, replacing the empty chair at their table so that there would be twelve apostles rather than just eleven.
I have always wondered, however, whether Judas' end was actually written in stone. What if Judas believed Jesus and waited for God's grace rather than rushing into his own judgment about his guilt? What did Jesus mean when he said that Judas was destined for eternal damnation? Was Judas' suicide alone in a field part of the plan? Or, by eternal damnation did Jesus simply mean that Judas would be blamed and damned by every generation of Christian forever for Jesus' death? Judas was, after all, not the only one to turn his back on Jesus. Peter, beloved Peter, denied Jesus three times on the night of the trial, and did not stand with Jesus at the food of the cross. Peter's response to the arrest was as Jesus predicted, but it served no greater purpose for God's plan. As a matter of fact, Peter's denial was self-centered. He was protecting himself. Judas, on the other hand, was doing what he was expected to do.
So, what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Peter was forgiven. Now, Judas sought forgiveness. He took the coins back to the priests and begged them to take them back. He confessed his sin and asked to be forgiven in the manner he was familiar: at the temple by the priests. But when he did so, the priests sent him away without satisfaction. They refused to take back the money because it was blood money and they did nothing to forgive his sins. What choice did Judas have? He was no longer welcome among the people with whom he'd spent three years. Jesus was dead. It seems he had no family and friends. He didn't understand what would happen to Jesus in just a few days. Nobody did. No one expected Jesus to be raised. No one expected that Jesus could forgive them for their failure. If Judas had only waited, would his story have ended any differently?
The difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter waited. He was probably suffering from despair just like Judas. He thought he could handle anything and that he could stand up with Jesus, but he failed. Peter was not a strong man. He constantly wavered between bravado and humiliation. In one breath Peter could confess his faith that Jesus is Lord and then in the next breath think he could control the will and purpose of God. Perhaps the fact that he couldn't stand on a decision was his salvation in those dark days between the crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps his salvation was the community in which he lived. Judas didn't have that community. He was, and still is, blamed for what happened on that dark day two thousand years ago. Whether he deserves our disdain or not, he will forever be damned in our eyes. He followed the path of the wicked, not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he didn't look to Jesus for forgiveness, and he is no more than chaff blowing in the wind.
Judas didn't believe Jesus and made God out to be a liar. Judas was not wicked because he betrayed Jesus; he was wicked because he didn't stand upright when the judgment came. He did not remain focused on the God of mercy, taking in the living water of grace that came from Jesus Christ the Lord. The psalmist says that the way of the wicked is doomed, but perhaps it is not because of their sinful actions but instead because they do not believe God's Word.
The disciples that stayed together believed Jesus' word. They didn't sit around doing nothing while they waited, but they looked among their ranks to find someone to replace the one who was gone. They chose Matthias, through prayer and the help of God. We don't know much about Matthias except that he was with the group from the beginning. We hear about the Twelve through the stories, but we often forget that there were more. They were witnesses to Jesus' work, ministry, stories and miracles. They ate the bread, walked the miles, cast out demons and healed with Peter, James, John and the others. They believed, they waited and they received the blessing of that faith, the promise of eternal life that is found in Jesus Christ.
The question for us today is whether or not we believe God's Word. Will we believe that God will be faithful to His promises, even if it seems as if He has abandoned us? Or will we make God a liar by not believing the testimony that God gave us eternal life? Will we wait for Him, knowing that we have been assured of the eternal life won for us by Jesus Christ? Will we have such confidence in this promise that we will trust God in everything, looking to Him for everything we need? Will we stand upright when judgment comes, connected to the God who gives life and brings forth the fruit in our lives? Will we trust God's lovingkindness even when it seems as though there is no hope for us? Will we believe the witness of the scriptures both Old and New Testament that tell the story of the One who has won for us the eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus?
"And he led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, blessing God." Luke 24:50-53, ASV
Bob Hope was an incredible man. He was known the world over for his humor, talent and kind heart. He lived for one hundred years and served many generations who laughed at his jokes, movies and television shows. His greatest contribution was his live performances with the U.S.O. for military troops. He gave so much for the joy of others and he will be remembered. I wonder what it was like to know him personally. It was impossible for Bob Hope to know everyone who loved him; he was one person trapped by time and space. We knew him, loved him and considered him a part of our lives, but there was no way Bob Hope could ever know each of us personally.
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a friend of Jesus? Have you wondered what it would have been like to travel with Him, to hear Him preach and teach, to see the miracles? It must have been a joy just to be with Jesus. Jesus worked with His disciples before and after the Resurrection, teaching them everything they needed to know to do His work in the world. When that work was complete, Jesus took them to the Mount of Olives where they worshipped him. He told them to wait for the promised Helper in Jerusalem. Then He ascended into heaven, never to be seen again.
Why did He have to go? Jesus was just as limited as Bob Hope, His flesh made it impossible for Him to meet every person face to face. The Church would never have grown if Jesus had stayed. He could not have touched the hearts of people in the four corners of the world as a man of flesh, even with His resurrected body. Jesus ascended into heaven so that He could send the promised One, the Holy Spirit. Though Jesus is not here in flesh, He is here in a much better way, a way in which we all can know Him. The Ascension was a sad moment for the disciples, they grieved the loss of their flesh and blood friend and teacher, but it was a reason for joy for the Church because it assured that we can have a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus.
"Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not." Jude 1:3-4, ASV
Those who read the words of this devotional on a regular basis know that I have covered a wide range of topics. The messages are often uplifting, encouraging and hopeful. Sometimes I focus on the reality of our sinfulness and our need for repentance. Sometimes I study to text from a biblical or historical perspective and on other occasions I apply the text to our everyday lives. Over the years I have come to have new, deeper, different perspectives on certain texts, seeing them through the eyes of my experience, maturity, problems, pains, joys, successes and failures. You can't read this devotion once or twice to see the full range of messages. The same is true of the Bible.
The Bible points to one message: Jesus Christ. Yet, throughout the scriptures we see so much more than just the Good News that Jesus Christ died for us. We have to see that we are sinners in need of a Savior for us to understand that Jesus won forgiveness for us. We have to mourn over our own failing flesh to seek the help we need. We have to see others through the eyes of God, to know grace, to see the stories of God's people and how He was with them in good times and in bad. We have to understand that God does lead us on the right road, but sometimes the right way to get there is a way that is uncomfortable, such as exile or defeat. We have to rejoice with the psalmist, recognize our own betrayals and the ways we deny God. We have to see how the gods of this world tempt us away from the God Almighty and we have to see how that God is greater than anything we try to place ahead of Him. We have to see God in every possible way; He is both awesome and humble; He speaks with both a whisper and with voice as loud as thunder. The same God who let the snakes kill His people in the wilderness is the God who saved the widow of Zarepath from starving.
I would like to write the Good News every day. I would like to focus on those certain texts that are encouraging and hopeful. I really don't like the days when I have to write about the apocalyptic prophecies or the reminders of God's discipline. I don't like when the texts make me think about "them," those who stand on an opposite side of an issue that is dividing brother from brother. How much better would it be to find a million words to tell one another about our common salvation, to expound upon John 3:16 over and over again? Yet, we know that we have to see the whole story, to understand Jesus as not just our good friend who lays down His life, but also our King who calls us to a life of holy, faithful living.
I haven't read the book of Jude very often or referenced it much in the nearly sixteen years of writing. The book is worth a read, although Jude reminds us that there are those in our midst that are leading Christians astray. We have to be on the lookout within the body of Christ of those who preach a different gospel or who follow a path that leads away from the truth and from Christ. We have to hear the stories that aren't peaches and cream. We have to hear the stories of failure and consequences so that we understand the fullness of God. We have to be warned of what will happen when we reject God so that we'll know how great it is to experience His mercy.
Jude was dealing with false teachers, probably Gnostics. He wanted, more than anything, to write a letter about the Good News, to encourage the Church with the words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what we all want, but sometimes we have to say the hard words. Sometimes we have to point out our failures. Sometimes we have to warn one another of where we are going wrong. Sometimes we have to reveal sin and break down the facades that hide the truth. We are confident in our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but Jude reminds us that we can be led away from Christ by those false teachers. We can walk away from the promise, as the Hebrews did in the desert when they escaped from Egypt. Our salvation is dependent on Jesus Christ, but if we do not believe Him, or believe in Him, we will be lost.
We don't like to hear this message because we want to be both saved and follow our own path. We want God to love us as we are and to tolerate us as we continue to live exactly as we have always lived. He does love us, but He calls us to a new life, a transformed life, a life of obedience. We want to fall back on God's grace even while we continue to do whatever satisfies our desires. We like the words of the false teachers because they tickle our ears and our fancies. But those same words reject the truth of God. We've been warned repeatedly that the day will come when the world will scoff at faith and will insist that the right thing to do is to follow the flesh and natural instincts. So, let us continue to trust in the whole word of God, the good as well as that which makes us uncomfortable, so that we can remain true to Him through it all.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godís mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godís will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2, ASV
I recently purchased a new computer. My old computer still worked, but it was slow and it was starting to do strange things. The operating system was outdated and unsupported by the company, and because of this other programs were not working properly. It seemed ridiculous to purchase something before it was absolutely necessary, but sometimes we have to take preventive measures. The computer was bound to explode at some point, and then I would be in trouble. I would be without a computer for a time while I searched for a new one, making it impossible to do all the work that I do here. Also, I risked losing all my files. Though I do back up my files, I'm never completely up to date and it would be difficult to catch up, especially with photos, if I lost it in a computer mishap.
My son knows a guy, and so we bought a custom built tower rather than buying a computer out of the box. He did a great job for a good price and I'm still amazed at everything that is available. I thought I would have to reinstall many of my favorite programs, but as it turns out, he made sure that I had them here. Others have been easily replaced by updated and better programs from online stores. It has taken some time to get used to the new formats and the changes in design. I am sure I would have managed by myself, but I have been thankful that my son has been nearby to help me through this process. I am a creature of habit and change does not come easily, but it hasn't taken very long for me to learn to like everything about this computer, especially since everything works better.
One of the most difficult tasks, however, was the transfer of files. I have a lot of files. Word processing and website files do not take up much space in the memory, but considering that I have been writing this devotion for more than fifteen years, there are hundreds of files just related to this ministry. It is impossible to count, in numbers, the amount of files I have in photographs from my trips and adventures. Those files alone take up at least a hundred gigabytes.
We downloaded all my files onto an external hard drive, a task that took three hours to accomplish. The upload took significantly less time, but through this process I realized that I really need to do something about my files. I am fairly good at organization, although sometimes I get lazy, especially when I download a memory card into my computer that has pictures of different subjects. I rarely get around to moving those photos into proper folders and I have even created multiple folders filled with loose photos, with the plans to eventually deal with them. I never do.
Iím also not very good about purging my files. I tend to take a lot of pictures when I go on my adventures. The wildflowers tend to move when it is windy, so I've found that setting my camera to 'continuous' and holding the button gets me a dozen photos of the same scene, out of which I can choose the best. Most of those photos are unfocused or poorly composed, not worth saving. I'm gotten pretty good at deleting the ones that are really out of focus, but I still keep too many even after I've chosen the best. It is virtual hoarding, made even harder to deal with because the files are so unorganized.
So, I spent time this weekend getting to know my new computer while organizing my files. I saved several very large photo folders onto CDs and deleted those folders. I don't know why I saved them at all, but I find it difficult to get rid of them completely. Even the out of focus photos are hard to dispose. Silly, isn't it? It is silly when we are talking about virtual files because my life will not really be all that different with or without those files. Oh, I may remember one of those deleted files one day and wish I still had it, but I doubt it and the rest of the files will be easier to deal with now that they are gone.
It is less silly when we are talking about other aspects of our lives, though. We are like our computers. We get old and parts stop working. We have things that we really need deleted from our lives that we have difficulty letting go. God is like the computer tech who looks at our files and asks, "Do you really need all these photos?" I've heard that question too many times. God asks if we need all our habits and our biases. He asks if we really need to hold on to our anger or hatred. He asks if we really need to follow a certain path when He has a much better one ahead of us. He wants to delete the worthless stuff and fill us with goodness and grace. He wants to transform us into something that will glorify Him and make us the people He has created and redeemed us to be. Like our computers, we are full of garbage that needs to be deleted, and God is willing to do so. He is willing to help us become the best we can be. We just have to trust Him and let go because we will be better able to serve God if we are transformed according to His expectations.
"Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth: Sing forth the glory of his name: Make his praise glorious. Say unto God, How terrible are thy works! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee. All the earth shall worship thee, And shall sing unto thee; They shall sing to thy name. Selah Come, and see the works of God; He is terrible in his doing toward the children of men. He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot: There did we rejoice in him. He ruleth by his might for ever; His eyes observe the nations: Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah Oh bless our God, ye peoples, And make the voice of his praise to be heard; Who holdeth our soul in life, And suffereth not our feet to be moved. For thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; Thou layedst a sore burden upon our loins. Thou didst cause men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. I will come into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay thee my vows, Which my lips uttered, And my mouth spake, when I was in distress. I will offer unto thee burnt-offerings of fatlings, With the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah Come, and hear, all ye that fear God, And I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, And he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear: But verily God hath heard; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who hath not turned away my prayer, Nor his lovingkindness from me." Psalm 66, ASV
Get together with family and friends over a holiday or a special occasion and what happens? We tell stories. We laugh at our foibles, rejoice over our successes and remember the people who have impacted our lives. One story inevitably leads to another as we discover shared experiences and crossed paths. We all have our favorite stories, stories we've developed and love to tell. My kids sigh when I start telling one of my favorites because they've heard it all over and over again. Sometimes the stories become so familiar to others that they jump in to tell our story.
Storytelling is nothing new, although I have seen a resurgence in the practice. Modern technology has made it rather easy for people to tell their stories, either one post at a time on Twitter or Facebook, or in longer books. Many people don't think that their story is interesting enough to be put into so many words or they don't think that they have the ability to write them, either, but there are programs and products that make it easier than we might expect. There are so many self-publishing options; you can even publish a digital book and send it immediately around the world. While many of these stories are not read by millions of people, they can reach the people who matter: children or grandchildren, friends and neighbors. By sharing our stories, we live on in their memories; the written story lasts even longer than memory.
It is easier to tell our stories than it is to tell the greatest story, and yet we are called as Christians to tell the story of Jesus Christ to the world. Many people are afraid to start telling this story because they do not feel they have the knowledge of the Bible that they would need if the hearer has any questions. They are afraid that they will say something wrong, or that they might even cause someone to hate Jesus because of their lack of knowledge. They are too insecure to answer the big questions of life, so they never bother to tell the story that has the power to make those questions insignificant.
We don't have to have great knowledge, although through prayer and Bible study we can be more than ready to witness to the God who has redeemed and saved us. Just like our stories, however, that come tumbling out of our mouths because we want to share, the story of Christ is as much a part of our lives that it can, and will, come naturally as we open ourselves to the opportunities to share. We aren't necessarily called to be teachers or preachers, but storytellers. We are called to praise God and to share what we know about Him. The psalmist knew the joy of God's salvation and could not help but sing His praise. How much more, then, should we be singing and sharing the story of Jesus Christ, who saved us from sin and death for eternal life in His Kingdom?
Scriptures for Sunday, May 24, 2015, Day of Pentecost: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 139:1-12 (13-16); Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
"And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah." Ezekiel 37:14, ASV
I know people who can quote scripture at the drop I am pretty familiar with the Bible, but I have to admit that I can't quote the 'addresses' of most texts without looking it up. I know the biggies and my favorites, and I can usually turn to the right book if I'm looking for something specific. I make use of concordances and I have been so thankful for websites like Bible Gateway that helps me find the passages I need. I'm impressed by those who have that kind of memory, but it is definitely not my gift.
I laughed yesterday when I read the 'addresses' for this week's lectionary. I did not even have to look up Ezekiel 37 to begin singing the old song, "Dem Bones." I don't know whether it has to do with the fact that this Sunday is Pentecost, the day when God gave the Holy Spirit and new life to the disciples.
The lesson from Ezekiel is about Godís promise of restoration. In this strange but powerful story, God told the prophet to speak to the dry bones, to speak life into the bones, to speak God's Spirit into the bones. Ezekiel's message was one of hope. The people thought they had nothing left. Even the Temple where the God of their fathers dwelled for generations, was in shambles. They were looking for hope in Babylon, turning to the ways of the other gods. God sent Ezekiel to prophesy to the people, to give them hope. They would be restored to Jerusalem, the Temple would be rebuilt and they would live once again as His people. There would be life in the nation of Israel.
This Old Testament lesson is a miraculous witness to the work God can do in this world. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. While I doubt that this will literally happen in our seeing, this is what God does every day with His Word. He speaks His word into our lives and brings to life those who are dead in their sin. He puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in Godís promises. God promised to bring new life to His people. Jesus promised that the new life would only come if He left, but He promised to send an Advocate.
I can't imagine what it was like to be one of those disciples. They had lived with Jesus for three years. They saw Him die and they saw Him raised again. They lived with Him for forty days as He reminded them of everything He had taught and showed them in that time. No matter how many times He warned them that He had to leave, I suspect they hoped that He would stay with them forever. Yet, the day came when He ascended to heaven. The disciples were told to wait for the Helper.
The disciples were left alone on the day Jesus ascended to heaven. I wonder if they started to lose hope. After all, Jesus was gone and the promise had not yet come! They hadn't written down everything Jesus said and His words were becoming more distant, His voice harder to remember. They saw the feast of Pentecost celebrations that filled the city around them. Did they wonder if they could ever enjoy the feasts again? They may have even thought about abandoning the cause, joining in the feast around them, returning to their old ways.
In today's Gospel lesson John writes that Jesus promised to send the Spirit that would be their Helper. They had hope, even when there seemed to be no hope, because they trusted the promise of Jesus. The Holy Spirit would testify to the things that Jesus said, remind them of the things He taught, give them courage and the words to share everything with the world. The Holy Spirit would give them the power over life and death.
The Spirit testifies that sin is not disobedience to the Law, but rather that sinners are those who do not believe in Christ. The Spirit testifies that Jesus has gone to the Father and in being received at the right hand of God He is proven to have been righteous. The ascension is the vindication of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the proof that Jesus did not lie when He said He would be going to the Father because He sent the One He promised. The Holy Spirit testifies to the end of evil. Jesus overcame sin, death and the grave. The ruler of this world no longer has power over God's people. The Spirit testifies to God's faithfulness.
God said, ďI have spoken and I will act.Ē This is the promise of Pentecost, a realization of the promise given in the story from Ezekiel. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they took the Hebrews into exile. Godís people were far from home a long time, living amongst people who seemed to have much more powerful gods than the God which they worshiped. They felt abandoned. After all, if God were almighty, would He have allowed strangers to devastate His people? They did not see the destruction and exile as a way by which God was turning them back to Him. They lost hope and they assimilated into the culture of the world around them. In essence they died, and they were left like dry bones in the desert. For the children that were born in exile, Jerusalem was not even a distant memory. They only knew the world in which they lived. During the exile, God's people forgot who they were. But God would not let them go.
The ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost were like a time of exile. The disciples did not yet have what they needed to continue the work of Jesus in the world, but they could no longer return to world. They had to be patient. They had to believe the promise that Jesus made to them when He was praying the night before His crucifixion. Their patience was rewarded when God sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, calling them to new life and sending them into the world to speak to the dry bones.
That's what we do. We speak God's Word into lifeless bodies. Of course, they have life. They are living, breathing human beings, but without God's grace they are dead in a dark world. They need to hear the Gospel so that the breath of True Life, the Holy Spirit, will transform them into new creatures of faith that believe in the promises of God through Jesus Christ.
The disciples who received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, were the first fruits of Christ's message and work. Jesus told them that He did not tell them everything because He was with them. But He promised that when the time was right, the Advocate would come and tell them everything. They could not have the whole message of Jesus when He was in their presence. Some of the things they learned from the Spirit were too hard for them to receive on their own. However, Jesus' ascension to heaven made it possible for the Spirit to come and dwell in their hearts. If Jesus stayed, the Advocate could not come. The faith could not spread beyond the small group of people who could follow Jesus Christ in flesh. With the Spirit, the message could, and would, be taken to the four corners of the world.
That's why Jesus told the disciples, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you." We need the Holy Spirit to be Christians; we need God's Helper to be disciples.
Pentecost is not really a very popular church holy day in this modern age. Look at the numbers: far more people attend church on Christmas and Easter. Even Mother's Day fills the pews. Many churches will plan special events for this Sunday. One year we filled the sanctuary with red balloons. Some congregations find people who speak different languages to read the texts for the day. Some congregations use that day to celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism for those who finished confirmation classes. The children might have a birthday cake to celebrate "the birthday of the Church." But Pentecost will not fill the pews. Some might not even realize it is a special day.
Part of the problem is the time of year. The date of Pentecost changes every year, so it is either in the spring or early summer. People are dealing with the end of school, the beginning of vacation time. Sports take up time on Sunday mornings. The weather is just too nice to sit in church, so families are off hiking in the park or building sand castles at the beach for the weekend. This year we are dealing with Memorial Day and a long weekend, so many people will be traveling.
That is not the only reason why people don't flock to church for Pentecost. Faith is personal for many people. It is about the relationship between Christ and the individual. Christ is a friend. He dwells in the heart. It is about God and I, or perhaps more to the point about me and God. Yet, as we've heard for the last few weeks, faith is not just about the individual. While faith is a personal gift, and our Christian journey is about our relationship with God, it is also about more. It is about the whole Church, the community of God's kingdom, the body of Christ.
Ask many Christians about their faith and they will be able to tell you the date, time and circumstances of their conversion. Ask the same Christians about the birthday of the Church and they will probably not know very much about Pentecost. Surely they know the story from Acts, but it would be difficult for them to identify the day on which we celebrate this important event.
Yet, the message for this day is not about the individual. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus promises His followers that there would be someone, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, sent to the believers to testify on His behalf. Then the believers are to testify also, to take the message to the world. The Holy Spirit was not going to be sent for judgment or deliverance, but so that those who experience and witness the mighty works of God will know Christ. In other words, Pentecost was the beginning of an eternal revelation of Christ.
The Church would not exist without Pentecost, and though it is true Christmas and Easter are vital also to our faith because they are about Jesus, we should not forget the importance of the day when God truly made us one with Him, filling us with Himself and giving us everything we need to continue His work in the world. The gifts we have, whether it is to quote book-chapter-verse of the scriptures or simply know what to say when it needs to be said, come to us from God through the power of that same Holy Spirit that gave the disciples the words to speak on that first Pentecost. He continues to give us the power, boldness, courage, strength, talents and words to speak the Gospel to those who are nothing but dry bones. God uses us to rattle those bones so that the dead will be raised into new life.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the depths of our hearts and the number of hairs on our heads. He knows what we need and the best way for us to go. He searches every aspect of our lives to know us completely and perfectly. We are not able to know God that deeply, but He reveals Himself to us daily so that we might come to a deeper and fuller relationship with Him. He knows what we need even before we need it. He knew, even as He began His great work of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we would not be able to go it on our own and so He made us one with Him through faith. He is never far away, and though we will never know God as intimately as He knows us, each day of discipleship brings us deeper into His grace and love.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away. So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea." Matthew 13:44-51, ASV
Have you understood all these things?
Jesus asked His disciples if they understood the parables. They answered "Yes." Did they?
I was asked to lead devotions at a retreat last year. It was part of a crafting weekend and everyone who attended had at least some interest in creativity. I used creative ideas to get across the spiritual lessons of my theme which was that we are created in the image of our Creator. We talked about the creation story, about organizations that use creativity for healing and about how Jesus lifted up the faith of children. We reverted to childhood in some ways, listening to the story of the creation out of a children's bible and hearing a Seuss-like poem about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We even had a station where we could color with crayons, markers and colored pencils. The final devotion was held in the chapel and we talked about going back into the 'real world' where our normal lives might get in the way of our creativity. I reminded the ladies that we are creative beings in the image of God and that our creativity does not just manifest in the projects we attempt. We are like our Creator in the way we deal with our families, the way we take care of our neighbors, and the way we live our daily lives. I finished the devotion by teaching the ladies how to make an origami butterfly.
I tried to teach the ladies how to make an origami butterfly. I am very familiar with the process and thought it would be easy to share it with them. I had the steps written out, and I used a very large piece of paper as my example. I gave each step slowly, and though some people got it easily, others had difficulty. Once they made a wrong fold, the whole process failed. I had to go around with every step to solve the problems. The activity that took me minutes was taking much too long. I would ask, "Do you understand," and they would answer, "Yes." Inevitably someone did not understand and their butterfly did not work. I ended up making a bunch of butterflies to give to those who did not manage to make one, and I learned that I can't teach something so complicated to so many women in a matter of minutes.
The disciples answered, "Yes," but Jesus knew that they did not fully understand. These parables are hard for us to hear and to understand with our lives. Are we willing to give up everything we have to make the Kingdom of God our own? We can't buy God's grace, but we have to put it first, before everything else. Are we ready to do that? Are we ready to put God before our family, our job, our Sunday morning sports practice? Are we willing to give up our addictions and habits, our opinions and biases, our wishes and dreams?
The parable of the net is difficult, too. We don't want to think of God as purging His catch, throwing some into baskets and others into the fire. We know God is love and that He is willing to do anything, including send His Son to the cross, for our sake. How can we think that this God of love might send someone to hell? How do we live with bold faith if we know that some will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, especially since we know how difficult it is for us to give up everything to make the Kingdom our own? We want to understand all this, and we answer "Yes," but we are probably exaggerating as much as the disciples did that day when Jesus asked the question.
Let us remember, however, that our understanding of the words of Jesus will not give us our inheritance. Faith, only faith, is what will make it ours. We have only to trust that God will be faithful to His promises and it will be ours. Yes, Jesus calls us to a life that puts Him first because that is the life where we will find the greatest blessings. Our family, job, activities, addictions, habits, opinions, biases, wishes and dreams might make us happy for the moment, but God will give us joy and peace forever and ever. In faith we have no reason to fear the separation of the good fish from the bad fish because God has made us righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. As for the others, it is not up to us to decide who will not inherit the Kingdom alongside us, except to share the grace of God with them so that they, too, will have the faith to believe in God's promises. That's all we need to understand.
"Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye may love one another." John 15:9-17, ASV
I have been working on a painting. It began as a place to use up leftover paint, but it eventually became my focus. See, I use acrylic paints which do not last very long once they are squeezed from the tube. It is very difficult to figure out how much you need for a session, and the leftover paints usually get washed down the sink. I hate to waste anything, so I usually keep a canvas handy to use it up. Those paintings get layers of color and then get finished off with a wash and silk butterflies or flowers. I didn't want to do the same thing, so I took a large canvas and I slapped, dripped and splattered my leftovers on it. I loved the freedom of letting the paint fly and looked forward to each slap, drip and splatter. It got to the point that I purposely over squeezed the paint onto my palette so that I would have leftovers.
I added dozens of layers of colors, developing a style as I went. The painting has undergone some transformation and it has been interesting to see the reaction of others along the way. Zack thought it should be called "Rainbow Barf" because it was a mess of color. Bruce suggested "Nuclear Rain" when he saw a layer of color that had that glowing greenish color of nuclear waste. One friend saw teardrops and another a rocket. I was thinking waterfall. In the end, any suggestion of subject matter was subjective. It was, even to the end, a mess of color.
I like it but it needs something. The edges are a problem because they are unfinished, but there is no easy way to finish the edges of this type of painting. I could edge it in a solid color, but it is hard to choose which one. I don't think it would look right to finish just the edges; the mess of color needed something else, too. I've decided to do a shaped frame in black, bringing the color over the edges onto the main canvas. I did a trial run on a print of the painting and I think it will turn out great.
That decision led me to the next dilemma. I have four different kinds of black paint, as well as numerous shades of gray. I wanted the frame to be glossy, but I wasn't sure which one would create that effect. I took a small canvas and painted a stripe of each. At that point they all looked alike, and I thought that I might be wasting my time. This morning, however, I looked at the canvas and realized that the four different black paints are very different. One is exactly what I wanted. Testing the black paint made me confident that I was choosing the right one. I also now know the difference between these four black paints and I will know which one will work better in future paintings.
Have you ever thought about how unique Christians are even though we share the same faith? We all bear the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but we are very different. Like the each type of black paint, we all have a specific purpose and we are called to use our individual gives in unique ways. Just as I chose a specific color of black to use on my painting, Jesus chooses each of us to do His Work in our own unique way according to His good and perfect will. The one thing we have in common, besides our common name, is the love of our Lord. He calls us to a life of loving one another despite our differences, to dwell together in the Father's grace, doing what He would have us do.
"And about that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no little business unto the craftsmen; whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this business we have our wealth. And ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands: and not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be made of no account, and that she should even be deposed from her magnificence whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. And when they heard this they were filled with wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesus. And the city was filled with the confusion: and they rushed with one accord into the theatre, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel. And when Paul was minded to enter in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain also of the Asiarchs, being his friends, sent unto him and besought him not to adventure himself into the theatre." Acts 19:23-31 (ASV)
Today is day we honor those who have died for the sake of our country, but it is also considered the first day of the summer season. In the next few weeks, schools will finish for the year and families will begin the age old tradition of summer vacation. They will jump in planes, trains and automobiles and head off in search of entertainment at tourist sites around the country and the world, theme parks being a particular favorite of many families. Billions of dollars will be spent (the tourist industry hopes) on gas, entrance fees, food and souvenirs. Shops are filled with silly little trinkets that have "Welcome to wherever" stamped somewhere on it. There are postcards, snow globes with miniature versions of the place dusted with tiny flecks of white and sparkly glitter, yo-yos, pins, whistles, pens, pencils and hundreds of other things to buy as a remembrance of the trip.
You would think that such frivolous notions are a modern invention, but they aren't. I remember when visiting a castle in England, some people were play-acting ancient artisans on the green. One was creating tiny pewter figurines that had been used as tokens for pilgrims to take home after a visit. The bible even refers to the craft in the book of Acts.
The Temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus, and was a favorite destination for travelers from all over the world because of its great beauty. The statue of Artemis found in the inner sanctuary was said to have fallen from heaven. Souvenir shops most likely lined the street leading to the temple, offering miniatures of Artemis for the visitors to take home.
The faith being preached by Paul and his companions was a danger to the business of these craftsmen. If this Christian understanding took off, they would be out of a job. Demetrius needed to do something that would get the disciples to leave Ephesus; he wanted them go elsewhere to set up their own temple to their God. So, he hit the crowd where he knew it would hurt, that their goddess would be destroyed. The city began to riot and the lives of the disciples were threatened.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We still preach the gospel to folk who do not want to hear it because it is a danger to their way of life. Perhaps they arenít selling images of Greek and Roman gods, but the Gospel could close down porn shops, gambling establishments, bars, stores that sell new age books and supplies. Faith in Jesus could halt the sale of illegal drugs, prostitution and gangs. As such, there will always be people like Demetrius, crying out against the Gospel and creating riots to get rid of those preaching. Paul did not cause that riot in Ephesus, but it was eventually used against him. We do not know how the people of this world will react to that which we preach about Jesus. But it should never stop us from preaching. We will face persecution, because there are many who do not want to lose what they have. We can rest assured that God will see us through, even when we are faced with possible death, false testimony and imprisonment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. The voice of one saying, Cry. And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young." Isaiah 40:1-11, ASV
I grew up so close to Dorney Park when I was a child that we could hear the activities that went on at the racetrack that was once part of the complex. Dorney Park was the place to hang out before they had an admissions fee to get in the gate. In the old days, we bought tickets if we wanted to ride, but we would often just go and walk around, eat some French fries or soft ice cream. One ride called the Iceberg was an indoor teacups with air conditioning which we rode repeatedly on hot summer days. Or we spent as much time as possible on Journey to the Center of the Earth, a water ride on which we tested different methods to make it splash as much as possible. There were always special days at the end of the school year to reward students for a job well done with free ride tickets.
The park has an interesting history as the owner found ways to take advantage of his land and the creek that ran through it. It started as a fish hatchery and became a resort area. The rides were added over time and the park changed dramatically through its more than hundred years of history. The park was often used for company picnics with enough pavilions to accommodate thousands of people. There were many kiddy rides, a lake with ducks and boats. There were also rides for the more adventurous visitors, a dancehall and a racetrack. It became an enclosed park in the eighties with one single admission fee. A water park was added and it is one part of the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
One of my favorite rides in the old days was the wooden roller coaster. Built in 1923, the Coaster was painted with bright yellow paint, stood 80 feet tall with a drop of 65 feet. The train car held twenty-four people and the ride lasted more than a minute. It had thrilling out-of-seat airtime pops. Unbelievably, the coaster is still in use, although it has been painted and renamed "Thunderhawk." I sometimes think the fear we experienced on that ride more than thirty years ago had more to do with the creaking and swaying wood than the thrill of the ride itself. We loved it. As a matter of fact, I remember times when we rode the ride over and over again. It was great to be there when the park was not empty, or when the crowds were busy at the racetrack because we didn't even have to get off the car between rides. We rode the coaster eleven times one day.
I love roller coasters, although I don't handle them very well anymore. I suppose it has to do with the new designs and ever greater thrills that are built into them. I don't mind loops or other thrills, but I do have issues with motion sickness, and some of the designs just set my stomach on edge. This is particularly true when I watch the video of the latest roller coaster to be built in our local Six Flags. The "Batman" is a 4-D Free Spin roller coaster. The car, instead of being centered in between the tracks are set on the outside. There are five trains, each holding eight people in two rows of four, two rows of two on each side. The sides spin randomly as the train goes from top to bottom on a zig zag track with six inversions. I am sure that the ride is thrilling, but I am equally sure that I will never, ever ride it.
Have you ever felt that way about life? I don't think any of us really want a life with not highs and lows, because without the lows we get no highs. Roller Coaster life is interesting and exciting. Laughter and tears are healing and beneficial to a life. We learn the greatest lessons at the high points and the low points of our life. We will never really know how blessed we are if we don't have those moments of grief and pain. That said, I don't think any of us want to experience a life that is like the new-fangled roller coasters that send us flying in every direction. It might be thrilling, but leaves us tattered and torn in the end. We know, however, that even when life does seem to be something to fear, that God is near. He is with us through it all and has promised to bring us through everything. He rides that roller coaster with us, holding our hand through the rough moments and laughing with us through the thrills.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 30, 2015, Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17
"Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?" John 3:9, ASV
Jesus answered Nicodemus with a question, "Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?"
I think this might be one of the worst questions that Jesus can ask, especially of those who are teachers of the word. Though a lay person, I consider myself a Bible teacher. I've taught workshops and classes, preached, and written Bible studies. Plus, I have been posting this devotional for nearly sixteen years, which often includes lessons on the scriptures alongside the inspiration and spiritual aspects. I should know and understand everything, right? I fear that if I went to Jesus with my doubts, He might ask me the same question.
This is particularly true when we come to this Sunday's focus: the Trinity. I get it, really I do. God is three in one and one in three. He is the Godhead, three persons or essences of the same One. He is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are dozens of possible analogies that get bandied about at this time of year trying to explain to our limited human minds this incredible and impossible concept. I read through the Athanasian Creed and try to grasp the seriousness of this doctrine, but I can't come up with the words that will silence the critics and nonbelievers. How do you teach something that is completely beyond our grasp so that others will receive it with faith?
"How can this be?" "Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?"
No, Jesus, I don't understand. Not fully. So much about what is happening in the world around me does not make sense. I see the issues from too many points of view. I see what you have said and what you have not said and what everyone interprets from the words you have said, but I still have doubts and concerns. I know enough to have an opinion, but not enough to be assured that it is what you truly want me to understand. Then you throw texts like todays at me with the expectation that I will know and understand what you mean.
Isn't it amazing that the most beloved of scriptures (John 3:16) would come in the midst of such a confusing text? Nicodemus wanted to understand. He knew there was something about Jesus worth pursuing, and though he was frightened he sought answers from Him. He did so at a time when the whole work of Jesus was not yet complete. He had not yet died or resurrected. He had not ascended to heaven or sent the Holy Spirit to help His disciples. He was just beginning to reveal Himself to the world and Nicodemus wanted to know more.
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. Jesusí 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. I don't think that we should fear this kind of conversation with our Lord, even if we are not confident in our answers because Jesus is looking for people of faith who seek the truth. We are always going to have questions; the things of God are too much for our limited human brains. The point of our life is not to find all the answers, or even to fully understand everything, but to believe, worship and pursue the God who loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.
Nicodemus was willing to listen and learn. It is difficult for us to know the tone of voice, or the intent of Nicodemusí question. Was he confused by the idea of a second birth, or was he being sarcastic? His answer, ďHow can a man be born from his mother's womb a second time?Ē 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 donít 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.
I suspect that many Christians, even among those reading this blog, secretly identify with a man like Nicodemus, even if we don't realize it. We believe and love God. We are active at church and we serve our neighbors. We do so, however, without wearing our faith on our sleeve. We don't talk about Jesus; most of our neighbors probably do not even know that we are Christians. Perhaps they see us leaving on a Sunday morning at about the right time, but do they see us carrying our Bibles? Do they see our joy? Are we willing to talk about Jesus when we meet them on the street? Most of us would just rather keep our faith private; after all, if we talk about it we might have to answer the tough questions we aren't confident to answer. It is easier to just leave Jesus behind our doors or in the sanctuary of our church. We simply are not willing to be bold like Peter, who tells those listening on that first Pentecost that the man named Jesus that died at their hands was the very Messiah they were waiting to come. We aren't willing to talk about sin, repentance and forgiveness. We aren't willing to make the bold claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We aren't willing to tell our neighbors about the incredible mystery that is our God, the Godhead, the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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 donít have to be born of the Spirit to be kind and generous. But our kindness and generosity is self-serving if we donít do it in a way that glorifies God. We might end up with nice certificates and plaques and perhaps they will name a park or building after us, but if Godís name isnít praised, then our work is useless. We hear all too often, ďShe was a good person; she is surely going to heaven.Ē There is no way for me to know, except that I know it isnít goodness or service that gets us into Godís kingdom; faith in Christ is the only path to salvation.
This is a hard lesson; it is no wonder that Nicodemus was confused. It sounds impossible. We canít be born again from our motherís 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?
We try very hard to understand, to approach our questions from an intellectual point of view. The early Christians did it when they wrote the creeds of our faith. The debated. They pondered. They worked together until they put together the words that define what it means to be a Christian. Even today many Christians reject the creeds because they want to know and understand God for themselves, although this often leads to heresies or a skewed understanding of God. While it is good for us to pursue knowledge of God, we have to remember that He is greater than we can even imagine. We will never fully understand.
I often joke about all the questions I'm going to ask when I get to heaven. If you could sit down with Jesus and just listen to Him like Nicodemus, what would you ask? What issues have weighed upon your mind? What confuses you about His parables? What fears and doubts do you have? What is your, "How can this be?" question? Do you think about asking Jesus to answer? Perhaps at a bar over margaritas or under a shady tree by a babbling brook?
We can imagine this conversation and hope for it, but is that what we will experience when we do get to heaven? Will we still want to sit down with Jesus and ask the questions that have troubled us throughout our lives once we have entered through those pearly gates? Probably not. As a matter of fact, the truth is that we will be so awed by what we experience when we finally stand in the very real presence of God that we won't have any more questions. We won't care about those issues or worry about our doubts or fears. We will fall on our faces along with the multitudes that went before us to worship the God who is.
We are very much like Isaiah, concerned because we are sinners living in a sinful world. Imagine the scene: Isaiah found himself standing in the presence of the Holy One. This must have been a frightening experience. Isaiah believed that no human could stand in the presence of God, and he was a man of unclean lips. He belonged to a people of unclean lips. Isaiah knew that he was a sinner and that the people of God were not worthy of anything He might give to them. He knew that he was doomed. But he wasnít doomed. God took care of the concern: the angel burnt off the source of Isaiahís fear; He cleansed Isaiahís mouth. Then God invited Isaiah into a working relationship with Him. ďWho can I send?Ē He asked. Isaiah could have looked at his feet, hoed and hummed and kept his now pain-filled lips shut. He could have walked away. But the mercy of God is overwhelming and we are drawn into His heart. It is amazing that God would seek the help of a lowly, sinful, human being. Yet, He does. He calls us to be actively involved in His work. He sends us into the world. He charges us with the task of telling the lost and dying about the grace of God. ďWho can I send?Ē Isaiah answers, ďHere I am, send me.Ē
He gave Isaiah a choice. He brought Isaiah into His presence, cleansed him and then presented him an opportunity. It was not to be an opportunity for success. As a matter of fact, the message that he was to take to the people of Judah would be rejected by many. The same is true for us. The message we take into the world will be rejected and we will be rejected along with Jesus because of it. It is foolishness, especially when we describe our God in terms that are impossible to understand. The Trinity is confusing to the most gifted theologians. We don't have the answers to all their questions, and they won't accept anything less than complete understanding.
We know, however, that our life with Christ isn't one of knowledge, but of faith. The best we can do is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hope that God's Holy Spirit can break through the hard hearts with the spark of faith that will change their lives. He is a God that can't be so easily explained; but He is a God that can be loved, worshipped and held in awe.
The psalmist describes God as powerful, majestic, strong, and 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. We see that 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. He is worthy of our awe because He can reduce us to nothing. Yet, we stand in awe, not out of fear, but because we have been given a vision of His glory. He might not be a God that can be fully understood, but He can be glorified with our praise and thanksgiving.
I love Trinity Sunday even though it is one of the lesser celebrated feasts of the church year. I even love that we pull out that monster of a creed named after Athanasius once a year. The Athanasian Creed is incredibly long, and to many it is a tedious confession of faith. We are so used to the point by point confessions of the shorter creeds that we have a hard time with the long, more poetic confession of the Trinity and the Nature of Christ. Even though the theology is more sophisticated, the rhyme and rhythm of the Athanasian Creed is more lyrical and perhaps less logical, especially by our modern language expectations. After all, we are a culture that has learned to speak in a hundred and forty characters. Why bother with a long, complicated circular argument like the Athanasian Creed?
The Athanasian Creed was designed to be lyrical, an almost hymn-like explanation of Christian orthodox belief. They used circular teaching by putting the facts in repetitious statements, making it easy to learn from the sing-song patterns. It was written in response to the Arian heresy that claimed that the Son of God was a subordinate entity, that he did not always exist, was a created being and is distinct from God the Father. From the late fifth or sixth century, the Athanasian Creed was probably not written by Athanasius, but was named after his orthodox Trinitarian understanding of God. It might be longer than we are used to speaking, but it is a beautiful and powerful confession of our Trinitarian faith. There is no better time than on Holy Trinity Sunday for us to confess this creed together.
No matter how well written a creed might be, we still have a great deal of difficulty grasping the concept of the Trinity. After all, this whole idea of not confounding the persons nor dividing the substance doesnít quite add up to what we know is true about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How can they be three in one and one in three, equal and coeternal, the same yet different? How can they be three uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal and yet be not three beings but one? How can they be three almighties and yet only one almighty? Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, but not three Gods, just one God. All are Lord, but not three Lords, just one Lord. How will we ever understand this important but impossible doctrine of our faith?
I think the message for this Holy Trinity Sunday is that it is ok to believe in the mystery of God even though we will never fully understand it. We don't have to explain it. We don't have to have answers to all those unanswerable questions. We don't have to worry about Jesus asking us the question, "Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?" because we have faith that Jesus will do what He has promised to do even if we can't wrap our brains around it all. Like Arias, our quest for answers might just lead us to creating a god that is lesser and within our reach than the God whose voice both thunders and blesses.
"How can these things be?" We might never really know, but that's ok. God is greater than we can imagine, thank goodness. For a God that we can imagine could never accomplish the work that the Trinity has accomplished in time, in space and in the hearts of all those who believe. We are not called to understand, but to believe and to take our faith into the world for the sake of those who need to hear the words of Jesus. God did so love the whole world that He sent His own Son to save it. This simple but powerful message is given to us to share not just in deeds but in the words that will save our neighbors so that they, too, will join us in singing God's praise for eternity.
"In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4, ASV
One of my favorite children's books is called "The Hungry Thing" and was written by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler. The pictures which are simple but adorable were created by Richard Martin. I first purchased the book through Scholastic Books when I was in Elementary School, probably first grade. I still have that copy, which is torn and brittle but in amazing shape for a well-used paperback book over forty years old. I purchased a new copy several years ago so I could continue using it when I taught preschool and then when I volunteered to read to children.
The book is about an adorable looking dinosaur monster who arrives in a village with a sign "Feed Me" on a chain around his head. The townspeople ask it what it wants to eat. The Hungry Thing answers, "Shmancakes." This confuses the townspeople. "Shmancakes? How do you eat them? What can they be?" Then several of the adult townspeople give their ridiculous theories about the food with great confidence that they know what they are saying.
Then a little boy steps up and says, "I think you're all very silly. shmancakes... sound like fancakes... sound like... pancakes to me." So the townspeople gave the Hungry Thing some and the Hungry Thing ate them all up. He wasn't quite satisfied so pointed once again to his sign. This went on for some time with the Hungry Thing asking for tickles, feetloaf, hookies and gollipops. Each time the townspeople made ridiculous claims about the food, but the little boy knew better.
You can probably figure out for yourself what the Hungry Thing wanted to eat. The children always do, which is why this is such a great book for reading to little ones. They join in the fun of figuring out the rhyme and scream out the answer at just the right moment in the story. "Sounds like Pickles to me!" And they laugh.
The townspeople fed the monster but it took too long. He didn't want the bread, tea or rice they offered him. The boy realizes that they have to offer the food as a rhyming word, so they give him foodles, smello, thread and a fanana. Finally he asked for boop with a smacker and even though they have spent the day playing the game with the Hungry Thing, they still did not understand. The boy whispered in the cook's ear "Soup with a cracker," and they gave him some. The Hungry Thing wiped his mouth and turned his sign around. The back of the sign said, "Thank You!"
I love to study the scriptures, to delve deeply into the historic and spiritual ideas, to understand the meanings of words and the possible interpretations of a text. I like to read the thoughts of learned theologians or listen to their sermons even though sometimes it makes my head hurt. If I were one of those adult townspeople, I would probably be rushing to the Internet to find a recipe for shmancakes and the rest. However, this story reminds us that sometimes it is best to find the simplest answers, like those of a child. Children do not think so highly of themselves or their ideas; they simply believe and trust. While theological study is good, Jesus wants us to always remember to think like a child, for it is that kind of faith that lead us to the answers we seek.
"And they were bringing unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein. And he took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them." Mark 10:13-16, ASV
Karl Barth had just finished giving a lengthy study when he was approached by a reporter. The reporter asked him to give him a summary of the talk. Barth thought a moment, and then said, "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so." It might seem odd that a respected Christian theologian would give such a simple answer.
"Jesus Loves Me" was written by Anna Bartlett Warner. She lived from 1827 to 1915; her life was not always happy. She had a sister named Susan which she loved and despite their differences they got on well together. That was a good thing because they supported each other for their whole lives. Their mother died early. Their father had financial difficulty and left them in dire straits. They spent most of their lives living on Constitution Island, which is in the Hudson River, opposite the Military Academy of West Point where their uncle was the Chaplain. After their father died, they stayed in the family home and did what they could to earn the money to keep it. Encouraged by their aunt, they wrote stories, poems and hymns to get by. They often collaborated on their books, with Anna writing poems or songs that were included in some way. That's how "Jesus Loves Me" was created.
The story was called "Say and Seal." In it, a little boy named Johnny Fox was dying. His Sunday school teacher, John Linden, composed the hymn while rocking the dying boy. The words show Anna's profound faith in God while being simple and child-like. Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so. Jesus loves me! He who died Heaven's gates to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little Child come in. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so. Jesus take this heart of mine, Make it pure and wholly thine Thou hast bled and died for me, I will henceforth live for Thee. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so. Jesus loves me! He will stay Close beside me all the way; He's prepared a home for me And someday, His face I'll see."
The sisters never married, but they found purpose and comfort in their work at West Point. They taught Bible study to the cadets. Both Anna and Susan were loved by the students, teachers and administrators. The cadets at West Point became like their children. After their deaths, Susan and Anna were buried on the campus of the Military Academy with full military honors, the only civilians for whom this was done. They are still remembered for their years of faithful service teaching God's Word to the cadets, leading them on a good and righteous path. Constitution Island was purchased by Mrs. Russell Sage in 1908, but Anna lived there until about 1915. The island was presented to the U.S. government by Mrs. Sage and Anna at the time of purchase with the stipulation that Anna could live out her years in her home and use the land as she required and that the island be kept thereafter for the use of the Military Academy. Anna's family home is now a museum preserved as she left it.
Once again we are reminded that the faith of a child is a faith to emulate because it is a faith that trusts God's promises. The poem was set to music by William Bradbury and Anna shared it with her Bible study class. Some of the words were changed when the song was published, but it has been a beloved confession of faith in Jesus since 1861. I'm sure the sisters taught the cadets theology that was far more academic and intellectual than we see in the song, but even the West Point cadets were heard singing "Jesus Loves Me" on campus as they worked.