Welcome to the November 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2003
November 1, 2003
Saint The word saint refers to several different groups of people. A saint is one who has been set aside for special recognition for their lives of faith by the church. Yet, it also refers to all those who have died in the faith. The biblical witness gives a third definition, using the word saint to refer to all those who believe. Each Sunday we confess together our belief in the communion of saints, the fellowship of all believers throughout time and space. We gather together around the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and receive His body and blood with all those who believe from the beginning until the end. Even future generations - those who do not yet know the Lord - are with us in the liturgy, sacraments and the word because God promises it to be so.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, people throughout the ages that have lived and died for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through their testimony we see the love and mercy of God as they pass the things He taught and did from generation to generation. Not all of the people in that great cloud of witnesses have been recognized for their faith. Millions of Christians have died without fanfare or memorials, and yet in their own quiet way have touched our lives with their faith. It is for those Christians that we celebrate All Saints. Who are you remembering? Your parent, spouse or sibling? An old teacher or pastor? A neighbor, friend or relative? For many, this has been a difficult year, a year filled with loss to violence and disease. We have had plenty of reason to mourn.
Yet, All Saints Day is not really a day for mourning. It is a day to celebrate the promises of God. For a Christian, death is just a passing into new life in Christ, when we receive the blessings promised by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We weep over the loss of those we love, for they will never again join us in the laughter and pain of this world. Even Jesus wept, for in death we see the reality of sin and the grave. It is separation from those we love, an end to the blessings of life. When someone we love dies, we mourn the loss we feel because they are no longer with us, but we know that there is hope beyond the grave. Jesus made it possible. In His name we gather around the table of our Lord to celebrate the promise and get a foretaste of the feast to come.
“And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9 (ASV)
Those who believe in Jesus will receive blessing from the Lord, salvation from our Savior. We will see the day when mourning is turned to joy. We will feast at the victory table. Jesus overcomes even time and space by drawing all the saints - past, present and future - into one body. All Saints Day is sad as we remember those whose lives have slipped from our grasp, but it is also a joyous event as we remember that they are still with us as part of Christ's body. Jesus is the resurrection; He is our hope and life. He has overcome death and the grave and in Him alone is our hope for salvation. We will receive a blessing from the Lord, those who seek after Him and believe in His name. Thanks be to God.
Chicken house In 1986, Richard Nixon answered the question, “Is the USA better off this Christmas than it was this time last year?” with the following words. “As Americans, we have many great strengths, but one of our weaknesses is impatience. The Russians think in terms of decades, the Chinese in terms of centuries. Americans think in terms of years, months, and even days. But if in the quest for a realistic, lasting peace, we expect overnight success – instant gratification – we are bound to be disappointed.”
In a story for Reader’s Digest, Madeline Rockwell wrote about her grandparents. One night they were startled out of sleep by a commotion in the chicken house. Grandma quickly ran outside and discovered a large black snake inside. She didn’t have anything to kill the snake, so she stepped on its head with her bare feed and waited for Grandpa. After waiting for some time, Grandpa showed up fully dressed. When he saw Grandma, angry and tousled, he said cheerfully, “Well, if I’d known you had him, I wouldn’t have hurried so.”
Imagine what it must have been like to stand for so long with a snake under her bare feet. It was probably not a poisonous snake, but I am sure she experienced a great many emotions. Fear, anger, doubt, exasperation, panic, frustration and particularly impatience with the one for whom she was waiting. We do not like to wait for anything, but when it comes to situations that could be life or death, we are particularly eager for the end to come. In the days of the cold war, Americans were anxious for things to be settled so that children would not have to practice nuclear attack drills or suffer fear of the unknown. The same has been true since the attack on the World Trade Center. We want peace so that we do not have to be afraid. We want a solution to our problems and we want them right now. Yet, there are many things that do not come instantly, particularly peace.
“And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:2-3 (ASV)
Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that we will know peace, though the peace we await from God is a greater peace than any that will ever come between nations. It is a peace that came at a much greater cost – the death of Jesus on the cross – and it is a peace that is beyond human understanding. It is a peace that comes from trust in God, faith in His promises. We long for the day when all that God has begun in our lives and in this world will be complete, when Jesus comes in glory. We desire a world where there is no longer sin, death, tears, sickness, danger, anger, hatred, greed and lust. We want the end to arrive so we can rejoice in the fullness of God’s presence.
Yet, God’s time is not on our schedule. He does not tarry; He will come at the appointed time. We wait in hope and faith, knowing that He will be true to His Word. The promises of God were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet we still long for that which is still to come. Though the peace that Christ promised is ours today, there are still things in this world that cause us to live in wonder, doubt and fear. Americans lived in peace, but the threat of danger loomed ahead. Even today, we have peaceful coexistence in our world, though there is always the possibility that danger will come. Grandma knew she was safe, but she was ready for the experience to end so that she could go back to bed and rest. In all these situation, we wait the end even though the end had already begun. So too it is with our faith. The end has come, but is still coming. The peace is ours, but will be made complete. May God grant us all the patience so that we can wait for His time. Thanks be to God.
Church Perhaps you’ve heard this joke before: Finally, after twenty-five years on a deserted island, Joe was being rescued. As he climbed onto the boat, the curious crew noticed three small grass huts. “What are those?” they asked. “The first one is my house,” Joe said. “The second is my church.” “What about the third hut?” the rescuers wanted to know. “Oh,” says Joe, “that’s the church I used to belong to.”
Truth is funnier than fiction, and we laugh at this joke because we know many people are quick to change churches for a million different reasons. Some are quite valid. If a church is not teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if the pastors are teaching falsehoods or are proclaiming a false Jesus, then it is probably the right decision.
Yet, all too often we leave our churches for silly reasons. I’ve heard stories of people who have left because they did not like the color of the carpeting. Others can’t get along with the pastor or the church council. When someone does something wrong, they are quick to go looking for a place where they can find ‘real Christians.’ When they are hurt by the failures of a brother or sister in Christ, they call them hypocrites and leave for another place of worship. They find it impossible to forgive, refuse to reconcile and think that things must be better on the other side of the fence. Yet, there are none that are perfect, we all fail to live up to the standard God has established. This is why we all need the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, there are those who will not stop looking until they find the perfect church. They hop from place to place, never looking beyond the superficial. Eventually they give up because they cannot find what they think they are looking for so they reject every church and try to go it on their own. The church was not created to be a place where perfect people gather, but rather to be a place of healing and forgiveness for all those who believe in His name. He has mercy on us so that we can have mercy on one another as we care for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Though we are made saints by faith, we also remain sinners until that Day when Christ will come in glory.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.” Hebrews 10:19-25 (ASV)
The joke is funny because there was no one but Joe on the island, and Joe thought that another church might be better than the first. It is sad when it comes to real folk moving from congregation to congregation seeking something they will never find. There is no perfect church because every one is filled with human beings who fail. Yet, the Church Christ instituted is perfect because He is present in the fellowship of believers. We lose so much when we try to go it on our own, and though there might be valid reasons to move to another church, there is never a good reason to forsake meeting together with other Christians for worship, prayer and Bible study. The Church is a place for us to care for one another as we look toward the One who makes us perfect by grace, a lifelong process that will be complete in the Day of our Lord. Then we will truly find a perfect fellowship of believers. Until then, let us gather together, having mercy and granting forgiveness to those who fail and sharing in the gifts God our Father has given by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.
Autumn A few weeks ago we went into the Ozark Mountains for a day trip to visit a cave and look at the autumn leaves changing on the trees. It was a little early, though some of the trees were turning lovely shades of orange and yellow. They expected this to be a magnificent year until the warm weather returned. Though the leaves are still changing colors, they aren’t as bright and beautiful as they might have been. When the cold weather arrives with the rain this week, many of the leaves will simply turn brown and fall to the ground. It is still a very beautiful time of year.
My garden is not faring so well. The flowers in the pots are withered and ugly. It is time to pull them out and throw them in the compost pile, so that I can prepare the soil for winter. The grass is brown and ready to rest through the cold, harsh weather to come. In a few months, we will begin everything anew, planting fresh flowers and watching the grass turn lush and green again. The passing of the seasons means doing the same work over and over again. Even if we have perennials in the garden, they still die and come up again in the spring. Nothing in nature lasts forever.
Man also passes into death. We have perishable bodies that suffer from the affects of sin in this world. Some die unnaturally as they are harmed by another person or horrible circumstances. Others die of old age and illness. No matter how it comes about, every human being will face death one day. It is a fact of life, though not as God intended. We die because Adam and Eve did not trust God’s word and we continue to live in the consequences of that sin. We also fail to heed God’s word and we bring pain to others, unable to overcome the sin in our flesh and this world.
In ancient times, the people offered sacrifices to atone for their sin. There were long lists of ordinances for the Jews, certain offerings were to be provided for certain sins. The priests worked long hours as they took the goats, rams, bulls, doves, or other sacrifices to the altar for the people. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the priest offered sacrifices even for himself, so that he would be cleansed and purified for that brief moment he offered the sacrifice for the entire people of Israel. Year after year the priests offered the blood of these animals, and year after year the people failed to stay clean. God knew this would be the way, so He planned an even greater sacrifice.
“For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place year by year with blood not his own; else must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation.” Hebrews 9:24-28 (ASV)
The flowers in my garden need to be replaced year after year. The priests in the temple were not changed that often, but they did perish as every other man. Sin has affected life on this earth and will continue to do so until the day our Lord returns. Yet, we do not have to wait that long for the newness of life that comes from God. There was a time when sins could only be forgiven by an offering at the temple. But in Jesus Christ, God provided the perfect offering – the Lamb of God given in the true Temple, which is heaven. When Christ died, He overcame sin and death forever. We who believe in His name need never worry about offering a sacrifice to receive forgiveness. He has already accomplished the work of atonement and reconciliation.
Now, we await the day when Christ will return, not to provide another sacrifice but to complete the work that was begun on the cross. It is finished; eternal life is ours in Christ. Our salvation is assured because the promise of God is true and He is faithful. Yet, the world still passes from life into death into new life every year. The leaves turn colors and fall to the ground. The flowers wither and die. Men and women suffer the death of their flesh and are buried in the ground and we mourn the loss of those we love. In that day when Christ returns, we will no longer mourn or suffer pain. We will be saved from the consequences of sin and live in His presence forever. Thanks be to God.
Stains There is a commercial for a clothing detergent that has a field of children playing baseball while trying to keep their clothing spotless. The announcer tells us that the only way to keep your clothes bright white is to never get them dirty or to use their product. There is another commercial that shows a table full of people at a dinner party trying to use cheap paper plates and plastic silverware to eat a fine gourmet meal. The hostess steps into the kitchen and notices the brand new sink has a slight smudge of dirt. She carefully cleans the spot as her husband comes into the room. He says, “We are going to have to use it eventually.” In the first commercial, the kids are more concerned about keeping their uniforms clean than about having a good time with the game. In the second, the hostess is concerned about a sink while her guests struggle to eat a meal.
The things we think are going to keep us clean never really do. Those uniforms and the sink will eventually get worn and dirty. They will have to be replaced eventually. We live in a polluted world where even the most righteous actions are muddied by sin and death. It is impossible to keep ourselves perfectly clean in this life. Our flesh is weak, our motives impure and our desires strong. We can’t do it on our own. We need one greater to make us clean and keep us for eternity.
“And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary. And Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan; yea, Jehovah that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take the filthy garments from off him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with rich apparel. And I said, Let them set a clean mitre upon his head. So they set a clean mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments; and the angel of Jehovah was standing by. And the angel of Jehovah protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou also shalt judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee a place of access among these that stand by.
As I think about my life, I realize that Satan sure would have a great deal of ammunition to use against me on the Day of Judgment. He could point to all those moments I lied, cheated and lusted. He could point to all my anger, doubt and fear. I have failed to live according to the commandments of the Lord. I would look no different than the High Priest Joshua, a filthy mess scarred by sin and death.
Yet, God would not let Satan speak to condemn Joshua. Instead, He took off the rags and replaced them with clean clothes. He cleansed Joshua of his sin and restored him in the office to which he was appointed. The angel charged Joshua with the work of God. This was a vision of what it would be when the Kingdom came to earth, when Christ finished the work of reconciliation on the cross. Everyone who believes in Him will be clothed in new garments, forgiven of all that makes us filthy before Him. Satan is rebuked because Christ has given us His righteousness; all our failures are covered by His goodness. With out new clothes, we are sent into the world to share the Kingdom with others so that they might be cleansed and made new. Thanks be to God.
Procrastination My kids have a habit. When I ask them to do something around the house, they say “sure, Mom” and then they continue to do whatever it is they were doing. At times it is because they are in the middle of a television show and they do not want to miss anything. Other times it is a game, a book or some other thing kids love to do. They just want to finish and then they will certainly do what I’ve asked. Unfortunately, they forget and never get around to the task. By the time I discover the task was never complete, it is too late for the children and I end up doing the work.
I’m not immune from the procrastination disease, though. I was the kind of student who wrote her entire research projects in one night, buy birthday cards the day after the birthday and put off paying bills until the very last moment. My grades were less than could have been, my friends think I forgot and I end up with late fees more often than I care to admit. It never pays to put things off. Usually we end up forgetting the task needs to be done.
When the kids were younger, I did not have many things for them to do around the house. As they grow older, and more responsible, chores help them to develop good habits and learn how to take care of the household. Hopefully this will prepare them for when they grown up and they will need to know how to clean their own homes. I also want them to know that taking part in the chores is the cost of being part of our family.
“Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandments to depart unto the other side. And there came a scribe, and said unto him, Teacher, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And another of the disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus saith unto him, Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22 (ASV)
I’ve learned a great many lessons from my own procrastination. The kids have learned that I get upset when they do not do as I ask. They have also learned that when I have to do their work, I do not have the time to do the fun things they like to do. I still procrastinate, but I’m getting better about not waiting so long to begin projects or pay bills. They are getting better about doing the task right when I tell them.
Jesus wanted the disciples to know that being part of His family was not going to be an easy thing. It is a major commitment, immediate and difficult. The first disciple was willing to follow Jesus anywhere. Is he really willing to suffer homelessness, hunger or persecution for the sake of the Gospel? The second disciple just wanted to bury his father. It is likely the father was not even dead at this point. He would follow Jesus when his family commitments were complete. When Jesus calls, He is not willing to wait until we get around to doing His work. He will move on to another who is willing to step forth in faith at this moment. We can’t procrastinate when it comes to the work of the Kingdom of God. It is truly a matter of life and death. Are we willing to share the Gospel right now or will we put it off until tomorrow?
Microwaves It is amazing how much of modern technology we have come to rely upon. We do not know what to do with ourselves when the electricity goes out and we have no lights, no noise from the television or radio. We could not make telephone calls because our cordless phones rely on electricity to work. We could not eat hot food because the appliances do not work without electricity. Even a bowl of popcorn is impossible because most people only know how to make it using a microwave.
It would be comical, if it were not so sad, how we have come to rely on our computers so much. The first thing I do in the morning is turn on the computer and check my email. When I come home from an appointment or from running errands, I sit down to see what is going on in the world. I have been shocked at how work stops because there are computer problems. Cashiers in the grocery stores are unable to ring an order because they can’t add numbers or even find the prices without the computer. Too many young people cannot even make change if the machine does not do so for them. We use our computers for everything now. We send quickly typed emails or search free e-greeting sites for the perfect card rather than handwritten notes to our family and friends.
I have often wondered what I would do if something happened to my computer. I would have to get it fixed or come up with the money to buy a replacement. A great deal of my life is tied up in this computer; certainly this entire ministry is stored in the memory. There are times, however, when it is impossible to work on the computer. This weekend we are going away to Oklahoma for some much needed leisure time. It is good for Bruce to get away from the hustle bustle of work and for the kids to have some time to rest. It is good that we can spend time as a family. But it means that I won’t be writing for a few days. I miss it when I do not write. It is a time I spend alone with God, reading His Word and listening for His voice. Oh, I manage to pray at other times, but it is strange to realize that I am most aware of my time with God when I am near the computer.
“My soul waiteth in silence for God only: From him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be greatly moved. How long will ye set upon a man, that ye may slay him, all of you, Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence? They only consult to thrust him down from his dignity; They delight in lies; They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah. My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
We have come to rely on a great many things in our lives. The technology that has made our life easier has also made it more difficult. We quickly discover how much we rely on these things when they are not available for us to us. They are not innately bad, for they help us in so many ways. Yet, when we feel we can’t live without them, when a broken microwave or computer means our life will seemingly end, then we have made them too important and they become like gods to us.
Today’s Psalm is a song of commitment to God in the midst of difficulty. David was faced with men who wanted to remove his crown. He knew that only God’s grace could help him keep his kingship, his trust was in the One who could save Him. Our microwaves and computers are just things that God has given us to use in this world to make our lives easier. May we never forget that they are perishable and only God is worthy of our trust and love. Thanks be to God.
No WORD posted.
No WORD posted.
Drugs It is an age-old story, one that could be told by numerous prisoners from all over the country. The circumstances of their lives were not great, they knew no love or mercy from the authorities that were given to help them to mature and grow into responsible adulthood. So, they turned to their friends, the people on the streets who were willing to give them love, guidance and encouragement. The path was not necessarily a desirable one – drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuousness – but it brought the desired result. They are loved and accepted, often given positions of leadership to guide others.
They conform to the ways of the streets because it feels right. They think they have found freedom and peace because they are no longer subjected to the rules of hypocrites. Yet, it does not take very long before they are transformed by the very things they see as their saviors. The drugs take over their minds and the alcohol binds their bodies. They need greater hits to satisfy their needs. The control is evident because everything they do serves their master. They are transformed, not for good but for evil. They steal, lie, cheat and even kill for the sake of their next hit. They don’t think about the consequences, they only seek fulfillment for their needs. Most of the men and women who are serving time in prison are there because they lost control through the abuse of their bodies in one way or another.
When they are released from prison, they’ve had time to clean up, and yet they go right back into the same lifestyles and fall into the same errors even faster than before. They go home to the streets, to their gangs, who offer the same path to freedom and peace. They need something else to fill the emptiness of their souls. There is only One who can provide the love, guidance and encouragement they need – our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
You are probably not a convicted felon who has been transformed by the use of illegal drugs and excessive alcohol. Yet, we are no less guilty of conforming to the expectations around us, of being controlled and transformed by the things of this world. It might be our jobs, our relationships, and the way we dress, eat or play. We become like those to whom we turn for love and acceptance. Yet, there is only One Savior, and His name is Jesus Christ. Only in Him will we find true peace and freedom. In Him we live not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Metal of Honor We have often looked at the lives of the saints – ordinary men and women who are remember for doing extraordinary things for the Lord. They live faithfully above and beyond the call of duty, often dying for the kingdom of God. We usually remember these incredible men and women on the day of their deaths, days that have been set aside to celebrate their lives in this world. This is the day we remember two saints, both military men who were persecuted because of their faith. Mennas was a Roman Christian soldier during the days of Diocletian’s persecution. He deserted his post and hid in a cave, but he realized that he could not live with so many other Christians dying. He professed his faith in the arena at the annual games. He was beaten and tortured, but would not recant and he eventually lost his head. The other saint is Martin of Tours, an army officer. One cold day he cut his cloak in half and gave part to a beggar. He later realized that he had seen the presence of Christ in that beggar and he became a Christian. He asked to be relieved of his duty, but was thrown in prison instead. When he was finally released, he began preaching and eventually was elected the Bishop of Tours. He is known for intervening on behalf of prisoners and heretics who had been sentenced to death.
It is interesting that we would remember two military men on this day – Veteran’s Day in the United States. The date was chosen because it marked the end of World War I, but it is a day to thank those who have served faithfully throughout the history of our country. A new book was recently released telling the stories of those who served above and beyond the call of duty. They are those who have received the Metal of Honor, a metal given only to those who have shown extraordinary courage. The stories tell of men who ran into the firefights to save lives and flew airplanes until there was no fuel to land. Out of the many men and women who have served in the military over the years, there are only a hundred and fifty-five recipients still living.
“Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier. And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowded, except he have contended lawfully. The husbandmen that laboreth must be the first to partake of the fruits. Consider what I say; for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things.” 2 Timothy 2:1-7 (ASV)
Just as most military members never receive the Metal of Honor, most Christians will never be honored as a special saint by the church. Yet, we are all called to live faithfully and do whatever it is God has called us to do. Though there are some men and women who have been set apart for extraordinary service for our country and for the Lord, every Christian is called to live their faith in this world according to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we remember those who have served above and beyond the call of duty and look to them as living examples of how to live our lives for the Lord. God does not make us go it on our own, He is with us through every battle, giving us all we need to stand firm in our faith. Thanks be to God.
Dog Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt played a young married couple trying to make their way in the world in the show “Mad About You.” They had a dog named Murray. One day, just as they were discussing having a family, they realized that they were not even able take care of their dog. Both were busy with their jobs and left Murray alone for much too long. They decided to hire a dog walker. Now, Murray was well loved, but not much of a dog. He couldn’t do any tricks and lay around most of the day. Yet, Nate the dog-walker was able to make Murray do wonderful things. Paul and Jamie became jealous of Nate’s abilities and considered firing him. If they couldn’t make Murray roll over, why should he?
Do we ever get jealous over the things others are able to do, and wish that they could be stopped? Do we ever wish the worst for the guy who got the promotion we wanted? Do we long for the nice house or fancy car that our neighbor recently purchased? We would never want anything bad to happen to them, but we would much prefer that the good things happen to us. In the episode where Murray rolled over, Paul and Jamie tried to get him to do the same thing. When they couldn’t, they thought it was a sign that they were bad owners and they certainly did not want another to take their place.
The disciples had followed Jesus for some time when He first sent them out into the villages to preach the kingdom to the people. Two by two the disciples went out and did incredible things in the name of the Lord. They healed people, cast out demons and shared the message of Christ with many. They came back filled with excitement about all they had accomplished. A short time later, a man came to them and asked them to heal his son. The disciples could not drive out the evil spirit. When Jesus asked what was happening, the man asked for His help. Jesus rebuked the spirit and the boy was healed. The disciples must have been disappointed that they could not help the man.
“John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-40 (ASV)
They had seen the power of God manifest in their lives, but then they couldn’t do anything. Along with their disappointment, they saw another who was doing exactly what they wanted to do for the Lord. John asked Jesus to stop the man. “He is not one of us.” Jesus told the disciples to stop worrying about what others could do in His name. Instead of seeing the man as an outsider, they should rejoice that he believes and is working for the same things – that the kingdom of God be shared with the world.
I wonder how often we grumble about the work of other churches in our neighborhoods, wishing Jesus would just put a stop to the things they are doing. We look at our brothers and sisters in Christ, and perhaps without realizing, we become jealous of the ministry they have, wondering why we are unable to do the same things. Yet, Jesus tells us not to worry about the things they are doing, for if they do them in Jesus’ name, then they cannot speak against Him. We are called to do what God has gifted us to do, rejoicing in the gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, together sharing the Gospel with the world. Thanks be to God.
Fiancée George Matheson was a 19th century Scottish pastor and hymn writer. He was a teenager when he started going blind, but that did not stop him from accomplishing so much. He went to school for theology with the help of his sisters. They learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew so that they could help him study. He was a gifted preacher, able to memorize the scriptures and his sermons. Many who heard him never knew he was blind. Yet, despite his success and the love of his family, George was not without heartache. He was engaged to a young lady, but when he went blind she refused to marry him. He was heartbroken and he was so hurt by the rejection, he never married. Even though he was happy for his sister when she found a husband, he was reminded of his pain. The only consolation he could find was God’s presence. It was through this situation that George was inspired to write the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”
It is an unfortunate consequence of the human condition that people are often self-centered and unable to handle difficult times. It is easier to walk away from a situation than to deal with the trouble. I have heard too many stories of marriages that have fallen apart because one spouse got sick and the other left for greener pastures. For whatever reason – a lack of love, selfishness, or little self-confidence – they did not know how they could survive the trials of life. It is truly heartbreaking for the victim. Not only do they have to deal with the pain and suffering of their disease, they have to do it on their own. It is no wonder that George never found a love relationship.
Yet, there are those who, though left alone in this world, never feel totally abandoned. They know there is one greater than man who is faithful in all things. Knowing that God would not leave him, George was able to write these words, “O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”
“At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might me fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:16-18 (ASV)
We may never know the abandonment that George and Paul experienced in their lives, but all our relationships with other people are fragile. The ties that bind us are fragile and it can take nothing more than a minor disagreement or a life-changing disease to break those connections. They can leave us heartbroken, unable to recover from the rejection. It is especially difficult when they leave when we are in the midst of a trial, when we need them more than every. Yet, we are never left alone. Just when we think we cannot survive, when our loneliness is overwhelming and the suffering is more than we can bear, God makes His presence known and brings us through the storm. Whatever your trials, the Lord is standing near, giving you strength and courage to face the difficulty of your life. You are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Rockefeller Center The tradition began in 1933. Though there were a few years when war complicated matters, a Christmas Tree has graced Rockefeller Center for the past seventy years. The first tree had seven hundred lights and the display has grown ever since. In 1936 a skating rink was added. In 1941, two reindeer were displayed near the tree. No lights were allowed during the war. In 1941, three trees were used, one with red decorations, one with white and one with blue. One year the balls glowed when a black light shined on the tree. In 1951 the lighting of the tree was seen nationwide on the Kate Smith show. Over the years the tree lighting has been telecast with famous people given the honors of lighting the lights. Each year one tree is chosen after an extensive search for the perfect tree.
This year’s tree was delivered to the Center yesterday morning, a 79’ tree that is now being prepared for the special tree lighting on December 3. A woman donated the tree after she was approached by the team who found it to be the most beautiful and perfectly balanced tree they could find. She is a widow, and the hoopla over this tree has brought back so many memories for her. She and her husband planted the tree in their yard early in their marriage. The tree has seen fifty years of family growth and change. It could be seen out of most of the windows of their home, the home in which she still lives. When asked what it will be like to see the tree lighting, the woman simply said “I will weep tears of joy.” That tree meant so much to her family, and to her it is a joy to share it with the world.
It is amazing how the simple things of life are sometimes the most ignored but yet the most special. I’m sure it provided the backdrop for hundreds of family photos; they showed a few during the interview. I imagine they walked past the tree day after day, most often without noticing it was even there. Yet, that tree was always there, and now it will give pleasure to so many. I can understand the woman’s feelings. It is a wonderful gift she has given.
“Rejoice in Jehovah, O ye righteous: Praise is comely for the upright. Give thanks unto Jehovah with the harp: Sing praises unto him with the psaltery of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; Play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of Jehovah is right; And all his work is done in faithfulness. He loveth righteousness and justice: The earth is full of the lovingkindness of Jehovah. By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap: He layeth up the deeps in store-houses. Let all the earth fear Jehovah: Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 33:1-9 (ASV)
There really isn’t a lesson in this story, no spiritual concept to share. It is a day simply to thank and praise God for His magnificent gifts, for God is gracious and merciful. He is always there, standing guard over our homes, and guiding our footsteps. We don’t always notice His presence; sometimes we take the joy He brings to our lives for granted. Let us join with the writer of the psalm by singing His praise as we go through this day, for God is worthy of our praise. Give Him thanksgiving for His goodness, for He is faithful to all His promises. God’s Word is true, when He speaks it comes into being. Everything we have, everything that is, has come from His voice. May we always stand in awe of the Lord our God no matter what our circumstances might bring and walk as if we are aware of His presence every moment of every day. Thanks be to God.
Home Improvement We have not lived in a home that was our own for a number of years, but I vaguely remember how long it took to accomplish home improvement projects. We remodeled a bathroom, a job that seemed like it should not take very long. When we removed the old shower and tried to install the new one, we discovered that the measurements were different – the pipes did not line up. So, we had to make some adjustments, which took extra time.
The bathroom project was quite small, especially compared to the work I’ve heard other families do to their houses. Many people like to paint their walls, put up wallpaper, build shelves, sew curtains or pillows and add new electrical fixtures. These projects often take days, weeks or even months, but they are definitely worth the time they have spent. Usually they take more time than expected. I don’t know how these home improvement shows manage to get the work done in a day or two.
I love to watch the shows like “Trading Spaces” or “While you were out” to see different ways of dealing with home decorating. The do not just slap a coat of paint on the wall – they do so much more. There isn’t a room where some sort of major carpentry work is done, such as new furniture or paneled walls. They also sew soft goods, make art projects, and do a million other little things for the room. It never fails – as the time grows short, the workers get very nervous about the time. Every episode includes a moment of desperation, “We only have how long?” Some project has failed or taken more time than expected. They stand around worrying about whether they can get everything finished while the clock ticks away. It definitely adds some drama to the show, but there is some truth to the immediacy of the situation. You can’t wait until the last minute to paint the furniture, or it will not be dry enough to move. Every project needs to be complete or the design is ruined.
There is often a sense of immediacy to the work that Jesus did while He walked on this earth. We see this especially in the Gospel of Mark. The book coveys urgency to the mission: this needs to be done now. Jesus knew His time was limited; there was so much to do and teach. He did not have time for procrastinators, or for other things to get in the way. When He called, the time to answer was instantly.
“Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel. And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.” Mark 1:14-20 (ASV)
Simon and Andrew, James and John did not wait to follow Jesus. When He called, they went. Jesus changed their lives in an instant, and then He continued to change their lives through the time they spent together. There were others who wanted to follow Jesus, but they had excuses. Things from this life got in their way. Jesus did not have time to wait, so those who did not follow were left behind. God still calls us today, but we do not have the same sense of the immediacy of Jesus work in the world. We think we can wait. Yet, when God calls us, He calls us to the here and now. We never know what tomorrow will hold, and there is still so much to do, so many who need to know the love and mercy of God.
Our home improvement projects might take longer than we expect, but on the television shows there is a deadline. Most of the things we do can wait until tomorrow, but even after two thousand years of Christianity there is still an urgency to the mission. It might just be too late to share the Gospel with that neighbor or family member that you love. God calls and gifts us for today, to be fishers of men and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Gallows C.S. Lewis wrote, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which ever one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves the more we dislike it in others.” He was speaking about pride in this quote from “Mere Christianity.”
Yes, we have an overly high opinion of ourselves; even Christians fall into the trap of thinking. It does not seem very bad to be happy about our accomplishments, to value ourselves and have self-respect. It has become quite proper in our society to commend ourselves, to take pride in all we do. We do not see that when we lift ourselves onto a pedestal, we knock others off. Pride puts ourselves and our needs before anything else – including God. We do not realize the pain and suffering that can come from our self-centered words and actions.
“Then went Haman forth that day joyful and glad of heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he stood not up nor moved for him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. Nevertheless Haman refrained himself, and went home; and he sent and fetched his friends and Zeresh his wife. And Haman recounted unto them the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to-morrow also am I invited by her together with the king. Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate. Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made fifty cubits high, and in the morning speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made.” Esther 5:9-14 (ASV)
Haman thought he was the king of the world. He had many sons, an excellent position in the king’s service and a special invitation to dine with the queen. He controlled policy and even convinced the king to get rid of a whole nation of people. He valued himself above all others, boasting about his accomplishments before his family and friends. Everyone was excited about all these things meant. Yet, Haman could not be happy with such greatness because one man refused to give him the honor he thought was due to him. Mordecai did not bow to any man, only the Lord God Almighty. He thought that Mordecai’s disrespect was a sign of pride, but he never did see his own pride. It was his downfall, for seeking Mordecai’s death brought his own.
The king discovered an old chronicle that named Mordecai as the man who once saved the king’s life. The king asked Haman how to reward the one whom deserved honor and praise, meaning Mordecai. Haman thought it was for himself. So, he described a wonderful celebration. The king gave the royal robes and horseback parade to Mordecai, which was humiliating to Haman. Then, when Haman dined with the queen, he discovered the true reason for her invitation. She wanted to tell the king the truth about his advisor, that he had no respect for the lives of her people. The king ordered Haman to hand on the gallows that had been intended for Mordecai.
Perhaps none of us are like Haman, with such a self-centered concern about all things. Yet, we do value ourselves more than we ought, more than we honor the Lord our God. We seek praise for our accomplishments and yet have no mercy for those who do similar. The words of C.S. Lewis are what God hopes for our lives, that we will put others ahead of ourselves, particularly the only one worthy of our praise – Jesus. We fail, often. Yet, through Jesus Christ we are forgiven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are transformed into people who become less and less while Jesus becomes more and more. One day, we will no longer take pride in ourselves, but only in Christ who is our life, breath and salvation. Thanks be to God.
Lost I think the thing that frustrates me more than anything else is looking for something that has been lost. I have spent more time hunting for misplaced keys, overdue homework assignments, clothing that seems to disappear from the drawer. We have been looking for a CD player with a bunch of CDs that we discovered missing a few weeks ago. We can think of nowhere else it might be but in the house, yet it has remained hidden. One of these days, someone is going to say, “Did you look in…?” and I will be sure that we had. Yet, as ridiculous as it sounds, we will go look anyway and there it will be. As they say, it will be in the last place you look.
It is funny when we get into one of these searches. I will ask questions – where was the last place they saw the item? When did they see it? What else were they doing? This will often lead to strange thoughts. I have even been known to look in the refrigerator for things that definitely do not belong there. We can be so absentminded that we accidentally put things in weird places, which is why they get lost in the first place. Though we have never found our car keys in the refrigerator, we have solved a number of mysterious disappearances by looking in the most ridiculous places. “It won’t be there,” we say, knowing without a doubt that there is no way it could have been put there. We look anyway, with hope and faith that we will find what we seek.
“After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself on this wise. There was together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing. But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes.” John 21:1-9 (ASV)
Can you imagine how ridiculous this suggestion would seem to the fisherman? They had been fishing all night long and they did not get a nibble. Now, their boat was not so large that a school of fish might be on one side but not at all apparent on the other. “Throw it on the right side of the boat? There weren’t any 20’ away, what good will it do?” Yet, they threw the nets into the water – in hope and faith that something would be different. They did not even realize at that moment that it was Jesus telling them to try again. They needed fish, and this ridiculous idea was better than going home empty-handed. Immediately the nets were full of fish. Peter suddenly realized that the one on the beach was Jesus and he jumped into the sea to go to Him.
It was as ridiculous for the disciples to drop that net back in the water than for my kids to look in the refrigerator for my car keys. When I ask the kids to look in some strange place, they give me one of those “you can’t be serious” looks, but they do it. It seems like we all do absurd things at times because we have hope and faith that it will work out in the end. Sometimes we don’t even know why we are answering the call. The disciples threw the net even though they did not realize it was Jesus. Sometimes the call seems most unusual, and we do not always know from whom it is coming. God does not do things the way we would expect. We do not know what our nets might find, even when the suggestion is ridiculous. So, we answer in hope and faith, knowing God will use it for His good purposes. Thanks be to God.
Vending Machine People have been trying to beat vending machines since they were invented. Decades ago, young people tried to stick their hands up into cigarette machines to steal a pack for themselves. The machines were not very sensitive and it was easy to use a fake or foreign coin rather than the real thing. The machine accepted anything as long as it was similar in size and weight. Things did not get much better with the advent of machines that accepted dollar bills. As long as the scanner could recognize certain aspects of the bill, it was accepted. Today the sensors are more sensitive and reject many bills – even real ones – that do not seem to be true.
Yet, in those early days, owners lost a great deal of money to counterfeiters. There was a group of boys in my hometown who discovered how easy it was to get away with using fake dollars in the machines. They were students in the print shot. The school had excellent equipment, top of the line copiers. The boys realized that they could print dollar bills and use them in the vending machines. The copy was good enough to get past the sensor in the machine. A real person would never have accepted the bills, so they only printed dollar bills to use in the machines. Though the boys were not making a fortune, they were managing to get a lot of free snacks and the change from their dollar bills. The counterfeits worked, but it was not right to use them. The boys were caught and punished as soon as the authorities discovered their scheme.
We live in an age when many people are seeking the divine, trying to find their place in this world and their connection to the other world. Many reject the basic tenets of Christianity because it is foolishness. Who could possibly follow a religion in which good people are considered sinful and its god can be killed by human hands? In those terms, it seems like something that just can’t be believed. They seek power, control over the elements and even over the gods. They want to be able to mould their worship and their gods to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs and are willing to do whatever is necessary to make it happen in their way. This path includes many different types of religions, including those who call themselves witches. They manipulate the natural to suit themselves and work toward gaining power and authority over everything – including the gods. Yet, the power they use is not real. It works, but it is just a copy of the real.
“Now when the apostles that were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: for as yet it was fallen upon none of them: only they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God.” Acts 8:14-21 (ASV)
The counterfeit bills worked in the machine. The boys got what they wanted. Eventually, however, their scheme backfired and they were punished for their crime. It may have seemed harmless – just a few dollars here or there – but it was wrong. The danger of witchcraft is that you never know what sorts of spirits are answering your call, and eventually they will turn on you. Yet, the deeper trouble with the practice is that you are seeking power and control over the Father God, Creator of all things. By manipulating the natural, the witch is seeking blessings by his or her own hand rather than trusting God and His goodness.
Simon knew the power the disciples were displaying was greater than the power he ever knew as a sorcerer. When he became a Christian, he set aside his own practices, but his heart was not changed. He still wanted to control God, and was willing to pay for the power He gives. That sort of power might work, but it is not real. God rejoices when we seek after Him, but there is only one way He can truly be found – through Jesus Christ our Lord. We live in faith and God provides all we need. There is no reason to manipulate nature, for God’s way is good, right and true. He will provide to those who believe and trust in His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Haircut One day, a pastor on his way to a funeral, decided to get a haircut. As he sat in the chair, he chatted with the hairdresser. She told him that once she was asked to cut the hair of a dead man, but she was too afraid that he would sit up. So, she rejected the $150. The pastor told her that he knew of one occasion when a dead man sat up and he went on to describe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When she was finished cutting his hair, she asked if he would return. He said that he would. She said, “Good, I would like to hear more about this man.” A normal, everyday experience gave one pastor an opportunity for evangelism.
Bill Bright suggests that every time we are in a situation for more than a few moments with someone, that we approach it as an appointment from God to witness to His saving grace in Christ Jesus. Yet, most of us never talk about our faith, thinking it is the responsibility of those who are trained and gifted for that type of service. We do not act as witnesses for Christ because we think there are others who are much better suited to do it.
Willowcreek Church in suburban Chicago offers this suggestion – that God has custom-designed you as an individual with unique gifts, personality and opportunities. We may not all be evangelists like Billy Graham, but that does not excuse us from being witnesses for Christ in our daily lives. There are different types of approaches to evangelism, one of which may fit you well. There is the confrontational approach, such as Peter was known to do. The blind man in John 9 used a testimonial approach, telling the people he met what Jesus did for him. The woman at the well invited the people from her village to “come and see” what Christ could do. Matthew used an interpersonal approach, witnessing to friends and family whom he invited to a party. The woman Dorcas served people, sharing her faith in word and deed by making clothes for the needy and helping the poor in Jesus’ name.
“Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us is the word of this salvation sent forth. For they that dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet asked they of Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen for many days of them that came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses unto the people.” Acts 13:26-31 (ASV)
Imagine what it must been like in Jerusalem in those days following the resurrection. Hundreds of people had witnessed the presence of the Living Christ. What if the first disciples had not witnessed? The witnesses to which Paul refers are not just the apostles, they are all those who had seen the risen Lord Jesus. Most of them never stopped living their normal lives. They continued to cook dinner and clean house, travel to market for the supplies they needed for daily living. They worked their jobs, fed their animals, and weeded their fields. Yet, along the way they must have told someone about what they had seen. They were all individuals who shared a similar experience, yet every one witnessed in some unique manner, according to the gifts and opportunities given to them by God.
Are you willing to talk about your faith with your hairdresser? How about the grocery store clerk or the mailman or your child’s schoolteacher? You may not be bold like Paul, but do you invite your friends for dinner and share the story of Jesus with them? You may think you do not have a testimony to give, but do you invite others to see what Jesus can do? Paul boldly shared the story of Christ to those listening, building upon the witness of others. We may never see the fruit of our witness, but every chance we are given to witness is an opportunity to plant a seed that by God’s grace will grow into faith. Thanks be to God.
The End The early to mid 18th century was a time of revival in the northeastern part of the United States. Many of the churches grew rapidly as came to faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the growth was so rapid, that there were many Christians who did not have proper theological understanding of the scriptures, yet they tried to interpret the bible and discussed it with great passion. As is typical in that type of religious atmosphere, they tried to discover the date of Jesus’ return.
William Miller was newly converted when he delved deeply into the prophecies of Daniel. He decided the scriptures pointed clearly to the date of October 22, 1844. He had been preaching the message of Christ’s return and drew in great crowds of believers. They saw his sincerity and believed what he had to say. There was a financial panic in 1839, which is at least partly attributed to his prediction. The people thought the world was going to end and there was an excitement for Christ’s return. Prophetic charts were even published alongside stock market listings and current events in the newspapers. As the day approached, there was a sense of fear throughout New England. No one went to work, they gathered together on mountaintops and in churches waiting for the great event. The day passed and Jesus had not returned. Many Christians became disillusioned and the non-believers became cynical. There was a decline in Christian growth and the revivals ended. The event became known as “The Great Disappointment.”
“And Jehovah shall be seen over them; and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord Jehovah will blow the trumpet, and will go with whirlwinds of the south. Jehovah of hosts will defend them; and they shall devour, and shall tread down the sling-stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar. And Jehovah their God will save them in that day as the flock of his people; for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted on high over his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the virgins.” Zechariah 9:14-17 (ASV)
It is easy, while reading the prophecies found in the scriptures, to long for the day of Christ’s return. It will be a day when evil will be defeated forever and the righteous will see the glory which has long been our hope. But there is a reason Christ said that we would not know the hour or the day. The people stopped living when they had a specific date before them. He is not calling is to stand around waiting for His return, but to live out our lives of faith in the here and now, walking in the hope of His appearance in the clouds. It will truly be a glorious time, I long for the day when I will be face to face with my Lord Jesus.
However, as long as it is today, there is work we are called and gifted to do. We won’t miss anything. We don’t have to sit around trying to figure out when Christ will come. He will come at just the right time, as He has promised. Until that moment, let us live the life He has given us in this world sharing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. For those who believe, the Day of the Lord will be wonderful, but for those who do not believe it will be a time of fear. Let us then preach the Gospel to everyone in every situation so that on that day there will be many more who rejoice than cower in fear. He died on the cross so that all might be reconciled to God on that day. This is what Christ desires when He returns – a people who love and worship Him in joy. Thanks be to God.
Cinnamon Toast I love cinnamon toast. It is easy to make and has a lovely flavor. It is just toasted bread with a little butter or margarine topped with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. It tastes good on bagels, English muffins, and sourdough – any kind of bread. The first time I made the cinnamon sugar, I started with the cinnamon. I did not have a recipe, so I was just guessing about the amount I should use. When I started adding the sugar, I realized I had used way too much cinnamon. It took far more sugar than I expected; I needed a much bigger container to store the mixture. Now when I make the mixture, I start with the sugar and add cinnamon until it is just right.
It takes just a little bit of cinnamon to color the sugar, but it takes a large amount of sugar to dilute the cinnamon. The same can be said about righteousness and sin. It takes just a little bit of sin to color our righteousness and a whole lot of righteousness to cover our sin. Jesus used the example of yeast – a small amount spreads through the whole loaf. It took very little for the entire nation of Israel to turn from Moses and the Law he was receiving from God, a few complaints and Aaron was willing to make a calf which turned the entire nation to worship of Baal. Jesus said that the one who breaks the least of the commandments and teaches others to do the same would be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.
“Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any food, shall it become holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by reason of a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith Jehovah; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.” Haggai 2:11-14 (ASV)
Have you ever tried to remove cinnamon from a recipe when you add it accidentally? It is impossible. The grains are so small and they spread throughout the entire mixture, there is no way to remove it without getting rid of the whole batch. When I was making that first batch of cinnamon sugar, I had to get a bigger container and add a whole lot of sugar to make it right. Once the cinnamon is in there, there is no way I could ever make it pure sugar again.
We are like the cinnamon. It takes a whole lot of righteousness to cover up our sinful natures, so much that it is impossible for us to do it on our own. We can never become like pure sugar by adding lots of good, sweet works. The sin will always be there if we try to overcome it by our own works. Only Jesus’ righteousness is good enough to become pure white. It isn’t enough for us to add Jesus to what we are – He has to take all the old and make it new. Jesus did not come simply to teach us how to walk in faith and be good people. He was not just a political figure intent on bringing justice for the poor and widowed, advocating peace between nations. He is the Lord who took on the flesh of man to be the final sacrifice for sin and to bring forgiveness to all those who believe. He came to make us new again, to take out the things that color our lives and transform us into the holy people God intended us to be.
The Israelites could not be clean on their own. It took only a small amount of unrighteousness to make the whole nation unclean. All the holy things they tried to do to make up for their failure to live according to God’s Law would never make them right before God. It took something radical – God Himself cleansing the people for His glory. Thanks be to God.
Water A story appeared in “World Vision” in February/March of 1986 about forgiveness. It was called “Example in Ecuador: Forgiveness Unclogs a Pipeline.” Victor Guaminga, a World Vision projects coordinator, planned to build a pipeline to provide clean drinking water for his village. Unfortunately, to do so meant building the line right through a rival village. The two villages had a long-standing feud; the enemy villagers said that they would destroy the pipeline if it were built. They held off building.
Meanwhile, some Christian villagers from Victor’s village decided to share the Gospel with the other village, a dangerous undertaking and seemingly worthless. Few of the villagers even paid attention to the evangelists. Four people did listen and became believers. After some nurturing, those Christians shared the Gospel with their fellow villagers and the faith spread. Eventually one of the most vocal opponents to the water line became a Christian. He realized how wrong he was to keep the pipeline from being built. He asked forgiveness and offered to help. In the years that followed, the pipeline was extended to other villages, as was the Gospel and more people became Christians.
How easy it would have been for the Christians in Victor’s village had decided to keep the Gospel for themselves. The bitter battle between the two villages had touched some very basic needs. Why should they have risked their lives for the sake of their enemy? Yet, the great gift of God’s forgiveness is not something easily held for oneself. They did not let the worldly troubles stand in the way of sharing the message of God’s grace to others. The could have sat around their villages talking about how wrong the others were, instead they sought reconciliation between people which eventually led to the well-being of all.
“Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved. I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:1-3 (ASV)
There was a problem at Philippi between two women. We do not know the details of their disagreement, but I’m sure all of us can imagine based on our own experiences in the company of other believers. Perhaps they were planning a potluck dinner and had a difference of opinion about the theme. Perhaps there was a dispute about the color of the carpeting on the floor of the new sanctuary. Perhaps they disagreed about the timing of a bible study. Whatever the problem, they were having difficulty reconciling. What usually happens, however, is that such a fight divides a congregation, leaving some people on one side and the rest on the other side. This type of problem, whether big or small, has been known throughout history to cause congregations to split. It can be a heartbreaking time for all, as even families cannot agree about the situation.
Paul exhorted the people of Philippi to find forgiveness and peace in Jesus Christ, for the women to reconcile and the rest of the congregation to help them to do so. It would never happen if they took sides. Paul knew the women were Christians who had labored for the Lord, they weren’t horrible people. They just needed to be reminded of the Gospel, to see one another in terms of grace. Like the man in the enemy village, they both just have to see how much they need Jesus and realize the silliness of the disagreement. Then in forgiveness and reconciliation, they can work together to share the Gospel with others. The same can be true in our own congregations rather than having families divided over silly things like potluck themes, colored carpeting and the date of our next meeting. It is certainly not worth destroying the body of Christ for our own pride. We can find common ground in the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Rules During his first worship service after assuming the leadership of London’s Westminster Central Hall, a Methodist church, William Sangster announced to his congregation that war had officially broken out between England and Germany. He transformed the church into an air raid shelter and ministered to the needs of a war ravaged people. He managed to continue his normal work while serving the needs of the people of London during a difficult time. After the war, William discovered that he suffered from progressive muscular atrophy. It took three years for the disease to kill his body. In the end, as the paralysis took over, he could only move two of his fingers. Though it could be expected that a man of such vitality and accomplishments might be bitter about such horrible troubles, he never let his attitude about the Lord falter. He made up four rules for his life, for his death, rules that helped the world see the love of Jesus in the difficulties he faced. The four rules were “I will never complain. I will keep the home bright. I will count my blessings. I will try to turn it to gain.” Though he could no longer do the things he had done before the disease, his positive attitude continued to manifest God in his life.
I don’t know how he did it. It doesn’t take much for me to find a voice to all my complaints. I’m not so sure that my home is always bright. My blessings are hard to see in the midst of trouble. There are some things that simply do not have any good in them. Yet, I know these are good rules to live by because in them we see the love of God shining forth in the faith of the one who lives them. They can’t be done by the person’s own power. We can’t live without complaint unless the love of Christ dwells within our hearts. We can’t be bright without the mercy of God keeping us through our difficulties. We can’t count any blessings unless we see all things through Christ who saves. God can make anything good for those who love Him.
“Be pleased, O Jehovah, to deliver me: Make haste to help me, O Jehovah. Let them be put to shame and confounded together That seek after my soul to destroy it: Let them be turned backward and brought to dishonor That delight in my hurt. Let them be desolate by reason of their shame That say unto me, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: Let such as love thy salvation say continually, Jehovah be magnified. But I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinketh upon me: Thou art my help and my deliverer; Make no tarrying, O my God.” Psalm 40:13-17 (ASV)
I imagine there were at least a few non-Christians who witnessed the fading life of the great man of God with a gleam in their eye and an “I told you so” on their lips. The good always die young, so they say. “How can you continue to believe in one who would allow this to happen to you?” They would have easily confronted William with such words, but his attitude would not allow for it. He would not complain, but would keep the light of Christ at the forefront. He praised God for the blessings and used even his sickness to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We may never have the success and opportunity for service as William Sangster. We may never suffer through such a troubling disease. Unfortunately, there are few who are able to receive such difficulty with the same hope and grace as William Sangster. A great many, even those who are Christian, do not see the positive that can come out of suffering, even death. “I have done great things for God. How could He abandon me like this?” Yet, in this Psalm David does not complain about the persecution he faces, he goes to God for salvation and help. With Christ, we can do the same. He is our strength, our salvation, our hope and our peace – not only in times of triumph but also in times of trouble. The Lord hears our prayers, He does not abandon us even though it may appear to be so. As we remember His faithfulness and trust in His love, the world will see the God of grace magnified in our lives. Thanks be to God.
Turkey Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and the mad rush for final preparations has begun. Most of the turkeys will probably be sold today so that they will have plenty of time to defrost properly. I was shopping a day or two ago and it was impossible to get through the aisles with so many people and extra merchandise available. Rather than risk the stock running out of the top items, they have stacked extras all over the store. It was like an obstacle course trying to get around the stacks of green beans, canned yams, marshmallows, stuffing mix and pumpkin pie ingredients. Shoppers blocked the other groceries as they tried to decide if they wanted whole or jelly cranberry sauce and which sort of rolls they should use.
I know that most folk will begin their dinner with some sort of prayer, sharing their thanks for all the blessings of their lives. And yet, as I watched people trying to prepare for the festive meal, I saw little sign of thanksgiving. People were pushing to get through the aisles, grumbling at those who were slower or less decisive. I heard comments about the cost and the work. A few were even sure that no one would appreciate all the hard work they were going through for the dinner.
Thanksgiving is not a uniquely American holiday; most countries have some day set aside to offer thanks for their blessings. Yet, American thanksgivings are different. There are few people who would stuff and gorge themselves so full of food that they can’t even move when they are finished eating. Americans then settle down for the day to stare at the television, watching parades or football. Women are offered daylong marathons of chick flicks or home improvement shows. Families get together, but after a few minutes there is nothing left to say, so we fall asleep on the couch or easy chairs, moaning at how much we overate. When we wake up, we go right back to the food and snack on leftover turkey.
Unfortunately, we do not spend very much time talking about the One who has given us this abundance. Prayers of thanksgiving are said, often showing gratitude to the cooks and hosts, sometimes mentioning the Creator. The kids are thankful for the day off of school or for their favorite toys, but never see that God is the giver of the greatest gifts.
“Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; His lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations.” Psalm 100 (ASV)
We can’t avoid the usual celebration – the family gatherings, the fabulous dinner and the lazy times in front of the television – it is part of our traditions. I don’t think I would want to avoid all the festivities of Thanksgiving Day. Yet, this year as we are buried in turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, let us remember that there is a purpose to the day that has gotten lost for many. It is a day of thanksgiving and praise to the One who has provided for all our needs. Those Pilgrims and Native Americans on the first thanksgiving may have been celebrating their friendship and the good things they had done for one another, but they were also praising God for His provision.
Rather than giving God just five minutes of half-hearted prayers, let us sing praises to God throughout the preparation of the feast. Instead of grumbling at the crowds, thank God for your neighbors. Rather than complain about the cost of the ingredients, thank God that you have food and buy an extra can to give to the food bank. Take a walk and enjoy the crisp, autumn air, praising God for all of creation. Enjoy the people who cross your path, the slow shopper at the grocery store as well as the family and friends with whom you share the meal. This Thanksgiving will be more joyful if we spend the week praising God rather than giving Him five minutes on Thursday. For He is the One for whom we are thankful, the One who deserves our praise. Let us make a joyful noise. Thanks be to God.
Potluck I am making mashed potatoes today, a lot of mashed potatoes. I guess you could say that I am making enough to feed an army. We are having a potluck Thanksgiving luncheon at Bruce’s work, so the food we bring will feed hundreds. It might seem like too much work, but it will not be too bad. I am just making mashed potatoes, so even though it is a lot of mashed potatoes, it is actually much easier than making an entire dinner. If I were trying to prepare an entire thanksgiving meal, even for just our small family, it would take more than a dozen pans, mixing bowls, measuring cups and utensils. The clean up afterward is exhausting. I can never make just the right amount of food, particularly with such a big feast, so we end up with too many leftovers.
Now, I do enjoy some of those leftovers, so this can be a disadvantage of potluck dinners. But there is always a week’s worth of food, which is just too much. Generally there is little food left from a potluck dinner, and each is person is able to take just their own dish or a small portion of each item instead of having more than they can eat. A potluck has so many other advantages. You can get a taste of many different types of food as each cook brings his or her own traditions to the meal. The work is shared among many, leaving each cook plenty of time to enjoy the meal and the fellowship. The praise is also shared among all, so that no one person is getting all the glory for the entire meal. This is particularly important at a fellowship that is designed to honor God for all our blessings. Too often the cook gets all the credit and God’s abundant provision is forgotten.
Unfortunately this often happens in the church. I remember driving down a highway one day and passing a very large, beautiful church. On the corner of the property was a sign advertising the church, or should I say the pastor. The billboard had a huge picture of the pastor and an invitation to come to hear him speak. There was no reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, except perhaps the word “Christian” in the church name. The focus was entirely on the pastor and his gifts, not the Lord and His gifts. A well-run congregation will have many people doing many things working together for the glory of God.
“But when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you; for this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (ASV)
Paul saw the Thessalonians as a congregation who were working together for the glory of God and he was grateful. He found comfort through his sufferings in the knowledge that the congregation was living faithful lives, standing fast in Christ. He could not even find the words to express his appreciation to God and the believers for all they had done.
I’m looking forward to the potluck today. Though it will not equal the type of gathering we would have on Thanksgiving, it will be a wonderful time to enjoy the gifts of many other people while sharing fellowship together at this wonderful time of year. The joy is not found in the kind words and compliments from people, but rather in seeing hungry people fed by the hand of God who gives all good things. I’ve never known a potluck to run out of food, for people to go hungry when many people bring their gifts together into one meal. In a potluck dinner we can see God turning a little into much.
The Thessalonians were not much as individuals, but together they shined the light of God. They were able to bring comfort and peace to Paul, a man who willingly suffered under persecution against the Church, even while he was in chains. He could see by the reports he heard that the people in Thessalonica were working together, sharing their gifts, for the sake of the Gospel. And he was thankful to God for all He did in their lives. That’s the way a well-run congregation will appear – no one person standing out above the rest, but all equally taking part in glorifying God and growing together in faith. Thanks be to God.
Seeds I did a little bit of cleaning yesterday and discovered a pack of seeds that a friend gave me several years ago. I never planted the seeds, thinking that one day we might live somewhere that would offer a better garden for them. Unfortunately, they are just sitting here doing nothing, wasting away in the package. If I had planted them three years ago, I could have not only enjoyed the flowers, but I could have collected more seeds to be used at a later time in another garden.
It does no good for a farmer to keep his seed in the barn. He must take them out into the fields and bury them in the dirt. There they will grow into plants that will provide families with food and the farmer with more seed to grow another field next year. The more a farmer sows in his fields, the greater yield he will have in the end. One single seed can produce hundreds of new seeds. Oh, there is always risk. The weather may cause trouble. If it is too cold, too hot, too wet or too dry the plants will not grow well. Swarms of insects can affect a harvest. Even on a bad year, however, most farmers can at least manage to return their original investment of seed. It will cost them greatly, but they can probably get back the original amount of seed. What if the farmer decided every spring that it would be a bad year, never planting the seeds? The seed would rot in the bags and he would never see a harvest. He might as well not even be a farmer.
Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians. “If you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly, but if you sow generously, you will reap generously.” The seeds that Paul is referring to are the seeds of hope, manifest in the gifts of one who is blest to one who needs those blessings. By sharing everything we have with those who have less, we plant seeds of hope and peace in their lives. They see Christ through the gift and turn to the One who will increase the harvest. By sharing, we do not reduce our own gifts, but God will supply all we need and more.
“For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 (ASV)
It is easy to be thankful for all the blessings we have been given by the Lord. Living in thankfulness is much more difficult. It means reaching out beyond us in word and deed with those blessings, giving them up for the sake of another. It means using our time and talents to benefit other people, not just for our own fulfillment and profit. It means planting the seeds of hope by sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear God’s promises, but also by feeding the bodies of those who hunger in the flesh. For every seed that is planted in thanksgiving to God, He will return it exceedingly. It may not be returned in the same form, but we will be blessed beyond measure in the Kingdom of God.
That’s what thanksgiving is all about. Not just being thankful, but also being thankful in a way that the world will see how God loves and blessings His people. Sowing the seeds of faith into other lives does not reduce the amount of faith in your own, but rather God makes it grow deeper and fuller. Then others will live in faith and hope, glorifying God in thankful living planting seeds in the lives of even more. One seed can return a hundred fold when planted in thanksgiving and praise. Thanks be to God.
Stress Hans Seyle, a prominent researcher in the field of stress claims that two attitudes more than any other affect human lives – revenge and thankfulness. These two emotions influence our state of mind, our health and our feelings of security and success. Revenge is an unhelpful, negative emotion that causes frustration and unhappiness. It is dangerous and unhealthy. On the other hand, a grateful heart knows peace and joy. Hans writes, “among all the emotions, there is one which more than any other, accounts for the absence or presence of stress in human relations: that is the feeling of gratitude.”
A man named Mike’s wife was in the intensive care until of the hospital. When asked about her condition, he answered that though things were not great, she did recognize him and they prayed together. He added that they sought comfort in the scriptures, particularly the passage from James encouraging believers to find joy even in the trials of life. God is able to make good things happen out of the most horrible circumstances. It does little good to worry and fret when we can look toward God in thanksgiving and praise, knowing that He is able to do the most extraordinary things in our lives. Mike finished by saying, “It is impossible to be anxious and thankful at the same time.”
“I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify him with thanksgiving. And it will please Jehovah better than an ox, Or a bullock that hath horns and hoofs. The meek have seen it, and are glad: Ye that seek after God, let your heart live. For Jehovah heareth the needy, And despiseth not his prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, The seas, and everything that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah; And they shall abide there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it; And they that love his name shall dwell therein.” Psalm 69:30-36 (ASV)
It may not always seem possible to find joy in the midst of our suffering or thanksgiving in the midst of our pain. Yet, when we focus on the negative, when we worry and fret or even go so far as seeking some sort of revenge for our misery, we will suffer in our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Stress can cause so many problems in our bodies, hearts and minds, but we can live in a way that will reduce the level of stress in our lives. With thanksgiving and praise, we see God in even the hard times and trust that He will do good things.
Here in America, today is the day we all join together to be thankful for our many blessings. Yet, one day is never enough to really live a life of gratefulness. For good health it should be a daily attitude, an emotion that accompanies every aspect of our lives. Thanksgiving is not just one day a year when we go overboard with the love and food, but it is a way of life that brings joy and peace to the lives of all who live it. It helps us see the goodness of God even in the midst of suffering. He does not desire that we sacrifice anything, except to offer Him sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. There we will know His salvation and His presence. Thanks be to God.
Shopping Today was the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Vicki and I got up early this morning to visit the stores and check out their sales. For the past week we have been getting advertisements from every type of store through the mail, on television and in the newspaper. The ads were filled with spectacular values, special deals available for only a few hours today. Early this morning the people were lining up in front of the stores, waiting for the doors to open so that they could get the best buys of the day. Some of the specials were available in limited quantities. If you wanted the cheap electronics or clothing to use as gifts, you needed to be there first thing.
Most retailers save their advertising budget for this time of year. For the next four weeks the papers will be filled with similar ads to coax the customers into their store to spend their hard earned cash. It is a time of intense competition. When one store offers an item for a hundred dollars, the next store will undercut the price to sell more. It is all about profit, this time of year makes or breaks the store. A good season will mean the store will be around for another year, a bad one may mean a store will have to close. Without advertising, the customers will never know what good offers are available.
One of the strangest things about Jesus and His ministry is that He did no advertising. He didn’t send in a party to announce His coming, to prepare a village for a show. He did not arrange for specific show places or times, did not send out press releases about his appearances. He did not even want people to talk about the miracles He did. Whenever He healed a sick man or cast out demons, He asked them to keep it quiet. He wasn’t looking for a lot of business, to be the most successful prophet of the day. He had another purpose and a specific plan.
“And after these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Judaea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the feast of the Jews, the feast of tabernacles, was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may behold thy works which thou doest. For no man doeth anything in secret, and himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world. For even his brethren did not believe on him. Jesus therefore saith unto them, My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its works are evil. Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up unto this feast; because my time is not yet fulfilled. And having said these things unto them, he abode still in Galilee. But when his brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went he also up, not publicly, but as it were in secret. The Jews therefore sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the multitudes concerning him: some said, He is a good man; others said, Not so, but he leadeth the multitude astray. Yet no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.” John 7:1-13 (ASV)
Jesus’ brothers thought that since He was doing all these great things, He ought to be doing them in a way that more people would know about them. It was about time for Jesus to be making a name for Himself, and the best place for Him to do so would be Jerusalem. There would be no better time for Jesus to impact the world than to show Himself at a Feast. They did not understand the plans of God, did not believe what Jesus was teaching.
Jesus did not want to miss the festival, but it was not the right time for Him to openly share His gifts. If He were to start performing for the crowds, they would misunderstand His message and seek to elevate Him to a position of earthly authority. They wanted a king to rule their land; they thought the Messiah would be just like King David. That is not what God intended for His Messiah. Even when Jesus made Himself known at the feast, many misunderstood him. Jesus did not do things as we would do them. His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts greater than our thoughts. It might be well for the stores to advertise their sales during this Christmas shopping season, but Christ does not need to share the message of salvation. Thanks be to God.
Hiding place When I was young we lived in a house that was on the edge of the city. Behind the house as a large field and a little further there was a small forest. As we grew older, developers slowly added houses until the field and the forest completely disappeared. In those early days, though, it was a great place to play and hide. I had some other favorite spots. We had an umbrella tree that was almost like a cave. The full and bushy branches reached to the ground but there was a hollow in the middle, perfect for hiding from bratty neighborhood boys. We also had two dogwood trees that were close together. Though these did not make a good hiding place, it was one of my favorite places to go read. I would spread a blanket beneath the trees and sit on the ground leaning against one of the trunks. The leaves kept the spot shady all day and a cool breeze blew even on hot days.
Those places are long gone, but over the years I’ve found other special places where I could hide. Though they are not always places where I am necessarily hidden from the world, they are places that are comfortable, where I find peace and rest. They are the places where I have been able to talk with God, to see and hear Him most clearly. We all have special places like these, whether it is a room in our home or a favorite retreat spot. There we escape the stress of life and find a momentary respite from the daily grind in our hectic world. I seek out that special place whenever I get tense, frustrated, confused or exhausted, for I know that there I will be able to let go of my troubles and gain strength from the presence of God. Even when we cannot get there, memories of such a place can help us through the difficult times.
“And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set. And he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed. And behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, Jehovah stood above it, and said, I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee, whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land. For I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
Jacob was running away. He did not know where he would go or what he would do. He did not know what the future would hold for him and his descendents. He had a dream while he slept along the road. In the dream he saw the Lord God at the top of a set of stairs on which the angels were ascending and descending all night long. He knew this was a special place, because in the dream he saw this was where the kingdom of God touched the earth. In the dream God promised Jacob that He would never leave or forsake him. “I will go wherever you do.”
Though God would go with Jacob, Jacob still saw this as a special place – the house of God. It was where he met God face to face and came to believe in the God of his fathers. It was there that he promised to worship God and give Him a tenth of all his possessions. For the years that followed, as he worked for Laban and married Rachel and Leah, Jacob always looked forward to the day he would return to his special place, and praise God for His faithfulness.
Though we do not need a special place to find God, we all have fond memories of those places throughout our lives where we were without doubt in the presence of God. In those moments of quiet prayer, listening for His voice, we see and hear God personally as He makes His promises real for each of our own hearts. Thanks be to God.
Advent Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church year and the start of the countdown to Christmas. One of the many traditions we enjoy in our church and in our home is the lighting of an Advent wreath. This simple custom includes a wreath with four candles, one for each Sunday in Advent. We read scripture and look toward to coming of Christ. Each week we light another candle and journey closer in time and spirit to the One who is our Savior. We have several other Advent calendars and devotionals that we use, some with the stories of God throughout history, others with candy or pictures of Christmas symbols. The children enjoy the daily reminders of the coming celebration and the scripture references keep us focused on the reason for the season – Jesus.
In the next month we will also celebrate the season with other traditions – caroling, baking and parties. These traditions draw us together, unite us with a common heart and prepare us for what is to come. In of themselves, they are really rather meaningless. Christ will come whether we count down the days to Christmas or not. Christ will come in His glory whether we are hearing His story or not. God will save despite the pathetic effort we make to do His will in this world. But the traditions of our past, of our culture, of our present family helps to keep our hearts and minds in what truly matters in this life – our faith in God and our hope in His promises. What matters most is that the traditions we keep, the days we celebrate, point to the One who is our Savior. Do we live for the Lord and glorify Him in all we do?
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Romans 14:5-9 (ASV)
One of the things the kids often do in school is to write stories about the things that they do for the holidays that are unique to their own family. My children always write about the pizza we share on Christmas Eve. It became part of our family custom because it made it was so much easier to get out to go to church when we did not have dinner to cook and clean up. After a year or two, my mother became part of the tradition by sending us the money we used to buy the pizza. We never stopped doing it even after she died, because it continued to remind us of her love for her family. Other families have other things they do for the holidays, each custom holds a certain meaning or memory for that family.
Every country also has its own Christmas traditions. It is fun and amazing to see the different traditions from around the world, to see the ways in which other people celebrate the coming of the Savior. Some are more secular – there is a Santa Claus type figure in almost every country. Other places focus heavily on the religious aspects of the season. Some places celebrate Christ’s birth on different days. Other places commemorate different aspects of the Christian story. Each custom has special meaning for those who practice it year after year. Are they necessary? No, they are certainly not necessary for the salvation of God’s people. Yet, when these traditions are given to God they do well to draw us closer to Him and help us to grow in faith and live in hope in this world.
Christ is the reason for the season, and the world waits expectantly through Advent for the coming of the King. In every country, people are preparing for their feasts and festivals, decorating and baking according to their own beliefs. For the next twenty-five days, we will look at Christmas around the world and celebrate with people from other countries as they give their lives and all they have to the Lord Jesus Christ to celebrate His coming in the manger and His return in Glory one day. As we journey through Advent with our brothers and sisters from all over the world, let us give to God our own traditions and live them for Him. Thanks be to God.