Welcome to the November 2004 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 2004
November 1, 2004
Render to no man evil for evil.
All Hallow’s Eve We live in a brand new neighborhood. We could not ask any of our neighbors about Trick or Treating on our street because none of us were here a year ago. Most of the houses have been built in the last twelve months, so even those in the adjacent blocks that have been here awhile had no idea what it would be like since we have at least 100 new families. So, I set up some decorations and settled on a folding chair on the driveway. It was a most pleasant evening, the weather cooperated. We had approximately one hundred children of every age. They were polite, excited, thankful and dressed wonderfully. Even the teenagers went to the trouble of donning a costume for the evening festivities.
It was a fun way of getting to know the neighbors. I recognized many of the families as they came by and I chatted with the parents while the children showed off their finery. Vicki went with her friends from the International Thespian Society at her High School. They were doing the “Trick or Treat so kids can eat” program. Rather than Trick or Treating for candy, they collected canned goods to donate to the local food bank. Vicki said that some of the families were extremely generous – not only giving six, eight or ten cans for the cause – but also giving the kids a few pieces of candy. Zack said that the people giving candy were so nice. On family left their treats on the door, trusting that the children would be considerate. Another family gave full size candy bars. We heard much laughing and pleasantry last night.
Some years the atmosphere of Halloween has been almost evil, but last night there was a feeling of sociability and peace. Even the costumes indicated the pleasant attitude with many children dressed in their favorite movie characters. The teenagers, who tend toward the darker costumes, chose more humorous costumes this year. There were only a handful of people wearing evil looking characters.
I realize that Halloween is about being something or someone different than your everyday living, but there is something very disturbing about the obsession with evil and death that often accompanies the celebration. It seems to bring out the worst in people – greed and rudeness. Over the years I have wavered between enjoyment of the holiday to extreme disgust over the activities of October 31, but I’m glad we participated last night because it was a fun evening.
It is really amazing how a little bit of evil can turn things toward evil. It takes a radical response to turn the tide from bad to good. We are, of course, tempted to return evil for evil because that is the type of justice we know. We live by the Old Testament command “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and willingly do whatever is necessary to make it happen. Yet, Paul entreats us in the letter to Rome that we should not render evil for evil.
“Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For, He that would love life, And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips that they speak no guile: And let him turn away from evil, and do good; Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God should so will, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing. Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
If God ruled according to the rule “an eye for an eye” every one of us would be going to hell, for human nature is born separated from God and in direct opposition to His will and purpose. However, He has come in the flesh of mankind to overcome the evil and death that so much wants to control the world in which we live. He has defeated evil and He now calls us to live accordingly, giving no place for evil in our hearts or our actions.
We will be hurt, it is a fact of live in this world in which sin still has a part. However, as Christians we are to live in radical opposition to that which would control our lives. So, when we are hurt, we do not seek justice in the ways of men, but rather we seek justice according to God’s will which includes mercy and compassion. We are to bless those who bring us harm, turning the attitude from evil to goodness for the sake and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men.
Voting Today is Election Day in the United States. It has certainly been a difficult time for the American public as we have listened to the incessant discussion over what would be best for America. The candidates and the commentators have gone on endlessly for weeks, months, even years, discussing the issues that affect us on a daily basis. The more they talk, the more divided we seem to come. We simply cannot find a common ground in ideas.
The NIV rendering of today’s verse from Romans states “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” When it comes to election issues, this is impossible to do. How do you vote for one candidate and do what is right in the eyes of the people voting for the other? There are those who are so passionately sure of their candidate that any vote against him is considered to be evil, un-Christian or stupid. They can’t see the good in the other man, whatever it might be and they are unwilling to accept that there are logical and godly reasons for making their choice.
So in such a hotly contested race, how do we do what Paul asks? How do we do what is right in the eyes of all men? In this case, it is not necessarily choosing the right ideas, but rather making the choice. In America, it is unfortunate, but a large portion of our citizenry will choose not to vote. They will avoid the polls because they do not want to make the wrong choice. They don’t want to be involved; they don’t want to support either man. Many think that their vote does not count. Some are avoiding the polls because they are afraid. Voter intimidation has already been happening. Campaign signs have been stolen and destroyed. Some voters have received phone calls telling them that there are problems at their polling station and that they should not bother to go vote. Even the candidates have subtly used the news of the day to try to sway voter choice.
The most difficult part of this decision making process for Christians is the fact that we are also divided among ourselves. We should be united in everything, but we are divided by thought and ideology. Some Christians lean toward one candidate and others lean toward the other. The same disagreements that are happening in the political arena are also happening in the Christian church. We are divided by our understanding of who we are and whose we are. We can’t talk among one another and seem honorable in the eyes of our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we please all of the people all of the time when our ideas are so divided? We remember that our unity rests not in our own thought but in God.
“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)
It is not this easy. This world is divided by ideas and many people can not overcome their differences. However, as Christians we are called to make peace in this world. Sometimes this means to let go of our ideas – not to give them up, but rather to keep them to ourselves – so that we can find a common ground on which to walk. There are difficult issues facing the church as well as in our world. How do we deal with our differences when we can not even talk with one another?
The one thing we have to remember as Americans is that the one place we can agree completely is that we have a right to make the choice. Every American eligible to vote should make it to the polls today no matter what they face to get there. The winner might not be our choice, but at least we will be united in the process. This is the first step to finding other common ground.
We disagree about many things in the church – these differences go back to the earliest days, when the first Christians were disagreeing about certain aspects of the faith. Some of the questions are new, but many of the questions have been discussed among theologians and believers for two thousand years. And yet, one thing has kept us united – the Holy Spirit. We are not called into faith to agree with everything we hear, but rather to join in the worship of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we are praising Him with joy and thanksgiving with one voice, the other issues do not seem to matter quite so much. Thanks be to God.
If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.
Sleep The cats are quite predictable with their schedule. Early in the morning they come to our bed and do whatever is necessary to wake us up so we will feed them. Bruce is usually the one who will get up with them, since he gets up earlier for work. The cats follow him upstairs after they eat. They bother him while he showers and dresses or they bother me while I try to sleep a little longer. They play chase tag around the house to get their morning exercise and then they are both ready for a nap. By the time the children are off to school, both have settled into their favorite spot to have a nap.
For some reason, Tigger was more playful today. Felix was comfortable on his chair when Tigger quietly approached. He peaked over the arm and then sat back on the seat. Felix could see him through the wicker woven side. Tigger peaked over the top again, patted Felix on the head and then sat on the floor again. Felix looked at Tigger, but tried to ignore him. Once again Tigger popped his head over the arm and patted Felix on the head. Obviously Tigger was looking to play. Now, Felix’s response to Tigger’s silliness is often a growl and a slap back, but today Felix was in a good mood. They played for a few minutes. Felix helped Tigger work out that bottled up energy and now they are both settling down for a long day’s nap.
There is a great deal in this world about which we argue which really has little or any redeeming value. In other words, we bicker with our spouses about where to go to dinner or what movie to see. We fight with our kids about the choices they make. We battle with our neighbors over the inconveniences of living in close quarters. We argue about the ideas, practices and traditions that are part of our life. Some things do matter in this world, such as who will lead us into the future and how we define ourselves before the world. However many of the things about which we are passionate will not make a bit of difference in the eternal scheme of things. It is better to be a peacemaker than to make an enemy over one of those issues.
“Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of Jehovah. What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, And thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:11-14 (ASV)
The biggest problem we face when we get into discussions over these trivial matters is that we tend to become wicked in our dealing with those who disagree. We call them stupid or we think them ridiculous for having such a point of view. We even question their faith if the issue is something that is really important in our mind. Yet, as Christians we are called to consider the issue from a new perspective. How will the outcome affect the eternal security of those who will believe? Will it matter tomorrow if we saw one movie over another? Will heaven be changed by the school our children attend or the outcome of our battles? Will Jesus Christ love the world any less because of our opinions about these issues?
There are some things about which we will never agree. Does that mean we should continue to be enemies for the sake of ideas? Or do we find some way of getting along with one another. Felix gave Tigger five minutes of play time so that now he can relax to his day of rest. When we disagree about issues, it is our responsibility to find some common ground. For Christians, that common ground is faith in Christ. Even when we disagree about important things, we are called to be at peace with one another, keeping ourselves free from evil by treating others with love and mercy. It won't be easy, because some people enjoy the cat and mouse game. Yet, even in when we are provoked into the discussion, we have the power of God abiding in us to avoid doing the evil that leads to war. Thanks be to God.
Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.
Director Last night was the first performance for the play in which Vicki has a part. They were running behind with the practices and they never had a full dress rehearsal before they presented the play. In previous years, attendance at the first performance was rather low since it is on a week night. However, this year the auditorium was well seated. As I watched the performance, I was impressed with the quality of the show – the sets, costumes and acting was excellent.
I went early this evening to take dinner to Vicki and help her with her hair and I stayed to watch the chaos as everyone prepared for the second showing. The directors called the cast and crew together to discuss issues from last night. As an audience member I saw very little wrong with the show, but the directors had a list of things they expected to be fixed tonight. They were somewhat harsh, but only so that the students would push themselves to do better. They did not want the actors to relax and become overconfident. Though they yelled a bit before the show, they are in reality quite proud of those kids for doing such an incredible job. A parent was surprised that they would yell at the kids, but I knew it was for their own good.
There are a great many things in this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that is difficult for us to deal with in our Christian walk. How do we love? How do we hate evil when so much evil seems so good? How do we stand firm in God while suffering tribulation? How do we put others first, especially God? How do we live in a world that is turned upside down from what our flesh knows and expects? Through Christ God brings us into a new kingdom, one that is much different than what we know, see, hear and touch.
Even today’s verse is hard. When someone does us harm, we expect retribution and we will do anything to make it happen. We justify our revenge with the proverb “an eye for an eye” and yet Paul tells us not to seek vengeance. It seems almost stranger still that Paul would quote the Old Testament in reference to this issue, because we have come to understand the God of the New Covenant to be one of grace not wrath. How do we juxtapose to two images of God?
The quote comes from Deuteronomy 32, otherwise known at the Song of Moses. In this passage, Moses tells the story of God’s relationship with Israel from covenant to unfaithfulness and back to the covenant promise. He sings of their rejection of God, the curse for disobedience and the inability of the false gods to save them. In the end, though Israel would face difficulty brought on by their own unfaithfulness, God will never forget His covenant promise to His chosen people.
“And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun. And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel; And he said unto them, Set your heart unto all the words which I testify unto you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, even all the words of this law. For it is no vain thing for you; because it is your life, and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over the Jordan to possess it.” Deuteronomy 32:44-47 (ASV)
God’s grace accompanies us through everything we experience. In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people that God’s Word is their life. This is fulfilled in a very real through the New Covenant of Christ Jesus, who is our life today. Vengeance is something of which we do not know and we would prefer not be a part of the God of love we know. Yet, God promises that one day He will be vindicated. This has happened on the cross, where He took out His wrath on His own Son. Now, through His blood we live in the grace of God for today and for all of eternity.
We do not know the hearts of men. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We barely know ourselves. But God knows. While we are quick to seek revenge for harms done, God is longsuffering. It is not that He does not seek justice, but rather than He seeks justice according to His mercy and grace. Sometimes we have no idea why things happen or what God will do with them. This is why we should trust God to be the avenger because He will always do what is good and right and true. Thanks be to God.
But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Godly life& For nearly a month, we have been looking at the words from Paul’s letters to the Christians in Rome, encouraging them to lead a Christ-like life. These words seem simple and sometimes easy. We can certainly love our neighbor – in word and in deed – when our neighbors are lovable. However, our neighbors are not always lovable. Sometimes they are wicked and hateful. We can put others first, especially those we love, but there are times when we are selfish and self-centered, needing to take care of ourselves before we can meet the needs of those around us.
We can speak the words of love and blessing about our enemies, but it is much harder to offer forgiveness and prayers for their sake. We can persevere in times of trial if the trials are not overwhelming. We are humble about many things, but we are also proud and arrogant about much. We can agree when everyone agrees with us. We can be at peace with those who are peaceful. Today Paul asks us to feed our enemies and give him drink. In this way we overcome evil with goodness, since evil will never overcome anything – it will only bring us all further from God. This is all easy to say and even easy to agree to obey, but it is not so easy to make it real in our lives. As a matter of fact, I am sure that while we all desire to live this wonderful godly life that Paul describes, there are none of us who are able to do so without falling in some way.
As we read the words in the context of the passage from Paul, it seems possible that we can follow. In the grand scheme of things, we do love our neighbors and treat people with mercy and grace. Yet, have we lived up to this godly life when we grumble about our neighbor whose music is too loud one night? Do we always rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep? Are we ever proud, vengeful or impatient? Do we always pray and serve as we ought? When we take these encouragements one at a time, we realize that this is an impossible task.
“And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, even God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother. And he said, All these things have I observed from my youth up. And when Jesus heard it, he said unto him, One thing thou lackest yet: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But when he heard these things, he became exceeding sorrowful; for he was very rich. And Jesus seeing him said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Then who can be saved? But he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Luke 18:18-27 (ASV)
We are not called into a relationship with Jesus Christ so that we will be perfect. We are brought into His presence by the power of the Holy Spirit through His grace so that we will be made perfect through His Word as we journey in faith. It is not an immediate transformation, but rather a transformation that takes a lifetime. In the end, God has and will overcome all our sin by the blood of Jesus Christ and we will spend eternity living in His presence. We live in a world that is full of sin, including our own flesh. We don’t overcome that evil with our own wills, but by the grace of God.
The certain ruler was able to keep the law, but when asked to go beyond his own expectation of righteousness, he knew he could not do it. Unfortunately, he walked away from Jesus. When we find ourselves faced with an expectation from God that we find impossible to complete – when we know we should feed our enemy but we just can’t do it – we look to God to overcome our sin by His grace.
For nearly a month I have encouraged you, using the words of Paul, to live a more godly life. Now we need to recognize our own inability to be obedient to these encouragements. We will fail. We will grumble. We will forget to love and serve. We will be unmerciful. We will be disobedient. However, we will also be forgiven and sanctified so that we can try again to live as God calls us to live. Thanks be to God.
Pain The Today Show had a story today about a little girl in Patterson, Georgia who is suffering from a rare disease. CIPA, congenital insensitivity to pain with anhydrosis is a condition in which the person feels no pain. We might consider this a blessing because we all would want our children to go through life without feeling any pain. However, pain has a very real and important purpose. It helps us to know when something is wrong. We feel pain in our body when we are sick. We feel pain when we have hurt ourselves. We feel pain when harm is coming to our flesh.
When little Ashlyn was only a few years old, she put her hands on a scalding hot pressure burner and her hands were burned terribly. Most children would realize the danger quickly and pull their hands back. They might end up with a first degree burn which would require some care, but Ashley had no idea that the burner was so hot. She did not know she was suffering. Another person with CIPA had a case of appendicitis and did not realize it until it was too late. This victim did not even know she was sick.
Ashlyn’s parents discovered this ailment when Ashlyn was just six months old. Her eye was red and the doctor discovered that she had a massive corneal abrasion. She should have been screaming in pain, but sat happy and carefree on her mother’s lap. When asked what they wanted for their daughter, her parents answered, “a normal life.” They even want her to feel pain because they know that she would be much safer if a cut or a bruise would cause tears.
When we think of blessedness, pain never enters our mind. To the human mind, blessed are those who are healthy, wealthy and popular. We equate blessedness with being comfortable, contentment with satisfaction. We would never consider the poor, hungry or sick to be blessed, for they are suffering in a world that God made good. However, the danger comes when we are too comfortable. We do not see that we need help; we do not look toward God for His grace.
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12 (ASV)
As parents we wish that our children would never suffer pain, but Ashlyn’s parents recognize how important it so for physical health to know suffering. As I think about my own children, I can be thankful that their ear infections and broken bones brought tears because it caused us to take them to the doctor for proper care. If those ailments had gone untreated they would have become worse physical problems.
Jesus had a way of turning our world upside down. We would much rather life comfortable and happy. We would much prefer a life of wealth, health and popularity. However, Jesus never promised us a rose garden. He promised Himself. We can find blessedness in poverty and in mourning, not because there is anything good about these things but because it is in suffering that we turn to grace. Physical blessedness is found in pain because the pain makes us look to the one who can heal our problem. Spiritual blessedness is found in suffering because it makes us look to God. Thanks be to God.
Cell phone We recently changed our cell phone account. We stayed with the same company but upgraded the service. Vicki has needed to have access to a phone – her after school activities do not always take the same amount of time, so we can not plan beforehand when she will need a ride. She has been able to find a phone, but usually it meant borrowing one of her friend’s cells. Luckily, our service had a special. If we upgraded our basic plan to the one a level higher, we could have two additional phones for half the price we are paying for our second plan now. In other words, we are paying almost the same amount for a third phone as we were for only two.
Yesterday I received a letter of verification for this new service, but the numbers on the paper were incorrect. They had the two extra phones for twice as much as I expected. When I called, the woman at the company told me that it is correct on our account in her computer; I would see the difference on my bill when it comes. I was happy to hear it and I thanked her for her time. Now I need only wait to check out my bill to be sure that it says what it should.
Promises are rarely immediate, or else they would not be promises. It takes faith and trust to wait patiently to see the fulfillment of the promise. This is not only true with the promises of men in this world, but it is also true of the promises of God. God has already brought salvation and redemption to this world, though at times it is hard to believe. We are saved, but it is hard to accept because we still suffer and hurt. Sin and death has been defeated, yet we still see sin and death in our world. God’s promise is true and it is fulfilled, but we are not going to fully see it until the Day of the Lord. We simply have to wait and watch in faith and trust until that day.
“Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; with the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein; Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98 (ASV)
Despite the question about the bill, I am glad that we have taken the step to get Vicki the phone. We are all resting a little easier now knowing that she can be in contact with us and we can be in contact with her if necessary. We will just have to trust that the phone company’s computer will really bill us according to our contract, and if not we will have to fight for what was promised.
We never need to fight for what God has promised. He has already shown us His salvation in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the evidence to the contrary, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s promises are true and that He will always be faithful. We will not fully see His faithfulness until that day when we join Him in Glory. Until that day, we need only walk in faith and rest in the promises knowing that God has overcome the world. We can not overcome the world by our own abilities, but we can know the world is overcome by the blood of Christ and walk in the promise daily praising God for showing us that which is to come. Thanks be to God.
Individual I am very picky when I choose my fresh fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. I might stand at a display for five minutes, checking every bunch of bananas or every bag of grapes, just to find the perfect batch to purchase. It is amazing how quickly some of the fruit deteriorates. All it takes is one bad apple or one grape that is starting to turn to make the whole thing go bad. The juice that is produced by the rotting fruit spreads quickly and everything decays before you realize there is even a problem.
We can see this happen in the classroom. Yesterday morning I was trying to read a bible story to the children at our preschool. We decided to do it outside because it was such a lovely day. Unfortunately, we had one or two children who decided it would be funny to make silly noises. The children sitting near to these instigators are normally very quiet and attentive, but they played along, making it impossible to share the story. We took the entire group into the classroom to sit in our usual circle area. This meant the whole class lost the privilege for the sake of a few.
Perhaps this is not fair, but sometimes it is the only way to overcome the difficulty. We are such an individualistic society that we really do not understand how an innocent person can be blamed for something someone else did. This is why so many people in today’s world have difficulty with the idea that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Of course, the inattentiveness of a couple of preschoolers is nothing compared to greater sin which is separation from God.
“And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to Jehovah, the God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Of a truth I have sinned against Jehovah, the God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: when I saw among the spoil a goodly Babylonish mantle, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. And they took them from the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel; and they laid them down before Jehovah. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the mantle, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them up unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? Jehovah shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones, unto this day; and Jehovah turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.” Joshua 7:19-26 (ASV)
This is a troubling passage for us in this modern age. Why did the whole household have to suffer for the sin of one man? Everything, including his children, cattle and all his possessions were destroyed. We are offended by the idea of this Old Testament form of discipline and we would even question if this is the same God to which we owe our worship and praise.
Yet, the whole purpose of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ was to overcome a world of sin to which we are not personally to blame. We can appear to be completely righteous according to the Law of Moses, and yet we still need reconciliation with God because we are, by nature through Adam, separated from Him. In other words, we all also deserve to be stoned in the desert due to the foolishness of one man even though we, ourselves may not have sinned.
Yet, we do not live in an age of Law, but in the age of Grace. Rather than punish all men for the sake of one, He took His wrath out on the only One who did not deserve to die. Jesus Christ became all of us; He became our sin so that in His death all sin was destroyed. Now by His grace through faith we live in the promise that God has turned away His anger from our sin so that we might live in peace with God forevermore. 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.
Elevator You are in a large building and need to get to the twenty-third floor, so you walk up to the elevator. There is no one around, but the ‘up’ light is already lit. What do you do? You push it again, of course. Oh, you might wait a moment or two, look around to see if anyone is nearby, but inevitably everyone pushes the button. Most people will even push it if there are people who are already waiting. For some reason, we do not believe the light. If the elevator is not there immediately, we are sure that something did not click. So, we call it again. Our second, third and fourth pushes will not bring the elevator any faster, but we think we can make a difference.
Our faith in God is much like our trust in that elevator. The button has been pushed – by Jesus. The light, it is there, but the affects are not immediate. So, we keep pushing, thinking our works will make God come faster. We think that He is slow because we have done something wrong, of that He is tardy because we haven’t done enough. We think that He is waiting just around the bend for that perfect moment and we try to create it to bring Him faster. While justification is an instantaneous event, sanctification is a lifelong process. We have to remember that the process is no creating faith, but is building on that which God has already done through Jesus Christ our Lord. We run into difficulty when we think that the process is what is going to bring us salvation.
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified? This only would I learn from you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh? Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain. He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them. Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:1-14 (ASV)
Just as we can’t bring the elevator any faster by continually pushing the button, we also can’t bring faith or salvation by our own works. Even when it seems things are not working – if we have difficulty overcoming the sin in our life, we can’t turn to the Law or our works to make it happen. We must trust in God’s promises and know that the Lord Jesus has overcome all that separates us from God. When we try to obey, we can’t. Our flesh is too weak. However, when we live in faith, the Spirit that dwells within our hearts will get us through and give us all we need to be obedient. The Law will never save. Salvation has come through Jesus Christ our Lord and we need only trust that God is moving in our lives to see the sanctification that He will bring through faith. Thanks be to God.
Forecast Forecasting the weather is not an easy task. Modern meteorology has enhanced the ability of a weatherman by creating computer programs that can interpret the information and make a much more informed guess as to what will happen. Even still, it is impossible for the reporters to get it perfect all the time. They can come close, but there conditions can change so rapidly and the fronts can move in unusual ways, creating new circumstances. They would have to remain on the air twenty-four hours a day, and even then the report for one location might be different than the report for another.
I was watching the news broadcast on Sunday morning, hoping that the reporter would flash up the current radar. He was saying that we should expect a few light showers during the day. What I did not realize is that on Sunday mornings they do not bring in a reporter, they tape a spot the night before to use at that time. So, the report was at least twelve hours late. Conditions had obviously changed overnight because we were in the midst of a nasty thunderstorm with heavy rainfall and flash flooding on the streets.
There are some signs that can be read and the outcome is quite obvious. There are other conditions that can change rapidly. This is what makes the weatherman’s job so hard. He can be sure of a forecast, but even the slightest change in atmospheric conditions can make an entire forecast obsolete.
There are a great many people who have tried to interpret other signs that have appeared, signs that point to the coming of Christ. Prophets and prophetic interpreters watch for things to happen and they try to decipher what they mean and how they relate the biblical descriptions of the last days. For two millennia, people have forecasted the coming of Christ, even setting definite dates to the event. These forecasts create hysteria among believers, some giving up on life, work, family and friends to devote every moment to the waiting. I have heard many prophetic witnesses claim to understand the events of the day, but most often their ‘words’ are proven false in the end.
“Wherefore I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you. And I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me. Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:12-21 (ASV)
During the banter on a news program, the anchors often joke with the weatherman about the weather. “Can’t you make this weekend sunny? I have outdoor plans.” They say this as if the weatherman has control of the weather – that he makes the weather. It is especially funny when he can’t even get the weather forecast right. If he can’t even interpret the signs, how might he make it happen?
The same is true of many prophetic voices in this world. As you hear them speak, you can almost see how they think their words will make the event happen. There is an incredible arrogance to predicting the time of Christ’s return, or even expecting that it will occur in our lifetime. No matter how much we would want it to happen, because certainly we would like to see the end of all suffering and pain, it will not happen because we say it will. It is most humorous to watch a prophet explain away his mistake – to justify his interpretation and reconcile it with actual events.
God is in control of every moment, including that moment when everything He has promised comes into fulfillment. We simply need to walk in the faith He has given through His word of hope in Jesus Christ, knowing that He is faithful. Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. This we know to be true. Thanks be to God.
Mail When we lived in England, getting my mail was one of the highlights of my day. We had to go to the post office to get it out of a box. Being so far from home, I always hoped that there would be a special letter or some other contact from our family and friends in the U.S. The greatest days were those when there was a small card in the box. The card meant there was a package waiting. It was particularly exciting at Christmastime because we knew that we would be getting presents from home. There were many disappointing days, however. We did not get mail every day; we did not even get much junk mail. There were rarely packages and letters were few and far between. There would occasionally be a bill, bank statement or a magazine. My hope led to disappointment most of the time.
Now that we are living in the U.S. again, getting my mail is not the big event it used to be. I have realized that it is useless to hope over something that is improbable. Such a hope leads to disappointment and takes away our joy. We are called to have hope in something much greater, something more trustworthy. In Christ, our hope rests in nothing less than in the promises of our Lord Jesus.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 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.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (ASV)
It is easier to hope that we will get special mail in our boxes than it is to hope for that which we will never see in this lifetime. The salvation which Christ promises has come to us, but we do not see the benefits in this flesh. We still see and experience persecution, suffering and pain, all those things which God has promised will be destroyed in the last day. We are disappointed when we hear that things will be different but we do not see those changes in our lives. We doubt the hope in which we are called to live because we can not grasp it with our hands. At least our mailboxes do occasionally hold that special letter or package.
Yet, the mailman is not worthy of our faith. He is a man like you and I. The fact that he does not bring us what we want is not his fault – we won’t get mail that is not sent. We shouldn’t even have faith in those who might send us those special things because they aren’t worthy of our faith. When we put our faith in people or in objects that might bring us joy, we are often disappointed. However, when we put our hope in God, we may get impatient waiting but we can always be sure that He will be faithful. He is worthy of our trust. We can live in the hope of His promises because they are real, even if we do not see the fulfillment today. We walk in faith even through those difficult times because in hope we look beyond today and beyond this world to something that is imperishable. When the day comes, we will live in the glory of God for eternity, because He has said it is so. Thanks be to God.
Winner I imagine just about every one of us has had a time when we hoped for some sort of financial windfall – particularly during those times when we are short in funds. We think that if only we could come up with a few thousand we could get out of debt. We think a million dollars would change our lives, so we buy a ticket or two every week hoping it will be the one to win. When the prizes are extreme, some people are willing to do stupid things in order to win. I’ve heard stories of folk who mortgaged their homes so they could buy a thousand dollars worth of tickets. Others are willing to drive to distant states where the tickets are available. We pray and hope we will be the lucky winners. We do not realize what it costs to win such a large amount of money.
I read an article this morning about people who had won, only to lose it quickly. Not only have they lost all their wealth, several are so deeply in debt that they will have great difficulty getting out. They have been estranged from family and friends because of greed – both on the part of the winner and those seeking a share of the prize. Some people face ridiculous lawsuits from people only interested in the money. One couple divorced. One man ended up in prison for murder.
The trouble is that most winners think they have won more money than they really have won. The lottery commission releases the news that the latest winner is ‘a new millionaire.’ Yet, the amount of money they receive is often little more than an average person’s salary. They quite their jobs, but by homes that far exceed their financial resources. They make poor investments. They say “yes” to every request for donations or gifts. They use the prize as collateral for loans that are beyond their ability to pay. Most of these ‘millionaires’ run out of money in six months to three years. Then they go back to their old life, though often they go without people they love.
When buying those lottery tickets, we need to understand the cost of winning. We also should consider the cost of faith. Though salvation is not a financial windfall, many people will expect things from a person of faith that might be difficult to give. I know folk who will go to a Christian to pray for things they want, simply because they think the Christian has a better connection to the divine. The person often suffers persecution from unbelieving family and friends because they do not like the changes they see in the new life from Christ. The believer is considered haughty, holier-than-thou and boring. Faith has affected jobs and social interests. All too many Christians do not count the cost and they fall from faith easily, ending up right back where they started or in a worse position than when they first believed.
“Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:25-35 (ASV)
Many lottery winners are able to win and make the changes necessary to use the financial windfall well. Financial counselors recommend a cooling off period before spending any of the money – a chance to really consider the best way to invest, use and give the funds. If it is put into an account that can’t be touched for a few weeks or months while the winner studies the possibilities, they won’t be tempted by every offer that comes their way.
The early church required all new believers to undergo an extensive education program before they were welcome into full fellowship with the congregation. This catechetical program lasted two or three years, after which the Christian could be baptized. Those early Christians were being persecuted even unto death. They wanted to ensure that the believers really understood the cost of faith, so that they would not fall quickly under the persecution. As the Church began to grow and as it became more accepted in the world, Christians were flocking through the doors in such great numbers that it became impossible to give such lengthy instruction. The new believers were no longer taught the cost of discipleship and the church eventually became complacent about the possibility.
That’s where we are today. A great many people come to faith with little or no understanding of the costs. They are like the lottery enthusiast that wins, having no idea how quickly the money can disappear. When something goes wrong, when shallow faith is not enough to get them through difficulties, they fall away and reject God’s gracious gifts. This is why the Great Commission does not simply tell us to share the Gospel with the world, but rather we are called to also teach those who believe what it means to be a disciple.
Fog Several days ago we had severe weather come through our area. There were several minor tornadoes, strong winds, heavy rain, treacherous lightning and flash flooding. The roads were covered with water well into the next day and the rivers were just reaching flood stage hours after the storm passed. By yesterday afternoon, the clouds were gone and the sun was shining, though there are still some standing water and moistness in the air.
It is this water that was left behind that is causing our weather difficulties today. It is foggy, so bad that it is difficult to see the house across the street. Video from the cameras on the major roads around town show how dangerous it is to drive this morning. Fog is troublesome, not because the driver can’t see the road, but rather because the fog masks what is happening a short distance ahead of them on the road. It takes much longer for the car to stop than you realize, so when you suddenly come upon a problem it is too late. This is why there are so many multi-car pile ups on foggy days.
Knowing that we do not know what is happening beyond our vision should make us more aware of our driving so that we will slow down and be better prepared for what might lie on the other side of that wall of dense fog. Unfortunately, we become complacent, thinking that we can handle the emergency when it comes and we do not take the precautions necessary. Our unconcerned actions lead to disaster for ourselves and others.
While we live in this flesh our vision is not as clear as we might think it to be. We can’t see beyond this day or into the realm of God. We can only know that which He has revealed to us through the scriptures and the Living Word, which is Jesus. We often walk around with our intellectualization of everything, thinking that because we think it must be true. We change God’s word to fit our ideology and we pretend that this is what He has said. We race through life with this understanding and run into all sorts of difficulty.
We have to recognize that we are not seeing clearly, no matter how faithful or informed we think we are. We have to live in the understanding that even though in Christ we are made saints, we are still sinners who live in a fog. We can’t see beyond the here and now, we only know what God has promised and live in those promises in faith. When we realize that we do not see clearly, we will move forward toward the vision of what will be with the care of knowing that we don’t know what is just around the bend. We will be prepared to face whatever lies just beyond our sight.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (ASV)
We go forth in faith in the excitement of knowing that God has promised us eternity in His presence. I don’t know about you, but I am anxious to get to there. This excitement to see the fulfillment of God’s word through Jesus Christ on the cross is no reason, however, for us to go forth willy-nilly unconcerned about the things we might face in this world. We should walk in faith while being prepared for what might come. The world is a dangerous place and tomorrow holds surprises – good and bad – that we must go through to get to our final destination. We do not know it all. God still holds mysteries for His people and the world. As long as we recognize that we can’t see clearly while we live in the flesh, we will be prepared to meet whatever shall come our way. Thanks be to God.
Fish What do you think when you look at a can of tuna fish. Do you think it is a great deal of food? I’m often tempted when I make tuna fish salad to open two cans. Surely that small amount could not be enough for one person let alone a family. When the juice is drained and the tuna is in a bowl, it almost takes on a life of its own. You just have to work it with a fork a little, add some celery or onions and then some mayonnaise and one can makes enough to make several sandwiches.
It is not so hard when I am making the food for my small family. The kids don’t even like tuna fish, so I have other food available for them to enjoy. It is when I am making sandwiches for a group that I worry. A few weeks ago I made a pile of finger sandwiches for a meeting. I had no idea how many would come, so I wanted plenty. I was sure one can would not be enough. I put generous portions on each piece of bread and as I was stacking the sandwiches I realized I had made way too much, even if we had fifty people at the meeting. It is not the first time I have learned that a little goes a very long way.
Whenever I prepare to take a dish for a potluck, I make enough to feed an army. I do not want anyone to feel like they did not get enough food. What I forget is that every other person in that army is also bringing a dish to share and I end up taking enough food home to feed an army. There is an almost supernatural affect on the food of a potluck dinner; there is always more than is needed.
“After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they beheld the signs which he did on them that were sick. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude cometh unto him, saith unto Philip, Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred shillings' worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, who hath five barley loaves, and two fishes: but what are these among so many? Jesus said, Make the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to them that were set down; likewise also of the fishes as much as they would. And when they were filled, he saith unto his disciples, Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost. So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which remained over unto them that had eaten.” John 6:1-13 (ASV)
At the end of every potluck when I am gathering my leftovers, I try to remind myself that I did not need to make so much food. I promise myself I will do better next time. Yet, the next time comes around and I do not have the faith of Andrew – I worry about how we will feed so many people. Andrew saw something in that small amount of food. Even more importantly, he saw something in Jesus and knew He could use that small amount to do incredible things.
I’m not suggesting we should begin every potluck with two fish and five loaves of bread; however we should go forth in faith in all our circumstances without worrying about whether or not we have enough. This is true not only with potluck dinners, but in all things we do in faith. God has granted us gifts to be used for His glory. Though we do not always think we have enough to accomplish the work He has for us to do, we need only believe in God for He will make our little bit become a great feast. Thanks be to God.
Storms Yesterday was not a very good day. We had thunderstorms with drenching rain and flooding streets. Many of the dry creek beds are overflowing, appearing to be raging rivers. I happened to be out before the storms began, getting some early morning grocery shopping done before going home for the day. I knew it was going to storm, but I had no idea how severe the weather was going to be. I managed to finish and get to my car during a brief respite – it was still raining, but much slower.
On the way home I drove through water covered roads, bad but not dangerous. I took my time, got out of the way of the crazy drivers. It was amazing to see the amount of water that was collecting on the sides of the road, rivers forming where there is normally grass. We have had a record amount of rain this November, the ground is saturated and the dams are full. Of course, when we were in the threat of a drought, we would have been happy to have this water. Now, it is too much.
There are several ways I can get into our neighborhood. I just wanted to get home, so I took the closest road even though I wondered if it would be safe. About eight inches of running water was covering the road. Now, it is safe for a car to drive through that depth. Unfortunately, I hit a large pothole that was forming on the road. My car went a little deeper and water got into my engine. I managed to get almost out of the water onto a side road when my car went dead. I called for help and sat there hoping I could get the car started. I have to admit that I was a bit concerned. The car stopped in an intersection, though away from the main traffic. I was afraid, however, that if the water rose much further, I would be in serious danger.
A lady from a nearby house came to ask if she could help. She took me into her home and offered me a towel. She helped me watch for Bruce who was coming with help. She asked her neighbor to help me move the car into a better place. She got the tools they needed to try to fix the car. Her husband came and helped. It was wonderful to have so many strangers care about our well-being. The car is in the shop, more seriously damaged than we originally thought. Through it all, there was one thing that kept me going – faith that God would take care of me.
“My heart is fixed, O God; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah, among the peoples; And I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And thy truth reacheth unto the skies. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, And thy glory above all the earth. That thy beloved may be delivered, Save with thy right hand, and answer us.” Psalm 108:1-5 (ASV)
We face scary moments in our life – whether it is health, safety or financial issues. We worry that we will lose our jobs. We fear for our children’s safety. We are nervous about the weather and other natural disasters that can destroy our lives. My problem was minor. I was so thankful I could get my car out of the water to higher ground. It could very well have been far worse. Hundreds of people got stuck in similar circumstances and were not so lucky. They had to be rescued because the water was much deeper. Dozens of cars drove by on the same road and had no trouble at all. I just happened to hit a bad spot which affected my engine.
We have to remember whenever we face difficult circumstances and things go wrong that God is near to us. We might be concerned or frightened by the situation, but we can also sing praise to God. Even when I was drenched and my car was dead, I rejoiced and praised my God, because I knew He was with me. We will face difficulties in our life and we will die – it is a fact of our flesh – but even when we face death we can know that God will bring us through to something greater which is why we rejoice. While we can rejoice over the small miracles that we experience in this life, our true joy and peace rests in the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This is why God deserves our praise, not because He gets us through the storm. Remembering this, we can rejoice even when we are afraid and praise God even when things seem to be out of control. Thanks be to God.
Turkey Today is the day before Thanksgiving in the United States. For many people, it is a day of travel. For others, it is a day of preparation. As I look around the house, taking stock of the work that needs to be done, I wonder if it is all worthwhile. We spend a fortune on food and cook way too much. We clean the dust off our furniture which our guests would probably not even notice. We decorate with gourds, flowers and fruits that will just rot eventually and be thrown in the trash. We take on this day with such extravagance that I wonder if it is not just wasteful. We are also excessive at Christmastime, but at least most of that money is spent on gifts that will last beyond one meal.
Perhaps it is a waste when we consider all those people who will not enjoy such a scrumptious meal in the comfort of a warm, loving home. There are those who do not have the financial resources available to buy the turkey and fixings. There are others who are far from home and unable to be with family and friends. There are others who simply have not found anyone who might want to share a meal. There are those who would say that our resources should be spent on helping the poor and lonely rather than on a feast. Many families have even turned to working at soup kitchens to give to others. This activity helps us to appreciate our incredible blessings.
Yet, to put together a Thanksgiving feast for family and friends is not really a waste. We put so much love into the work, even the cleaning. We do this because we want to do something nice for those we love. We want to show them how much they are loved.
“Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment, and she poured it upon his head, as he sat at meat. But when the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. But Jesus perceiving it said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” Matthew 26:6-13 (ASV)
The woman did an extravagant thing to show Jesus how much He is loved. It was also symbolic of His upcoming death – though she may not have realized she was anointing Him for such an incredible sacrifice. The disciples were offended by her waste because it could have been used for such better purposes. However, in other versions of this story, it was Judas who was most upset and his purpose for the money was far more selfish because he was a crook.
Jesus commended her for the act, telling the disciples that she would forever be remembered for her selfless act. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor.” This is so true, the poor are poor on every day of the year, not just at the holidays. We only think about them when we begin feeling guilty about our extravagance. It would be much better to remember their needs on a regular basis than to be self-righteous about our goodness on one day. So, do not feel guilty about your extravagance this Thanksgiving Day. Remember the poor and the lonely – perhaps even invite someone to your dinner – but enjoy loving your family and friends on this special day without worry.
Thanksgiving Our newspaper this morning was filled with advertisements for the big after Thanksgiving sales that will begin very early tomorrow morning. Some stores are open as early as 5:30 a.m. with specials that last only an hour or two. As we ate breakfast, we scanned the ads to establish our game plan for tomorrow. Vicki and I are planning on going out into the fray for thrill of the hunt. There are a few things I would like to purchase, but I do not know if we will manage to get there in time for the best specials.
It is hard to believe that Christmas is only one month away. Our schedule is already full with activities – parties and programs, preparation and decoration. It is a wonder that we get any of it done while we still have to maintain our daily lives. Isn’t it amazing, though, that I have not yet even begun cooking my Thanksgiving Day turkey and I am already worried about tomorrow? We are so busy looking ahead to tomorrow that we forget to enjoy the here and now. Today is Thanksgiving Day, will we be so busy with preparation that we miss out on the blessings of living in thanksgiving and praise right now?
“Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9 (ASV)
It may seem impossible for us to rejoice always, particularly since we live in a world that is filled with incredible difficulties as sickness, poverty and war. However, Paul’s lesson for us is not that we should walk around singing and laughing as if there is nothing wrong, but rather to live in the peace of God knowing that He is present in our lives through it all. That peace of God is not something that can be earned or discovered through our work. It comes from faith – trusting that God is near. Paul is calling us to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus so that when we do face those times of worry and fear that we can still rejoice and walk in faith.
Walking in faith includes living in thanksgiving and praise to God our Father. Our greatest hope is in the future, that day when we will spend eternity with God, yet we have so much for which we can be thankful. There might be a great deal to accomplish in the next month. There might be many things to do today to make this a special day for our family and friends. But let’s not forget that this is Thanksgiving Day and take time to thank God for His many blessings. Our praise should include a remembrance of what He has done for us in the past year, but it should also be filled with joy for the promises which we have not yet seen fulfilled. As we walk in thanksgiving, our lives will shine with the joy and peace of Christ. We can’t explain the peace that comes from actively living out our praise to God, but the world will see the joy we have in the presence of our God. Thanks be to God.
Car I’m driving a rental while my car is in the shop. Now, I have to admit to being a little ‘blonde’ when it comes to finding my car in a busy parking lot. I normally try to park as close to the same place as I can every time I visit the store so there will be no question as to the direction I need to go to find my car when I leave. Vicki and I did a little bit of early morning shopping today with the mad crowds in the after-Thanksgiving sales. The stores were packed and the parking lots were full, leaving us no choice but to park in the first spot we could find. We had difficulty finding our car more than once, partly because it was not in our spot and partly because I kept looking for the wrong car. Add to it the frustration of dozens of other cars of the same color and general shape as the one I am driving and you can understand how lost we felt.
As we think about our Lord Jesus Christ and those who walked with Him two thousand years ago, we wonder how anyone could have missed Him. He was obviously from God, for He spoke with authority and He had such incredible gifts. How could anyone who listened to Him have thought anything other than the fact that He was the Christ? How could they miss the Messiah whom they were so desperately seeking? They knew all the prophecies, they knew all the signs. They knew what God was going to do. Yet, they did not see Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One.
“And it came to pass, as he was praying apart, the disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Who do the multitudes say that I am? And they answering said, John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again. And he said unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God. But he charged them, and commanded them to tell this to no man; saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.” Luke 9:18-22 (ASV)
The Christmas rush has started. There was music playing in the stores and evergreens were decorating the halls. It is no wonder as we look at our busy schedules filled with parties and other activities that we almost miss out on the reason for the season. For most of those shoppers this morning, Christmas is a time of giving, of loving and of celebrating. Yet, they do not recognize that Jesus is the reason for the season. They might have heard of Him, but they do not know Him. They see Him as a wonderful teacher or an important historical figure, but they do not know His salvation. They may realize that Christmas for Christians is about Jesus, but for most of the world it is about Santa and lights and presents.
I could not find my car because it is not the one I recognize. The Jews did not recognize Jesus when He ministered to them two thousand years ago. They were looking for something else. They were looking for a Christ that would fit their needs and their ideology. They thought, perhaps, Jesus was a prophet or even Elijah – signs of the coming of the Messiah. Only Peter, by the Spirit of God, recognized the truth about Jesus. The Christ would not be what they expected. They had misinterpreted the scriptures and were looking for the wrong savior. Even when the disciples knew, Jesus would not allow them to tell the crowds. There was work to do.
I would not want the Christmas season to be any less than it is for our family. We enjoy the parties and the preparation. We love the baking, wrapping and decorating. We love to share our love and our gifts with others. Yet, we should never forget that Jesus is the reason for the season and keep our hearts and minds focused on Him. He is the light of the world, even when the world is brightly lit with Christmas lights. He is the bread of life, even when our tables are graced with scrumptious sweets. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.
Magazine A recent issue of a monthly magazine I receive had an interesting juxtaposition of topics on the front and back cover. The front cover showed a picture of a starving third world woman, suffering under the oppression of a dictatorship. The article connected to the picture was informing the readers about the need to reach out globally and how to help others. On the back cover was an advertisement for a company of financial representatives that advise clients about how to handle their resources. The ad had a list of things that people might want like a new house or boat and then encouraged the reader to make the right choices.
Though the magazine was most likely not designed with that picture on the front and the ad on the back, several readers were disturbed by the vast discrepancy between their world and ours. One pastor found a poignant sermon illustration; another reader was confused by the differing messages. A third asked how we might respond after having read the article and the ad. Will we give our money in global outreach or will we put it away for tomorrow? This is certainly a most difficult question we have to ask daily in our world. We have an account at a financial advisor similar to the one advertising in the magazine. It is difficult to decide how to be good stewards of our resources while trusting God above everything. We have needed those funds set aside for a rainy day, yet at what point does our savings become more important than our mission and ministry to the world?
The book of Joshua tells the story of the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land. They had been saved from Egypt by God through Moses, carried through the desert wilderness for forty years. When they crossed the Jordan into their new home, Joshua led them against their enemies so that they could finally gain the inheritance that God once promised their father Abraham. As Joshua’s last official act as God’s servant, he renewed the covenant that was established between God and Abraham. Joshua reminded the people of all God had done for them and called them to commit themselves to His service.
“Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah. And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.” Joshua 24:14-15 (ASV)
The juxtaposition of the starving woman and the financial ad shows the challenges we face living as saints and sinners in this world. Our choices will indicate where we put our faith. This does not mean we have to reject financial planning or stop saving for a rainy day. God calls us to be good stewards of the many resources He has given us for use in this life. However, we must be careful to keep our priorities straight.
The thing that disturbs me most is that the financial representatives often begin a client consultation with the admonition that we should pay ourselves first. This is clearly not the biblical way of stewardship. This makes our own desires above that of God and our own needs more important than faith. Our choices indicate our priorities and our priorities are our gods. If we are more concerned about buying that new house or boat than we are about sharing our resources with those we need, then we have chosen to follow another God. The choices we make every day may seem to be unimportant, however each choice points to the ultimate choice we have to make between God and the world. Who will you choose?
Forerunner Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Raphael paints wisdom, Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.” In this quote, Emerson names some of the greatest men in their fields. These are men who accomplished great things and are remembered long after their deaths for what they did. If he would speak those words today, he might add some other people like sports figures, politicians and entertainers that are important figures in the world. Great people have an affect on others by their words and by their deeds.
What we do not realize is that great people come from somewhere. There is always someone – a parent or teacher – who has had an impact on that person’s life and has guided them into the right path for their lives. While each of these men also have incredible God-given gifts, it took someone to encourage their growth and learning in their field so that they might become great. These forerunners are often unknown, they never reach greatness or fame for the contribution they have made. They might get a passing mention in a biography but they are not remembered as are their progeny.
When we think of the Apostles, we think of Peter as being the first. He was the one who reached greatness. It was upon his confession of faith that Jesus built the Church and he led the disciples in those early days after Jesus ascended to heaven. He stood in the forefront of their activities and witnessed the truth of Pentecost to the crowds. He did amazing things in his ministry, just like Jesus, like healing the sick and raising the dead. Yet, Peter was not the first. He was not the first one called, nor even the first one to show faith in Christ. He was not the first of the Apostles to be an evangelist.
“Again on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? And they said unto him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou? He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day: it was about the tenth hour. One of the two that heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He findeth first his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him unto Jesus. Jesus looked upon him, and said, Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter).” John 1:35-42 (ASV)
Peter was the one who reached greatness, the one we remember most when we think of those twelve men who followed Jesus. Yet, Andrew was the one who took Peter to the Lord. Andrew was the one who had faith enough to give Jesus five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men. Peter may never have become a follower if Andrew had not gone to his brother and said, “Come and see. We have found the Messiah.”
We will probably never reach greatness. Those we remember are such a small fraction of the number of people who are gifted in the task. Raphael was a great painter, so are many other artists. Luther was a great preacher, but even today there are those who speak the Word of God in Spirit and Truth though we may never know their names. Today is the day we remember St. Andrew the Apostle. On this day we are reminded that we may never reach greatness or be remembered forever for some great accomplishment, but we can be like Andrew. We are called to be witnesses to the presence of God in the world, so that others might come to know Jesus and become great for the sake of the kingdom of God. This is a most holy and important work. Thanks be to God.