Welcome to the October 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.
A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2003
October 1, 2003
Christmas Today I heard the first reference on the news to the upcoming holiday season. There have been signs of Christmas appearing in stores. Hallmark has had their ornaments available for two months. Walmart has begun the transformation of their shelves from summer merchandise to Singing Santas and other decorations for the home. Retailers are beginning to push gift ideas so that we will spend lots of money in their stores. The report I saw on the news today was about how economists were expecting a light year for consumers. One lady who was interviewed said that she was planning to spend less this year than previously.
I have to admit that I have already begun my shopping and I have been thinking about the Christmas season. There are some things that must be planned and it is best to begin early. Presents that will be sent long distances need to be bought, wrapped and packaged early so that they will not be late. I need to check my supplies – did I buy greeting cards last year after Christmas? How has my mailing list changed since last year? There are already several parties on our schedule. Will I need new clothes or gifts to take along? What charitable organizations will we support through the season? These questions are best dealt with early, so that when it comes time for the actual celebration we will not be so stressed out.
I usually write a Christmas letter to go in my cards. I know that some folk do not enjoy these form letters. They don’t like to hear page after page of bragging about all the good things that have happened, particularly if they have had a rough year. They also don’t want to hear the bad news, why depress everyone with details about our illnesses and failures? They see form letters as impersonal and cold. I love them. I’d rather a form letter than no message at all. I love to hear how the kids have grown and what they are doing with their lives. I enjoy hearing about vacations, job successes and other good things that have happened to those I love. I want to rejoice with my friends and thank God for their many blessings. I also want to hear about the bad things so that we know how to pray for those we love. Hearing about cancer, job loss and other problems can be upsetting, but the knowledge we gain helps guide our prayers for those we love. It seems unbelievable that it is already time to be thinking about another yearly letter.
“I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and exult in thee; I will sing praise to thy name, O thou Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2 (ASV)
As I think back over the past year, I am truly amazed at how many wonderful things have happened to our family. God has certainly blessed us with His presence in our lives, granting through all our experiences – good and bad – a touch of His grace and love. Christmas is still nearly three months away, but time passes so quickly these days. I hope that whatever we do through the upcoming holidays, we will do everything with the joy and peace that comes from faith in Christ Jesus. He has given all of us so much, beyond even our greatest desires. With such great gifts, how can we be silent? The Psalmist could not help but sing praises to God, to exult in His goodness. Let us all join his song, even in our Christmas letters, and worship the Lord God before all the world, that they too might see how marvelous He is. Thanks be to God.
Guardian Angels Jesus instructed the disciples to take care of the little ones because the angels that guard over them always see the face of the Father in heaven. Though that passage specifically mentions children, the guardian angels of God serve all of God’s people. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the angels are ministering spirits sent for those who will inherit salvation and the Psalmist tells us that the angel of the Lord surrounds those who fear Him. It is amazing to think that in some way that we are not aware, we are surrounded by those who can see God.
We are only aware of that which we can see, so we often go unaware of the angels that are part of or lives. I suppose it is almost like the M.C. Escher picture called “Relativity.” A description of this amazing piece says, “Here we have three forces of gravity working perpendicularly to one another. The three earth-planes cut across each other at right angels, and human beings are living on each of them. It is impossible for the inhabitants of different worlds to walk or sit or stand on the same floor, because they have differing conceptions of what is horizontal and what is vertical. Yet, they may well share the use of the same staircase.” On one of the staircases, there are two people walking side by side, and yet they are going completely different directions and are unaware of each other.
The angels are at an advantage, because though they live in a different world, they are able to see, hear and touch our lives. We rarely move in the spiritual world, living in this temporal plain. Our five senses are overwhelming enough, giving us more than we can handle sometimes. Yet sometimes, God blesses us with a momentary glimpse of the world beyond this earth. We have all heard stories of people who have seen angels. Most of us can tell of moments when we knew that we were not alone, that something or someone was guiding us to a specific place for a special reason. The Bible tells of the incredible experiences of those who were given messages by God through angels such as Mary. Though it is rare for us to actually see or hear from an angel, it is comforting to know that they are always around to minister to our needs according to God’s mercy.
“For thou, O Jehovah, art my refuge! Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, Neither shall any plague come nigh thy tent. For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, And show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:9-16 (ASV)
On this day we celebrate the festival that honors the Guardian Angels and thank God for their ministry in our lives. They are an important part of God’s creation. Even Satan knows the guardian angels are tasked with caring for God’s people, because he quoted this passage to Jesus in the wilderness. The presence of angels in many ways has lost its meaning in our world today. As with all things spiritual, those who cannot experience it with their senses do not believe it is real. So, to many in our world, angels are nothing more than cute little figurines we keep on our mantels. The idea of a ministering spirit is sweet sentimentality and not reasonable for intellectual people.
As for me, I believe they are with us, watching over us each moment, never taking their face off the One who cares for us all. It is a comfort to know that just as the angels ministered to Jesus through His most difficult moments – in the wilderness and in the garden of Gethsemane – that they are also with each of us doing God’s will by caring for us in ways we may never really know. Thanks be to God.
Recognition A few weeks ago, I helped at an event in which a group of churches worked together to reach the community by helping single parent families get ready for school. While I was there, I ran into a few people I knew from other places, not realizing they were involved with one of the churches involved in the event. During a brief lunch break, one of the entertainers said, “You look familiar.” I hate when this happens, because I can never remember people’s names or how I might know them. I could not recall any situations where I might have met this man, and it was driving us both crazy. It took some time, but we realized that our sons had been in the same class last year.
I’ve heard stories of people that ran into a star on an airplane or in the grocery store. Some folk are bold and approach the person for a bit of conversation or an autograph. Others just hold on to the memory of the day they saw so-and-so. Others try and find that it was just a look alike, and everyone got a laugh out of the situation. My only star sighting happened in a gas station. The only reason I knew someone famous was there was because the gas station attendant couldn’t wait to tell everyone that he had filled up Rick Springfield’s tour bus. We stood right between the bus and the station. There was no way that poor Rick could get to his bus without passing a couple starry eyed teenagers. He took a moment to sign some autographs even though it was late and he was obviously very tired.
It is funny to watch how people deal with seeing someone famous. Some are very bold with their calling out to the stars; the crowd pushes forward because everyone wants to be up front. They carry creative signs or do something unusual in the hopes that they will be the ones to catch the eye of the star. They’ll do anything to get noticed. It came be quite annoying at times to listen to them scream. The pushing can become dangerous; some situations have ended in tragedy as people were trampled under the crowd. There is generally some sort of security guards to help calm the crowds and keep people from rushing toward the star. Some of the stars are kind and take time to say hello, shake some hands and sign some autographs. Others just pass by.
“And they come to Jericho: and as he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the way side. And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and said, Call ye him. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good cheer: rise, he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight, and followed him in the way.” Mark 10:46-52 (ASV)
We did not know what would happen when we met Rick Springfield. He certainly could have kept walking right past us, but he didn’t. He shared a moment of his time with two excited teenagers and made us feel important.
In this story, Bartimaeus is only one small guy in a great crowd of people pushing to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He was a nobody, a blind guy with no societal worth. He didn’t get up when he heard the crowd coming. He was a beggar at the gates of the city. Yet, when he heard it was Jesus, he was the only one who really recognized Jesus even though he did not have eyes to see? He called Jesus the son of David, a Messianic reference which no one else in the book of Mark uses to address the Lord. When he heard that Jesus was near, he did everything he could to get His attention. He knew Jesus could change his life. He knew Jesus could bring Him healing and sight. He already could see, because He saw the truth about Jesus.
The disciples and the others tried to quiet Bartimaeus. They thought Jesus was too important and busy to deal with a blind guy. Jesus was never too busy to bring healing and peace to one who believed in Him. Bartimaeus could see beyond the fame and the stories. He wasn’t following Jesus just because he was gaining a following. He could see Jesus was the Christ, and he believed. That faith made him whole. Thanks be to God.
Ocean There is a story about an encounter that St. Augustine had with a young boy on a beach. When St. Augustine asked what the child was doing, he answered that he was building a trench. “Why?” Augustine asked. “I am going to empty the ocean into my trench. As Augustine continued along the beach, he thought about the silliness of the young boy’s goal. It is impossible to fit the entire ocean into a small trench on the beach. Yet, we all do the same thing when it comes to trying to understand God. He is much greater than we can even imagine.
In another story, an old man comes across a young boy on the beach, throwing starfish into the ocean. The old man noticed that there were hundreds of the starfish marooned on the sand and wondered what the boy hoped to accomplish. The boy said, “I’m saving the starfish.” The man laughed at how absurd it was for the boy to think he could possibly save the starfish. However, with each toss, the boy saved one life. The overwhelming number of starfish did not stop him from trying to do something for some. Unfortunately, we are so often overwhelmed by how much we don’t know about God that we are unwilling to even try to understand Him.
“I will extol thee, my God, O King; And I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; And I will praise thy name for ever and ever. Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised; And his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall laud thy works to another, And shall declare thy mighty acts. Of the glorious majesty of thine honor, And of thy wondrous works, will I meditate. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts; And I will declare thy greatness. They shall utter the memory of thy great goodness, And shall sing of thy righteousness. Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness. Jehovah is good to all; And his tender mercies are over all his works.” Psalm 145:1-9 (ASV)
There is a balance between our inability to fully know and understand the greatness of God our Father and our mission to know the One who is our life, hope and peace. The balance is found in our Lord Jesus Christ. He made it possible for men and women to see the Lord in a way that was never possible. Jesus is God made flesh, a perfect representation of that which was impossible to see before He came. Through He is still greater than we can imagine, we now have a place to start, a person we can truly know personally, intimately.
Through prayer, Bible study, fellowship and the sacraments, we can seek the Lord and sing His praises for all to hear. We will never fit the entirety of God into our small little trench on the beach and we may never save all the starfish. But that does not mean we should not try. If the young boy were like the old man, every starfish would die. If we were like that old man, overwhelmed by the impossibility of our task, we would not even bother to read the Bible or seek the Lord through prayer. Let us seek the unsearchable Lord so that we can speak of His goodness and mercy to the world. Thanks be to God.
Pool Have you ever watched someone play billiards or snooker? I do not watch many sports, but I did enjoy the snooker tournaments that were played on television in England. I remember watching once when on of the contestants shot a perfect game. When I play pool, I hit the cue ball and hope that it will strike one of the other balls. When everything is right, one of the other balls falls into a hole. I play one ball at a time and hope for the best, that’s why I will never be a professional pool player. The professionals plan their moves two or three in advance. When they hit a ball, it goes in the hole and the cue ball lines up for the next move. The game a few years ago was absolutely perfect. Every time he shot, the balls went exactly where he meant them to go, even from the first hit when the cue ball scattered all the other balls.
It is rather amazing to see what one ball can do. It happens with pool and in bowling. When the ball is thrown just right, all the balls or pins can be sent flying in many different directions. That’s what Satan tries to do with God’s people. He throws something into the mix, something to scatter the sheep. He can do so much more damage if the flock is separated. The Spirit of God binds us together so closely that it is hard for Satan to get a foot in the door. But sometimes he succeeds. I’ve seen churches and families fall apart over the silliest things, pushed away from one another by some issue or conflict. On their own, each person is vulnerable to the lies of the enemy.
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones. And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith Jehovah, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, Jehovah is my God.” Zechariah 13:7-9 (ASV)
The prophet Zechariah saw what would happen to the people in Jesus’ day. When the Jews struck Jesus, the disciples scattered out of fear and confusion. They did not know that Jesus’ wound was necessary for the redemptive plan of God to be complete. They were worried that they would be next. They ran and hid behind locked doors. When Jesus began preaching, there were many people who followed Him. They wanted to be healed and to hear the Word of God. Yet, when Jesus preached the difficult texts, many of them stopped following.
I wonder how many were lost after the crucifixion. In the scriptures we hear of those who came back – the eleven and a few others. At Pentecost they had one hundred and twenty. But what of the thousands who shouted “Alleluia” on the day they threw palm branches for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? When Satan wounded the Lord, the sheep were scattered. But those who God brought back into the fold – those who believed that Jesus rose from the dead – they were molded into more than just followers. The Holy Spirit gave them all incredible power and gifts to continue the work of Christ in this world. They may have been scattered by one small hit from the enemy, but God is more powerful than Satan ever will be. Thanks be to God.
Wild Animals There have been several reports of wild animal attacks lately. The strange thing about these reports is that the animals were supposedly under the care of human beings. Last week, a gorilla named Little Joe escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. He roamed free for several hours and injured several people including a two-year old girl until he was captured and returned to his enclosure. A few nights ago Roy Horn, of the famous Las Vegas magic show “Siegfried and Roy” was mauled by one of their wild cats they use on stage. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a very serious wound on his neck. He almost died. Finally, a man was taken to the hospital with bites on his arm and leg, which he claimed was from a pit bull. After some investigation, the police discovered the man was keeping a large tiger and alligator in his Harlem apartment. He’d had the tiger since it was a cub.
These stories show us that wild animals, even when under the care of human trainers for long periods of time, are still wild animals. Men have tried to subdue animals since the beginning of time. In the Garden of Eden, there was no need, for all lived in harmony. But when sin entered the world, the peace that once existed disappeared. Some animals became dangerous enemies and the rule of man over the animals at times became cruel.
I personally love zoos. I find they are quite valuable in the education of children who would not normally see the animals. Pictures and video do not give a true impression of what a gorilla or a tiger is really like. The magic show put together by Siegfried and Roy is one I would enjoy seeing. They are incredible entertainers. I have to admit that whenever I see a story about some wild animal that has been rescued from people who thought they could keep one as a pet, I think that it would be cool to get a tiger cub for myself. I think that I would do a much better job taking care of the animal. But it is ridiculous. Wild animals are always wild, even when they are subdued. Great care must be taken around them or even the most loving owner will be mauled.
“Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.
There have always been people who thought they could subdue a wild animal. The same is true in our spiritual lives. There are human beings who think their spirituality is so great that they can play with spirits without risk. They take chances; they walk a fine line between the spiritual and the temporal. They think that the games are innocent fun, but they do not realize how close the danger really is. The zookeepers, Siegfriend and Roy and the guy in Harlem let their guard down and they fell prey to the very animals that they thought they could control.
Peter writes to tell to be prepared for an attack of the devil. We are to be sober and watchful, never so arrogant that we think we can control that which is beyond our control. We will suffer, but we have been given all we need to stand firm in our faith. Christ makes us perfect and gives us the strength to stand against the adversary who seeks to attack and destroy our lives. Just as we should never forget that wild animals are always wild, so too let us humble ourselves before the Lord Jesus so that we will never become too complacent about the dangers that surround our lives of faith. He will guard and protect us from all spiritual harm. Thanks be to God.
Communication I have had to do quite a bit of research on the Internet lately for different projects. It is inevitable that whenever I do a search, there are always links that do not work. It is frustrating to click a link only to be told that the page I want does not exist. I spend more time clicking in and out of bad pages than I do getting the information I need. I’ve had trouble with email also. It seems like a great many people have changed their addresses without letting anyone know. Nearly every day I receive a message that someone’s email has bounced off this list. Today I tried to send some email to a friend and every address I had for her came back undeliverable. Sometimes it is hard to be heard on the Internet.
This is certainly not a modern problem. Oh, the ancients did not have to deal with faulty equipment or mistaken links, but they didn’t hear any better than we do today. Other things – personal biases, societal pressures and tradition – blocked communication. Gender, age, geography all played a role in how and what the people heard. The same is true today. All too often we hear what we want to hear. Words mean different things to different people. I have, all too often, said something that is met with a blank stare or confused reaction. I am sure I do the same to others. It is like we are getting a “returned mail” message from mailer-daemon because we cannot communicate with one another.
It was not any easier for Jesus. It amazes me to think of all the people who heard Him speak, who saw Him face to face and looked into His eyes, and yet never believed. How would we do if we were met with the Lord in flesh and heard Him speak? Would we understand? Would we respond to His grace? A few did, many did not. Would our ears hear His word? Sometimes Jesus talked in parables, and His words were difficult for many to understand, even the disciples wondered why He would do this.
“And he answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.” Matthew 13:11-17 (ASV)
Communication is so important and yet is often the most difficult part of any relationship. Too often there are things that block the message from getting through. Jesus did not speak in parables to purposely cause them not to understand. Instead, it was the hardness of heart and unwillingness that made it difficult for them to hear. They weren’t looking toward God with hearts and minds open to His word. Rather, their own biases, pressures and traditions blocked their hearing.
The Internet is a wonderful place where there is so much information we can use for our daily lives. I don’t think that anyone even fifty years ago could have imagined how instantaneous communication would become with the World Wide Web. Yet, it is not perfect. Links do not work; email addresses get changed. Sometimes our messages do not get through to one another. Unfortunately, the same is true with God’s Word. We often do not hear what He has to say. Let us turn our hearts and minds to the Lord and listen to what He has to say. Thanks be to God.
Science Fair It seems hard to believe but it is already time for Vicki to start working on her science fair project for this year. Several weeks ago she came up with three or four possible topics. We began planning her first choice, but her teacher though one of the ideas would be better, and she gave suggestions to make it a terrific project. So, Vicki is going to take her advice and pursue her second choice for her project.
Now, when she first put the idea on paper, it seemed pretty reasonable. She decided to compare two fish bowls – one with just a goldfish and the second with a goldfish and a plant. Her premise is that the bowl with the plant will stay cleaner for a longer period of time. As she began her research, she found learned more about the care of fish and realized that it would be better to use a beta fish and to compare more than two bowls. We are now up to four bowls, each with a fish and a different method for keeping the environment healthy. At first, we expected this project to cost $20 and we knew we could take care of the fish for as long as they lived. Now it has grown to large that it will cost five times as much, and we’ll be looking for homes for beta fish in a couple months.
I don’t really mind that the idea has grown so large, because I know that we will all learn a great deal more from this project than we would have any of the other ideas she gave to her teacher. We have an aquarium buried in storage somewhere. Perhaps we will be encouraged by this project to get it going again. What began as a small idea for science class has become a possible change of lifestyle for our entire family.
“Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof.” Matthew 13:31-32 (ASV)
Have you ever really thought about how incredible it is that the Church is as she is today? Two thousand years ago, one man in one tiny corner of the world taught the people about God. He died and rose again and changed the world. At the first Pentecost there were only one hundred and twenty people. They went out and spread the Gospel, first to the people who were in their own neighborhoods, then in the nation, and then they went into the entire world to teach the world about Jesus. Jesus planted faith in the hearts of just a few, and that seed has grown to include millions of people around the world.
Jesus plants a seed of faith into the hearts of those who hear His word. They grow in faith as they live in fellowship with other believers – in worship, prayer and study. We continually receive more as God builds us into unique individuals in community together who are called and sent into the world to plant more seeds. Though the Christian faith began very small, with one man in one tiny corner of the world, it has grown into a great tree where those who are tired can rest like the birds in a mustard plant. Thanks be to God.
Rulers The first emperor of China was a man named Ying Cheng. He was a cruel man, sought only greatness for himself and his name. He massacred an army of 40,000 men after they surrendered. When he had reached the pinnacle of his power, he called himself the emperor and expected his dynasty to last for ten thousand years. He accomplished great things, including the building of the Great Wall. Even in the building of such an incredible monument, his cruelty was known. Many slaves died, their bones ground and used in the mortar for the wall. It is known as the longest cemetery on earth.
Though he was the most powerful man in China, he lived in fear of death. Secret tunnels connected his palaces so that he could hide from his enemies. He ordered his wise men to find the fountain of youth so that he might live forever. He trusted no one and no one trusted him. He was eventually killed by his closest advisors and buried in a tomb surrounded by six thousand terra cotta warriors. His son was tricked into suicide, ending the dynasty of Ying Cheng.
It is strange that he was buried with an army to guard his dead body. Yet, he had no hope beyond this world. He feared death and desired to be the greatest in this world. It was much different for Charlemagne. He prepared for his own death by giving instructions for his burial. He wanted to be sitting upright on a throne, with his crown on his head, a sword by his side and a bible in his lap. It was later found that he was buried in this manner. His finger was pointing at the scripture that says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”
“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Enon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. There arose therefore a questioning on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purifying. And they came unto John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but, that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, that standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh: he that cometh from heaven is above all. What he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness; and no man receiveth his witness. He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:22-23 (ASV)
John the Baptist had a great deal of power. People were following him, listening to him, learning from him. His disciples learned that Jesus was doing the same work and went to John to warn him of the competition. They were jealous for his sake, thinking in terms of worldly fame rather than heavenly calling. John did not seek to become great, he only desired to do what God had called him to do. He knew that he was not the Christ, but that he came to point toward Him. He rejoiced to see the promises of God come into fulfillment within his sight.
Ying Cheng thought he was great. Charlemagne knew there was one greater. John also knew that Jesus was the One they were looking for, and he remained humble before God in that knowledge. He did what he was gifted and sent to do, never trying to be greater. We are expected to do the same. We believe in the One who is the greatest, Jesus who is the Christ. When we believe in His words, we testify to the truth of God, the faithfulness of His grace in the fulfillment of all His promises. We have eternal life – it is a present reality not just a future hope. This we have by believing in Jesus. Thanks be to God.
State Fair The Arkansas State Fair opens today. The final preparations are being made. The rides are being inspected, the food is being prepared and all the booths are being set up. The competitors have already turned in the things they have gotten ready for judging and the displays are getting the final touches. There are buildings filled with home baked cakes, canned peaches and other food. Artists, photographers and crafters are hoping that their beautiful work will be chosen for a prize. The people of our state are anxiously waiting for the moment the doors will open so they can go and enjoy the fun. It is an exciting time for all.
The local television station we watch for news is going to broadcast their news programs live from the fair this year. Early this morning the weatherman reported live from the fairgrounds, trying out some of the rides and food. He interviewed people around the fairgrounds and promoted the station’s special ride days. It was funny to watch as the poor guy was coerced into doing silly things. He was locked inside the cage of the Zipper, a ride that spins in every way possible, designed to make the riders dizzy and sick. When he interviewed the hotdog vendor, the anchor challenged him to eat a bunch of hotdogs and go back to report from a spinning cage on the Zipper. It is all foolish fun.
Mike is used to this kind of reporting. Whenever the news director wants to report live from some fun event, they send the weatherman to be right in the thick of things. He is willing to enjoy the adventure, to try new things even if his co-workers want to make him look a fool. It is all in good fun and always promotes something exciting around the state of Arkansas.
“And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness; whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked; that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (ASV)
It seems like the poor weatherman ends up in some funny situation every time they send him out to these events to report. He spent most of the morning trapped in a cage being spun by a carnival worker while he tried to give the weather report. He doesn’t mind, it is good for the news team to have someone willing to go out and be part of the story while the other workers do the more serious work of reporting the news. Sometimes he looks like a fool, but we all love him for his willingness to have a little fun.
Our witness for Jesus Christ takes so many different kinds of people. There need to be those who are out in the limelight, others who present God’s word in a more serious manner. There need to be those who share the Gospel through quiet service while others boldly proclaim the Word. Every believer is given gifts and opportunity as individuals who work together as part of the team to testify to the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Each worker is an equal partner in the work God has given for us to do in this world. We can rest in the knowledge that God is with us in all we do. Thanks be to God.
No WORD posted.
No WORD posted.
Riches We are all most certainly aware of the 1960’s phenomenon that was called “The Beverly Hillbillies.” This was a television sitcom about a hillbilly family who lived in the Ozarks until they accidentally discovered oil on their land. The big city banker convinced this family that they needed to live among the rich and famous so they moved to Beverly Hills. This situation caused a great many laughs for the audience as the country folk continued to do things as they would have done at their home in the mountains, causing mayhem for the wealthy into whose lives they were thrust.
Jed Clampett and his family did not know the incredible riches that were hidden under their home. There was a man named Yates to whom this really happened. He purchased a ranch in west Texas and tried to raise sheep on the rolling hills. He could not support himself, lived on government subsidies and wondered how he would pay his bills. One day a crew came and told him they thought they were find oil. He agreed to let them drill and they discovered one of the greatest oil reserves in the United States. Thirty years after discovery, the well was still able to pump more than a hundred of thousand gallons a day.
He lived in abject poverty for years, worrying about what would happen tomorrow. He had an incredible wealth that was hidden; he did not know it existed. It is unfortunate, but most Christians are in the same boat. They have an incredible wealth of spiritual blessings but never seek to find all that God has promised to give. Too often we ‘buy the land,’ receive Christ in faith but live only on the surface of all that He has to offer.
“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel: ye shall say unto them, Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-26 (ASV)
This past weekend I had the joy of spending time with a group of sisters in Christ. We handled the business of our regional women’s group, but we also encouraged one another with bible study, prayer and worship. It is an amazing thing to see women gather together to glorify God in so many ways. Together, we collected gifts for a youth program in Little Rock and financial gifts for several wonderful organizations. We learned about anti-racism and how to care for our bodies so that we can physically give ourselves to the Lord through service. I was so touched by the lives of those who came, everyone unique and gifted by God to do so many things.
I have to admit, though, I was saddened by the thought that there were hundreds of women who were not able to come. Such a weekend can be such a blessing to our faith where we grow deeper in faith and build the relationships we have with one another, with those whom are called ‘the Church.’ Jed Clampett accidentally found the wealth that was hidden under the surface of his land. Mr. Yates found it because someone came and said that they thought the oil might be there.
There is so much that God has to bless our lives, so much that it is beyond our comprehension. Yet, we are given by grace the heart, mind and resources to seek His blessings. God has given us one another, the scriptures and the sacraments so that we can gather together to hear and receive a most wonderful glimmer of what spiritual blessings He has hidden beneath the surface. I pray the blessing of today’s passage upon you, that as God shines His face into your life a well of blessings will flow so that you might know how truly wealthy you are in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Convention The gathering I attended this weekend was the annual convention of the women’s group for the Arkansas and Oklahoma area. As a member of the board and a member who lived close to the convention site, I helped play a role in the planning of this event. My role major role in the weekend was to write and present the Bible study, along with a few minor details. It is quite difficult to plan an event of this magnitude when the committee is located so far from each other geographically. It is easier now with email, but even still some things get lost in the cracks.
One morning, just a few days before the convention, I received an email asking if something was complete. I wasn’t the one who had been assigned the duty, but we could not remember who was preparing the item. At the last moment, another was given that responsibility so that it would be complete it time. From my perspective, the weekend went off with very few problems, and they were easily solved and unnoticed by the majority of guests.
At the end of the convention, all those who had played some sort of role were asked to stand to be recognized. More than half of the ladies rose, and I’m sure a few of those who remained seated should have stood. It takes so many people to take care of the little things that make such an event special. With this type of organization, it is vital to have a center of communication and authority. I felt useless a few moments during the convention because I did not have the answers to questions and I had to send the enquirers to another. Yet, it was the responsibility of one person to take care of those problems and concerns. If I had done so, I might have caused an even more difficult problem. It would have also taken my attention from the work I had been assigned to do – lead the women in a study that would help their spiritual growth and deepen their relationship with God.
“Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:1-7 (ASV)
Stephen and those who were chosen to take care of the physical needs of the congregation are often overlooked for their work is behind the scenes. Yet, their work is important to the community as a whole. At the convention we personally thanked all those who were on the center stage of the programs – those who were visible by virtue of the tasks they were asked to do. Yet, there was a group of others who worked so hard to make this weekend a most wonderful and edifying time for us all. Without their gifts, the whole event might have been disastrous. It was the tiny details that made it special for us all.
I was so thankful to have this experience, because it helped me to see how important the Stephens are to the church and the work we do. I was able to focus entirely on the preparation to speak into the hearts and minds of those who came, but they would not have heard a word I said if they were hungry and tired due to lack of food and sleep. Peter knew that he could not do it all, that the disciples needed men to take care of the physical needs of the congregation so that they could focus on the spiritual. The same is true today. Thank God for those who are willing to stay behind the scenes and deal with the problems and concerns. We all have our special gifts from God and all are important to the health of the whole. I was very blessed this weekend and I praise God for the wonderful women who made it happen. Thanks be to God.
Migration Have you ever wondered about the birds that migrate south for the winter? It is so amazing that they know exactly when they should leave the north, which direction they should go and where they should stop. Scientists have studied the migratory patterns of all sorts of birds, as well as the hibernations of other animals. They have found that there is something about the weather that sets off the animals. For the orioles of Baltimore, a cold front is the key. Good weather follows this front and the birds are able to make their trek to South America with a north wind at their back. Other types of animals respond to similar climate conditions.
Though the scientists do find explanations, there is something else that guides the birds and animals in their annual winter pilgrimages. They are guided by instinct, a God-given gift that helps care for them. The orioles would not survive a Baltimore winter, and a bear could not survive without hibernation. The food, the weather and other conditions make it vital for the animals to go to a safe place. God loves His creation so much that He has given even the birds a way to survive the situations that would otherwise destroy them.
God loves His children even more. While He has given us instinct, an inner programming that helps to preserve our lives, He also speaks His word into our lives. He guides us with more than a feeling or impulse, but by His promises and Spirit. For generations, God has been speaking to His people through prophets, guiding the kings to do what is right according to His will. Jehoshaphat went into battle against a great and powerful enemy trusting that God would give him victory.
Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite, of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of Jehovah in the midst of the assembly; and he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat: Thus saith Jehovah unto you, Fear not ye, neither be dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. To-morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the ascent of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the valley, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of Jehovah with you, O Judah and Jerusalem; fear not, nor be dismayed: to-morrow go out against them: for Jehovah is with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground; and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before Jehovah, worshipping Jehovah. And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites, stood up to praise Jehovah, the God of Israel, with an exceeding loud voice.” 2 Chronicles 20:15-19 (ASV)
Jehoshaphat so trusted God’s word in this situation, that He did not send his warriors into the battle, but he sent the priests to sing praises to God before the army. God blessed their faithfulness with a victory as He caused the enemy to turn against themselves in confusion. They destroyed one another, leaving the spoils of war to the army of Jehoshaphat. There was so much plunder that it took them three days to carry it away. The men of Judah returned home rejoicing in the incredible power of the LORD. The rest of the nations saw that Judah was truly blessed by God, so they feared making war with them and the kingdom of Jehoshaphat lived in peace for many years.
Instinct might get the orioles south for the winter and the bears to sleep in their caves, but an even more powerful force guides us. God speaks to us through His word – once by the prophets, then by Jesus Christ and now by those who have been gifted with the gifts to share His message of peace and reconciliation. We may never face an enemy like Jehoshaphat and the men of Judah, but we can learn from his faithfulness. When God speaks, He means what He says. We can trust His word in our lives. When we face the enemy, whatever enemy it is that crosses our path, we need only sing God’s praises while we watch Him win the victory. Thanks be to God.
Publisher Frances Ridley Havergal was a hymnist who lived in England in the nineteenth century. She wrote such songs as “On our Way Rejoicing” and “Take My Life and Let it Be,” as well as dozens of others. One, “Another Year is Dawning” was written as a New Year’s poem for her family and friends. The words of the song came to have much deeper meaning for her that year.
As it turned out, Frances was waiting for word from America that a book she had written was doing well. It was the first book she had published for the American audience and she was excited about the future possibilities. When a letter arrived in the mail, she thought it contained her first of many royalty checks. Instead it had bad news. The publisher had suffered bankruptcy and would not be printing her book. This was not only the end of this opportunity, but the publisher held a promise that she would go to no other publishers with the book. She would not know fame, wealth or influence by being an author in the United States.
Erwin Lutzer once asked, “Have you ever thought that our disappointments are God’s way of reminding us that there are idols in our lives that must be dealt with?” Frances was looking forward to the possibilies that might come from America. Yet, she wrote to a friend, “I have just had such a blessing in the shape of what would have been only two months ago a really bitter blow to me…” She found grace in the disappointment and hope in the words of her poem. “Another year is dawning, Dear Father, let it be, In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee; Another year of progress, Another year of praise, Another year of proving Thy presence in all the days.”
Paul did not have an easy life ministering for the Lord in this world. He spent many years imprisoned for his faith, unjustly bound in chains because of those who were afraid of the Gospel. Yet, no matter what he did or where he went, God was glorified in his circumstances.
“Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel; so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest; and that most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel; but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds. What then? only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:12-18 (ASV)
It must have been a disappointment for Paul to be imprisoned, for in chains he could not go out and do the work that God had called him to do. Yet, Paul did not let the disappointment stop him from sharing the Gospel. Even in prison, Paul continued to minister, sharing Christ with even his captors. He rejoiced in his suffering because he knew that God’s grace was visible even through the lives of those who persecuted him.
Frances quickly overcame her disappointment and looked for God’s grace in the situation. Perhaps her desires for fame, wealth and influence in America had become an idol to her. Though she may not have been a success as she had hoped, her hymns glorify God in our assemblies as we worship God through the words she penned to praise His name. No matter what we do or where we go, there will be situations that cause disappointment because they aren’t as we hoped. For Frances, the publisher’s failure blocked her plans. Paul’s troubles came from the jailers and those troublesome preachers whose motives were false, yet he rejoiced that God was glorified even through his suffering. It is my prayer that God will bless each of us with similar strength, that our hope and peace will grow stronger even when things do go as we hope. Thanks be to God.
Today’s WORD was first posted on October 17, 2002.
Spider Have you ever watched a spider build its web? It can be a fascinating experience, to see a creature work so diligently to build the beautiful and complex structure used to capture its prey. Though the tiny threads appear delicate, they are actually very strong. The more the trapped creatures struggle against the web, the tighter the web holds. Yet, those webs can easily be blown away by the wind. Spiders are often used as examples of perseverance because even when the web is destroyed, they start again to rebuild. Sometimes they need to replace their web daily.
There is a story that comes out of thirteenth century Scotland. There was a dispute about which man should be king. King Edward of England took advantage of the situation, stepped in and took over the crown. He stole the royal jewels and even the Stone of Scone, the ancient symbol of Scottish rule. The Scottish rebels crowned Robert Bruce and began a war against England. Robert Bruce was wounded and nearly captured, but escaped to spend a winter in hiding. After a time in the cold, dark dump eating only potatoes, he was nearly without hope. He noticed a spider building a web that was constantly blown away by the wind, yet time after time the spider kept trying. Robert Bruce realized he was like that spider, though he failed there was always another chance. He gathered whatever troops he could find and they fought back the English.
As Christians we often stumble through difficult situations during our journey in this world. It is like we are fighting a battle or building a web but something stands in the way of our reaching our goals. It would be easy to lose hope, to become depressed or give up. We might even turn in another direction, giving in to the enemy. For a spider, that would mean death, for his web is his source of food. For a man like Robert Bruce giving in to the English meant giving up his ancient heritage. For many Scots, such a loss was as bad as death.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you and be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries: which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God; because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Philippians 1:27-30 (ASV)
For the Christian, it is in those times when things seem hopeless that we can best see our greatest hope. We persevere through persecution and disease in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, overcoming that which seeks to defeat us. Robert Bruce could have given up, lost the battle and lost Scotland to England forever. However, he saw the perseverance of the tiny spider and led his people into an amazing victory. When we overcome our difficulties the world sees God glorified in our lives. He has defeated our enemies at the cross, gave us His Spirit that we might walk in faith and stand firm in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our struggles can be great blessings, for they make us stronger and our enemies will see that we have been saved by the power and mercy of Christ, and that they have no hope to bring destruction to our lives. Thanks be to God.
Mother Theresa Mother Theresa did so much for the sake of the poor in Calcutta. She was a woman who was seen as saintly long before her death, the pope of the Catholic Church has already sought to give her sainthood official status. She had a very special relationship with God, lived a holy life of prayer and self-sacrifice. It is hard to believe a woman of such godliness might have moments of despair. Yet, as the church has been investigating her life, they have found that she did have times when she felt abandoned by God.
We look at those who obviously love God and have given their lives to serve Him, and we doubt they could have any moments of despair. They seem so faithful, so holy; there can be no doubt in their minds about God’s presence. I wonder how they can manage to stay so focused on God and His work in this world. I get so caught up in the daily grind, I sometimes forget God is always with me. I suffer at times, feel pain and loneliness and question all I’ve ever believed. Those moments are short lived, for God reaches out and touches me in some way to remind me that He is there. When I get through, I am sorry for doubting, and wish that I could be like Mother Theresa and never feel that way. Yet, I have come to learn that everyone suffers from those moments, even the most saintly Christians. Throughout the ages, the ones who are remembered for their faith are also the ones who have stories of abandonment and doubt. Days of darkness are common to all who live by faith.
A. W. Tozer once said, “The average person in the world today, without faith and without God and without hope, is engaged in a desperate personal search throughout his lifetime. He does not really know where he has been. He does not really know what he is doing here and now. He does not know where he is going. The sad commentary is that he is doing it all on borrowed time and borrowed money and borrowed strength – and he already knows that in the end will he surely die.”
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not; And in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: They trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: They trusted in thee, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, Commit thyself unto Jehovah; Let him deliver him: Let him rescue him, seeing he delighteth in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb; Thou art my God since my mother bare me.” Psalm 22:1-9 (ASV)
These are the words of David, the one whom God chose to rule over all Israel and whom God blessed with so many things. Jesus used these words as He hung on the cross. Through their research, men are discovering that Mother Theresa uttered similar words in her times of loneliness. Others throughout the ages have cried out to God in their darkest hours, grieving for His presence in their lives.
It is comforting to know that I’m not the only one. It is good to know that those whom have been models of faith also suffered from those moments when they felt abandoned by God. Even in their despair, they are men and women we can imitate because they did not give up, they did not reject the mercy of God even when the darkness seemed to be suffocating them. Those in this world like Mother Theresa, though they appear more holy than the average guy, know what it is like to feel abandoned by God. The difference between them and the ones of whom Tozer spoke, is that the faithful continue to believe even when God seems to be far away. May God continue to bless each of us with a touch of His hand, even in those days when we don’t know where He is. Thanks be to God.
Quotes Vance Havner was a Baptist preacher who was known for stirring up revival wherever he preached. He began preaching at twelve and was ordained at age fifteen. He spoke at many Bible conferences and wrote more than thirty books. Billy Graham has called Dr. Havner “the most quoted preacher in America.” He once said, “If I could stand for five minutes at His vantage point and see the entire scheme of things as He sees it, how absurd would be my dreads, how ridiculous my fears and tears!”
We don’t see the world as God sees the world. His thoughts and ways are much higher than those of His creation, even those of man whom God blessed with His image and the ability to reason. God has given us brains with which we are able to make decisions, minds that can discern the difference between right and wrong. He answers our prayers for wisdom and guides our paths by His Word and Spirit. Solomon was a man who knew the value of God’s wisdom. After David passed through life into death, his son Solomon became King. The LORD spoke to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked for wisdom. God answered that prayer with wisdom and everything else you can imagine – fame, fortune and power.
It was not long before Solomon was called upon to use the wisdom God had given him. It is amazing, because I’ve heard this story so many times, and yet as I read it today I can see even greater wisdom than ever before.
“Then there came two women that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, Oh, my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also; and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night, because she lay upon it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thy handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead; but when I had looked at it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, whom I did bear. And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king. Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Fetch me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her heart yearned over her son, and she said, Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, It shall be neither mine nor thine; divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.” 1 Kings 3:16-28 (ASV)
I never noticed before that the women in this story were prostitutes, yet Solomon heard their pleas. He did not judge them but rather looked into their hearts to discern the just decision. He listened to them despite their failings and sought the truth. It seems almost cruel that he would threaten the life of the child, ridiculous how he said it would be best to cut the baby in half so that the women could share it. Even the least intelligent people realize that cutting a baby in half would mean its death. The woman who had stolen the child did not care and said it should be divided – the baby would be no one’s. But the true mother would do anything to keep her child alive, even giving it to another.
As we read these age-old stories, we see that God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than ours. He gave wisdom to Solomon who used it to glorify God. When the people heard the decision of Solomon, they knew God was with him. Wisdom is being able to look at the world through God’s eyes. He doesn’t see the prostitutes or their sins; He sees their hearts and touches them in their souls. We may not be able to see into the hearts of man, but when we seek the wisdom of God, He grants us vision that we cannot have on our own. He gives us discerning hearts that will do what is necessary to discover the just decision and helps us to see that the world is much different than we can see with our eyes. The cares and concerns that burden us throughout our lives are really nothing in the grand scheme of things, but God cares for even the smallest things in our hearts. Thanks be to God.
Mould Oswald Chambers once wrote, “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.” While I can undoubtedly claim that I’ve been the victim of many such flingings, I am equally certain that I have flung my share of religiosity at those who disagree with me. It is not pleasant to argue about the character of God and it is ridiculous that we even try to put God into a mould. He is much greater than even our imaginations can muster, higher than our minds will ever reach.
Our understanding of God comes from our experience of Him. A child raised by atheist parents will not know God in the same way as one who grew up in a Christian home. Those who have experienced only negative aspects of religion will not see God as good, but will focus on the stories of the scripture of His cruelty without truly seeking to understand what those stories mean for us. Even those who claim to be open to growth and learning have a bias that will affect their image of God. One woman sees God as only loving, that sacrifice was never God’s intent. Another sees that He is a strict disciplinarian and that He will only love those who are obedient to His Word.
What I have realized is that no matter how much I think I know about God, there is so much more for me to know. No matter how many times I have read the scriptures, it seems like there is something new to be found. Stories that I have read before have a whole new meaning as I read them again and again.
The books of Kings and Chronicles are filled with stories about the relationships between God and Israel, the kings and the prophets and the people and their enemies. Israel was often at war, usually because they have turned from God. The prophets spoke God’s Word to the kings. Those who listened found favor with God, those who ignored suffered from the hands of their enemies.
In one such story, Israel was being attacked and Elisha received the Word of the Lord where the enemy was establishing camp. They were trying to ambush Israel, but Elisha always warned the king which places to avoid. The enemy king thought he had a spy in his household until he learned about the prophet. Then he sent his servants to get Elisha so that he could be killed. When the army surrounded Elisha’s home, his servant was afraid and did not know what to do. Elisha prayed that his servant would see the heavenly host that surrounded them that day. “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.” Elisha then prayed that the enemy army would be blinded, and they were led into Samaria. When their eyes were open, the army of Israel surrounded them. This is an amazing account of God’s power and the trust that His servants have in His promises. Yet, the end of the story is not as we would imagine. God’s people surrounded their enemy; we might guess that they would not survive the day. Yet, God’s ways are higher than our ways.
“And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them? And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. And he prepared great provision for them; and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:21-23 (ASV)
Oswald Chambers said that we bash others with our image of God. That doesn’t always mean that we will fight them boldly with words. Sometimes we bash the others who are our enemies by hoping that God will destroy them. In this story about Elisha, the king was ready to beat them with the sword. But God did not destroy the army, He commanded Israel to feed her enemies and let them go. This act of mercy caused them to see the power of God and to leave Israel alone for a season. They knew that God was with the Israelites and that He was unbeatable, so they lived in peace in fear and awe of Israel’s God. It did not last forever, another generation of enemies sought to destroy God’s people.
We will disagree with many about our faith because we see God with very narrow vision. Yet, He is more than we can imagine, greater than we can describe. We are called to simply live within His mercy and grace. We all have moulded God into some image that fits our experience and biases. Yet, we must remember that God can’t fit into our moulds, that we should never take our image of God and fling Him at those who seem to be our enemies. God calls us to feed them and send them on their way so that they will see something new and perhaps grow in faith and trust of a greater, higher God than they knew before. Thanks be to God.
Coincidence Many of the churches in our are have those signs where they display phrases or sentences to inspire people and bring them into a relationship with God. Some of them make me cringe, the theology is really bad or give the wrong impression of the Christian faith. Sometimes they are powerful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have a positive influence on the people who pass each day. There have been times a church sign has changed my attitude, putting a smile on my face that affects all that I do that day.
One church sign said, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” I’ve often said, and I firmly believe, that there are no coincidences. God’s hand is in everything that happens in His creation. We may never see the reason or purpose for something that has happened. A path I walk today could affect the future of my children or my children’s children. We don’t need to be looking for the purpose in everything; we simply walk in faith knowing that God will use everything to His glory, either now or in His good and perfect time.
We can see this so clearly in the stories of the Bible, as God’s plan unfolded from the beginning to the end of the ages. Each person, chosen and gifted by God, that we hear about in the Old Testament, points toward the coming of the Savior we know to be Jesus Christ. Even those characters that seem to have no importance whatsoever, or whose role seems to be against the work of God – the sinners, the aliens, the enemies – have been put in that time and place to be used for God’s ultimate purpose. When we read these stories separately, they seems strange to our ears because we know that the people involved are imperfect and do not have the right words, motives or attitudes. Yet, God manages to use even our faults for His glory.
“Then the angel of Jehovah commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and rear an altar unto Jehovah in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of Jehovah. And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons that were with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat. And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshing-floor, and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground. Then David said to Ornan, Give me the place of this threshing-floor, that I may build thereon an altar unto Jehovah: for the full price shalt thou give it me, that the plague may be stayed from the people. And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen for burnt-offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meal-offering; I give it all. And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for Jehovah, nor offer a burnt-offering without cost. So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. And David built there an altar unto Jehovah, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and called upon Jehovah; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt-offering. And Jehovah commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof. At that time, when David saw that Jehovah had answered him in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there. For the tabernacle of Jehovah, which Moses made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt-offering, were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God; for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of Jehovah.” 1 Chronicles 21:18-30 (ASV)
David had lost touch with the LORD, had become too powerful for his own good. He had begun to rely on human strength rather than on the LORD’s good and perfect will and purpose. Israel, too, had turned away from God. God sent a plague to punish His people, but as the angel was about to bring calamity on the city of Jerusalem, He had mercy and stopped the angel. David cried out in repentance and asked the LORD to plague only his family, not the people. God, through the prophet Gad, told David how to restore the relationship between God and His people. David was to build an altar.
The place David purchased in today’s story was to become the very site of the Temple that Solomon would build. David’s attitude about the place – willfully given by Ornan to David – seems somewhat self-important. He refused to give to the LORD a sacrifice for which he did not pay. Yet, buy purchasing the threshing room floor, David accomplished something greater. The land became Israel’s; the place of God’s holy Temple was now the property of the king whose son God would appoint to build a permanent structure for His glory. David got into this situation because he was too concerned about what was his, yet God managed to use David’s faults for His plan.
It was not coincidence that the angel was standing in Ornan’s threshing room. It was not David’s will that the property become his. God’s hand was in this story, in much deeper ways than we see in the words. His purpose for the outcome would not come into being for years. The LORD has His hand in everything. To God be the glory for all those coincidences where He has chosen to remain anonymous, and may we walk in faith that God will use even our faults for His good and perfect purpose. Thanks be to God.
Coal When people talk about the Air Force, they automatically think about pilots. After all, without them the planes would never leave the ground. But when you live and work around an air force base, going about your daily routine, you become more aware of the fact that it takes far more than just a pilot to do the work. There is a saying that goes, “Without maintainers, pilots are just pedestrians with sunglasses and a cool jacket.” It takes hundreds of people to get an airplane off the ground – the airman with a wrench tightening the bolts, the one who loads the fuel, the foodservice and cleaning crews, those who maintain the runway, the control tower operators and the airmen who schedule flights and maintenance. Outside the flight line it takes security police, finance workers, doctors, people to maintain the living areas, run the stores, raise the flags and pick up trash. Some of those jobs may seem unimportant and completely unrelated to the actual flying of a plane, but they are all part of the overall mission of the Air Force. Without the garbage collectors and the pilots, we could not do our job.
Winston Churchill was well aware of the need for those beyond the front lines in times of war. During World War II, there was a great need for coal miners. He spoke to labor leaders to get their support, telling them to imagine what it would be like when the war was over. “A parade will be held in Piccadilly Circus. Sailors, soldiers and pilots would lead the march to cheers from the thankful people. Last of all would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps. Someone will cry out from the crowd, ‘And where were you during the critical days of our struggle?’ And from ten thousand throats would come the answer, ‘We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.’”
Imagine what it would have been like if all those ten thousand men thought they should all be sailors, soldiers or pilots? The homes of England would have been cold and dark, and the servicemen could never have done their jobs. Every task is important.
Uzziah was king of Judah, appointed by the people when he was just sixteen years old. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, following in the ways of his father Amaziah. He accomplished great things, rebuilt towns and defeated his enemies. The prophet Zechariah taught him that as long as he sought the LORD, God would give him success. But he became very powerful and filled with pride.
“But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up, so that he did corruptly, and he trespassed against Jehovah his God; for he went into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of Jehovah, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It pertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto Jehovah, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from Jehovah God. Then Uzziah was wroth; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense; and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy brake forth in his forehead before the priests in the house of Jehovah, beside the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out quickly from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because Jehovah had smitten him. And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of Jehovah: and Jotham his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land.” 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 (ASV)
Uzziah had a job to do, to lead Judah faithfully according to God’s Word. When he became powerful, he decided he could do whatever he wanted. We need both the rulers and the priests, each ministering to God’s people as they are gifted and sent by God. We need both the pilots and the garbage collectors. If there had been no coal miners, it would have been cold, dark times for the people of England. If there are no garbage collectors, either the base would become an unhealthy dump or the pilots would tire themselves doing the extra work of collecting the waste. Either way, it would be dangerous for flying the plane. It would also be dangerous if an untrained garbage collector decided to fly a plane. It is likely that it would crash, destroying life and property.
For Uzziah, the consequence of his pride was leprosy. The consequence of our own pride might not be a skin disease, but when we try to take upon ourselves the tasks that are not given by God, we affect our lives and the lives of those around us. God has a good and perfect plan, He knows who is gifted to rule and who is gifted to minister. He gives the pilot and the garbage collector all they need to do their work, and He sees every one with the same heart. There are none in the kingdom of God who are more important than another, all are chosen by God to glorify Him in the world as they are called and gifted to do. Thanks be to God.
Fences Fences are often built to keep people out. The rich build fences to protect their possessions. Other fences are built to keep people in. People surround their yards with fences to keep children and animals from wandering too far. Some fences are beautiful and barely a barrier, others are ugly but strong. For some, fences are good because they offer security. Others think that fences are bad and that those who put them up are afraid or hiding something.
Fences can be comforting. It is possible the following story happened in your neighborhood. There was a school that was located beside a very busy street. Though the children had a large play area, they stayed near the building during recess because the cars on the road were frightening. Knowing the danger to the children, the school administrators had a fence built. Even though the cars still sped by, the fence made the children feel safe and they played freely.
Joash became king when he was just seven years old. The high priest Jehoiada was given charge of the young king, and he was raised to faithfully serve the Lord. When he was much older, definitely no longer a ward of the priest, Joash decided to restore the temple of God. He collected great sums of money to rebuild and strengthen God’s dwelling place, and used the leftovers to purchase new fixtures for inside. While Jehoiada lived, Joash served the Lord and the people worshiped the Lord. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, when the fence came down, Joash wandered from the ways he was taught by Jehoiada.
“But Jehoiada waxed old and was full of days, and he died; a hundred and thirty years old was he when he died. And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house. Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. And they forsook the house of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guiltiness. Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto Jehovah; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of Jehovah, so that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken Jehovah, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of Jehovah. Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, Jehovah look upon it, and require it.” 2 Chronicles 24:15-22 (ASV)
The children were really no safer behind the fence at the school, but they were comforted by its presence. They ran freely in the yard because the danger of the road seemed far away. If the situation had been different – the fence there one minute and gone the next – the children would probably have continued to play in the entire yard, perhaps even wandering too far. All it would take is an overthrown ball or an excited child not paying attention for disaster to happen.
Joash had a fence – Jehoiada – but the real protection and blessings came from God. When Jehoiada died, the fence was taken away and Joash did not realize the danger beyond the teachings of the high priest. He quickly turned away from God, abandoning the temple for the worship of false Gods. He rejected God and God rejected him, taking away his favor. Joash even allowed the son of his mentor to be killed in the temple. The king’s officials later turned against him, killed him in his bed and buried him in a tomb. Jehoiada was honored by burial in the tomb of kings, Joash dishonored by burial elsewhere.
Fences are good, but we have to realize where our true comfort, peace and protection comes from. The freedom we have when fences are taken down should not change our attitudes or actions. God is truly our refuge and our strength. Thanks be to God.
Restaurant It is an age-old story. The owner of a popular, prosperous restaurant or business decides to retire. The business is passed on to a son or is sold to a new owner who tries to continue as if there has been no change. Yet, things are different, something is missing and the new owner can’t make it. Eventually the business closes and in time it is bought by another hopeful businessman. He slaps on a coat of paint, changes the menu and opens the doors with a flourish. Things seem to go well at first, but it never takes on the life of the original business. Owner after owner try to make it happen, until the restaurant eventually closes forever. I don’t know why this happens, but I’ve seen it more than once.
As I have been reading through the books of Kings and Chronicles this week, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Time after time the kings have “done what it right in the eyes of the LORD” for a season, but eventually they turn away and worship the false gods. The temple is robbed and abandoned, left to decay until the next king. The new king repents, restores the temple and the people worship the living LORD again. Until they turn away, worship other gods and abandon the temple. Each time, the king goes to great lengths to make things right.
“Then Hezekiah the king arose early, and gathered the princes of the city, and went up to the house of Jehovah. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin-offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests the sons of Aaron to offer them on the altar of Jehovah. So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar: and they killed the rams, and sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed also the lambs, and sprinkled the blood upon the altar. And they brought near the he-goats for the sin-offering before the king and the assembly; and they laid their hands upon them: and the priests killed them, and they made a sin-offering with their blood upon the altar, to make atonement for all Israel; for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made for all Israel. And he set the Levites in the house of Jehovah with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; for the commandment was of Jehovah by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began, the song of Jehovah began also, and the trumpets, together with the instruments of David king of Israel. And all the assembly worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves and worshipped. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises unto Jehovah with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped. Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto Jehovah; come near and bring sacrifices and thank-offerings into the house of Jehovah. And the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank-offerings; and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt-offerings.” 2 Chronicles 29:20-31 (ASV)
Hezekiah went to great lengths to restore the temple and their relationship with God. He ordered that the Passover be celebrated and refilled the temple with good things. Yet, it did not last. Future generations turned away from God, they trusted in the things of this earth that could never save. Just like the restaurant that never again returns to its former glory, the people of God just could not keep things right.
That’s why Jesus came. It is impossible for human beings to make things right with God. We cannot keep the Law or restore order on our own. No matter how hard we tried, no matter how many coats of paint we slap on the temple walls, it will not last forever. Only by the grace of God can we be eternally restored in a relationship with Him. So, Jesus went to the cross, took on the wrath of God and died for our sake. He rose from death into eternal life and now we all have access to the Lord God through Him. We are still going to mess up. The glory is not in the here and now, but in the days for which we hope. Our faith rests not in our ability to remain true to God, but in His promises. The kings of Israel tried to make things right, and they often did well for a season. But no matter how hard they tried, they continued to fall. Though they suffered the consequences of their unfaithfulness, God never left them. The promise remained true and was fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Day off When I was a retail manager, I worked long hours. I was a single woman, no family to care for or responsibilities outside my job and personal health. One of the things I enjoyed the most was store furnishing or refurbishing. We often were called in from one store to help set up the shelves and merchandise when a store was built or remodeled. I loved taking a fixture from scratch and filling it with new goods, figuring out how it would be best to fit the shelves or pegs into the fixture. For awhile, I worked fulltime at two separate stores – my regular job as a manager and another job setting up a new store. This schedule meant I was working eighty or ninety hours a week.
I didn’t really mind, but as things got busy at both jobs I stopped taking days off. I enjoyed having all the extra money and no time to spend it, and I was fine physically until the third week without a break. Then I became very tired, drained in body and spirit, and my body rebelled. I became sick, on the verge of collapse. I knew then that I needed to take time off once in awhile or I would suffer the consequences. Farmers recognize this concept in their fields. It is recommended that a field be allowed to go dormant one year out of every seven, so that it can rest and recoup. If a farmer uses a plot of land year after year with the same plants, the soil stops producing because all the nutrients are gone.
As we’ve seen this week, there has been a pattern with God’s people throughout their history. They are humble before the Lord who has promised great things for His people, crying out for His love and mercy. They build or restore temples, live rightly and worship Him. Out of love and His incredible grace, He blesses their life with peace and prosperity. Success in earthly relations and material possession leads to pride, and eventually the people turn away from the One who blessed them with all good things. So, they worship other gods, turn to their neighbors for help and forget the Lord. God takes away his protection and they fall under the circumstances of their rebellion. They cry out to God and He remembers His promises, so restores them and He blesses their worship and right living until they once again turn away from His love. Over and over this pattern continued from king to king and generation to generation. Finally, in the end, they had destroyed everything good that God had given them. Even the land surrounding Jerusalem was no longer good for planting because they had forgotten to rest the land or themselves. So, God let the people suffer the consequences of their irresponsible use of His gifts.
“And Jehovah, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of Jehovah arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or virgin, old man or hoary-headed: he gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of Jehovah, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. 20 And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfil the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.
The people had forgotten God and to rest in Him. They had destroyed everything He had given them. The exile seems like such a horrible time for the people of Israel, and yet it the end God made it for good. The land had time to rest and the soil to be renourished. The people turned to the Lord God and rested in His promises. The exile was a sabbath rest for the people and all that was theirs.
It wasn’t good for me to work constantly, even though I had no responsibilities outside my job. I needed rest to stay healthy so that I could do my job. My body rebelled and I had to slow down. Though we do not all celebrate the sabbath as the people did in Israel, there is much value to setting aside time for nothing but rest and worship for the Lord our God. The rest for our body keeps us whole physically and mentally. The worship of the Lord keeps us strong spiritually. If we do not stop sometimes just to sit and listen, we will fall apart, destroy all the good things the Lord has given us and find ourselves separated from that which we love. God gives rest through Jesus Christ our Lord. May we always take time to stop and worship Him. Thanks be to God.
History It is said that those who do not know history are bound to repeat it. That doesn’t help convince a child in a boring history class that they should learn because what about history might they repeat? “I’m not seeing myself get into war with the French any time soon, why do I need to know this stuff?” They don’t realize that it isn’t the particular event that they need to understand, but rather the causes and events that led up to the event. They need to know more than just the names of the people and places, and the dates of the events; they need to know why it happened and what could have been different.
Unfortunately, history is most often taught as just a bunch of numbers and names. The children are expected to learn the who’s, what’s, where’s and when’s, but they don’t quite get around to the how’s. The teachers do not help children identify with the people and events in history, so it seems unimportant or irrelevant to their life. I never liked history in school, either. It was not until we lived in England where I could visit the places, see the conditions and get to know what life was like for the people, that I began to love history. Even though the world was a much different place for those who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago, I could better identify with their needs, hopes, dreams and sacrifices.
Many Christians think the Old Testament has little value for the Christian student because it is all past and Jesus has made things new and different. Yet, this week we have followed the history of the Jewish kings, seen their failures as well as their successes. We’ve seen the patterns of humility and trust, rebellion and failure that happened over and over again. As we read these stories today, we see them through the eyes of a new covenant, through grace and the mercy of God. When we rebel and fail, we know to whom it is that we are to look. The questions, doubts and fears are easier to bear because God’s grace gives us the strength to overcome. We can look back to the past to see how God was always with the people, and know that now it is even more so.
“And I said, This is my infirmity; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will make mention of the deeds of Jehovah; For I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also upon all thy work, And muse on thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: Who is a great god like unto God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: Thou hast made known thy strength among the peoples. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah” Psalm 77:10-15 (ASV)
When we are in the midst of difficult times, times when it seems that God has abandoned us, we can remember the days of the kings and realize that things aren’t that much different between then and now. We can see that God’s hand was with the people, even when they failed. His promises were true for them, and even more true for us today. We have seen the fulfillment of all that God promised. We have seen the Lord Jesus Christ who is the way and our Redeemer. The kings show us our failure, they show us how much we need the Lord. When we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it. When we recall the people, places and events of those who came before, we can see what we need and avoid their failures. In every case, the kings fell because they forgot the Lord; they rebelled against Him and suffered the consequences. Their failure and redemption point to the only One who could truly save them – Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Gangster J. Edwin Orr was an evangelist, born in Ireland on January 15, 1912. His father held dual citizenship, so Edwin was English and American. January 15th had a great deal of meaning to him, because he became a Christian, a husband and pastor on the same day over the years. He felt a strong call into evangelism, and traveled around the world sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was ordained in New Jersey, joined the U.S Air Force and served as a military chaplain. He wrote, taught and was an advisor to Billy Graham. He is known for his work on revival and evangelism.
He was with Billy Graham one evening at a meeting in Beverly hills when Graham addressed the group, including a gangster named Mickey Cohen. Cohen enjoyed the message and inquired further, eventually inviting Jesus into his heart. Nothing changed, there was no evidence of change in his mind, heart or life. He continued to live as a gangster. He had heard people refer to themselves as “Christian this” or “Christian that” so he thought he could be a “Christian gangster.” He was upset to find that he had to give up his friends and work. He did not repent, and therefore never really did believe.
J. Edwin Orr once wrote, “Does ‘repent and believe the gospel’ imply that the sinner must do two things to be saved, and not one only? The exhortation is really only one requirement. The instruction, ‘Leave London and go to Los Angeles,’ sounds like a two-fold request, but it really is only one; it is impossible to go to Los Angeles without leaving London.” Repentance is not a separate command, but it is part of the believing. We cannot believe in God unless we turn away from the old and look to God for our salvation.
“Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered and said unto them, Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, think ye that they were offenders above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 (ASV)
It is possible to stay in our old jobs, homes and friendships when we become Christians, but there will be visible changes in the way we do those things. There are some aspects of our lives that simply are incompatible with Christian faith. The things that define a gangster’s lifestyle just don’t fit into the ways of Christ – violence, greed, and immoral or illegal actions. We can easily say, “Mickey should have repented, but I’m not a gangster” yet that is exactly the trap the Jews had fallen into – thinking others were more sinful than themselves.
They were blaming the victims of Pilate’s wrath and natural catastrophe with their own demise. “If they weren’t sinners…” We often do the same thing, but Jesus told them that all are sinners who will perish without God. Repent and believe, not two commands but just one. We can’t believe unless we put aside those things that are incompatible with the life Christ is calling us to live. We may not live a life of violence, greed or do the things that are illegal or immoral in this world, but we all have things from which we must turn. Jesus Christ makes us new, changes our lives to conform to His good and perfect will. Repent and believe in Him that the world will see His life manifest in yours. Thanks be to God.
Heat Things cooled down around here a few weeks ago, autumn weather finally reaching our area. It was so certain that we would not see summer temperatures that our weatherman guaranteed that there would not be any more ninety-degree days. People around the state prepared for the coming winter, taking in summer yard decorations and plants, covering swimming pools and setting the furnace to heat the chilled air in our homes. Last week we were all surprised when the thermometer rose, breaking records for high temperatures and latest day in the year to have ninety-degrees. One little girl was so thrilled by the hot weather that she wanted to play in her swimming pool. The winter cover was already set on the pool, so her father just added a few inches of water so she could play.
The temperatures have gone down and our weatherman has once again guaranteed that there will no more hot days in Arkansas this year. He’s probably correct. The leaves are turning beautiful colors and the snow is just around the corner. Yet, I can’t help but think it would be funny if he were proven wrong, if warm temperatures break the records he didn’t think could be broken this year. Serves us right to try to predict the things over which we have no control. The weathermen are getting much better at predicting what will happen tomorrow, and yet it is still very difficult to know for sure.
It is ridiculous to think that we can control the weather because it is impossible for us to do so. Yet, there are great many other things that are impossible that we think we can control. We think we can predict what will happen tomorrow. We plan out our lives as if we know what to expect. We try to avoid illness, financial difficulty and all types of loss. When we are surprised by disaster, we do not know what to do because all control slips out of our hands. We cry out to God “why?” and wonder what we’ve done wrong. We see these times as bad and we wallow in self-pity. Yet, there are great blessings to be found in letting things go and letting God deal with it, for He knows the reasons and uses all for the good of those who love Him.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for very purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.
Summer weather sometimes comes much later or earlier than expected. The weathermen can try to predict what will happen in a day or a week or a month, but they will often be wrong because they can not foresee everything that will affect the weather. We can look ahead and plan things for our lives, but we can’t be sure they will ever come to fruition. There are seasons we will pass through, life and death, illness and healing, laughter and tears. We cannot predict when these things will occur or how they will change our lives. We can only trust that God knows and will use all things for our good. We can only walk in faith, assured that He has control and that He will be with us through the seasons of our lives. Thanks be to God.
King They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have noticed that there is one thing that keeps a person of power humble, and that is thankfulness. It is when the ruler considers himself or herself the source of the position and authority that they fall into the trap of corruption. We’ve seen it throughout history – kings who thought they were gods, presidents who ignored the will of the people, and dictators who oppressed those over whom they had control. They were not thankful for the position or authority.
Martin Luther once said, “The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded.” It is, unfortunately, too true that the more we have, the less grateful we are. When we see pictures of those starving in third world countries, we see their great sense of thankfulness for even a measly portion of bread and water. Yet we, who have much more than we need, do not live daily lives of thankfulness for our great portion. We take our faith and all that goes with it – our church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, the wonderful resources we have – for granted, while those in countries where Christianity is outlawed rejoice and sing praise to God for even a part of a Holy Bible.
David had it all. He had a personal relationship with God; he had power and wealth. He was king over the nation of Israel. He wasn’t perfect. He abused the power that had been given to him. But whenever the Lord spoke to him about his failures, he humbled himself, repented and turned back to walk in His ways. He accepted the punishment and thanked God for His mercy and lovingkindness. He lived a life of thanksgiving, never thinking himself greater than the One who had given him all things. He glorified God in word and deed, raising Him high before the people in praise.
“The king shall joy in thy strength, O Jehovah; And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou hast given him his heart's desire, And hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah For thou meetest him with the blessings of goodness: Thou settest a crown of fine gold on his head. He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, Even length of days for ever and ever. His glory is great in thy salvation: Honor and majesty dost thou lay upon him. For thou makest him most blessed for ever: Thou makest him glad with joy in thy presence. For the king trusteth in Jehovah; And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he shall not be moved.” Psalm 21:1-7 (ASV)
Perhaps we do not have crowns of gold or positions of authority over many people, however we have many good and perfect gifts given to us by the Lord God Almighty. As we look around at our world, a world for which we have worked hard – our homes, our education, our jobs, our families – we can easily take credit for it all and forget to thank God for these blessings. The more we have, the more we forget that all things come from God. Let us today, and every day, thank God for all that we have – not only our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation He gives, not only the food we eat or the home we have, but also every little thing we have been given. Look around you right now and thank God for all you see – your computer, your clothes, the books on the shelves. Thank Him for the calendar that is filled with opportunities for service and fellowship. Thank Him for soap, deodorant and even toilet paper. There is nothing we have that we have not been given by the hand of our God. We may not wear a crown of gold like the kings throughout history, but we have been given an even greater crown – the crown of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. May our lives always reflect our gratefulness. Thanks be to God.
Personal agendas At this time of year I begin looking through the racks of calendars to find one to use for the next year. The stores have large displays of every type of calendar – ones to hang on the wall, ones to carry in a purse, ones with plenty of space to write all our appointments with room to spare. Some folk have reusable planning calendars – lovely leather or leatherette portfolios in which they can replace the old year with new pages. The latest fad is electronic notebooks equipped with beepers and room to put everything a person needs for their day-to-day life. These calendars become so important to everyone from moms to corporate executives that they feel lost without them.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Ah! You know more about your ledgers than your Bible; you know more about your daybooks than what God has written; many of you will read a novel from beginning to end, and what have you got? A mouthful of froth when you have done. But you cannot read the Bible; that solid, lasting substantial, and satisfying food goes uneaten, locked up in the cupboard of neglect.” Spurgeon was an English preacher in the 19th century, but he could have been preaching to us today. For most of us, our Day Runners and our checkbooks get more time and attention than our Bible.
It is interesting because many of the books of the Bible can be read in a short period of time. Wilbur Smith wrote, “It will probably astonish many to know that one single, normal issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” contains as much reading as the entire New Testament. Thousands of people read “The Saturday Evening Post” through every week. The number of Christians who read the New Testament through every week, or even one whole book of the New Testament every week, are so few that we need not talk about it.”
“Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ASV)
I imagine Martha would have never been without her Day Runner. I can picture her to be a soccer mom, running the kids around in the mini-van, having dinner parties every week, always ready to help out. She had many wonderful qualities; Jesus loved her as much as Mary. But in this story, Mary knew what was important and that was time with Jesus.
I have to honest to say that I do not read the New Testament through every week. I tend to study the scriptures rather than just read them. Yet, there is great value to taking the time to simply read what God has sent. If we received a letter from our mother or our brother, we would not sit and try to identify the meaning of every word or find an underlying understanding. We would just read it and enjoy the fellowship we have with them even over the miles. Yet, we rarely just read the Bible for the sake of listening to God.
We can’t sit at the feet of Jesus as Mary did that day because He is no longer with us in the flesh. We can, however, spend time at His feet by reading the words He has given us in the Holy Bible. We are busy people and our calendars are important resources to keep us on track through our hectic schedules. It is my hope that we all spend as much time with our noses in our Bibles as we spend chasing the appointments found within. If there is no time left for listening to Jesus, then perhaps we should prioritize and reduce the time we spend doing things that keep us from our Lord. He has so much to say, so much grace to give if only we would sit at His feet for a moment each day and listen. Thanks be to God.
Lights It is interesting to drive around right now, it almost seems like it is Christmas already. There have always been people who decorate for Halloween – pumpkins, ghosts, and spiders with webs trimmed the yards of those who would welcome Trick or Treaters. Some went to great lengths to create a spooky atmosphere with coffins, gravestones and skeletons. There are still those who fill their yard with decorations that rival some Christmas displays.
For the past few years, there has been a trend of decorating in a more festive manner. Many houses are covered with bright twinkling lights in oranges, purples and pinks. There a inflatable lighted pumpkins and Frankensteins that make us laugh because they are so silly. Our street on Halloween night has a bright, cheerful atmosphere rather than gloomy and bleak. The zoo in our town has taken advantage of this trend and they use the Halloween season as one of the biggest fundraisers. They open at night with carnival rides, games and food, as well as booths for Trick or Treating. The booths are sponsored by area businesses and they give our handfuls of candy to all the children. The zoo is decorated with light displays – fields of plastic light up pumpkins, twinkle lights shaped like ghosts and goblins. They even have live scarecrows walking around, a haunted house and a train ride. They put on a show with the night creatures, where the visitors can see owls, snakes and even a possum up close. We went a few nights ago and had a great time.
I think we are seeing these trends – lights on the houses and safe Halloween alternatives – are because things had gotten so dangerous. A few years ago there were stories of children being poisoned by the candy, or finding sharp dangerous items in the pieces. I heard the other day that a child playing Halloween pranks was shot. We never had to worry about these things when we were young. Many parents are choosing to find other ways to enjoy Halloween, even parents that do not have religious reasons. The children have as much fun at a party and parents can rest at ease knowing their children are safe.
I have to admit that I am not quite so down on Halloween this year as I have been in the past. Perhaps it is because I can see there is light in the darkness. Oh there are still aspects of the day that I do not like – the focus on death and evil, the greed of the Trick or Treaters, the dentist bills in a few months. It is certainly not a Christian holiday. Yet, we are called to dedicate every day to the Lord, to sing praise to Him who has His hand in all things, even that which seems far from God.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth forever. Who can utter the mighty acts of Jehovah, Or show forth all his praise? Blessed are they that keep justice, And he that doeth righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Jehovah, with the favor that thou bearest unto thy people; Oh visit me with thy salvation, That I may see the prosperity of thy chosen, That I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, That I may glory with thine inheritance.” Psalm 106:1-5 (ASV)
We are not going to be involved with Trick or Treat tonight, but instead we plan to celebrate Reformation Day by seeing “Luther, the Movie.” The movie is about another time light shined in the darkness. Things had gotten so bad, superstition was running rampant and the people did not truly believe in Jesus as Lord. Luther rediscovered grace and tried to bring change to the world around him. He taught the people to keep God in everything they did, to live in faith at every moment. He helped them to realize that they were not able to earn the rewards of faith or to be righteous by their own abilities. Instead, he showed that God is greater than anything we can do, that He blesses us with more than we can ever imagine. Through faith in Jesus, we are given eternal life and are made a child of the Living God. Because of Jesus, we can sing this psalm and live according to the words. He is the light in our darkness, the joy in our lives. The spirit of the reformation continues into today as we grow in faith and are transformed from darkness into light by the grace of God. Thanks be to God.