Welcome to the October 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2004
October 1, 2004
Rocks When we lived in Arkansas, we took a trip to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. This small park consists of a field in which people can mine for gemstones, including diamonds. We went on a nice, dry day, thinking it would be the best time to go. After all, this is nothing more than a big pile of dirt where people can dig until they find treasure. A rainy day would make the trip a muddy, messy experience. However, we learned while we were there, that the rainy days were much better for gem hunting. As with all other stones, the rain helps the gems rise to the top, making them much easier to find.
It is rather amazing what appears after a heavy rain, not only in the diamond field, but elsewhere. I recently heard a report that the flooding from one of the hurricanes has caused coffins to be unburied. A report from another time and place showed a house floating down a river. Archeological artifacts often appear after a heavy rain. Recently a life size statue of Jesus was found on a sand bar on the Rio Grande.
No one knows where the statue originated. There is no signature to indicate the creator or producer. There is little evidence of damage – a few scratches from its trip on the river. There are no reports of stolen statues from any churches along the Rio Grande. Since this statue is such a mystery, many people in the town where it was discovered have seen this as a message from God. It is being called “the Jesus of the undocumented.” The Eagle Pass police have stored the statue in their station and it has become a pilgrimage site for faithful believers. They do not know what to do with the statue after the required waiting period – several churches have already requested the statue for their ministry.
There are many possible explanations for this unknown statue appearing out of nowhere. It is possible that it was stolen long before and buried along the side of the river, unearthed during recent heavy rains. Perhaps it had been on a boat that sunk along the Rio Grande as it was being shipped to a market to be sold. It may have come from a church far from the river that has not heard it was found. Wherever it originated, this Jesus statue has brought something to the people of Eagle Pass.
“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.” Colossians 3:1-3 (ASV)
It is strange to think how easily things rise to the surface of the earth from deep inside. Our visit to that state park in Arkansas helped me to understand something that had bothered me for some time. I never could figure out why or how the rocks ended up in my garden every year. The water moves the dirt, sometimes washing it away, sometimes lifting the objects found under the surface. It happens during floods and at constant bodies of water. Though a river travels in the same general direction, it moves, washing away the riverbank.
We are born into this world wallowing in the muddiness of sin and death. This has been the human condition since Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden. Their sin, which continues to be our sin even today, brought suffering to the whole world. However, God loved us so much that He appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in the flesh of man. Jesus Christ, our Lord the living water, raised us up out of the muck to be changed and sent to be witnesses of His love. He will appear again and in that day we will join Him in His glory forever. Thanks be to God.
Late We have a very busy schedule, as all families with school age children. With the many different activities – in school and out – it seems our calendar fills up quickly with events and opportunities for service. I take care to keep track of all the events so that we do not commit to things and have to cancel at the last moment because of conflicts, but it is not always easy. Sometimes I don’t get the word that there is an event, or I find out much too late. Just today I found out there is an event tomorrow that Zack won’t be attending. We may have been able to change something if I had earlier notice.
Communication is vital for all aspects of our life, particularly when dealing with so many different schedules. The key to keeping this business stress free is planning well in advance. It is frustrating to learn at the last minute that there is an event the children need to attend. Although Vicki is now old enough to be responsible for her own activities, we still have to make sure she gets where she needs to go. She is pretty good at keeping me informed of her schedule, but at times things come up that she really wants to attend. It is very difficult to do everything, especially when we find out about it at the last minute.
It is bad enough to have to miss an event because we are too busy to go. Sometimes we have to make choices, prioritizing our activities. It is really disappointing, however, to learn that we missed something that we would have enjoyed because we did not know it was happening. I have heard people talk about how much they enjoyed a show or workshop only to find out that I could have attended, but I missed the message or advertisement. It is one thing to miss something because we have chosen to do something else. It is entirely another matter when we miss something because we did not know it was happening.
There are many people in our world who don’t know about Jesus Christ. Oh, there are a number who’ve heard the message of God’s forgiveness through the cross but have rejected it. However, there are far too many people who have not heard the Gospel. They are missing out on the wonderful blessings of living in Christ in this life, of knowing God while in the flesh.
“Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows shall be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond-tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets: before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 (ASV)
Throughout every era in human history, people have sought to know the purpose of their existence. There have been different answers at different times, but nothing satisfies nearly as much as a quest into the spiritual realms to fill the desires of the human heart to have a reason to function in this life. Even today, when we fill our calendars with a million different activities, it is obvious that those things will never be lasting. We might enjoy the activities with which we are involved, but the world will not end if we miss something and it will not necessarily be better because we have gone.
However, our lives are much different if we know the Lord and His wonderful salvation. We have a purpose in this life, and that purpose is to know God and to love Him with our whole beings. Our reason for living is to worship Him. Everything else will end. Everything else will fade away. When that trumpet sounds at the end of all the ages, our activities will truly have been meaningless unless we have lived in the hope of what is to come through Jesus our Lord. Man will end, but God and those who love Him, will live forever. Let us not let anyone in this world go another day without hearing this message of truth and hope so that they might live TODAY knowing the purpose of their life. Thanks be to God.
I began writing A WORD FOR TODAY on August 1, 1999. Except for a few occasions when it was impossible to post because we were on vacation or in the process of moving, something has appeared in your mailbox every day for as long as you have received the mail. I have written from three separate locations – England, Arkansas and now Texas. It is such a joy to spend time in God’s Word each day and share some thoughts with you. Your prayers and the encouragement of my family and friends have played a vital role in this ministry, but the physical writing and web work has been my sole responsibility. It takes an hour or more of prayer, research, scripture reading, writing and then posting to make this happen every day.
It is amazing that this has lasted five years. I recall during the first week of writing (I had committed to two weeks) I wondered how I would ever make it through the second week. By the end of that second week I knew that God was leading me to go on. I thought perhaps this would go for a year, then maybe two. I stopped counting the days long ago. About twenty months ago I added a second devotional – a weekly writing called MIDWEEK OASIS. It is posted on Wednesday.
In the past five years, there has been little change to the format offered in this daily devotional. Some days have been repeated, hopefully because the message was still relevant and not because I was unable to write. I have had ups and downs, times when God was clearly speaking to and through me and times when I could not put a word onto the paper without a struggle. I have worried whether the work has mattered and I have been encouraged by your letters.
This is not a letter of good-bye. It is simply a letter letting you know that through prayer and struggle I have decided that it is time to make a few, hopefully minor, changes to A WORD FOR TODAY. I have decided to reduce the number of days I will be posting A WORD FOR TODAY from seven to five. I have studied the statistics and it appears that most of you read this on weekdays – many of your emails are from a business or job site. Few people visit the website on weekends. Changes in our schedule – especially now that I am teaching and occupied by other ministry opportunities – is making harder to find the time to write. I can’t get to the computer before late afternoon on many days.
A WORD FOR TODAY will be posted on Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday to be used for personal reflection, prayer and perhaps to write a bit ahead so that if I have a particularly busy day in the upcoming week I will be prepared with something to send rather than skip a day or rely on a previous writing. MIDWEEK OASIS will still be posted on Wednesday afternoon. Other changes may occur in the format of the writing over the next few weeks. I hope to return to an early morning posting of the devotional so that it will be waiting for you as you begin your day. As always, my mailbox is open for your comments and suggestions. I will do my best to continue writing in a way that will inspire you to live in God’s grace in this world in a way that will glorify Him and make His Gospel known through all the world.
My parting words for this day come from St. Paul in the book of Philippians. “And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” This is my prayer for you also. We are a Christian fellowship just like the believers in Philippi. Though we may never meet face to face we are bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am very thankful for your prayers and support all these years and I pray we can continue to journey together in faith for many more years to come.
Peanuts Even though Charles Schulz died several years ago, our newspaper continues to carry the “Peanuts” strip in the Sunday comics. These are classic episodes between the characters that Schulz created and made so loved over the years.
Yesterday’s episode showed Peppermint Patty calling Charlie Brown to her house. “Hey, Chuck, some on over and see what my dad gave me for my birthday.” They next frames show the two looking at a bouquet of roses. Patty told Chuck that her dad said she is growing up so fast and so beautiful that one day soon she would have boyfriends calling, he wanted to be the first one to give her a dozen roses. Charlie Brown answered, “Your dad likes you… Happy Birthday.” I think, perhaps, that Charlie Brown underestimated the feelings of Peppermint Patty’s dad. He does not simply like his daughter, but loves her very much.
Maybe this is being too analytical of the comic strip, after all these are make believe characters and the point of the comic was how grown up and feminine the roses made Patty feel. Yet, we often diminish the feelings of those around us for many different reasons. We do not want to be disappointed or hurt, so we protect ourselves with lower expectations. We do not want to be too pushy, so we do not expect too much of others. In the last frame of the comic strip, Patty is staring lovingly at the bouquet of roses. She knows that this experience was something much deeper than ‘like.’
I think many people have Charlie Brown’s attitude when it comes to the relationship between God and His people. When something good happens – when there is some blessing on the life of a believer – people say, “God must like you.” Yet, whenever something goes wrong, the observers are quick to question the love in the relationship. In reference to suffering, I have heard a great many people claim “a loving God would never allow such things to happen.” So, blessedness is reduced to some sort of reward or payment for being what God wants us to be. The relationship between God and man is made more of a friendship than something divine. God’s love is much deeper than that, it is a deep and abiding love. If we do not know the depth of His love, we do not know how to praise Him.
“My heart is fixed, O God; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah, among the peoples; And I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And thy truth reacheth unto the skies. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, And thy glory above all the earth. That thy beloved may be delivered, Save with thy right hand, and answer us.” Psalm 108:1-6 (ASV)
Peppermint Patty’s dad wanted to be the first to give her a dozen roses. This is also his way of helping her see that he will always love her and be a part of her life. She will have boyfriends, she will fall in love, she will have relationships, most of which will fall apart after a day, a week or even a year. It will take time and heartache for her to find the man she will love for the rest of her life, but her daddy will always be there. When she is feeling hurt and discouraged and feels like no one will ever really like her, she can turn to his love for comfort.
A great many Christians see Jesus as little more than a friend, a brother, a teacher and great man. Though they recognize the work He did on the cross to save them from hell and damnation, this plays little in the way they define Him as Lord. They see God as a Father willing to give His Son Jesus as the Savior of the world. This great love deserves more than a backhanded comment about how much God likes you. His love is greater than we can even imagine or explain. When we are in the midst of turmoil and suffering, when we are hurt by the world, we can know that God is there through it all to bring us comfort and peace. Thanks be to God.
Shower It is amazing how quickly people and cats can get set in their ways. We have definitely established a pattern for living in this new house. There are certain ways of doing things and specific times when they should be done. Everyone has their favorite seat at the table and in the living room. We have a schedule to follow and certain days when we are sure we will sit down to a meal together. The laundry is done on Monday; the dishwasher is run at night so that it is ready to be emptied in the morning. We are comfortable in this pattern.
Even the cats find comfort in the regularity of our life. They wake up and beg for food at a certain time. As soon as they have eaten, they play together for awhile. Then they sleep. Each cat has a favorite place to lie. The cats don’t know about schedules or days of the week, but they do have a sense of our routine and they have fit their day into what we do. It is strange to them, however, when we do not do what they expect. Saturday was a rainy day, so our usual activities were cancelled, leaving us all home all day. Though they enjoyed our presence, it was also confusing because they are so used to having the house to themselves sometimes.
I normally take a shower, but last night I decided to take a relaxing bath before bed. Now, to Tigger the bathtub is nothing more than a place to play. He likes to jump inside and chase his tail. It seems the smooth bottom of the tub gives him an extra thrill because he slides when he catches the tail. Tigger loves to watch us in the bathroom, seemingly fascinated by all the strange things we do with our bodies. He waits anxiously while we are in the shower so he can have his turn (without water running) after we are finished. So, when I got ready to bathe, he waited in his usual place by the shower. He was awful confused when I got in the bath. He even seemed frightened. Though he wanted to sit on the edge of the bathtub, he was too afraid.
We certainly do get set in our ways, even the cats. However, there are so many times in our life when we have to be flexible and read to do something new. It takes courage, wisdom and trust to step out of the ordinary into something new. Sometimes we have to change the way we do things because circumstances around us change. When it comes to our religious life, however, most of us have a great deal of difficulty making those changes.
“In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4 (ASV)
Little children are not yet stuck in the patterns of life that we live. They trust mom and dad to take them where they need to be a meet their needs. Oh, they very quickly fit into the routine and find comfort in that sameness, but they are more open to change because they find comfort in the people they love rather than the things they do. Jesus used the example of little children to show the disciples that faith in God is a matter of trust, they should not be afraid when things are different. Children have an innocence, a humility, which can be molded according the God’s good will and purpose for our lives. But if we live so set in our ways that we are unable and unwilling to change, it is nearly impossible for God to make a difference in our lives. We need only trust the Lord our God to know what is best for us today and always and He will make us new. Thanks be to God.
Corruption They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We can see the truth of this axiom in the governments of many nations around the world. Dictatorships leave little room for the checks and balances of a more egalitarian government. Throughout the history of the world, we can see examples of kings, presidents, emperors and other leaders that took their role as ruler to the limits. They abused the power they were given, served without mercy or justice. They sought what was best for themselves and their throne rather than what was best for their people.
This type of power grabbing is not limited to rulers with monopolies on the government. Even in democracies, republics or federalist types of government, it is possible to have a leader with too much control. A local community recently went through a difficult time when the mayor decided to fire the city manager. It was a controversial move, one that many people thought would never happen. It had the city up in arms, many claiming the mayor should be the one fired. In the end, the manager was replaced because the city council voted in agreement with the mayor. There are many who are still not sure this was the best decision, thinking perhaps the mayor had too much power over the council. However, the story is not yet over – the manager is considering a run for political office.
It is interesting, however, as we watch these political soap operas. When a leader is bad for the community, there is always someone willing to speak out against such a rule. At times, the corruption leads to a violent end to the reign – a coup d’etat brings a change of leadership. The old leader is killed, the instigator takes over. However, all too often, the new leader finds himself in exactly the same position as the one he ousted. The power of the position corrupts the new leader as it did the old. This happened often in the history of Israel.
“And Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah; and he reigned over Israel two years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin. And Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him; and Baasha smote him at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines; for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon. Even in the third year of Asa king of Judah did Baasha slay him, and reigned in his stead. And it came to pass that, as soon as he was king, he smote all the house of Jeroboam: he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him; according unto the saying of Jehovah, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite; for the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and wherewith he made Israel to sin, because of his provocation wherewith he provoked Jehovah, the God of Israel, to anger. Now the rest of the acts of Nadab, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, and reigned twenty and four years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.” 1 Kings 15:25-33 (ASV)
Baasha was given a great deal of power by God, power that lead to the death of Jeroboam’s family and Nadab the king of Israel. This was a fulfillment of a prophecy given through Ahijah earlier in the book. Yet, when Baasha was king, he did the same things as Nadab and Jeroboam and causing Israel to sin against God. While it may have been right and good for those previous kings to be removed, Baasha was no godlier than they. He did not worship God or serve Him. He was unmerciful and unjust. He sought his own power and glory.
Power does indeed corrupt people. It is very easy to stand on the outside of a political office and make claims about all the things that the leader is doing wrong. However, it is important for anyone wishing to make a difference in the government of their nation to ensure that they look in the mirror to see what sins they too might be guilty of committing. The power itself does not make a person bad, but we are all tempted by something that will cause us to sin if we are not willing to humble ourselves before the Lord and our people. It is easy to point fingers. It is much more difficult to stand firm on the convictions that have led to authority. Let us pray that all our leaders will remember the dangers of leadership and walk carefully so that they will not abuse the power which they have been given.
Rain It is raining in Texas. For the past few days we have been watching the radar as storms have moved all over the state. There is a front in the northwest and a wave of tropical moisture in the Gulf of Mexico that has been affecting our area for days. The expectation has been that these two forces would merge right over San Antonio and drop heavy rain, causing flooding for our area. The storms are out there. Dozens of storms pop up during the day in small pockets and then disappear as quickly as they formed. Despite the problems many Texans are facing with this rain, San Antonio has remained dry.
Yesterday morning I watched as a very large storm slowly moved from the northwest toward our area, but at a certain point the whole thing broke apart. Almost immediately I noticed another area coming from the coast, but as soon as it neared it disappeared. It is driving us crazy. We can feel the energy in the air. The cats are acting a bit strange and the children are wild. We see the dark clouds approaching and the red blotches on the radar, so we turn off the computers and prepare the house, but it never comes. The weathermen are reporting further possibilities of storms, but many people have just given up. Why carry an umbrella when it obviously won’t rain?
Do you ever get that feeling of expectation and longing for the Lord, hoping that He will just come and take care of all the troubles in the world? When things are worst in the world, when suffering is at its greatest, the human soul cries out in longing for the coming of Christ. As we look around at the nations today we see hunger, poverty, injustice, greed and violence – so much that it seems impossible for us to handle. We want to be away from it all, to know for eternity the peace and joy of heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait with expectation, but it makes us crazy because we see the signs and it never happens. For some, the lack of an answer leads to sin. But we are called to live godly and holy lives while we wait for that which has been promised.
“For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” Titus 2:11-15 (ASV)
The people in our area are sick of waiting for the rain that never seems to come, so we are all tempted give up on believing that it will ever come. The weathermen assure us that it is still possible. It certainly has been raining in other areas, causing many problems. We should not get complacent just because the system is not doing quite what the meteorologists expect.
Likewise, we should not give in the temptations that face us in this life because we think God is taking so long. When the so-called prophets of this age cry out that the Lord is here, we need to remember that no one will know the time of His return. However, Jesus also warned us that some would claim that they know the time and that some will even say “Here I am” as if they are the Christ. There is a feeling in the air, a feeling of expectation as if something is about to happen. The prophets are announcing great things from God in the days and weeks to come. Christians are crying out “Come, Lord Jesus!”
While it is well and good to live in the hope of the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we have to be careful. Throughout history there have been times of expectation that have led to revival of the faith in the lives of people. Yet, these periods of revival have been followed by times of darkness. Too many people had faith in the words of the ‘prophets’ and too little faith in Christ. When He did not return as expected, they turned from Christ out of disappointment. We are not called to faith to concern ourselves with the day and the hour, but rather we are called to faith to live in the hope of God’s promises today and always. Thanks be to God.
The Prince and the Pauper The story, written by Mark Twain, is about two young men who learned what life is really like on the other side of the tracks. By a freak coincidence, the boys looked quite similar, a prince became a pauper and the pauper became a prince. Tom Canty was born to a poor family, unwanted and abused for his young life. He was forced to beg and when the take was not big enough he was beaten harshly. Edward was born into the house of Tudor – the Prince of Wales. Tom managed to find kindness at a monastery where Father Andrew taught him to read and told him stories about the royal family. He was intelligent and well respected despite his low position in society.
One day Tom had a chance to make a wish come true – he wanted to see the royalty in all their finery. He went to the palace and through the gate spied a boy about his own age. As he crept closer to get a better look, a guard grabbed Tom. Edward saved Tom and took him into the palace, and the boys shared stories of their life while they ate a meal together. On a whim, they exchanged clothes and noticed how much they looked alike. Edward discovered that Tom had been hurt when he was grabbed, so he went out to reprimand the guard. The guard, mistaking the prince for the poor boy, threw him out on the street.
The two boys lived in the shoes of the other for a time, the prince learning what it meant to be king and the pauper learning what it meant to be poor. Edward saw the injustice that existed in his land. Tom was uncomfortable with his new role, but as he learned more about being royal he stopped feeling concern and guilt over Edward’s disappearance. Eventually, Edward’s father died and Edward was to be crowned king. The true prince learned of the coronation and arrived at Westminster just in time. When Tom saw Edward, he readily stepped from the throne and offered it to the true king. No one believed the boys until Edward was able to give undeniable proof of his identity. Edward was crowned and became a compassionate and just king. He gave Tom a position in the court and was loved by his people until the day he died.
The Prince and the Pauper is a story of mistaken identity. Though Tom enjoyed his time in the palace, he also recognized that he was not the rightful heir. He did not usurp the position from the one who belonged on the throne. Paul did the same thing when he was mistaken for a god.
“And at Lystra there sat a certain man, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked. The same heard Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes upon him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped up and walked. And when the multitude saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercury, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Jupiter whose temple was before the city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they rent their garments, and sprang forth among the multitude, crying out and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is: who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the multitudes from doing sacrifice unto them.” Acts 14:8-18 (ASV)
Paul’s incredible act of healing would have certainly been misunderstood by those who did not know the Lord God Almighty. The people were ready to give homage to the gods they knew, they even thought Paul and Barnabas were physical manifestations of those gods. Paul could not stand for such foolishness. He was not God and was quick to reveal the true King. I think that this sort of misidentification happens often with people who have experienced the living Christ through the life of another. People want to give credit for healing to the person whose hands touched them, to thank the pastor or minister for their work without giving credit where it is truly due.
Just as the pauper enjoyed the life in the palace, we too enjoy the blessings of life as a child of God. We have to remember, however, when it comes time to crown the King that we give proper due to the One who has saved us and made us whole. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and joy when God does something amazing, but let us remember that He is the source of salvation and we are merely instruments He uses to bring it to the world. Thanks be to God.
Job Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock starred in a movie called “Two Weeks Notice.” In this film Sandra Bullock plays a Harvard graduated lawyer named Lucy Kelson whose lifetime goal is to save the world. She is an activist, willingly putting herself in the line of fire for a cause. One day she approached George Wade played by Hugh Grant, a multimillionaire who was planning on destroying an important landmark to build another sky rise building. He decided to hire her as his lawyer and she agreed because she thought it would give her to resources to accomplish her charitable work.
It did not take long before she realized that she would be far more than just a lawyer. On her first day, George approached her with two envelopes. The envelopes looked identical, but there was some very minor difference between the two. “Which should I purchase for our stationary?” George asked. Lucy looked at the two envelopes and then licked the glue. “This one tastes better.” From that moment, George knew Lucy was decisive, so he sought her advice to everything from which tie to wear to which girls he should date.
After some time, Lucy realized that she could not longer do the job. It was too hard and it was not what she signed up to do. George was calling her at all hours of the day and night, asking her to do the most ridiculous tasks. When he called in the middle of her best friends’ wedding, she decided to give her two weeks notice. During those two weeks, George and Lucy realized they were in love and the story ended happily ever after. Lucy continued to do the same decision making for George, but in the end it was not as his lawyer, but rather as his wife.
If you asked a hundred believers what it means to be a Christian, you might be surprised to find how many different answers you would get. Some people think being a Christian is about being an advocate for the poor. Others consider the church a family and think of themselves brothers and sisters to other believers. Some think it is an intellectual lifestyle of study and debate. Yet others consider it a call to separation from the world, either in a monastic community or some other fellowship of believers. None of these ideas is wrong, but they aren’t complete. As Christians, we are called to be in the world but of another world. We are called to be advocates and to be students. Our Christian life will have grand moments of inspiration and great acts, but it will also be filled with those little daily acts of faith. Most of all, it will not be easy. The life Christ calls us to live is hard and usually nothing like we will expect it to be.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits. Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:9-21 (ASV)
Lucy thought she was being hired to be a lawyer. As it turned out, she ended up as George’s wife even before they were married. It was not what she wanted or expected at first, until she realized how much she loved him.
We all have expectations for our life in Christ. There are many who pursue the vocation of pastor with the expectation of making grand things happen for God – larger churches, more active disciples, vast outreach into the community. When they get into a parish, however, they suddenly realize there are hundreds of small, seemingly insignificant tasks that need to be accomplished. They become discouraged and give up. The Christian that realizes that the Christian lifestyle is about living in a relationship with God, when we realize that it is about love, we won’t mind taking care of the hard things, the menial tasks, the humble acts of faith because we live in the love of Christ for the sake of others, not to accomplish our own agenda or fulfill our desires.
The Christian life is hard as Paul notes in this passage to the Romans. But it is the life that God is calling us to live. It is a life of active love, joy in hardship, compassion, forgiveness, humility and peace keeping. Over the next few days we will continue to look at this passage and expand on living in faith through the love of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Let love be without hypocrisy.
Façade Have you ever known anyone that was very loving and caring on the surface, but it was only a façade? They hug and kiss whenever they are in the presence of other people, sweet as pie, but as soon as they turn the corner they are gossipy and completely unwilling to help. This is the stereotypical image often given to rich women in sitcoms. These are the women that bring to mind a simple but inappropriate five letter word. They are the ones that appear to be madly in love with their husbands, but who linger in the bushes with the pool man. The love they show is insincere.
Not that there aren’t men for whom that is true also. Men simply do not show love in the same manner as women. For men this façade of false love often manifests as the guy who brings his girlfriend flowers once a week, but who then beats the girl behind closed doors. It appears he is in love, but the love he shows the world is insincere. It is a mockery of real love, because it does not come forth in humble service to those whom they claim to love.
This is not a problem with just those who are in the world. Many Christians suffer from such hypocrisy. They speak the words of love – love of God, love of neighbor. They show love to their brothers and sisters in Christ with joyful embraces but they never show that love in meaningful and merciful actions. They are unavailable when their neighbor needs a helping hand. They gossip about the other members of the congregation. They will fight until they get their way, not considering the feelings or opinions of others as valid and valuable. They speak of Christian love, but the love the show is insincere.
We are called to love one another as Christ loved us. This means a sacrificial love that acts as it speaks. It is a love that humbles itself before God and for the sake of the neighbor. It is a love that does not concern itself with superficial façades, but loves with active support and grace. It is not a love that is all show but no substance. It is a love that benefits others, not just self. This love, while meant for all people, should especially be true among those who claim to be followers of the Christ.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6 (ASV)
There is a great deal of insincere love in this world. I am sure that every one of us can even remember times when we were insincere with the love we had for our neighbor or when we have fallen short in active service to those we claim to love. Yet, this is exactly why we are called to grow in our faith – to grow in our active living of the faith Christ has given. We fail but Christ forgives. He does this because of the deep love He has for all His people. His love is real and as we grow in the faith He has given us – not gaining more faith, but living more fully in it – we see that love that is not given fully with heart and hand (not just voice) is the kind of love Jesus asks us to live. It is hard. It means patience and humility. It means getting our hands dirty doing things we would rather not do. It means speaking the truth in love and listening with the same spirit. It means giving up our selfishness to live in peace with one another. That is love without hypocrisy. Thanks be to God.
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
Election We are less than three weeks away from November 2, Election Day in the United States. There are many who consider this year’s decision about President, a choice between two evils. They feel that none of the candidates are the perfect person to lead us for the next four years, so they are trying to decide which is the lesser of the evils. For those who are passionate about the issues and their choice will spend hours trying to convince you why their candidate is the best and why the other choice is wrong. We are closely divided in our opinion about which is the better man for the position. Though few actually think either man is truly evil, there are some who might say choosing the wrong man is making the evil choice.
Evil is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing; a cosmic evil force; something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity.” We have a difficult time defining evil because we all see the world through unique eyes. To one person the pain of disease or the lack of financial resources is a great suffering. Another person in exactly the same situation might see both with an attitude of peace and even joy. Some disabled people cry “woe is me” while others use their trouble for the benefit of others. For the first, the disability is evil to the other it is good. So, as we read Paul’s instruction in Romans 12, how do we know what is evil and what is good? We all have our opinions and quite often our opinions will differ. Which of us is right?
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it.” Matthew 7:7-14 (ASV)
Isn’t it interesting that in this passage our Lord Jesus calls us evil. Evil, in biblical terms, is that which stands against God. Though there are many in our world today who would like to have us believe that human beings are innately good, after all God created us and everything He created is good. So, they disagree with the Christian attitude that all humans are sinful beings in need of salvation. Yet, the scriptures tell us that since that day in the garden all humans are separated from God, standing against our Creator. The only way it is possible for us to be in His presence is to turn to Jesus.
As we consider this most basic Christian truth, we realize that Paul is not instructing us specifically about what is evil or good, but he is pointing us, once again, to turn away from ourselves and look to Jesus for all we need. We love that which is good – that which is to our own personal benefit – and hate that is evil. We define evil as that which brings us harm. Yet, God is able to use even the things we perceive to be evil to do His will. Who could ever consider the cross a good thing? And yet, without the cross of Jesus Christ we would never have been reconciled to God. Let us cleave always to Christ, for that is where we will find and live the true love of Christ. Thanks be to God.
In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another.
Gifts For a number of years, it has been our tradition to create a Christmas ornament for our loved ones. Each ornament has some sort of sentimental value or serves as a reminder of something special about that year. While we lived in England, I used English china and sixpences. I love decorating the Christmas tree because each year there are more ornaments – not only the ones we make, but also some made by other members of our family – and as we hang them on the tree we think about those we love.
I’m having difficulty deciding what to do for my ornaments this year. I have tried several different ideas, but they just aren’t right. One idea is too simple, it looks almost childish. Another idea is pretty, but it is quite similar to something someone else did several years ago. The third idea is good, but still not quite up to par. Some things I have considered are much too difficult and time consuming for this late in the season. I have one more idea and hopefully tomorrow I can get the materials I will need to try it. I sometimes wonder if I should even bother, but I love to make these gifts for those I love.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that we should be devoted to one another, honoring our brothers and sisters above ourselves. To me, this is a statement about going the extra mile, about giving more than is necessary for the sake of those we love. We are to put them first, not concerning ourselves with the impact it would have on our lives. It certainly was much easier to just buy a present or a gift card for everyone, but it is so much more enjoyable to create something unique for them each Christmas.
“Now before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto his Father, having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all the things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” John 13:1-5 (ASV)
As we look closely at this passage from John, we notice how much authority and power Jesus was given, particularly in those final moments of His life. John tells us that God had given Jesus control over everything. He was the Master, the disciples’ rabbi. He was their Lord and teacher, and yet He humbly knelt before them to do a menial task and meet a need that would normally be met by the lowest servant. He was devoted to the disciples in love, a love that would take Him to the cross. He put the needs of not only those disciples, but also each of us, before His own needs and desires. No one wants to die, but Jesus humbly went to the cross for our sake, showing us His devotion and honoring us with His service, even though we did not deserve it.
We might not always enjoy the menial tasks that are necessary to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a matter of fact, we might think those tasks are beneath us and would rather not do them for people who really don’t deserve it. Yet, as Christians we are called not just to love one another, but to be devoted to them, so much so that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to make them happy. We are encouraged to put others first and serve them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
…in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord…
Voila! This word is French and it means ‘there it is’ and is often used as an exclamation referring to a sudden understanding. It is said when that imaginary light bulb goes off in one’s mind when they discover a truth or when they figure out their mistake. There is an excitement that accompanies such a discovery and they are anxious to go out and use that new knowledge.
Some people have a natural inclination to teach and share their knowledge. When they have a voila! moment, they want to go out and share what they have learned. Take, for instance, the math student who has trouble with algebra or geometry. Sometimes it takes awhile for the whole thing to make sense, as each new theory and equation builds upon the last. There is usually a moment, however, when it all comes together and the student finally ‘gets it.’ For those who tend to teach want to give everyone else that same understanding. They try to teach the concept to others immediately, but they really do not have enough knowledge to pass it on and they get frustrated when the others do not understand as they do.
This happens quite often with faith in Jesus Christ. I have known people who have agonized over the words found in the scriptures, knowing there is something there but doubting that it is real. They want to believe in Jesus, but they just can’t seem to put it all together. There is usually some issue that is bothersome – suffering, wickedness, forgiveness – that makes it hard for them to believe. But then suddenly something fits and they believe. They think they have come to understand something that can be given to another. They think they have the explanation that will help others overcome their unbelief. They go out to witness and preach with zeal. The passion they have for Christ is the most wonderful thing, if only we could all be such passionate witnesses for Jesus. Unfortunately, in their zeal they often lack a real understanding of faith and they get frustrated when they can’t convince the world to believe. Since we all have our own issues to overcome, our voila! moments often come from much different answers.
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John: and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him: and when he was come, he helped them much that had believed through grace; for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” Acts 18:24-28 (ASV)
Apollos was zealous for Christ, but he did not have complete knowledge of salvation and was teaching falsely. It might have taken some time, but eventually he would have realized that his zealousness was not having the affect on the world that he wished it to have. In other words, when the words he spoke failed to bring people to faith, he would become discouraged and perhaps lazy in witnessing. Priscilla and Aquila found him early and taught him more accurately the truth of Christ. When he had the truth – the power of God’s Spirit within – his words made a difference in the lives of those who heard.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages us to be diligent, to be zealous with God’s word, but he also reminds us that our passion is not something we share on our own. It is with the power of the Holy Spirit that God’s Word is spread, and our witness is not based on our knowledge but on His fervency. When we discover the truth of Christ we want to share, but let us remember that it is not our abilities that bring salvation to others, but rather it is God who gives His truth to them through us. Remembering this, we can go out in faith to speak God’s word, knowing that He will bring the voila! moments to those who hear. Thanks be to God.
…rejoicing in hope…
Wishes Throughout our lives we hope for many different things. As children, we hope that Santa will come or that we will get a certain toy for our birthday. As teenagers, we hope that we will pass that important test, get a date for the prom or that our team will win the big game. When we are young adults, our hopes turn toward graduating college, getting a good job and finding the perfect mate. As we grow older, we hope our children will do well and that we will wake up in the morning feeling healthy and satisfied.
Of course, we are often disappointed when our hopes do not come true. These hopes are little more than wishes and dreams that can fall apart. We do not always do well on those important tests or get the job that we want. We wake up many mornings feeling ill, sore or just plain depressed. The world around us is imperfect and that imperfection manifests in our lives, creating roadblocks to the utopian world we hope for in this life. It is impossible to rejoice in hope knowing that our health might fail, our money might disappear and our kids might not meet our expectations.
“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.” Romans 5:1-5 (ASV)
Paul calls us to rejoice in hope, but that rejoicing is not in hope that will disappoint. The hope to which Paul points is hope in the promises of God. This world is indeed filled with fallen hopes and discontent. We question faith when things go wrong, thinking that our hope should rest in the things we can see. However, the world is not trustworthy and the people are not faithful. We are stained by sin and death. We are perishable. We are corrupt beings that fall to temptation and fail to be holy. We should never rest our hope in anything less than the One true God, for He is the only one who is faithful. The joy comes from knowing that only by God’s promises and gifts can we even have hope, and that hope will be true. We hope for many things throughout our lives, but those hopes will disappoint us. Yet, we can rejoice in the hope that comes from faith in Christ because God is faithful. Thanks be to God.
…patient in tribulation…
Sick. The season of sniffles and sneezes is coming upon us. For many in the south, the worst allergens are coming into prominence. As we near the winter months, when people spend more time in close quarters, more people will suffer with colds and flu. The thing that perpetuates these illnesses is the speed at which we get back into our lives. No one has the time or patience to lie around in bed, there is too much to do. If we spend too much time recovering, we will get behind and wear ourselves out catching up. Also, many children who should stay home are sent to school because both parents work and neither can be home to care for the child. So, we grin and bear our illness at the workplace or in school, spreading our germs to others and back to ourselves.
This happens with flu and colds, but it happens with other disease. I have a friend who has been suffering from back trouble. She hurt herself badly enough that she was forced to spend a week in the hospital. When it was time to go home, she told me that she was not fully recovered but that she would be back to work very soon. “I can’t lie around all the time, it will drive me crazy.” That day, under heavy medication, she took care of the needs of her family but by the evening she was in incredible pain. She ended up in bed and planned to stay. We often push our illness and pain, thinking that we will just overcome it with our mind. Unfortunately, by moving out too soon, we make it worse. A common cold lasts for weeks for many people, not because the disease is worse today but because we do not give our bodies a chance to gain strength before going back out into the dangers of the world.
In yesterday’s writing we looked at how to rejoice in hope. If we consider that a difficult task, I think being patient in suffering is even worse. We are always looking for something better – health, wealth and happiness – so we cry out in our suffering for relief from God and take steps on our own to get to the other side. Yet, God can use our trials to do amazing things in our life and in the world.
“And I saw one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed: and the whole earth wondered after the beast; and they worshipped the dragon, because he gave his authority unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? And who is able to war with him? and there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain. If any man hath an ear, let him hear. If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” Revelation 13:3-10 (ASV)
This is horrific imagery from John, but he tells us that this calls for patient endurance by the saints. God has a plan, and sometimes that plan allows for suffering to be a part of our life. He uses the times of trial to build us up to act as witnesses for His kingdom. It is difficult to rejoice or be patient through those times, unless we remember that He stands with us through it all. We look forward, not to the day when our illness is cured, but rather to the day when the whole world will be healed. If we remember that our hope rests not in our health, our wealth or our happiness, but in the promises of God, we will be patient through tribulation recognizing God’s hand as He does amazing things. Thanks be to God.
… continuing stedfastly in prayer…
Preventative It is hard to believe that winter is just around the corner, particularly since we are experiencing near record high degree temperatures. The humidity was so oppressive yesterday evening that I was sweating at nine o’clock p.m. Yet, I heard references to snow on the news this morning, so the cooler weather is on the way.
When we were living in military housing, we could expect a phone call about this time of year for a repairman to come do preventative maintenance on our heating equipment. This yearly check-up provides necessary work that will keep the machine running properly like cleaning and oil on the gears. The better maintenance, the longer the heater will work. Eventually the machine will break down, but it will last much longer with proper care. This is why it is important to take care of this yearly task even when it seems like a ridiculous effort because the weather is far from cold. Many people think it is a waste of money to do the upkeep, but it will cost far more to repair or replace the equipment when it fails.
I think most Christians would admit that they pray, many of them even pray regularly, taking some time out of their busy days to talk with God. Yet, we would also admit to being far more ready to go to God when we are in the midst of some difficulty, when we are suffering in body, mind or spirit. We approach God when there is something we need, but in the good times we do not put much time or effort into our conversations with Him. Paul tells us, however, that we should continue steadfastly in prayer.
“Whence come wars and whence come fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your pleasures that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures. Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.” James 4:1-4 (ASV)
We are called to pray at all times, not only when we are in need of healing or peace. Prayer is conversation with God, and what good is that conversation if we only go to Him when we hunger or thirst, but never go to Him when we are comfortable and blessed. I have had friends over the years who call only when they need something – they never call just to say hello or offer their help when I am in need. These relationships are difficult to continue because it is hard to constantly meet the needs of those who offer no thanks in words or deeds. All too often, however, we are like those friends to God, only seeking His gracious generosity.
Constant prayer, or faithful prayer as it is translated in the New International version, is about seeking God at all times, not just when we need Him. If we have nothing to ask, we can go to Him with praise and thanksgiving. Steadfast prayer is much like the preventative maintenance on our heaters. Even when we do not need to ask God for anything, we should talk with Him because our conversations with God will keep our spiritual, emotional and physical lives more healthy and it will help our relationships with others. The more time we spend with God, the more likely we will treat our neighbor with grace and mercy, avoiding the fights and wars that usually bring division and suffering to the world. Thanks be to God.
…communicating to the necessities of the saints…
Crafts. I love to craft. I usually have some project under way, particularly at this time of year as I’m focusing on Christmas gifts. Several years ago I decided to try to put my craft to work for me and I started working craft bazaars. I thought perhaps I could make back enough money to pay for my hobby. Many crafts are quite expensive and selling a few might make it more affordable for me. >[? One year I signed up for several different events at churches and schools. It takes a great deal of work – preparing the merchandise, taking everything to the site, setting up the table, standing all day and then cleaning up. The tables often cost money – I paid as much as thirty dollars for a space, but many craft fairs cost much more. Those who do this for their living, for whom it is a career, the high cost is worthwhile because the exposure can be as important as the sales of the day. However, I was just a hobbyist and many days it was not worth my time or energy.
It is fun to attend the craft fair because at some point everyone walks around to take a look at the competition. Many of the vendors spend as much as they make, buying items to use as samples for their own work or gifts for friends. No one bought anything too quick, however. Spending was directly dependent on how well the sale was going. If the vendors were making money, they spent money. If they weren’t, they didn’t. I only did the craft fairs for a year or so because it was too disappointing to walk out of the craft show without having made as much as I had hoped.
Many crafts have the same merchandise on sale because they follow the same trends found in the craft stores and pattern catalogues. One of the things I learned about the craft fairs is that some people do it because they love what they do. These are the people who are willing to talk to you about their techniques, share secrets and even pass on patterns. These people were always pleasant to speak with and they were more than willing to give good advice to a newcomer. Then there were others who were only out for the money. They only wanted to talk to you if you were buying their product. They rarely even walked around the sale to see what others had to sell. The first group was more likely to buy from another seller to support their effort and help them overcome a bad day. The second group would not even consider bartering deals because they are only interested in the cash. The craft fair circuit is almost like a family and it was such a blessing to know those who wanted to take care of one another.
“So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17 (ASV)
As Christians we are called to do good works in the world – to feed the hungry, to give shelter to the foreigner. We are sent to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are sick and dying in their sin. Jesus did not save us to huddle together apart from the world in our little community of believers, but to go out in faith to share what we have. However, in this passage from Paul, we are reminded to take care of the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to serve one another in love, to ensure that there are no Christians who are in need, for those who suffer cannot do well in the world.
Unfortunately, like the craft fair circuit, there are those who are Christians for their own purposes and they care little about the needs of others. They are unwilling to share their gifts, particularly with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps they fear that they won’t get credit or that they will have to share some reward. However, Paul encourages us to put aside our own desires for the sake of other believers, that we will all be blessed for the work of the kingdom in this world.
… given to hospitality…
Potluck We once visited a church that was having a potluck dinner after the service. Now, in other churches, visitors were always welcome and encouraged to attend these dinners as a chance for the congregation to get to know them. After all, you can get to know a lot about a person by sharing a meal with them. These invitations were often the deciding factor for visitors that were looking for a new church. They felt so welcome that the choice was easy.
We attended that service at a time when we were looking for a new congregation. It did not take us very long to realize that this was not going to be the church. We felt unwelcome. The greeters barely shook our hand; we had to search out the guest book for ourselves. The service used an usual setting, no one bothered to explain what was happening. They mentioned the potluck during the announcements and the pastor even extended an invitation to visitors. However, after the service no one said anything to us. They did not ask if we were staying or direct us toward where the dinner would be held. We lingered for a moment in the narthex, but there was no one available to answer questions. They were busy with themselves.
It might take a great deal of work to plan a dinner for friends, but it is easy to welcome them into our fellowship. We know them, we know their thoughts, and we know how to communicate with them. But it is much more difficult to welcome strangers. We get flustered by the uncertainties. What would they eat? What can I talk about? What will make them feel welcome in our presence? So, rather than face the difficulty, we avoid being hospitable to strangers. Yet, in this passage, Paul encourages us to be hospitable. This is not about throwing a dinner party for our friends, or being a good hostess at a church event. This is about welcoming the foreigner and stranger into our presence and sharing all that we have with them.
“And Jehovah appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, My lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on: forasmuch as ye are come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” Genesis 18:1-8 (ASV)
Hospitality was very important in the days of Abraham. A person could be on the road for days at a time, a moment of relief in the shade of a tent and a glass of water might mean the difference between life and death. Abraham welcomed the strangers into his tent and went to a great deal of trouble to feed them. Would we do the same today? What happens at our churches? When a stranger comes to worship with us, do we make them feel welcome? Do we provide someone who will guide the visitor through the service, inform them of our activities and answer any questions? When we have a special event, do we joyfully accept their presence in our midst?
In more personal circumstances, hospitality might not mean the same thing as it did in the days of Abraham, yet there are still opportunities for us to share all that we have with strangers. Have you been hospitable in the line at the grocery store, sharing the love of Christ? Have you taken the time to listen when someone you don’t know needs an ear? Have you stepped out in faith and invited someone new into your fellowship so that they too might benefit from the encouragement of your friends? It is hard to welcome the stranger, but let us never suppose that hospitality is only meant for those we know. True hospitality is reaching out to the foreigner and meeting his or her needs.
Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not.
Workshop I went to a workshop on Saturday. It was held for teachers, to give us an opportunity for continuing education to help us with our job. Methods and terminology changes over the years, and all teachers are required to keep up with the latest theories and practices among childcare professionals. I did not agree with everything I heard, but I learned a great deal and hopefully I will be able to use some of the techniques with my own students to help them grow.
One of the emphases was the use of positive verbal reinforcement to help a child’s self-esteem. Every teacher has or remembers a student that is difficult. This is the student that never pays attention, that is a distraction to the other students and that is often physical to the point of being dangerous. These are the kids about which it impossible for a teacher to find anything positive to say. They make you want to pull your hair out. Yet, it is the teacher’s job to find some way to overcome the animosity. Constant negative attention does not help the child or the class. The disagreeable youngster takes the teachers complete attention and energy, leaving nothing for the rest of the children. Our natural tendency is to hate that child. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, however if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have difficulty loving these children.
We can all say this about people we know. Think about your life, your work, and your neighborhoods. Even the most kind and loving people know someone that drives them crazy for one reason or another. It is a fact of life, we don’t get along with everyone. Personalities clash. Unfortunately, these relationships often go beyond quiet disregard and the people become enemies. They attack one another verbally, physically or emotionally, thinking this is the only way to overcome the differences. Yet, Paul writes that we should bless our enemies, not curse them.
“But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them. And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 27-36 (ASV)
Being a Christian is not an easy thing. We are called into a relationship with Christ not to separate ourselves from the people we do not like in this world. Rather, in Christ we are given a strength to overcome our natural tendencies so that we can live more Christ-like in the world. When our flesh wants to hate, we are commanded to love. When our mouths want to curse, we are commanded to bless. This is a difficult thing. Just like trying to find a good word about that young child that is always distracting and dangerous, saying nice things about our enemies is simply not something we are trained to do.
Yet, Paul would have us speak well about our enemies. Jesus took it a step further, telling us to do well by our enemies, to love them and serve them. Instead of complaining about the difficult child, the Christ centered response to his or her action is to love and encourage them, so that they will learn to act more appropriately. Yet, it is not enough to speak positively in the presence of the child. We also need to be kind behind closed doors and in the depths of our heart. Our worst sins against our enemies happen in the places no one sees – but God sees and He knows when we curse those we hate. Let us love our enemies as Christ. We too were enemies, but even worse, we were enemies of God until Christ died on the cross for our sake. Thanks be to God.
Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep.
Doll There is a story about a little girl who got home late. Her mother had been worried, so she asked the child to explain. The little girl told her mother, “My friend fell and broke her doll, so I stayed to help.” The mother asked, “What could you have done to help?” The little girl answered, “I just sat down and helped her cry.”
Emotion is a very powerful thing, and when we are in the heat of emotion it is impossible to do anything else. You can not reason with a child in the midst of a tantrum. No matter what you try – positive or negative – won’t make a difference until that emotion is released. This is true of happy emotions. Television bloopers shows often show the funny clips of those times when actors get into laughing fits. Once the giggling starts, it is best to take a break to let them deal with the trigger. Otherwise, the thing that made them laugh at first will only make them laugh more the next time. The director, however, anxious to finish filming the scene, will try to force calm.
That’s what we do as parents. When a child is crying, we ask them to stop crying so that we can understand their problem. Our goal in these situations is to solve the problem and make everything better. There have been times when my children were so upset it was difficult for them to breath, let alone talk. In my desperation to fix what was broken, I got frustrated with their inability to tell me what was wrong. “Just stop crying and we will be able to do something,” I would say. They would barely answer, “I can’t.”
“So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him..” Romans 8:12-17 (ASV)
For some reason, our immediate reaction to extreme happiness and extreme unhappiness is to balance the emotion. When someone is rejoicing, we do things to bring them down. When someone is grieving, we want to make everything better so that they won’t be hurting. Yet, we need to express our emotions and then we can deal with the situation. Ultimately, we share in the most incredible emotions – that which Jesus suffered on the cross. In that, however, we also share in His joy and the glory the Father has promised.
When ministering to someone – through prayer or words of comfort – it is tempting to offer advice or take care of the situation for them. However, most people have the answers but they can’t do anything until they get through the emotion. All they want from us is to share in their pain. When people are happy, they aren’t looking for our opinion about their good fortune or even a word of congratulation. They simply want to share their joy. Paul’s encouragement for the Christian life is that we become aware of other’s emotions and share in them. Like the little girl, sometimes the best way for us to help is to just cry along with our friend. Jesus came in flesh to empathize with the human condition and we are called to have empathy in this world as we live in the joy and sorrow of the Christ-like life. Thanks be to God.
Be of the same mind one toward another.
Midsummer Night’s Dream The fall theatrical performance at the high school is this classic by William Shakespeare. The kids have been practicing and preparing for this event since the first week of school. It takes a great deal of work to put together a play. There is casting, costumes, set and prop creation. The cast includes more than thirty students. Many of these students have few or no lines, but they have intricately choreographed scenes to learn.
There are two groups of people working on this play – the actors and the technical crew. The techies are working on the sets, on the lighting and sound. It is important that the technical crew members understand the choreography of the show so that they do not create a set that will affect the dances and moving about the stage. It is also important they agree about color and style because the costumes need to match the set and vice versa.
Even though there are two different groups – people that often bicker about the space and vision for the show – it is important that they are of one mind. The actors and the technical crew need to work together so that the show will be great. It would look silly if the actors are very dramatic while the set is designed to be childlike or humorous. The lighting and music enhances the acting, but it would irritate the audience if it was mistimed or contrary to the acting. It could even be dangerous if the actors and technical crews do not work together.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and the people are merely players.” I’m not sure this is entirely true, but there are certainly times when we live in a world that looks like a high school play being produced. Even in our faith life, we need to work together with others to make things happen. We do not always agree about the way things should happen or the vision for our ministries, but Paul reminds us that we should be of the same mind toward one another. This means that in faith we are to be one, since faith is the one thing that holds us together.
“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.” John 17:20-23 (ASV)
In many aspects of our life, it is quite important for us to be of one mind, even when we disagree about certain things. In politics, we can disagree about who is best for the country, but we should all agree that our goal is not for our own personal well-being, but rather to make the country strong. Our greatest problem today is not that we are planning to vote for different people on election day, but that we have allowed our disagreement to separate us from one another.
It is not much better on the surface of the Christian church. Many non-Christians point to the fact that there are thousands, tens of thousands of different denominations. “Which one is right?” they ask, thinking this question will make us doubt our faith and look more closely at theirs. Yet, despite the diversity of understanding, Christians are bound together and have one thing on which we can rest – we all, through faith, abide in Christ and in His love we are called together to worship Him. We might disagree about many things, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are made one. Thanks be to God.
Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly.
Toilet Sunday, October 31 is not only Halloween, it is Reformation Day. This is the day many Protestants recognize as the anniversary of the beginning of the protestant reformation. We point to this day because it is the day a man named Martin Luther nailed a list of theological issues he wanted to discuss with other academics. These 95 Theses became the catalyst for a world changing social and religious movement in Europe. There was much more involved in the Reformation than just the discussion of these ideas, but that would take far too much time for this devotional. We simply choose to celebrate on October 31st because nailing those theses on the church seems to have been the moment it all began.
However, there was a recent discovery that might put a whole new perspective on the Reformation. In Germany, researchers have been excavating the site of Martin Luther’s home. They recently found what they believe was the toilet which the family would have used. Now, this seems like a very unimportant artifact, after all, its probably not much more than a hole in the ground with a wooden or stone seat. However, the importance of this find comes from Luther himself. Apparently he suffered from chronic constipation and spent many hours sitting on the toilet. The article from BBC News says, “Luther is quoted as saying he was ‘in cloaca,’ or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.”
I admit that this seems like a trivial subject. What would Luther think if he knew we were discussing his privy routine? Actually, I don’t think he would mind. If Luther was anything, it was earthy. He knew and understood better than many theologians that God is found in the ordinary experiences of our life. He related to the words of Paul in our passage, “Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly.” We look at Luther today as an extraordinary man, because that which he accomplished was extraordinary. Luther had an arrogance that became visible in his writings, particularly those written to his enemies. However, he was also very humble, never seeking fame or wealth or power.
“If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11 (ASV)
Luther taught that all who lived faithfully in the grace of God according to their vocation were equal in the eyes of God, whether they were a bishop or a maidservant. Paul’s words here help us to see that we should not necessarily be seeking the greater things – the power, riches or fame – but rather we should realize that some of the most incredible acts of God happen in the most ordinary circumstances. We need to live every moment to the glory of God. Yes, even those moments we don’t like to talk about, because He is with us wherever we go. Thanks be to God.
Be not wise in your own conceits.
Absent Several years ago I received a call from my mother. An emergency situation had arisen and she wanted me to go home for a few weeks to help around the house. I was very torn by this request because of course I wanted to be there for Mom and Dad, but I also had a family that needed my care. How could I leave my husband and children for two weeks to fend for themselves? I know Bruce is a good dad, but I was afraid that he would have difficulty taking care of the every day needs of the kids while he was trying to do his job. It was a humbling experience for me. I went home to be with Mom and Dad and I learned that Bruce was perfectly capable of taking my place. They did quite well without me. It is not that I am unneeded in this family, the work I do is important to them and to the total well-being of our home. However, I’m not so important that the world will end without me.
I suppose we all feel this way once in awhile. We go to work when we are sick because we think the office will fall apart if we are not there even just one day. We often do things not because we want to do them, but because we think if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. We also worry that someone else will do it wrong. This is a ‘have to’ attitude, meaning we go about doing our work because we have to.
At a recent Bible study, my pastor told me about a valuable piece of advice he was once given. He was relating to another pastor about all the things he had to do that week – people who needed his help, events that needed his presence, and problems that needed his attention. The other pastor told him to go for one week doing nothing he had to do. In other words, he should not do all those things he felt obligated to do. This exercise for my pastor was freeing and humbling. He did exactly as told, even arranging for someone else to preach if it became necessary. At the end of the week, he realized that he had done most of the things he though he ‘had to do’ but he did not do them with the ‘have to’ attitude.
This ‘have to’ attitude under which we all thrive is actually quite conceited. It makes it seem as if the ship will sink if we are not at the helm. This ‘have to’ attitude is often found in people who pursue great things. Those who climb the corporate ladder seek after positions and glory while they step on everybody and everything that will stand in their way. They micromanage the world so that they can control everything to their benefit. Other reasons for the ‘have to’ attitude are not as arrogant, but they are still self-serving. This even happens in the church, when people are conceited about their work, thinking more highly of themselves than they ought.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed.” James 3:13-16 (ASV)
In Christ we are called to do some amazing things. We are gifted to share in the redemption of the world as we take the Gospel message of hope and forgiveness to those who are lost and dying. It is a good thing to want to witness about Jesus Christ and to use our gifts to make God’s kingdom known on earth. However, we need to be careful that we do not set ourselves apart as if this will not happen without our work. Salvation comes from God, not from man, even when man speaks the word of God to others. No one is going to heaven because of your work, and neither will they go to hell when you fail. When our ministry takes on a ‘have to’ attitude, we should stop a moment and check out our motives. Are we sharing the gospel in grateful thanksgiving for God’s amazing gifts, or is it because we have become self-centered in our thinking? Or to put it more bluntly, are living faithfully in humility in all that we do or are we conceited, thinking that we are too important to be absent from the world in which we live?