Welcome to the September 2002 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.
When writing, I used the New International Version of the Bible. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves.
A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2002
September 1, 2002
Pottery I loved art class. In Junior and Senior High School it was always my elective. In college it was my minor. Though I am not incredibly talented, over the years I created a few pieces of which I am proud. There was one medium that always gave me trouble. Clay. If I used a potter’s wheel, the clay was too wet or off center, and I couldn’t get the clay to shape properly. One pot was formed using a roll and cut out method, but the clay was too dry and the pot cracked during heating. There was a problem with the glaze on a sculpture of a cat, so the surface is cracked and bumpy. I can only remember one piece that caused little difficulty, but I did not have time to glaze and it has been broken over the years.
It amazes me to watch a potter at work, molding and forming the clay into something beautiful. As I look at pottery over the millennia, I marvel at the potter’s ability to create objects of such strength and beauty out of such difficult material. Too much water makes the clay impossible to form, too little makes it crack. The potter must properly prepare and manage the materials – choose the right kind of clay, mix the glaze thoroughly, let the pot dry, attend to the kiln. I never really understood the materials. This is why I always failed.
With one of my projects over the years, I had to try several times to make the pot. Time after time it would fall apart or crack. I got frustrated with my inability to create what I had envisioned. I pounded on the clay and even yelled, “dumb clay” a few times. It was never the clay’s fault. I was supposed to be in control, molding and forming it as I planned. Unfortunately, I never understood the material and always failed somehow.
Read Isaiah 45:9-10
It always seemed as though the clay was determined to make me fail. I would shape; it would crack. I would lift; it would fall over. I would add water; it would turn into unusable mush. I know it was ridiculous to think the clay had anything to do with my inability to sculpt.
Our Father in heaven is like a Master potter. We are His clay, molded each day by His hands for His glory. Sometimes we are like that lousy clay – too wet or too dry, cracking or falling. But God is not like me at the potter’s wheel. He knows each of us, every hair on our head and every aspect of our lives. He knows our cracks and uses our faults to mold us into a beautiful masterpiece. Too often we want to tell God how to deal with our lives. “If only you would,” we say in prayer thinking that the potter would carry out our wishes. Yet, He knows what we need much better than we do.
My projects were less than satisfactory. They never became quite what I envisioned in planning. Yet, there are a couple pieces that I still carry from place to place. I take great care to ensure that they reach our new home in one piece. If I can care so much about a few lousy pots, imagine how much God our Father loves each of us whom He has molded to be His masterpieces! God has not finished molding us. He will continue until the day when we stand in His presence for eternity. We might see cracks and asymmetry in our lives, but God will deal with each of those imperfections in His own way and time. And perhaps they are exactly how He intends to be glorified in your life! Thanks be to God.
Joni When she was just seventeen years old, Joni Eareckson Tada was injured in a diving accident and remains disabled today. She sought healing, based on the faith of many who told her through calls and letters that God desired to heal her, through prayer and anointing at a small chapel near her home. Time passed and she remained bound to the wheelchair. She began to question everything – was her faith strong enough, what was she doing wrong, what did they do wrong at the service? She turned to the scriptures and prayer and asked God for the answers.
Through it all she realized that God can and does still heal people in miraculous ways, but that the Bible does not teach that all will be healed. He heals according to His will, sometimes giving us a glimpse of what is to come in heaven. Joni says, “It is my opinion that He sometimes does. But, in view of the fact that the kingdom has not yet come in its fullness, we are not to automatically expect it.” Through it all, God has used Joni in amazing ways. She is an author, artist and public speaker. She is an advocate for disabled people all over the world. God did heal her, not physically but spiritually as He showed her an understanding of His mercy and grace in the midst of our troubles. He showed her exactly how He could use her disability to glorify Him in this world. She is known for her faith, a faith that is probably much deeper because God did not heal, for in her questions and doubt she sought His Word and came to know Him better.
Jesus is concerned about our physical well being. As a matter of fact, many scientific studies have shown that people of faith are more likely to live longer, heal faster and stay healthier. Prayer, worship and living the Christian life certainly has an affect on our lives. The studies also show that even if there is no miraculous healing, a Christian is more likely to cope with his or her affliction. Dr. Dale Matthews, a Christian researcher says that if his patients are willing to talk about faith, he provides them with appropriate scripture to help them through. “”We’ll talk about how the Bible passages relate to their lives and their illnesses, and this seems to make a big difference to a lot of people.”
Jesus is concerned for our physical well being, but He is more concerned about the spiritual. With nearly every healing in the book, Jesus reaches beyond the body into the person’s soul, granting them forgiveness and filling them with the love of God. He changes people from the inside out, bringing them back into a relationship with their Creator. It is that relationship that makes them whole.
Read Luke 17:11-19
Joni sought healing through the faith of others, but even though she was convinced that it would happen, it never came. She found herself doubting everything about God, but delved into the scriptures to understand. God did heal her. He healed her of her misunderstandings about His grace, healed her of her doubt and built her into an incredible witness for the Gospel.
The ten lepers were all healed physically, but only one sought out the true healing – that which comes from Jesus Christ. When He praised God, Jesus gave him far more. He was made whole – physically and spiritually. Joni is disabled, but she is whole because of the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. His healing power changes us from the inside out. And Joni knows the day will come when her body will be whole again, the day when His kingdom comes in its fullness. We look forward to that day, but live in praise to God in this day, glorifying Him with all we have to give. Thanks be to God.
Coleus I love to include coleus in my garden. These bright leafy plants fill a bed with color and their late blooming tiny blue flowers draw butterflies and hummingbirds that drink of their nectar. They are delicate but hearty, grow in a variety of conditions and are incredibly diverse in color, size and shape. There are dozens of different types of coleus; some are quite common and others are vintage plants that have been carefully propagated over the years. Since the hostas we planted last year are growing so quickly, filling up our garden, I did not plant any coleus this year. I knew it would mean the garden would not be as colorful, but there was no room to include the plants.
That didn’t stop the coleus from growing. The plants from last year seeded themselves, leaving behind the hope of new life. There are a dozen coleus growing in the most unusual places – in the cracks of the sidewalk and in the lawn far from the garden. The bright red and yellow leaves have added a touch of color to the otherwise green garden and a few plants are beginning to produce the blooms that will bring the nectar loving creatures to my garden.
Earlier this summer as I was weeding the garden, I pulled the first of the coleus out because they were not part of my plan. However, as summer wore on, I realized that these surprise plants made the garden beautiful. After all, if God is going to give them life, who am I to argue? The same is true of the seeds of faith we plant in this world. We never know how God will use our labor to spring up new life in the hearts of His creation.
Read Isaiah 61:10-11
As Christians, children of the living God made righteous by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are given the most glorious gifts – life, love, hope, peace, joy, beauty. By the power of the Holy Spirit, these gifts overflow from our lives so that we can’t help but to leave behind seeds that God will use to bring another into the life of Christ. God has blessed us to be a blessing.
The original coleus that I planted last year blessed us with beauty that lasted far beyond expectation. When they died, they left seed that grew into a new generation. As we travel in this life, we share our faith in ways that we never expect. We drop a seed here and there, a word of hope or comfort that eventually blooms into a new creation. It is God that brings that life. He takes the seeds we leave behind and makes them grow. How delightful it is to see my garden so bright and beautiful with my surprise plants, but even more delightful is the knowledge that God brings life to those who are lost in the darkness of this world. Thanks be to God!
Library We have many books in our home, perhaps too many if you ask the movers who have packed, carried and shipped our household goods over the years. Our book collection includes everything from children’s stories to biographies, books on religion and history, leisure books and old college textbooks. Many of the books are novels that we really enjoyed, so we keep them around in case we want to reread them or loan them to friends. Other books are references used for writing or school projects. A large number are books that we want to read, we simply need to find the time and energy to do so. In many cases, the purpose for reading the books is the pursuit of knowledge, a desire to learn more about life, faith, history, people, or whatever the subject of the book happens to be.
The pursuit of knowledge is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t become the entire focus of a man’s life. When we read the words written by men, we must carefully discern what is truth and what is meaningless. There are many books offered today in the bookstores that provide little to guide a Christian’s life, yet they are being sold as the way to understand God. Books on the end times, on prayer, on self-improvement, on health, wisdom and prosperity are touted as coming from God Himself, yet are filled with distortions of the Truth as found in Jesus Christ our Lord. People are being led astray under the guise of Christian literature, because they do not know nor understand God’s Word, as they should.
This is not to say that all writers should be ignored. Many books are valuable in helping us to grow in faith. God does still inspire His children and speak His Word into their lives. He speaks through writers today, so that we will hear the message of a Gospel in language we understand and that we can apply to our lives in the world today. The only way to discern between the false teachers and those who have been sent by God is to use our Lord Jesus Christ and the written word of God as the plum line. Does what this writer has to say line up with what God has already revealed about Himself in Jesus and the scriptures?
Read Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
There are wise people teaching the message of the Gospel in the world today. God inspires them to share the message of salvation with the world. All else is meaningless. These final words from Ecclesiastes sum up the pursuit of knowledge – the words gathered should lead one to live in a right relationship with God, or else it is just a tiring waste of time. The one thing that matters to Him is that we live as we were created to live, in reverent and humble service to the One who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
I don’t think I’ll be giving up much of my library. I enjoy reading for knowledge and entertainment. But before I believe something that has been written and live by it, I will check it against what I know to be true, that which is found in the scriptures and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word given to us by God is the only Word that matters when it comes to our living. He has given us everything we need to walk in faith and trust in this life. Thanks be to God.
Chores One of the nice things about summer vacation is the extra help I have around the house. The children still have their own chores to do, but in the summer they did some of the easier tasks so that we would have more time to have fun together. They moved the laundry, carried and unpacked groceries, made their own meals and cleaned. A mom’s work is never done, but during the summer we came a whole lot closer with the help of the children. They weren’t often very happy about doing these menial chores, but I was appreciative of the help.
Being a family is more than just having fun together. The family has physical needs that must be met. We have to eat. We need clean dishes and clothes. We need to keep the house clean and the yard orderly. These things are necessary for our health and safety and well as our peace and enjoyment. I personally hate housework, but we do our chores because we love our family and we want them to be well. There are times I think to myself, “Certainly there must be something more important I can do besides laundry, vacuuming and dishes.” Yet, our Lord Jesus showed His disciples it is in the humble that tasks we show our love for one another.
Read John 13:12-17
Jesus had just washed the feet of His disciples, the most servile and degrading task a person could do. Though His main purpose for coming in flesh was to bring reconciliation between God and man through His death on the cross, He also served as an example of how we are to live our Christian faith in this world. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family. We are part of one body of which Christ is the head. If He, the Lord and Savior, is willing to get down on his knees to wash the dust from His disciple’s feet, certainly we should do so also. The joy of it all is that in serving one another, we find much greater blessing than if we always receive.
When the children helped me this summer, we had the time to go to movies or go shopping. They also shared in the joy of an orderly home, clean clothes and good food to eat. When we give ourselves fully in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we benefit in ways far beyond our expectation. Jesus did many other things for His disciples besides washing their feet. He healed their illnesses and He forgave their sins. He fed their bellies with food and their hearts with God’s Word. He showed them the Kingdom of heaven and gave them hope in the midst of their troubles. As beloved children of God saved by faith in Christ Jesus, we live in the same hope as those first disciples and He expects the same from us. The joy is that for every expectation there is a promise. Do this and you will be blessed. Thanks be to God.
Baton Vicki began baton classes on Tuesday, and she has practiced a few times this week. During practice, Vicki got a bit frustrated. On one hand, she wanted to practice so that she could perfect the tricks before class next week. Yet, with every mistake she just wanted to give up. I tried to give her tips and encouragement so that she would persevere. “Vicki, twirling a baton takes practice. Even the best baton twirlers could not do this trick the first few times they tried. They practiced and practiced and practiced until they got it right.” Unfortunately, when I show her the trick looks so easy that she expects it to happen immediately for her, without considering that it took me many years to learn. She will need to do the trick over and over again until it feels right, just like every other twirler. She will need teachers to show her the right way to stand and use the baton. She will need to persevere, even when everything seems too hard, or she’ll never accomplish the task.
We all face trials as we are learning to live our life of faith in this world. Some trials are more difficult than others, yet they all build us up for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God. When we are in the midst of such trials, it is difficult to see how to get through. We need guidance, encouragement and help. Just like Vicki, who needs someone to teach her baton, we all need someone to whom we can turn to help us know how to deal with our trials. There is but one source that is trustworthy. The Lord will give everything needed to those whose faith is tested.
Read James 1:2-8
Vicki wants to learn to twirl the baton. She wants to perfect the tricks so that she can perform. She also wants the help necessary to make it happen. Yet, she needs to persevere, to practice, to consciously do what she is instructed to do so that she can accomplish the task. When she tries just once, if it is not perfect, she is ready to give up as if it would never help. She needs to keep trusting what is taught so that she can learn.
The same is true of the wisdom given to us by God to help us through the difficulties of life. When we seek His guidance, He will not lead us astray. Yet, when things don’t work out exactly as we desire, we often reject that guidance and ask for something different. “Lord, that didn’t work, can we try something different?” We even seek our own solutions, thinking we know better than God does. God knows what is best for our lives, even when we need to face difficulties. When we get through, we realize how good and wonderful the experience was for our faith. But when we try to face our trials on our own, reject the wisdom God offers, the way is more difficult and sometimes impossible. I pray that we will all ask God for the wisdom that we need each day to get through every trial until we are made complete in Christ. And when we receive, I pray that we stay firm in our faith and trust that God really is faithful. With God, all things are possible. Thanks be to God.
Trading Spaces One of the most popular shows on cable today is a show called “Trading Spaces.” Two sets of neighbors exchange houses for forty-eight hours and completely remake one room with the help of a decorator and carpenter. They have only one thousand dollars and two days to accomplish this feat. For those who have done redecorating in their own home, the idea of doing such a thing in such a short period of time with so little money is amazing.
The decorators make it happen by taking some short cuts. They often purchase items in markets and sales, keeping a warehouse of materials and objects that they will use eventually. Several plan entire rooms around a pillow, piece of cloth or piece of art they found in their travels. They use inexpensive wood, quick drying paint, slipcovers, prefabricated pieces and other ways to save money and time. The rooms are often beautiful, sometimes bizarre, but always different than they were when the decorating began.
Some of the shortcuts are not necessarily good. On one episode, when things were going slower than planned the final details were being rushed so that everything would be complete on time. One of the neighbors was busy sewing something for the room and the decorator needed it done very quickly. He said, “Don’t worry about that, we’ll just tape it. As long as it lasts for 30 minutes, we’ll be out of town by the time it falls apart.” Of course, he was kidding, but I can’t help but wonder how many shortcuts are taken to get things done so that it appears beautiful on the surface, but are not lasting solutions. Slipcovers eventually slip, stapled curtains pull out, and one coat of paint is often not enough to truly cover the walls or furniture. Of course, they take into consideration the possibility that the homeowners may absolutely hate what has been done. So they do not make some things permanent that probably should be. If they don’t like the work, they can redecorate after everyone leaves.
The problem is that these changes are just surface and can easily be taken away. When it a room in our house, it doesn’t really matter that much. We are likely to redecorate in a few years when we tire of what is there. However, things are different when we are talking about changes in our soul. God transforms our life when we have faith in Christ. We are forgiven, cleansed and made into a new creation. Sometimes, however, we try to take shortcuts, ignoring the work the Lord is doing in our life and trying to do it ourselves. We think it is enough to look different to people – ask forgiveness, act differently. But if our hearts are not changed, we’ll quickly turn back to our old ways and continue in our sin.
Read Joel 2:13-14
God wants our hearts, not just a surface change. He desires repentance, not just remorse or regret. He looks for a change in our ways, not just the words. Our Father is merciful, loving and just – slow to be angry with us and quick to bless our repentance. He works with us, brings transformation by His Holy Spirit to those who give themselves to Him fully – not just our words or surface actions, but our hearts. He gives us everything we need, for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died that we might be transformed for His glory. Thanks be to God.
Complete One of the things I miss most about living in England is visiting all the ancient buildings – the castles and cathedrals. It was fascinating to walk around and see the stones that were placed there a thousand or so years ago. Whenever we knelt to pray or participated in a service, I thought about the men and women who had been there before. Our visit to Westminster Abbey was one of the most inspiring.
We were taking a tour through the building, visiting the tombs of kings and queens and people from every class of society. There were authors, artists, political leaders and nobility buried under the floor of the cathedral and laid in vaults that stood in chapels. We joined a service of communion that was held while we were visiting. As I knelt before the altar, receiving the body and blood of my Lord, I realized thought about the many others that had also shared in the blessing over the centuries. It was a humbling to find myself in the company of so many saints and sinners, kings and commoners, and even the craftsmen who had lovingly carved every stone and built the walls.
One of the most fascinating things about those cathedrals is the fact that they are never really complete. It often took decades for the buildings to rise from the ground, every brick and stone hand hewn and fitted by gifted craftsmen. By the time the original plans were complete, the earliest walls already needed repair or a new ruler wanted something to be different. During our adventures, we noticed that every cathedral or castle had some sort of scaffolding where repairs were being made. It was understandable; the buildings were ancient and could not last forever without some sort of maintenance.
I imagine it seemed to those who built the buildings over the years that they would never see the end. We recently transformed our own building, a process that took several years. There were times when the progress was slow and impossible to see. We could only trust that one day we would see the completion of our new sanctuary and know that God had His hand in the project all along.
Read Zechariah 4:7-10a
Zechariah was writing to the nation of Israel after they had returned to Judah after the exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC. He wrote to encourage the people to be obedient to the LORD and to rebuild the temple. Though things seemed to move very slowly, Zechariah assured them that the building would be finished and God would be glorified. God moves in the small things, just as He does in the big things. We are being built as temples for the Living God. He is carving the stones and laying them on the foundation that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening, but God is still with us bringing transformation to our lives. These words of Zechariah bring us comfort and peace, because we are promised completion of everything God has spoken, and it will come by His hand. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.” God is with us, building our buildings and transforming our lives for His glory. Thanks be to God.
Rain There are many places all over America that are suffering from a lack of water. We have not had any appreciable rain in our area of Arkansas for weeks. The grass is brown, our flowers dying. During my daily travels I have noticed that many trees are already turning brown and loosing leaves due to the hot and dry weather. There was a chance for rain this weekend, but one storm fizzled and the other went in another direction. It drizzled a bit and a few places in the state saw stormy weather, but it was not enough water to compensate for the dry month we have had.
People are funny when it comes to the weather. Though we all know that we need water, it was not convenient for rain to hit this weekend. There were some major events planned including a Razorback’s football game which people did not want ruined by a rainy day. They would rather continue in drought than have their weekend upset. I suppose if the rain had come, they would have been happy for the relief, but the wish was for fair skies.
We often wish for the things that are not really what we need. We even wish for things that are bad for us – spiritually, emotionally and physically. How many of us have thought, “If only I had a million dollars, I could…” We think that money will solve all our problems and that much would certainly give us some extra for serving the Lord. Others pray for a partner or a home or a job, giving God some very specific qualities that we would like to find in those gifts. Unfortunately, what we want is not always what God knows is best for us. He has promised to provide everything we need for life – forgiveness, daily bread, shelter, companionship and gifts to serve Him in this world. Yet, we desire so many things that don’t fill our needs. He often provides the ‘nice-essities’, those special blessings that bring us great joy, because He loves us for we are His children. Yet, the real blessings are often found in the things that we don’t want.
Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Rain would have ruined many plans, but it would have helped us in many ways. It would have cooled the temperatures, watered the grass and cleared the air of the building allergens and pollutants that are affecting many people’s breathing. It would have filled the rivers and lakes, provided necessary water for animals and refreshed the earth. It will rain again some day, perhaps later this week. I hope that when it comes everyone will rejoice rather than complain about the inconvenience.
As for our spiritual growth, God knows what is best for our health and well being. While I can justify asking for a million dollars because I could use the money to expand this ministry or serve the Lord in other ways, He knows why it might be harmful. Some relationships are bad for us, emotionally and physically. Our expectation of a mate is often skewed by our physical desires, so we do not look for a partner in every aspect of life. When we expect specific things from our Father, in our jobs or our homes, we often reject God’s plans for us and then miss out on the special blessings that would come in a different situation. But God knows what is good, right and true for each and every one of us. His grace is truly sufficient for us to live in this life of faith each day. Thanks be to God.
Remembrance The television for the past few weeks has been filled with images from 9/11. Most of the stories have looked to the bright side of a horrible situation. The families of the victims have been interviewed, the lives of those who perished have been shared with the world. There have been teary moments when wives recall the last words of their husbands and babies who will never know their fathers are introduced to the world. There have been moments of joy when strangers whose lives have been drawn together because of the tragedy have met face to face. Some have laughed as they recalled special memories of those they loved. Others have been shown for their heroism in the days that followed the attack or determination to survive the most horrible event of their lives.
I am glad that the focus has been on recalling with joy and thanksgiving the incredible things that God has done over the past year in the lives of those who were touched by this incredible event. It would have been very easy for the media to spend these days replaying the horrific images of the disaster – the burning and destroyed buildings, the ash-filled sky, the people who were in pain. Instead, we have seen pictures of the reopening of the part of the Pentagon that was destroyed and repaired in a year. We have seen families that have been created out of the pain as survivors have reached out to one another in love. We have seen the hope for better times and a return to peace in our lives.
Unfortunately, some of the negative feelings still exist. Many fear what more is to come. Others are still angry about the evil that occurred. Some of the stories have focused on how the US government failed to protect the people; other stories are telling how to prepare in the event of another catastrophe. In the midst of the remembrance this week, I pray that we can keep our focus on the wonderful goodness that God has brought out of the midst of the smoke and ash of this tragedy. But even in those moments when we do feel anger and fear, let us always remember to whom we can turn.
Read Psalm 102:1-17
I have enjoyed the stories of those who have remembered the tragedy in a positive way – painting pictures of the victims, writing books to share a message of hope and faith, reaching out to strangers in love and comfort. The question has been asked by many, “How will you remember?” Tomorrow, many churches will hold services to provide fellowship and support for those who are still grieving, afraid and angry. Cities are planning candlelight vigils. New York City has planned a day filled with ceremonies or prayer and remembrance. How will you spend 9/11? I pray that whether you have found joy in the midst of suffering or if you still hold on to the fear and anger that you will remember the Lord your God is close and will respond to your prayer. Thanks be to God.
Beatitudes Blessedness is difficult to see in the midst of tragedy and pain. After all, we think of being blessed as being happy, healthy and without want. It is easy for us to say we are blessed, but it is also easy to question our blessedness when we face the emotions that come with such horrific events as the attack on America a year ago. In the days, weeks and months that followed 9/11, people felt anger, fear and despair. These emotions are a natural reaction to the evil that exists in this world and the suffering that comes from sin. Though we as Christians know to the very depths of our soul that the Lord is with us, our hearts and minds are overwhelmed by those feelings that come despite our desire to appear faithful.
Our emotions can seem so burdensome, particularly those that show our human weakness to the world. We would rather just bury those emotions and try to be strong to help those who have suffered a greater loss. Yet, it is in the very weakness of emotions that God can truly be glorified, because we see our desperate need for our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the refuge from our fear, our Savior in the midst of our despair. He knows our anger and promises justice according to His good and perfect will. For those who are facing the deep questions of faith, He offers the assurance of His faithfulness. We can depend on God even when we are undependable. As a matter of fact, it is in those times when we are weakest, that God does the most incredible things. Jesus promised to bless those who seek His face, recognizing our own weakness and seeking His strength.
Read Matthew 5:1-12
Blessedness is not necessarily found in good health, wealth or happy times. It is not about good feelings and prosperity. Blessedness is seeing ourselves as we truly are and turning to the One who can give us all we need. Blessed are those who humble themselves at the altar of the Lord and give their lives into His hand so that through their weakness He is glorified.
One year ago we were shocked into every possible emotion as we watched the death and destruction in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. For the past year we grieved the loss of loved ones, feared the potential danger that still existed, faced anger and hatred toward those who would do such a thing. For many, the grief is still fresh, for others it will be renewed by the anniversary events that are planned to remember. In the midst of all this, I pray we will not bottle up our emotions, but rather give them to the Lord to use in a way that will bring peace, hope and love to the world. God will move mountains this day as we join together in prayer, praise and thanksgiving for His blessings. Let us humbly seek the Lord this day and receive the blessings He has for us in the midst of our pain. He will provide all we need to get through this day. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (ASV)
Confession Yesterday’s scripture quotation has come to be known as “The Beatitudes.” These nine statements show the fruit of a life lived in humble submission before the Lord. The word ‘beatitude’ can be understood to mean ‘a beautiful attitude.’ The Christian understanding of blessedness is much different than that of the world. The world expects independence, strength, power and honor. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us a topsy-turvy understanding of a blessed life. Poverty is never seen as a good thing. Many surveys in recent days have shown the financial aspects of life are the greatest concern for most people. When asked, “what would help you today?” more people answered money than anything else did. It did not matter if the response came from someone who was rich or poor. Everyone agrees that more money would make life easier and they would be happier.
Yet, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Who are the poor in spirit? They are those who approach God with a contrite heart, recognizing their own spiritual poverty. The poor in spirit are those who know they are sinners that cannot do anything to save themselves from death. There are none that are good, we are all born into a fallen world and need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be in a relationship with God. The poor in spirit are those who recognize this need and turn to God for salvation.
Read 1 John 1:8-10
The kingdom of heaven is a righteous life lived in relationship with God our Father. Our Lord Jesus Christ made this possible by His death on the cross. Without Him, we would forever wallow in our own sin and die without ever being reconciled to God. Thanks to His incredible love and unlimited mercy, we are cleansed from our sin and drawn into His heart to live forever in His presence. We are made righteous by His blood and become heirs to the kingdom of heaven, a child of the King!
Unfortunately, the world thinks it is possible to get to the kingdom of heaven by our own means. Modern teachers are writing books and speaking about how to be strong in spirit, how to get to heaven, how to be blessed in this world. There are even some churches that are preaching a gospel of self, one that uplifts human understanding and ability to be spiritual and blessed, rather than recognizing the truth of human spiritual poverty.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Eternal life comes to those who recognize their sin and turn to the Lord for salvation. It is by His power and grace that we will inherit the life of blessedness – not necessarily a life with more than enough money, but rather a life in an eternal relationship with God our Father. May we all be poor in spirit so that Jesus can fill us with His Spirit and give us the kingdom of heaven. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (ASV)
Grief Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one can understand the question, “How can you find blessedness in the midst of grief?” When the one who died is a Christian, we can rest in the hope of their eternal life in Christ, knowing that they have gone to a better place. That does not reduce, however, the pain we feel knowing that we will never spend another moment with our friend or family member. We mourn because our lives are different without the presence of the one we love. Our pain is often magnified by things we left unsaid, forgiveness we refused to give or repentance that never manifested, leaving those relationships incomplete. Death separates us from our loved ones making it impossible to reconcile our differences.
The beautiful attitude for today says that those who mourn are blessed for God will provide comfort. When we are grieving the loss of someone we love, we can do so with the assurance that God our Father will not leave us alone. We will be comforted. The comfort comes from the Holy Spirit and He gives us that comfort through the promises of God as found in the scriptures and in the love of our brothers and sisters. God will ease the pain of our loss, not only by reminding us of His salvation in Christ Jesus, but also by removing the anger, regret, doubt and loneliness that comes with such a loss. He draws us into His presence like a Father with His children. He wipes away our tears, grants us forgiveness and takes away our fear and doubt.
We are born into death, separated from the One who loves us more than any human being. He grieves the loss of every child into the sin of this world. However, when we look to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that He has provided for the reconciliation that we often miss in our human relationships. We fail to share those words of love, grant forgiveness or repent of our sins against our brothers and sisters, but God leaves nothing undone in our lives. Those who mourn the condition of our souls caused by sin in this world will find comfort in Christ Jesus.
Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
The blessedness found in mourning is found in the Holy Spirit of God, our Comforter and friend. He shows us the cross of Christ that we might know that death is not the end of life. Our mourning will turn to joy as the love and mercy of Jesus is revealed to us and God draws us deeper into His presence. He wipes away our tears and holds us close. He takes our anger, regret, doubt and loneliness and replaces it with His love. We can rest in the promise He has given that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a greater life. In that assurance, He uses us to share His love with others who mourn – not only those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but also those that mourn the chasm that exists between themselves and their Creator. Those who mourn are blessed because they are given faith through the Gospel, are drawn into a relationship with Christ and shine His light to the world. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (ASV)
Titles A number of years ago, I decided it wasn’t enough to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom. Oh, I loved it. I loved caring for my family, doing things on a volunteer basis and being available whenever someone needed me. Yet, when in conversation with others, discussing our jobs, I was jealous of those who could claim a title. So one day, as much for the humor involved as for the position it gave me, I had business cards made up with my name and a title. If I recall, it was “Residential Manager” or something to that effect. The only people who ever saw the cards were my friends, and they laughed right along with me. It is a long-standing joke that women who stay at home with their families should be called ‘domestic engineers’ or something like that. The sad part about this whole thing is that by desiring to be someone greater than we are, we reject the importance of where God has put us today. Too often in my own life I have done things seeking the recognition of men rather than for the glory of God.
Today’s beautiful attitude is meekness or humility. In this world, it is the often person who works hardest to succeed, who will do anything to climb the corporate ladder, who best sells themselves that makes it to the top. They are the ones with the title and the honor. Yet, Jesus tells us, and showed us, that it those who will humble themselves that will inherit the earth. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus knelt before His disciples and washed their feet, a job that was only fitting for the slave of the lowest rank. He was not submitting to the men, but rather had submitted Himself to the Father. His humility before our Creator manifested in meek and humble service to His fellow man. He did everything, including the most mundane tasks, for the glory of God.
The moment when Jesus showed Himself to be most powerful was the moment of greatest humility – when He hung on the cross. He completely submitted Himself to the will of God and provided salvation for all of humanity by His death. After three days He was raised again and given reign over all the earth. We need not die on the cross to show our meekness, for Christ’s work has finished the job. However, Jesus is teaching us to submit our lives to the Lord and to do every good work for His glory, rather than for the title or recognition we might receive.
Read Matthew 23:8-12
I no longer have the need to be called a residential manager or domestic engineer. I’m happy to be doing what God has called me to do today. If tomorrow I should find myself in a position of greater power or fame, I pray that I will continue to live that task to the glory of God. It is not necessarily bad to be a leader, or even have a title. However, today’s beautiful attitude shows us to be meek before the Lord in all things and, whether we are a stay-at-home mom or the president, to do everything for the glory of God. Those who do so will inherit the earth. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (ASV)
Friendship James Boswell wrote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when a friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” Such relationships are important to the human soul, keeping us grounded, encouraging us through rough times. They love us when we are wrong and correct us when we have gone astray. A good friend will listen when we need to get things off our chest and will keep their mouths shut when the last thing we need is advice.
F.W. Boreham said, “The man who has learned how to keep his friendships in perfect repair is a very wise workman indeed.” How I wish I could be like that wise workman. It always seems like there is something upsetting in a relationship – a misspoken word, a forgotten special day, a disagreement about something important. Though we have generally been able to work things out, there are some relationships in my life that are broken, something is not quite right.
Righteousness is having a right relationship. Our human condition from birth is a brokenness with God our Creator. This brokenness manifests in all our relationships – between other people, the entire creation and even with ourselves. We try, and even succeed, in creating friendships with other people, kindness after kindness building into something special. Yet, even those in our strongest relationships we have moments of misunderstanding. We fight with our spouses, bicker with our girlfriends, find it impossible to ‘agree to disagree’ about some things.
Today’s beautiful attitude is about right relationships. After all, that’s what righteousness is. Righteousness is having a right relationship with God. When we have that right relationship with Him, it manifests in our other relationships – with other people, the creation and within ourselves. Righteousness is not something we can come to by our own will and work. For many years the people of God thought they could reconcile their differences with God through sacrifice. That was never lasting. With Jesus came another way, through His sacrifice. Now it is possible for us to continue in a right relationship forever.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that those who hunger and thirst for such a relationship with God will be filled. By His power we are reconciled to God our Father and can be reconciled to one another. This is not something we can chase after, not something we can do for ourselves. We need Jesus to fix the brokenness of our relationship with Him.
Read Romans 3:21-26
We could spend hours reading the poetry, quotes and prose about friendship. They all seem to agree that relationships take work. We need to forgive one another for our disagreements, encourage one another through our difficulties, and repent when we have hurt those we love. Yet, none of this is possible without the righteousness from God. When we live in that right relationship that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, we are better able to deal with our human relationships daily. When we hunger for that right relationship with God, we will be filled. Thanks be to God.
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." (ASV)
The Lion and the Mouse A great and ferocious lion who ruled over all the animals of the forest lay down after a long day of unfruitful hunting. Though he was still hungry, he fell asleep. A short time later he was disturbed from his sleep by a tiny mouse that scampered across the massive form, thinking it was a rock. The lion waited patiently and at the right moment, he caught the mouse. Just as he was about to pop the mouse into his mouth, the tiny creature begged for mercy. “Please forgive me! I did not mean to disturb you. If you let me go, I promise that I will return the favor one day.” The lion laughed at the silliness of such a small creature ever being of use to him, but agreed. The mouse ran away to safety. Some time later some hunters captured the lion and tied him to a tree. The tiny mouse appeared before the lion and began gnawing through the rope. Eventually, the mouse managed to loosen the rope enough for the lion to escape. The lion showed mercy and it was returned to him.
Read Luke 6:27-36
In today’s beautiful attitude, Jesus tells us that those who are merciful will be shown mercy. Mercy is about being compassionate, forgiving and kind. In the story of the lion and the mouse, the lion set the mouse free even though he was hungry. If the lion had eaten the mouse, the mouse would not have been alive to chew the ropes from the lion. We deal with much greater evils, particularly in our world today. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express especially when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives. There are no easy answers to how to deal with the issues of our day, but our Lord Jesus has shown in the Beatitudes that the mercy we give will be returned to us.
For today, be merciful as your heavenly Father gives you the strength, courage and wisdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the mercy that only He can give – forgiveness from our lives of sin and debt to God. Begin, as you are able, with your neighbor, friend or family member who has harmed you in some way. Do not seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good to them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you give, showing your life to be one as a son of God. God was kind and merciful to each of us, sinners and enemies of God, forgiving our sin for the sake of His Son. May we always show mercy to our enemies in the name of the our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (ASV)
Spin With the election just around the corner, the TV is filled with political ads espousing the virtues of the candidates and denigrating their opponents. One particular commercial shows a candidate to be double-minded. “What is his position on this issue? Depends on who you ask. For one group he says yes, for another he says no, for yet another he has no opinion.” The commercial is designed to make the voter question the candidate’s sincerity and position – to cast doubt and suspicion so that the voter will not trust the man behind the talk. It is difficult to trust someone who is double-minded, because it shows that they are blown by every wind.
Today’s beautiful attitude is probably the most difficult, but it comes with the most incredible promise. Jesus says that the pure in heart will see God. Our modern understanding of the heart is more a physical or romantic thing. The heart pumps life sustaining blood to the rest of the body and too many health problems are heart related. Hearts are used around Valentine’s Day and to show that we love one another. For the Jews, the heart was the center of one’s being – body, mind and spirit. Scripture tells us that it is out of the heart that evil or goodness comes. Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man.” Yet, there is only one who is pure in heart. The rest of us are double-minded when it comes to the things of God. We waver on our opinion of things; we are not entirely trustworthy as we live in this world of sin. This is why we need the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Without Him, we would never see God.
Read 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
The pure in heart are those who serve God without mixed motives and love Him with their whole being. Unfortunately, at times, our flesh still gets in the way. In this life, we don’t always serve God simply for His glory, but also for our own benefit. Just like the politician who does not seem to give a straight answer to the questions, we are distracted by the world. We do what seems best in every circumstance. We then put some spin on it to justify our actions, particularly when things don’t go quite right. We do this because we are double-minded, unable to do everything solely for the glory of God according to His Word.
Yet, in Christ the promise will be ours one day, for God is faithful. We will see God in His glory because Jesus said we would because He makes our hearts pure before the Lord. By His Holy Spirit, He guarantees what is to come. In this life, He transforms us day by day to be closer to that moment, purifying our hearts to serve Him completely. Until the day when we are made complete, we can rest in the promise and trust that He is faithful, even when we aren’t. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.” (ASV)
Inside/Outside David Milton was a merchant seaman during World War II. His ship was carrying Sherman tanks to Europe on one crossing. The ship hit a storm during which the tanks broke loose from their holdings. As the ship rocked to and fro, the tanks slid back and forth banging against the walls, tearing the ship apart. The sailors managed to resecure the tanks by lashing them down with cables, and the ship continued on its way. The greatest stress on the ship came not from the war to which it was going or from the storm that blew outside, but from within the heart of the ship.
As we think about our modern world, peace is something that is very hard to come by. In international relations, there is always some country or regime that is threatening violence against another nation or their own people. War is a constant factor in the lives of many people around the world. Even in America, we are faced with the possibility of our men and women on active duty will be deployed to one place or another for some reason.
We also see a lack of peace in our daily relations with people in our own neighborhoods and families. Violence and crime are an ever-growing danger in our cities and our towns. People are quick to sue a friend or a neighbor to get what they want. Divorce is rampant. Our children are facing the most difficult issues that have ever been put before young people – drugs, sexual disease, bullying, and single parent families. These things are not only found in the inner city, but also in rural areas. 'Reality TV' producers provide the most popular television programs, shows that pit neighbor against neighbor in battles for power, money or fame. How can one person possibly make peace in our society today?
Charles Spurgeon once asked, “Do you know what it is, when you are tossed on the waves, to go down into the depths of Godhead, there rejoicing that not a wave of trouble ruffles your spirit, but that you are serenely at home with God your own Almighty Father?” This is peace. We live in a world of violence, hatred and war, yet we have a peace within our souls that is beyond understanding. We may never be able to bring peace to our world, cities, neighborhoods or even our families, but we can share the peace of Christ.
Read Colossians 3:12-17
It is said, “Peace begins with me.” As the ship that was tossed to and fro on the ocean needed its cargo battened down inside, so too must we have an inner calm to face the storms of life. True peace is not something we can create on the outside, but rather something that comes from the inside. In Christ, we live a life of making peace with others, by sharing the Gospel of Christ so that all might have the inner peace needed to face the violence, hatred and war in this world. In Christ, we are clothed with those traits that will promote peace rather than desire the things that will make us happy in our flesh. As Christians, we are sons of God and join Him in the work of reconciliation, bringing others into a relationship with Christ in whom they too will become peacemakers and sons. The world seeks peace between nations, but true peace comes from within, through the love, mercy and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
“Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.” (ASV)
Easy John Foxe wrote, “In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Simon Peter was the first person to openly acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and that Jesus, seeing God’s hand in this acknowledgment, called Peter a rock on which He would build his church – a Church that even the gates of hell would not be able to defeat. This indicates three things. First, that Christ will have a Church in this world. Secondly, that the Church would be persecuted, not only by the world, but also by all the powers of hell. Thirdly, despite its persecutions, the Church would survive. The whole history of the Church to this day verifies this prophecy of Christ. Princes, kings, and other rulers of this world have used all their strength and cunning against the Church, yet it continues to endure and hold its own. The storms that it has overcome are remarkable. I have written this history so the wonderful works of God within the Church will be visible to all who might prophet from them.”
These words are found in the book “Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days Touching Matters of the Church” otherwise known as “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” John Foxe lived in 16th century England, a time of bloody battles over religion. He was a professor at Magdalen College in Oxford until he converted to Protestantism, became an Anglican priest and became friends with Hugh Latimer, William Tyndale and Thomas Cramner. When Queen Mary took the throne and ordered that England return to Catholicism, John Foxe fled to Switzerland. While there, he learned of the martyrdom of his friends Latimer, Tyndale and Cramner. He became obsessed with the idea of writing down the stories of the men and women who had perished for the faith of Christ.
The book was first published in 1563 in Latin, then when Foxe returned to England it was translated to English. By 1570 it had been expanded to two volumes, 2315 pages. Copies of the book were kept in churches near the bible and read during Sunday worship. The Puritans were inspired by the stories as they were read aboard their ships to the New World as they fled their own persecution. As we read the stories of the saints in Christ who died at the hands of the enemy, we are reminded that life in Christ is never easy. There are some today who think that once you are a Christian, you will never face suffering of any sort, but Jesus never said it would be easy.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:8-13
Today’s beautiful attitude, the final Beatitude, is joy in the midst of suffering. Jesus never said it would be easy, as a matter of fact, He warned that we would be persecuted as He was persecuted. Over the millennia since Jesus died on the cross, many have died at the hands of men for the sake of the Gospel. Nearly all the apostles suffered painful and humiliating deaths. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death. Latimer, Tyndale and Cramner were burned at the stake in Oxford. Today it is estimated that 160,000 Christians are killed each year for their faith, more than a million people are imprisoned and even more are persecuted in other ways.
Though most of us have no idea what it is like to face such horrible persecution, we can rest assured in the promise of God that when we do suffer at the hands of an enemy for the sake of the Gospel, He will be with us. Even when we seem to be the scum of the earth to the people of the world, God has made us citizens of heaven, a royal priesthood. Life in Christ is not easy, it is not filled with blessings of happiness and prosperity. Life in Christ is often hard, but the blessings are incredible. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted, for God is with you and He is faithful to His promises. Thanks be to God.
Prosperity The human brain is capable of such marvelous things as music composition, poetry and other writing, intelligent conversation and every good and wonderful emotion. However, it seems like the brain is more capable of producing bad thoughts and emotions. We are quick to anger, doubt, fear or judge. We are quick to forget the good things, but hold on to the bad. Complacency and apathy become part of our lives when we everything is going well. People are very good at making things sound reasonable, to justify certain actions that might otherwise be considered wrong. If it sounds good, it certainly must be, right? When we are happy and satisfied, things like faith and religion seem unreasonable. We forget God in the midst of wealth.
For the past few days, we’ve seen how Jesus views blessedness – the people that are blessed are not necessarily the ones who have everything they want or seem happy. Each of the beatitudes focuses on turning our lives over to the Lord and living His way, rather than doing what the world says is right. Unfortunately, God’s way often gets lost as we see things in our mind’s eye as good, right and true. This has happened from the beginning – first with Adam and Eve, then with the Israelites, and still today with you and I.
The Israelites had just left Egypt. When Moses was on the mountain receiving the gift of God’s Law to guide their footsteps, the Israelites forgot the good things God had done, and turned back to the old ways. God forgave their indiscretion, but He allowed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years to learn how to depend on Him. When that forty years was over, Moses warned them that they would forget the LORD and turn again to their own ways. When their bellies are full and they are safe in fine houses, they will no longer need the blessings of God. God gets lost when we are happy and satisfied. Moses said, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 6)
There are many today that consider the wise those who are smart, those who have produced great wealth in this world. Even many preachers are promoting a prosperity theology that focuses on seeking wealth and good things. “The Lord surely wants you to be happy and satisfied.” Unfortunately, the wisdom of this world rarely lines up with the wisdom of the LORD; He provides blessings where we would never expect to find them.
Read Proverbs 30:7-9
The human brain is very complicated. Researchers have long sought to understand the inner workings of this organ. They are trying to understand diseases that destroy the brain, how memory works, why some people do one thing, why others do something else. I doubt they will ever discover a physical reason for our human tendency to turn away from God and things eternal to seek the things of this world that will eventually pass away and bring us to destruction. The wise and blessed man is the one who will hear the words of our Lord Jesus, the warning of Moses and ask for the right things. I pray that God will answer this prayer from Proverbs for each of us, to keep us from being deceived by the things of this world and to provide exactly what we need for today. This is where the blessings will be found… not in the happiness found in wealth and prosperity. Thanks be to God.
Language class My children attend magnet schools that have as their focus foreign languages and international studies. Each student in both the middle and elementary school are taught one of the languages available – French, Spanish, German or Latin (available only at the middle school). Vicki and Zack have both had several years of Spanish but I did not realize how well they are doing. This summer when Vicki went to Mexico on a mission trip, she was able to communicate fairly well with the children – understanding their words and speaking a few phrases in response. When I attended Zack’s open house at school, I was amazed by the story he had written in Spanish class. I had no idea the children had picked up so much of the language in these past few years.
I recently began taking a course in Biblical Greek. Each week as I study the words assigned and try to understand the grammar and syntax of the language, I wonder if I am every going to make through this class. I work hard to memorize the vocabulary, then I conjugate the nouns and parse the verbs over and over and over again, hoping that I might remember something of value in class each Friday. Others in the class are having difficulty understanding the concepts, and several have dropped out.
We have this idea that bigger is better, older means more wisdom, strength and power will bring prosperity. Yet it is sometimes the small and weak that are better able to cope in this world because they approach everything in humility and innocence. They don’t worry about the fact that they aren’t as smart or strong as others, they willingly submit themselves to that which will help them through their tasks.
Read Proverbs 31:24-28
The wise adults in my Greek class have long had the rules of English so ingrained in their minds that many aspects of this incredible language are difficult to comprehend. The same is true of Spanish, but the children are more willing and able to let go of the English rules as they learn the Spanish. The wise saying found in this passage of scripture shows that often the small, weak things of this world are the wisest. The ant, tiny creature that it is, knows that to survive through the cold barrenness of winter, he must store food all summer long. He can’t carry a bag full of groceries in one trip, it will take time to build up a supply. The coney (or rock badger) recognizes the need for a safe place to hide from their enemies and the dangers of nature. Locusts have no one to lead them, but they work together with amazing precision when destroying a field or forest. A lizard is slow, meandering through life – it should be easy to rid oneself of such creatures. Yet, anyone who lives in an area where lizards thrive has found them in their homes because they climb over the walls.
As we travel our Christian journey of faith, we can identify with the weak and small. The difficulty the adults have in language class is the baggage they bring – the rules of English stand in the way of our understanding the Greek. Children don’t worry about what it says in English, they accept the Spanish as it is and learn it much more quickly. We should look to the wisdom of the small things to help us along the way.
From the ants we learn to deal with our burdens a little bit each day, and the task will be complete over time. If we try to handle all our burdens at once, we will be squashed under the weight of the task. From the coneys we learn to live in the Rock where we will always be safe from our enemies. Though we are unlike the locusts in that we have a King who rules our life, we can learn to work together with one mind – the mind of Christ, and advance together for the sake of the Gospel. The lizard teaches us that we can overcome the walls that block our path. From the small things come wise lessons. Thanks be to God.
Heroes Bruce and I attended a dinner last night given in honor of the men and women who recently learned of their promotion to Master Sergeant at Little Rock Air Force Base. This promotion puts them in the Top Three enlisted ranks, a change that will mean more than just a pay raise. These men and women will move into more supervisory roles, taking leadership responsibilities. The guest speaker, Chief Milligan, spoke of the requirements of the position and encouraged these new Master Sergeants to take their new roles very seriously.
One of the points Chief Milligan made really stuck out of his speech. He said, “You don’t choose to be a hero or mentor, it comes with the position.” He used a sports hero as an example. A sports hero was arrested for some bad behavior several years ago. When asked whether or not he was concerned about the youth who looked up to him as a hero, and how this arrest would affect them, he answered, “I don’t care.” He told the reporter that he never asked to be their hero and it is their own fault if they are disappointed. Unfortunately, this is not true. When you are in a position of authority, power or fame, there will always be people who look up to you. They will look to you as an example, for encouragement and direction. This is true of the new Master Sergeants on our base. This promotion has put them in a position in which the younger men and women working through the ranks will look to for guidance and encouragement.
Whether we like it or not, our title “Christian” also puts us in a position in which people expect certain actions and attitudes. Perhaps their expectations are too high, after all we are still human beings with weak flesh who make mistakes. Unfortunately, there are too many people who have rejected the Lord and everything Christian because they have been hurt by the words and actions of Christ’s followers. Their perception of what it means to be a Christian is most likely skewed, but it is very difficult to overcome those perceptions when Christians ignore their needs, continue to lie, cheat and steal, or tell them they are going to hell. They don’t see the love of Christ in such actions.
Read John 15:9-17
When people look at you, do they see the love of Christ? We certainly do not choose to be an example, but Christ has chosen us to be His disciples. When we claim His name as our own, the world will look at us differently, with expectations that may seem impossible. Yet, with Christ in us, nothing is impossible. We have been given the most incredible gift, eternal life in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, giving us all we need to bear the fruit that our Lord has appointed us to bear. We have no excuse. The sports hero may not have asked for such responsibility, but it came with his position. The new Master Sergeants may not think they are ready to be a role model, but with their new rank comes the responsibility of being a mentor to the younger troops.
Jesus had high expectations for his disciples, and so does the world. We don’t choose to be an example, it comes with the title. But He doesn’t leave us alone. He is always with us, His love flowing through our lives, and it is this love that shines to the world. They will know we are Christians by our love. That love will manifest in good and wonderful fruit, bringing life and peace to those lost in this world of sin. Thanks be to God.
End seat Whenever we go to a movie, Zack always has to sit at the end of the row. The first several times we went, he had trouble seeing the screen. Someone taller always sat in the seat right in front of him, blocking his view. Zack learned that if he sat on the end, then no matter who sat in front of him, he could lean into the aisle and still see the movie. For the first few visits, we had a battle about this because everyone wanted their chance to sit at the end. When we realized his reason for wanting the end seat, we stopped fighting and gave it to him every time.
It is frustrating to attend an event such as a movie, show or parade and not be able to see anything. Why pay for a ticket if you can’t enjoy the show? Since I am short in stature, I’ve lived with this problem my whole life. I was glad to see that movie theaters have finally offered booster seats for the young children. An hour and a half in the dark is really no fun if you can’t see what everyone is laughing about.
For most people, such ‘blindness’ is just a temporary thing, they will see everything when the movie is over. There are people who are physically blind, however, for whom the lack of sight is an every moment problem. I have been blessed with excellent eyesight, but several members of my family have needed glasses for a long time. It can be frustrating and difficult to do every day tasks if they aren’t wearing their glasses. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately for the blind in our world today, there are many wonderful resources to help them live productive, independent lives.
Things were different in Jesus’ day. A blind man would not have been trained in any field because of his lack of sight. They were even ridiculed and condemned for their illness – the religious of the day claiming their blindness was a punishment for the sin in their lives. The family of the blind would most likely find them a place to beg, near the city gates or along a trade route, and dump them there while they did their daily business.
Read Matthew 20:29-34
We didn’t understand why Zack was so adamant about sitting on the end of the row in the movie theater, but when we knew his reason, it was easy to have compassion and allow him what he wanted. Those of us with good vision have no idea how difficult it can be to live with such a disability. At least in this modern age, society is compassionate and has provided much assistance for those who have poor eyesight or blindness.
In our story today, the crowd rebuked the blind men for calling to Jesus, most likely because they knew Him to be a holy man and they were just sinners being punished by God. They had no right to interrupt the work Jesus was doing. Yet, the blind men could see far more than the crowd. They called to Jesus “Lord, Son of David” a messianic title. They knew who Jesus was; their blindness was only physical. It would have been impossible for these blind men to follow Jesus without their eyesight. So, Jesus gave them what they wanted – a chance to follow the One who would bring salvation to the people. He freed them from their physical bondage, but only after they had already been given the freedom in faith to believe in Jesus. He does the same for us, even if we are not physically blind. He has compassion on each of us, opening our eyes to the truth and giving us freedom to live. Thanks be to God.
Pyramid The pyramids of Egypt have long fascinated archeologists. Through diggings and investigations, researchers have learned a great deal of information about the people of the ancient world – not only the Egyptians, but also other nations. Egypt was a place of global importance, a world center of politics, commerce, religion and culture. With each new discovery, we can better understand the people and their lives so many millennia ago. The arid climate and blowing sand which can quickly cover an object, home or even village, has served to protect much that would normally be destroyed by water and inclement weather.
The Egyptians believed in life after death. They believed they would need every provision to get them to their final abode. The pharaohs of Egypt went to great trouble to prepare their tombs with food, clothes, jewels, servants, pets and anything else they might need. They poured great wealth into the pyramids, their tombs, so that they would be prepared for any possibility after life. We learned a great deal about the Egyptians when the tomb of King Tut was opened and found full of treasure. Unfortunately, men who desired the wealth for themselves, uninterested in the historical significance the items would have for us in the future, raided many of the pyramids long ago. Most tombs were emptied within a few generations of the pharaoh’s death.
Modern technology has made it possible to go beyond the walls that were built to protect the inner secrets of the pyramids. Computers make it possible to calculate with precision the geometric aspects of the design. Humans can send microscopic cameras on remote controlled robots into areas they are unable to reach. Sonar and radio waves can be used to determine cavities in and below the structure. Many of the pyramids are places of mystery, having corridors that lead to nowhere yet seem to have a purpose. The greatest of them all is the Great Pyramid, an incredible structure that has fascinated many who long to understand its secrets. The more we discover about the pyramid, the more we will understand the people who lived in that age of human history.
In the past few days, a robot has been investigating one of the corridors of the Great Pyramid. On live television, several days ago, the robot emerged into what archeologists hoped would be a chamber of treasure. What they found was more of the corridor and another door. In the time since, they have found yet another door leading to the unknown. I remarked to Bruce this morning, “After all this hard work, they are going to find the end of this thing and discover an empty room with a back door which the looters found centuries ago.” Though I can’t be certain of this, it did remind me of how often we work very hard to find some sort of treasure, only to discover disappointment at the end.
Read Titus 2:11-14
Though the main purpose of the research at the pyramids is to understand the structure and the people who built them, I wouldn’t be surprised if the researchers are secretly hoping to find some incredible treasure in the process. It isn’t a treasure they could keep for themselves, but it is one that would bring them great blessings in the long run.
To many in this world, the whole idea of Christianity is a mystery. So much of our understanding of God, life, death, hope, peace, joy and love are completely different than the world. People have tried for two thousand years to work their way through study or good works into a reasonable understanding of faith. Unfortunately, their hard work always leaves them wanting, they get through one wall only to find another wall waiting on the other side. There is only one way to the Truth, and that is through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He brought salvation to each of us, and only through Him can we find that which our spirits long to possess. With His salvation and in His truth we then live to His glory, serving Him in all we do, blessed by the treasure of life in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Clothes When Vicki began taking dance and baton lessons, her teacher was adamant about the type of clothes she was to wear. We had to go shopping and purchase exercise wear and leotards, so that Vicki would be comfortable in clothing that would allow her to move properly and allow the teachers to see the movement of her body for instruction. Vicki recognizes the value of the proper clothing; even if she is wearing sweat pants or shorts, she changes into her dance clothes for practice.
The say the clothes make the man. Though I’m not sure this is always true, I have noticed that at times people do treat others differently based on the clothing they wear. I am treated differently when I wear sweats and sneakers than when I wear a nice dress. I even feel different when I go to the trouble of dressing in a nice outfit than when I just throw something on my body.
There is a new movie being released starring Jackie Chan called “The Tuxedo”. This movie takes dressing well to an extreme. Jackie’s character, a chauffeur, comes to possess superhuman powers when he wears his boss’s multimillion-dollar tuxedo. He becomes a different man when he wears the suit – without it, he’s ignored and ridiculed by everyone; he can’t even get a girlfriend. But with the suit, he’s popular, powerful and loved.
The scriptures talk about righteousness in terms relating to clothing. Our own righteousness is said to be like filthy rags that we wear, perhaps like the sweats I slip on that are so comfortable. But there is a righteousness that we are called to wear as Christians – the righteousness of Christ. When we put on His righteousness through faith, we are transformed into someone new.
Read Romans 13:11-14
What clothes are you wearing today? Vicki wears the right dance clothes when practicing so that she will be able to learn and perform the routines well. Jackie Chan wears the suit and becomes a hero who is loved. I have not yet decided what clothes I will wear as I go about my tasks for today. I am thankful that I have the Lord Jesus Christ as my armor of light to wear each day as I walk in faith. I can rest assured that as I wear His righteousness, He will help me to avoid the temptation to gratify the desires of my flesh. In Him I am made anew each day and by His power alone I can walk in the light and live the life He has called me to live. Thanks be to God.
Wind It is very windy at our house today, a constant blowing wind that is whistling through the cracks of our house and dragging everything that is light enough to be carried down the street. The wind is coming from Isidore, the tropical storm that struck the Gulf Coast last night. This storm, while not the most dangerous ever to come our way, is dropping huge amounts of rain, causing floods, tornadoes and even death in its wake. We are not likely to see much from this storm in Arkansas; the rain is staying to the east. However, we are being affected, albeit mildly, by the wind that precedes the heart of this storm.
Early in his career, Martin Luther was an obsessive confesser. He lived in a time when the people were highly superstitious and the church was very controlling. Religion was part of everyone’s life and guilt played a huge role in the beliefs of the day. In the early days of his priesthood, Martin believed he needed to confess everything he ever did wrong because he was afraid that any sin, even his smallest unknown sins, would bring condemnation on his congregation. So, he often spent hours in confession with his confessor – telling of every negative thought, every bug he stepped on, and every grape that he ate at the market. He recalled his entire life over and over again. His confessions became so ridiculous that John Staupitz, his confessor, answered him one day, “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive – parricide, blasphemy, adultery – instead of these peccadilloes.”
Martin Luther was so concerned about every sin and how it might affect others that he lost sight of the grace of Christ’s forgiveness and the hope in which we are called to live. He was constantly burdened with guilt. Unfortunately, in today’s world the pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum. Most people don’t believe our personal sins affect anyone but ourselves. “It is between the sinner and God.” “The sin is only hurting the sinner.” Adam and Eve ate one piece of fruit and separated all of mankind from our Heavenly Father. In today’s world, too many have decided that they have no need of a savior, because they do not believe they sin.
Just like the winds from the storm, our sin has far reaching effects, some we may never know. This is why we should never forget that we are sinners in need of a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that our actions can affect lives far beyond our expectation. But we should not get caught in the trap of guilt, instead keeping our eyes on Jesus and remembering the love and forgiveness that He gives to each of His children. A life of faith is one of balance – law and gospel – seeing ourselves as we are and looking to Christ for our salvation. His love is poured into our lives and in Him we have the power to live free from guilt and walk in hope.
Read Romans 5:1-5
The winds of the storm are reaching our house, though the storm is far away. Martin Luther knew that his sin could affect others and went out of his way to ensure they would be protected from harm. Yet, in his quest for perfect confession, he forgot the most important aspect – Christ’s grace. We aren’t corrupt because of a list of things we do wrong, but by our very nature – that which we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. It was when Martin recalled that we are justified through faith, not by guilt, that he could live freely in the grace of Christ. In those early days he never found joy or hope in Christ, but rather fear and pain. The storms of life will come – the effects of sin from others and those we create ourselves will touch our lives. But in Christ we can rejoice in our suffering, knowing that we will persevere, be transformed and have hope by the power of the Holy Spirit which God gives us out of His love. Thanks be to God.
Prison I know a man who has spent the last two decades serving a prison sentence for a crime he committed as a young adult. He is currently being processed for release on parole, to begin a new life in this world. This man was raised in a Christian home, but the affects of drugs and peer pressure were too great and he fell away from the faith. During his prison sentence, compassionate ministers have reintroduced him to the Lord, and he is growing in faith. He has repented of his sin, paid the price for justice and is ready to face each day with a new hope and peace he never knew before he was arrested. He has repeatedly told me that though prison has been hard, he is thankful that he was caught. Had he been free to go on living the life that he had chosen, he would have died long ago because of his addictions.
Judgment may seem to be a very bad thing, particularly if you are the one suffering the consequences that are given. A child who is grounded or a man who is made to pay financial restitution for their actions will certainly not feel blessed by the judgments against them. However, very often the lessons learned are of great value to the growth and transformation of the people.
Read 2 Chronicles 36:15-23
There was judgment found in the exile, as God delivered His people into the hands of the enemy. However, in the time they were captive, the LORD blessed them. He never abandoned them; He remained faithful to His promises. They needed time away from their world so that they could be rebuilt as a nation and the land could be replenished of the good things God intended for His people.
Our Lord Jesus suffered the greatest judgment. He took upon Himself the sin of the entire world, suffered the humiliation of death and a cross and was ridiculed, rejected and denied by those He loved. For many, this is the most difficult aspect of Christianity to understand. Why would God allow such a thing to happen to His Son? It is because He knew the blessing that was found in that judgment. He knew that the reconciliation of humankind to Himself could only happen if He paid the price for our sin.
We may have to face the consequences of our actions in this world, as judged by our fellow human beings. At times that judgment may seem unjust. However, we can enter into exile or pay the debt due knowing that in Christ we have been forgiven and God will never abandon us. We can find the blessing and be transformed by the grace of God. Who knows, the judgment might just be the very thing that will save our lives. Thanks be to God.
Motivation What motivates us to do the things we do? Why do we get up in the morning, go through our morning routines? Why do I work hard to make sure my family is fed, clean and comfortable? In my heart I am sure that I do these things because I love them, and on some days that is about the only thing that would get me to do so. Some days, when I am not feeling well or when I am extremely busy, I feed them because I am obligated to do so, and I grumble about it all the way. There are even times when the work we do around the house, or the things we buy, are not done because we need or even want them, but because we want to keep up with the neighbors. “Joe mowed his lawn today, I better do so also because the house looks so shabby next to his now.” Or “If they have a BMW, surely we should too.”
There are other things that motivate us to do the things we do. Some are motivated to go to work in the morning, not because they enjoy their job, but because they fear the threat of competition from their co-workers. If they miss a day they will get left behind for high profile assignments and promotions. Some people do things not because they know it is the right thing to do, but because it is what has always been done – in their family, neighborhood or country. Some people wake up and grumble about going to church, but they do so because they are scheduled as usher or lector or are responsible for bringing the cookies for after the service.
Though we are often motivated to do things for all the wrong reasons, God is able to accomplish great things in the midst of our grumbling. It would be great if we always did everything for the glory of God, but our flesh is weak and our hearts are not yet pure, so we stumble at times. These motivations -- the sense of obligation, the competition with others, the following tradition – are rarely the right reasons for doing things, but through them, good things get accomplished.
The apostle Paul had an incredible ministry. From the stories we read in the scriptures, it seems he spent most of his time on the road or in prison. He often wrote to the churches about how God was spreading the Gospel through his suffering. But he faced people who were less than sympathetic. They used his imprisonment and his past to raise up their own ministries. They tried to convince people that Paul was not an apostle, that the suffering showed that he was not chosen of God – for certainly God would bless all his chosen ones with prosperity and good things!
Read Philippians 1:15-20
Though I don’t always do the things I do for the right reasons, my family is well fed, clean and comfortable. Though I don’t always serve others for the right reasons, Christ shares His Gospel through my life. In today’s world, there seem to be many preachers and teachers that are preaching and teaching for the wrong motives – they desire fame, prestige, power, honor or wealth and minister in a way that will increase their ministries and feed those desires. They may even try to discredit others in the process to make their own ministries look better. Paul says that it doesn’t matter, God will move even in our wrong motives. When Christ is preached and the Gospel is given to those who are lost in the darkness of sin and pain, our motives have no bearing on the result. Paul could rejoice because he knew that Christ was being glorified – in his suffering, in the church’s forbearance, even in the wrongly motivated ministries of the other preachers. Thanks be to God.
Michael One of the most incredible places we visited during our time in England was an island off the coast of Cornwall called St. Michael’s Mount. The island rises out of Mount’s Bay, and can be seen from the hilltops that dot the West Penwith peninsula, the westernmost corner of England. At low tide a causeway is revealed which allows visitors to walk to the island, but at all other times it is necessary to travel by boat. Over the centuries, the mount has been a port used for tin trade, a monastery, military outpost and a private home. It has been the site of numerous battles throughout history and many have sought control of this important property.
As with many things around England, particularly Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount is known for several ancient legends. Other legends from the mount include stories about King Arthur and some Celtic saints. St. Michael, of course, is the archangel that is described as a mighty warrior angel in the Scriptures. One of the legends of the mount includes an ancient legend that some fishermen saw him standing high above the sea on a rocky ridge on the island, as if he were guarding it. It is also known that many of the ancient churches and religious institutions that were built high atop hills or mountains were named after Michael. The tradition was due to the stories found in the bible about St. Michael fighting the devil in the heavenly realms. One such story is found in Revelation 12, where Michael fights the dragon and casts him to earth.
The modern understanding of angels is far different than it was in the days of John. Today, pretty little angels are seen as decoration on cards, plaques, statues and jewelry. Movies like “Michael” and television shows like “Touched by an Angel” give very human characteristics. Those in mourning are often told their loved one has gone to heaven and become an angel. Angels aren’t dead people who are made new in heaven; God created them as unique beings that live and move in the spiritual realm, as we are unique beings that live and move in the temporal. They are able to move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world in obedience to God’s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do. Angels are generally messengers, but they were created to minister to us – to bring hope, comfort, protection and the Word of the Lord.
Read Psalm 103:20-22
Today at worship, many churches celebrated a festival in remembrance of St. Michael and All Angels. In the modern quest to rationalize all things spiritual, we have lost touch with the beauty and importance of God’s angels. We forget that there is a spiritual world beyond what we know with our senses and our mind. We don’t see angels or hear about them every day, so we reject the notion that they are real. However, angels are a means of God’s grace, a way by which God reveals Himself to the world. Human beings are just a small part of the created order – the earth, plants, animals, angels and demons are all under the dominion of the Lord God Almighty with us.
Whenever we praise God, we join in the chorus of praise and thanksgiving from the angels and all the saints who have gone before us that is constantly glorifying God in the heavens and on earth. The psalmist in today’s lesson encourages all of God’s creation to sing His praises, from the angels and all those who serve Him in heaven and on earth, to the soul of the individual Christian saved by His grace. May we always join in that chorus of praise. Thanks be to God.
Demons We are far more willing to believe in angels than Satan and his demons. After all, kind creatures with beautiful wings hanging out on fluffy white clouds are far more acceptable than a horned, long tailed dude in red tights hanging out with ugly, evil looking monsters. Once again, however, we have tried to describe these creatures with physical attributes based on our earthly knowledge, giving spiritual beings a visual identity that is not true. I think perhaps the modern image of Satan is his own work, making the character as ridiculous as possible so that intelligent men and women would reject the possibility of his existence because it is simply irrational to believe in such a thing.
Yet, the Bible does tell us that Satan is real, that he is wandering throughout the earth trying to lead people away from God. He has copies of everything in God’s kingdom – a trinity, a church, prophets, ministers and even a gospel. However, everything of his is false, a twist of the truth. He uses God’s holy word to confuse his victims, in the hope that the listener will say, “There is some truth to that…” He tried that with Jesus in the wilderness during the temptation. He quoted scripture to tempt Jesus into making bread, calling on the angels for aid and ruling over the whole world. Yet, Jesus knew that Satan was misusing the Word. He could make bread, but it was not God’s Will. He could have jumped from the top of the temple and the angels would have saved Him, but it was not time or the way for the Christ to be glorified. He knew that He would rule the whole world, but in submission to His Father, not the devil.
Unfortunately, we are not Jesus and our flesh is weak. We hear things taught and it sounds pretty good, so we accept it. A teacher or preacher will quote scripture and so we think he or she is a servant of God. Yet, too many churches today are abusing God’s word and teaching a false gospel. They are sharing a gospel of self, one in which the believer seeks not God’s Kingdom but what God can do to make their kingdoms better. Jesus is taught, but as one who will grant our every wish, not as Savior of the world. They teach that if only the believer would do this right or that right, they will be blessed with everything they want. These teachers and their followers have been deceived into believing a false gospel, not in Jesus Christ as Lord.
Read Matthew 7:15-23
If we believe in angels, then we must also believe in demons. We join with the angels of God in praise and thanksgiving, but also in war against the powers of the enemy. Satan does not like that we believe in Christ and will do whatever he can to turn us away. He is sly, knows the scriptures better than we do and can twist them oh so slightly so as to make his lies appear true. He has gotten a foothold into some churches, leading the sheep down a path of destruction rather than salvation.
We can rejoice in the knowledge that Christ loves His people and will do all He can to protect us from the enemy. But let us all be aware that Satan is real and roaming in this world trying to make us turn away from the promises of Christ. We are not alone in this battle, for Jesus walks with us and His angels watch over our lives. By His Holy Spirit we produce the fruit of faith which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Be wary of those who bear any other fruit, for he or she might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.