Welcome to the September 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2004
September 1, 2004
Retirement It is hard to believe, but we are beginning to think about the day when Bruce will retire from the Air Force. It won’t come for a couple years, and yet there are many plans to be made. Some people will want to be here for this special event and they will need to start saving so they can afford such a trip. We also need to start collecting those stories and pictures that will highlight – or roast – his life and career.
He also needs to begin thinking about what he wants to do with his life after the Air Force. He has served for decades, thirty years by the time it is over. Except for a few odd jobs in his teenage years, it is the only employment he has known. It is tempting to take this retirement and make it permanent – to spend the rest of his life playing golf or doing woodworking in the garage. While these activities might keep him busy, there is more to having a job than just having something to do. There is the companionship of others, the responsibilities and accountability to others that depend on your help. Just having to get up and get dressed helps to keep a body healthy and vital. I do not know what Bruce will decide to do with the rest of his life, but I can’t imagine him sitting around at home all day long. It would drive him crazy.
The early church had so many things to figure out. They had to understand everything Jesus taught and put it into practice. They had to find a way to deal with a new way of looking at life and people. Particularly difficult were what to do with the people who were of little value according to the society in which they lived – the widows in particular. Widows with no family were left to die, they were worthless and a burden. But Jesus taught a different message. He put value on every person. So the church had to discover a way to take care of those women. Unfortunately, there were those who wanted to abuse the situation – to give up their responsibilities and let someone else take care of it.
“Honor widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow hath children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to requite their parents: for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, hath her hope set on God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth. These things also command, that they may be without reproach. But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath used hospitality to strangers, if she hath washed the saints' feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work. But younger widows refuse: for when they have waxed wanton against Christ, they desire to marry; having condemnation, because they have rejected their first pledge. And withal they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, give no occasion to the adversary for reviling: for already some are turned aside after Satan.” 1 Timothy 5:2-15 (ASV)
The early Christians had two different problems when dealing with the widows. First of all, they had families that ignored their responsibility, leaving the care and wellbeing of their loved ones to the church. This put a strain on the resources of the congregation. Anyone who has been a caregiver to an elderly parent knows how difficult it could be. Imagine what it would have been like to have to care for a number of women.
The other problem had to do with age. Times were tough and the life expectancy was not nearly as long as it is today. Men died young, often leaving young wives to fend for themselves. They could live as a widow for many years. The widows were expected to do their part – to pray and do good works – but it was easy for them to fall into a life of leisure under the care of the church. As such, they were led to gossip and idleness rather than holy living. It is ironic that in this day and age when people are living much longer, we retire earlier, often leaving ourselves with decades of freedom to do whatever we desire. Yet, it also leaves us plenty of time to be distracted by the ways of the world and turn away from the life of holiness to which we have been called through faith in Christ.
Oasis Texas, even the part in which we live, is a desert climate. There are different types of deserts but in general they are rather barren, seemingly lifeless places. At the extreme, deserts are nothing but blowing sand like the Sahara. Most deserts have some sort of plant and animal life, but even the cacti and reptiles have an otherworldly quality. Since the desert has few visible water resources, the plants and animals seem unreal, like plastic. A lizard lying on a rock seems as if it might never move until you get within inches, but then it takes off so fast it is like a blur. After a refreshing rain, the desert comes to life with color and activity with flowers and animals that you would not expect to find in such a desolate place.
It has been relatively wet here in Texas this year, so the fields are green and filled with thriving plant life. When I mentioned to the kids a few months ago that we live in a desert, they thought I was out of my mind. How could a desert have so much life? We have to remember, however, that we have only lived here for a few months and we live in a well developed area. The grass is green because we water it, the trees are growing because there is plenty of ground water. In times of draught, however, when water is rationed and none fall from the sky, even the developed areas can become brown, desolate looking places.
I recently heard about a time several decades ago when there was a seven year draught in Texas. Everything, it seemed, was dead. Yet, even in those times there were areas of trees. The storyteller was a young girl at the time and she asked her father how there could be green trees in those areas. Her father could name the creek that normally ran where the trees still grew. She noticed, however, that the creek beds were dry. “How can that be?” He explained that though the water was not visible, it was still there, the trees reached deep into the earth to find sustenance.
Jesus lived in a time of spiritual draught. The ‘plants and animals’ (the Jews) were lifeless, like plastic images of what God had created because they were living according to their interpretation of God’s law rather than the intent. They were dead in their sin and did not know God’s grace. They did not know where to look for the spiritual water that would give them forgiveness and life. Even when Jesus stood in their presence, many missed what He had to offer.
“Jesus therefore said, Yet a little while am I with you, and I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, ye cannot come. The Jews therefore said among themselves, Whither will this man go that we shall not find him? will he go unto the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What is this word that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am, ye cannot come? Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified. Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, This is of a truth the prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, What, doth the Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said that the Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there arose a division in the multitude because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.” John 7:33-44 (ASV)
Without Christ, the world is like a desert. The people are lifeless and plastic, living as if walking in darkness carrying burdens that are much too hard to lift. They have no joy, no peace, even when it seems as if they are happy and content. They wander through the deserts in search of something and think they find it in their jobs, families and possessions. Yet, there is a thirst for something more that can’t be had by any human effort. They seek the Lord Jesus and yet do not know that He is what they want or need.
At times, however, those lost in their sin see an oasis – a place where the trees grow green even when it appears there is no water. They see the life and spirit of Christ flowing from the life of a believer and know that there is an answer to their search. Jesus Christ is indeed the living water that gives us life and hope. Just as there is life in the desert even when it seems to be dead, Jesus brings life to the most desolate hearts. Thanks be to God.
Directions Bruce and I went to the Boy Scout store yesterday to purchase some of the things Zack needed for his new Boy Scout troop. We had a map and directions to this place and it appeared to be quite easy to find. We followed the instructions and I warned Bruce that we must be close. However, when we reached the actual building, the sign was difficult to see until we were past, and even then we were unsure if it really was the building for which we were looking. We went another few blocks and then knew that we should go back. Indeed when we returned, we discovered that it was the right place and it was right where it was supposed to be according to the map. We missed the shop because we missed the sign.
This was a common problem for me when I lived in New Jersey. I had a job for which I did a great deal of driving, often to places with which I was unfamiliar. I planned my route with the best information I had, and then watched carefully for my turns. The signs were posted well in advance, at times it seemed like they were laying bread crumbs for me to follow. “Your exit is in five miles.” “Your exit is in four miles.” “Your exit is in three miles.” “Your exit is in two miles.” And then the signs would stop. The final sign pointing to my exit was after the actual road, as if they were telling me, “Ha, you just missed your exit!” It was very frustrating; I found myself having to turn around far too many times.
The Old Testament is filled with road signs, prophecies given by God so that His people would be able to recognize the time of their salvation. They knew that the Messiah would come, what He would do, even how He would appear. They waited in hopeful expectation for the day because they knew God was faithful. And yet, when He did appear, they missed it.
“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: and he was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. And Peter answered, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, I will make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, save Jesus only. And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And he answered and said, Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things: but I say into you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would. Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. Then understood the disciples that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:1-13 (ASV)
John the Baptist was the final road sign pointing to the coming of the Messiah, but the people who knew the prophecies best could not see that he was the promised Elijah for whom they were looking. They misunderstood John and then they misunderstood Jesus. They could not see Him as He was – their Immanuel, God in flesh. Peter, James and John were given a rare glimpse of the truth; they saw Jesus in His glory. Yet, they still did not understand. Did the teachers have the prophecy all wrong? How could the Messiah come if Elijah had not yet returned?
They missed the sign and because it did not appear as they expected. How could Elijah have come in the form of someone as strange and radical as John the Baptist? He rejected his place in society as a priest and lived a bizarre life in the wilderness. He spoke about things which he could not possibly know or understand. However, the problem was not with John, it was with those who were watching – they did not recognize the sign and thus missed the Messiah.
Jesus told the disciples to keep their knowledge to themselves. This might seem strange, particularly since Jesus taught His disciples to be witnesses of His truth. However, this command from Jesus was for the sake of the people – they had to come to understand not only that He was the Messiah, but also that His purpose was not as they’d been taught. He came not to save them from Rome or to make them a great nation, but rather to save them from sin and death. Jesus could not be proclaimed as the Messiah without the cross. Unfortunately, even after His resurrection many still did not recognize the signs, even to this day. We are called to be witnesses to this truth and hope for those still lost in this world, chasing after all the wrong signs. As we go forth into all the world and walk in faith, we can be assured that God will be faithful to His promises. Thanks be to God.
Hurricane Hurricane Frances has been causing a great deal of commotion in Florida. The authorities ordered a massive evacuation days ago. Two and a half million people began moving away from the eastern coastline on Wednesday and most of the people were gone by Thursday afternoon. Some found refuge with family. Others managed to find a hotel room. Many are sleeping on cots in storm shelters with hundreds of other refugees.
As of this morning, Frances was still sitting just offshore. The people are becoming frustrated and impatient. Yesterday there was some signs that the storm was breaking down. The wind speeds were slower and it was changed from a category four to a category two storm. Many of the refugees were beginning to regret leaving their homes. Surely they could have waited out this storm in their own homes!
However, Frances is still a very dangerous storm. Though she is not packing as hard a punch, she is moving incredibly slow. This storm is huge and is carrying a great deal of water. The rain is expected to be heavy and to last for many hours, even days. The total precipitation could reach ten to twenty inches in many parts of the state. There is a danger of flooding, perhaps more deadly than the strong winds. Additionally, the saturated ground will make it easily for the lesser winds to blow over trees, signs and telephone poles.
Despite the possible dangers, it is easy to become complacent, to think that there is no real threat and to go back to life as usual. It certainly can not be comfortable waiting in a hotel or shelter without knowing what is happening. It is tempting to ignore the recommendations of the authorities and try to return home before it is safe, hoping that the storm will not really do as much damage as expected. Of course, there are few taking chances. After the devastation of Charley, most Floridians understand the power of a hurricane and the destruction it can bring. They will sit around complaining about the weather service’s inability to give accurate information and wait for it all to be over.
All too often in life, however, we give up the waiting. If things don’t come to us when we want them – now, we go after it ourselves. This is particularly true in our fast food, convenience store age, but it happens in every generation. Even the wandering Hebrews became impatient with God and tried to make Him do their will.
“Yet ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of Jehovah your God: and ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because Jehovah hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Whither are we going up? our brethren have made our heart to melt, saying, The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there. Then I said unto you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them. Jehovah your God who goeth before you, he will fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that Jehovah thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came unto this place. Yet in this thing ye did not believe Jehovah your God, who went before you in the way, to seek you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way ye should go, and in the cloud by day. And Jehovah heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see the good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh: he shall see it; and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed Jehovah.” Deuteronomy 1:26-36 (ASV)
The first reports about the storm are coming in. The first waves of wind and rain have reached landfall, though the storm is still miles offshore. There are tree limbs down, tornado sightings and other early affects. It has been reported that the eye is redeveloping and it looks like the storm might be upgraded again before it hits ground. It may have seemed ridiculous to move away from the shore two days ago, but now that the storm has hit I am sure many are relieved to be safe.
The Hebrews were impatient with God. They heard His word but they wanted to do things their own, even if it meant walking back into the life of slavery they left in Egypt. They could not see the advantages of following God, of trusting in Him. They were afraid of their enemies and could not believe God would take them through the battles they had to fight. They suffered the consequences of this lack of trust – they would never see the Promised Land. Their children would benefit from God’s faithfulness, but they would not because they could not believe. The lesson we learn from these Old Testament children of God is patience – believing that what God says is true even if we can’t see it happening right away. He is faithful. Thanks be to God.
Lesson planning Last night as I sat in front of the television, I worked on some of my lesson plans for the upcoming month. It is amazing how much time it takes to prepare everything you need to teach for just a few hours a week. Of course, I have the additional burden of organizing my planning style, finding material and making sure my ideas will work. I have spent many hours cutting circles and dinosaurs for some projects, readying writing sheets, making copies and reading child’s books to choose the right ones for the class.
I suppose it isn’t necessary to put so much time into my own ideas. There are many resources available for the preschool teacher that give excellent lesson plans, all ready with the perfect activities, worksheets and books for the lesson. I have known teachers over the years that did not use so much of their time outside the classroom for this type of work. My children were not negatively impacted, they continued to learn and grow despite the organizational practices of their teachers.
However, I am sure even those teachers that did not seem to put so much energy and creativity into their lessons still had to commit themselves to more than just an eight hour day. Teachers are required to take workshops and continuing education classes. They have tests to score and homework to evaluate. They have to keep track of the student’s work and come up with a grade at the end of the semester. It takes commitment. Sometimes it takes sacrifice.
I have to admit that I originally took this job because my family needed some extra income, but I have realized since that this job would never get us out of debt. It is said that a teacher never works for the money, and this I can attest is true. I have put much of my own money into the supplies I would need to get started. I will sacrifice a great deal to teach, particularly my time and money. I will not be able to put as much of my energy into my crafts. My children will not have as much of me because I will be giving some to them. My husband will have a wife who is a little more tired on work days. I have had to commit to the students and turn my back on some other things that have had a higher priority in my life. Similar sacrifice is demanded from Jesus for those who want to be called disciples.
Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:25-35 (ASV)
I once knew a boy who liked this particular story, because Jesus gave him permission to hate his mother. Now, this boy was a troublemaker, constantly being disciplined for wrongdoing – not because his parents held unattainable expectations, but because he was a bad child. He wanted to hate his mother because she did not indulge his wants and desires and he refused to hear the message of Christ for all believers to live a higher, holier life. Hate, to him, was an excuse to persecute his parents, treat them with disregard and disrespect.
Could Jesus really have suggested that we should hate? Should we treat our family with hostility and loathing? In this passage Jesus tells us that we need to hate our family, but He also tells us that we need to hate our own lives. At the end, He adds that anyone who does not give up everything will never be a disciple. The English word that is translated in this passage cannot do justice to the meaning in the ancient languages. Here “hate” means to set aside or to turn away. Jesus isn’t asking us to approach our family with animosity, but to sacrifice everything for His sake. He is asking us to put Him first, to make Him our priority in life, even if it means going against what our family and our hearts wish to do. For that boy, the sacrifice would not be to hate his mother, but to love, honor and respect her – to be obedient to the life God is calling him to live. For many, this is the greatest sacrifice and the true cost of discipleship.
Labor Today is Labor Day in the United States. It is a national holiday. Except for the service industries like retail or food preparation and emergency services, most people have the day off. Even the children are given this holiday so that families can spend the day together. For many students, school begins next week so this weekend is considered the last weekend of summer. We have been joking with the kids all week about their day away from their ‘labors.’ Kids don’t labor, do they? They have reminded us how hard it is for them, that school is more difficult in this day and age. It has been funny to hear them, knowing that we thought the same when we were kids.
I suppose in many ways it is more difficult for them. The pursuit of the American dream has made many things possible for the youth of our world that were not even questions in past generations. There are many who can follow their dreams that would not have had the opportunity a decade or two ago. But opportunity also means responsibility. It takes discipline, study and commitment. It means going the extra mile to get the education and experience necessary to succeed. Even in Junior High the counselors are helping the students try to figure out what it is they want to do, so that in High School they can make all the right choices. The kids are required to do more – colleges expect extra-curricular activities and community service. They know that they have to do well and they worry about every grade.
Labor itself is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the book of Proverbs often compares the righteousness of the laboring against the wickedness of the lazy. Martin Luther taught that we worship God in the joyful labors of our daily life, walking in our vocations no matter what they might be – student, farmer, baker, mother, prince or judge. The problem we have in our society is that we worry too much. We do not work because we are honoring God or living in obedience to His will, but because we are pursing all the wrong things. We want the best car, the biggest car, the pretty clothes and the finest food. We get so caught up in making money with our labors that we forget to worship the God who provides all we need.
“Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:25-34 (ASV)
The most common question last week was “what are you doing for Labor Day?” Most of the responses had something to do with fun. People went away for the weekend, were planning picnics or were just going to rest all weekend. Some folk had decided they would sleep until late in the day and accomplish absolutely nothing. It was their day to not worry about anything. What we need to learn, every day of the year, is that it does not pay to worry at all. There are certainly a million things that might be of concern – we have decisions to make and questions to answer. However, we need not worry about these things, for God is with us in everything we do. We should work hard, for it is through our flesh that we can honor God and do His work in this world. Yet, we must always remember to work for all the right reasons. It is not necessary for us to get ahead or pursue the best that life has to offer. We have the best we can have in Christ Jesus. Everything else just helps us through this life, blessings from God for which we should be thankful about which there is no need to worry or fret. Thanks be to God.
Feud There is a game show on television called Family Feud. The show has been on for decades and little has changed in all those years. They have become technologically more sophisticated, enhanced their sets and been through several hosts over the years. The game, with which many of you are probably familiar, puts two teams against each other – families competing for money. The questions they are asked to answer are polls taken with audience members and are often ridiculous, challenging and amusing. The only thing about this show that looks like a feud is the fact that they are setting two families against one another.
It is nothing like the family feuds that are part of our historic folklore and legends. Families pitted against each other for much higher stakes – life, land and power. These feuds often led to bloodshed. It didn’t matter if the people lived in the city or the country; anger over small problems grew into wars. Of course, these wars still pop up among the inner-city gangs, but one of the most famous family feuds involved the Hatfields and McCoys.
There was a long history of rivalry between these families. They settled on opposite sides of the river in the 1830’s, one family in Kentucky and the other in West Virginia. No one knows why the feud started, but by the 1860’s the families were raiding each other’s property. The first death occurred in 1865. In 1878 a McCoy accused a Hatfield of stealing his pigs. The Hatfields won and from that point on the violence escalated. For nearly thirty years the families warred until the states and courts finally got involved. Men died, others were prosecuted and there was nothing left to fight about.
In the year 2000, the ancestors of the original Hatfields and McCoys gathered for a reunion – to show the world that the old battle was really over. They wanted the world to know that the sins of the fathers, whatever they might have been, no longer put a strain on the relationships of the children. One of the people who attended the reunion is quoted as saying, “People have the misconception that all Hatfields hated all McCoys and all McCoys hated all Hatfields. That is simply not true. Many friendships and even marriages have taken place between the two families before, during, and after the feud. The feud has not been kept alive in spirit.” Yet, when we think of the Hatfields and McCoys, we think of fighting.
As we look back at the Old Testament stories of God’s people, we see that there are many times when the people simply did not walk in God’s ways. They turned away from Him toward the gods of other nations, sought the aid of those who would become their enemies and did what they felt was right. It’s a wonder that they were not completely destroyed by God’s wrath. And yet, we know that God is also merciful and longsuffering. His heart melts at the sight of the repentance of His children and He turns His anger away.
“How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou be angry for ever? Shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that know thee not, And upon the kingdoms that call not upon thy name. For they have devoured Jacob, And laid waste his habitation. Remember not against us the iniquities of our forefathers: Let thy tender mercies speedily meet us; For we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name; And deliver us, and forgive our sins, for thy name's sake.” Psalm 79:5-9 (ASV)
The current generations of Hatfields and McCoys gathered together to show the world that the old feud was over. They know that the story has become legend in American history, but they were unhappy with the way they were treated as purveyors of the feud. It ended a hundred years ago with their forefathers and they have since lived in peace.
God’s people may have deserved destruction, but God has mercy on those He loves. For this we should be eternally grateful. We can’t look at the Old Testament characters without seeing ourselves, for we have also turned away from God to follow our own ways. Rather than meet us with His wrath, He meets us at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on the bloodshed for our sake. The sins of our fathers are not remembered or applied to our lives. The Hatfield/McCoy feud ended with death and judgment. So did the feud between God and His people. Today we benefit from that end by being saved from sin and death. Those who look to Jesus, cry out to Him for mercy will see it. He has promised this and provided it through the final shedding of blood. Thanks be to God.
Mud The playground at our preschool has two sandboxes. This type of activity promotes several important functions – development of motor skills, problem solving and perception as well as relationship development and manners. The close confinement of the activity means that the children must get along, share the tools and be considerate of the other children. They don’t realize they are learning anything – they dig and build in the sand to have fun.
Unfortunately, our sandboxes were filled with water from recent rains, so the activity was muddy and dirty. We covered them in smocks and let them play anyway, hoping that they would not make too much of a mess. It was fine at first, only the occasional slip of the shovel that brought droplets of muddy water onto the arms and smocks of the other children. As the sandboxes got more crowded, some of the children began to play without smocks. It was harder to play without disturbing another child and it was necessary for the toys to be shared so everyone could have a chance. By then the splashing mud was no longer an accident, it was purposeful and aimed at the other children. We ended up with several children covered from head to toe in mud. I was helping children at the monkey bars when I noticed the confrontation at the sandboxes. I went over to intervene and ended up with mud on my own clothes.
We aren’t much different than four year olds even though we are grown. Our toys are different and the mud we sling is not necessarily made with dirt and water. We are selfish and vengeful. We will do anything to get our way no matter who gets hurt in the process. Unfortunately, many of these battles are not so easy to clean up – mud comes out of hair and clothing, but spiritual mud can be difficult to remove. We are wallowing in the mud of sin and death and the consequences are sometimes eternal.
“I waited patiently for Jehovah; And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay; And he set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, And shall trust in Jehovah. Blessed is the man that maketh Jehovah his trust, And respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Jehovah my God, are the wonderful works which thou hast done, And thy thoughts which are to us-ward; They cannot be set in order unto thee; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered.” Psalm 40:1-5 (ASV)
I tried to be a peacemaker from a distance, to tell the children how they should act with kind but firm words. It did not help. I had to get right in the middle of the situation, take some of the mud myself, before I could make a difference. We closed down the sandboxes and took the messy children inside. The bathrooms became muddy messes. We put clean clothes on the children that were extremely dirty. We will have to adjust our rules for the sandbox to ensure that this problem does not happen again.
All this happened because some children were selfish and vengeful. This sounds a great deal like our own lives, even as adults in the world. We don’t see the affects of our own self-centeredness but there are others who follow in our wake that suffer from the effects. There are no sins that affect only the sinner – they all spread some degree of darkness and destruction into the lives of others. This is true for all of us, for we are all sinners in need of a Savior.
The words of the psalmist are the words of a child of God who has realized his own sinfulness and has cried out for the saving grace of his God. God is the peacemaker who went into the middle of the battle and shed His blood for the sake of others. He is the teacher that tried for many generations to speak the truth into their lives, but they did not hear. They did not see the truth even as the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, stood and spoke in their presence. So, He went to the cross and took the wrath that was released by our self-centered behavior. He brought us out of the mud, made things new and gave us a new life to live in Him. Thanks be to God.
Cake A story is told about a woman who had been on a diet. She altered her driving pattern so that she would avoid her favorite bakery. One day, however, she found herself driving by that bakery and she could not help but notice all the wonderful treats that were in the window. She prayed, “Lord, I give this over to you. If you want me to have a treat, let there be an open parking space.” She found an answer to her prayer – on the eighth trip around the block!
We are really good at knowing what we need in this life – so good that we assume we know better than our Creator. As kids we pray for God to give us the answers to our tests. We pray for snow days in the winter and sunny days in the summer. We pray for that toy we think we need for Christmas or our birthday. As we grow older, we still pray for all the wrong things. We think we need the million dollar lottery, so we pray that He will bless us with the winning ticket. We think we need a bigger house or a nicer car, so we pray that we will get the better job. We pray for the closest parking spot at the mall and for the sales to offer exactly the perfect little black dress or pair of shoes.
I wonder how many times we are like that woman with the bakery, manipulating the circumstances to ensure God’s fulfillment of our prayers. When I was a kid, I remember praying loud enough so that my parents would hear about the toy I wanted to go. I suppose it is good to praise God all the time, even when I knew it was my mom and dad who answered the prayer. However, when we look at this type of situation and call it an answer to prayer, we set ourselves up for a great deal of disappointment. Sometimes the parking space never comes, or the toy is too expensive. We have an expectation of God that He will give us whatever we want, if only we ask and then set up the circumstances for Him to make it happen. We treat God like a pop-machine and we do not seek His will.
If the woman had accepted the first answer – the full parking lot on the first trip past the bakery – she would have seen God’s grace in the strength He gave her to avoid the temptation. If we did not manipulate our parents, we would realize that we do not need everything we want and sometimes there is something even better waiting for us around the corner. Jesus does tell us to ask and He will give. He also tells us to ask according to the will of God.
“These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:13-15 (ASV)
Is it the will of God that we win the lottery or get the better job? Sometimes, I do believe that it is His will. With such blessings always come greater responsibilities, but God does give material answers to prayers according to His will. However, He does not cater to our every whim and desire. He answers prayers according to a purpose, so that He will be glorified and His kingdom will be advanced in this world.
How do we know God’s will? First of all, we know through the scriptures as He has given His will for us through the Bible. Of course, the Bible does not directly address many modern situations, so it is more difficult to discern. It takes listening to God, prayer in which we are not just asking for things, but in which we praise Him and seek His divine Word in our hearts. It takes patience. It takes practice. It takes faith. We will, often, ask for the wrong things. But as we continue to seek His will through our prayers, we will learn His voice and hear it with more and more clarity. We can’t manipulate God into giving us what we want. We can listen and learn what He wants for us and believe that He will provide for our every need. Thanks be to God.
Baton Vicki started dance classes again this week. She is continuing with the same courses – tap and baton. Her dance school here in Texas has not been open for very long, and the baton teacher came on board even more recently. When Vicki joined the school last winter, she was the advanced student. Her classmates were just learning the basic skills. The leaders hoped that the baton classes would expand this year. They showcased Vicki during the recital so that the other students would see how much fun it can be to twirl.
There are a few new students this year and Vicki is going to help with teaching the beginning students. She is still the most advanced student, particularly since she attended the baton camp this summer. We have wondered how far she might be able to take this skill – in school and then beyond. During the Olympics we even joked about how baton twirling should be an Olympic sport and how Vicki could be the first gold medalist. The reality, however, is that Vicki is not even close to that level of twirling ability. She knows it and is fine. She just likes to twirl and she has no unachievable expectations.
The advanced level twirlers are those who were given a baton when they barely could walk. They are the ones who have had classes since they were toddlers. There is not much that they can do – the batons are small and their motor reflexes are rough. However, from that age they learn about discipline and practice. The baton becomes an appendage of their body – not something that is picked up occasionally, but rather something that is with them constantly. While Vicki has been able to learn the skills more quickly as a late starter, the baton has never become a part of her the way it does for the little ones.
Our life of faith is much the same. I know there are many who question the faith of those who have come from Christian families. There is the possibility that they are Christian just because their parents were Christian. There is the concern that there is no real faith, just rote repetition of something they have learned. However, as one who grew up in a Christian home, I know that my own beliefs began early and it has been building each day as I walk in faith in God.
“For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah: Thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb; Thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: My praise shall be continually of thee. I am as a wonder unto many; But thou art my strong refuge. My mouth shall be filled with thy praise, And with thy honor all the day.” Psalm 71:5-8 (ASV)
While there are many Christians who are only surface believers, people whose hearts are not devoted to God, it can not be automatically assumed that this is true of all Christians who have followed the footsteps of their parents. The Christian parents who took their children to church while living the Christ-like life at home and in their communities, praying with their children and sharing their faith at every opportunity, will plant seeds and help them grow.
The faith of a new believer, whether he or she is five or fifty-five is a joy and a wonderful thing. It can also be very deep and very real. However, there is something very special about the faith of a child that grows into a deep love of God. A new believer has many things that makes faith more vulnerable – biases, burdens, fears and doubts. We should not question the faith of someone who says they have trusted in God from their youth. Jesus Himself welcomed the little child because He knew their hearts were most ready to receive His word, planted in their souls to grow with deep, strong roots. They know that God is their refuge, even in the times of struggle. The world may wonder, but where there is praise we can be sure there is faith. Thanks be to God.
Railroad Crossing We live near several different railroad tracks, all of which are heavily used. One has at least forty trains a day. At any given time, we are likely to have to cross at least one set of those tracks, and we are often caught by the trains, finding ourselves stuck in traffic as we wait for the train to pass. I had to run into the city hall of our small town here in Texas the other day which is located only a block from the train tracks. When I was getting into the car, I thought perhaps I could beat the train. No such luck, the barriers were already down when I got in my car. I thought about going another way, but the speed of the train was fast enough that I knew I could not reach another crossing in time, so I didn’t even try.
As I waited, watching the train roll by for more than five minutes, I noticed several people were so impatient that they turned around and took the road that runs beside the tracks. I’m not sure what they thought this would accomplish, after all the train was already speeding ahead of them in the same direction and the crossings were already blocked.
I can recall two instances when I did turn around and go another direction. On one occasion, the problem was obvious. There had been an accident at the crossing. It appeared as though the train had struck an empty trailer that was being pulled by a pick-up that was waiting for the light to turn near the tracks. The train damaged the trailer and the signals along side the road. The train came to a complete stop so that they could investigate and clean up the mess. I could not tell how long the road would be blocked, so we turned around and took the long way to our destination. The problem was not an accident on the other occasion, but we still could not guess how long it might take. It is very inconvenient to have to wait – I’ve been late for appointments because of passing trains. However, most of the time it is better to be patient than to try to out run it.
As we journey through this life, there are times when we feel as though we are being held up by forces beyond our control. We try to get around our problems, seeking our own solutions and fighting our circumstances. We blame the conditions on our lack of success in the things we desire to accomplish. All too often we waste our time and our resources when the blockage is actually a call for God for patience and an opportunity for Him to do His work in our lives.
“Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the judge standeth before the doors.” James 5:7-10 (ASV)
There have certainly been times in my life when I could not understand why I was not moving forward. I felt that the world was blocking me from accomplishing the things that God was calling me to do. I often wondered if those things for which I was waiting would ever come. Sometimes I tried to make it happen on my own, but I learned quickly that it did little good to take these things into my own hands. God has a time and a way in which He works – and it includes times of waiting. In these times we learn about patience. God slows us down, even stops us, so that He can work on us. He makes us rest. He moulds and shapes us. He gives us opportunities to do something else – to learn humility, to serve, to pray, to listen and to grow. He helps us to develop our gifts so that we will be ready to run when the time is right.
We live in a world that is in such a hurry to get everywhere; most people don’t know how to wait. We are so afraid to stand still that we are willing to go out of our way to avoid those times of waiting. Perhaps we don’t want to listen – God’s messages are sometimes hard, the changes are often unwanted. All too often we make up our own callings in this life, listening to the wrong voices – our own hearts – and we aren’t willing to let God lead us in His way. Yet, we would do well to stop once in awhile and wait for the trains to pass – taking the time to pray, listen and let God do His work in our hearts. There are blessings waiting for us on the other side of the waiting. Let us be patient and let God get us ready to receive them. Thanks be to God.
Broom When we think of Jesus, we have a definite picture in our mind of what we think He might have looked like. Over the centuries, artists have tried to put to canvas and other medium the image they have of God. There are a few things we expect – mercy and compassionate, power and strength. We have come to accept the Jesus of our Sunday school classrooms – the shepherd with the sheep, the laughing man with a group of children climbing on his lap. We see God as the king on the throne, with a white beard and robe surrounded by multitudes of angels. These are images come from the stories in the Bible we love the most.
Every artist finds a way to put God and Jesus into their own time and place. English Medieval stained glass windows put Jesus and the disciples in settings that included English villages and castles in the background. The people wore medieval clothing and the furniture was typical of the day. Modern artists use religious symbolism within the context of modern images and settings. If you go to a website called “Jesus of the Week” you can see some of the more unusual images. Some are funny. Some are beautiful. Some are offensive. Some of them just don’t make sense.
With the advent of film and television, the image of God has been taken from a static picture to a moving, living character. Over the ages, God and Jesus have not always been portrayed as we might expect. “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” were shocking in their portrayal. George Burns played a scrawny, cigar-smoking old man in “Oh, God” and the sequels. On television, “Joan of Arcadia” meets God in the every day people she encounters. It is odd to see God as a cafeteria worker, a policeman or as the mailman – male, female, young or old.
In the movie “Bruce Almighty” the first image of God that Bruce encounters is Morgan Freeman in a pair of overalls mopping the floor. He is in a rush to get to an important appointment, rejecting the request of the janitor. He finds the same guy fixing a light bulb where his meeting is supposed to be. God introduces himself and proves to Bruce that he is the almighty. At this point the character is dressed in a crisp, clean white suit. At the end of the movie, at the appointed time, Bruce ends up in that same building with God, mopping the floor together. Bruce realizes that there are many blessings to be found in the every day tasks of life. We do not usually see God in this way – as someone with a mop or a broom cleaning up our messes. After Bruce and God finish washing the floor, God says, “It’s a wonderful thing, no matter how filthy things get, you can always clean them up.”
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance. Or what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost.” Luke 15:4-9 (ASV)
It does not take much for us to see God as the merciful shepherd in this story, going to find the lost sheep in the wilderness. It is not often that we think of God as a woman sweeping her home to find a lost coin. It certainly is not an image that has been painted on the windows of a church or in the religious masters over the centuries. However, this is one of the ways God comes to us. He is like that woman who lost a tenth of all she owns and searches diligently for it. He wipes the dirt from our lives, finds the value underneath the filth that covers us. He loves us so much that He is willing to take on the most menial tasks to find us and makes us new. It is a wonderful thing that know that matter how filthy things get, God can clean it up. Thanks be to God.
Anonymity I was in the grocery store the other day, waiting in the check out line. My eyes happened upon the newspapers and magazines that were on the racks. My favorite is the “Weekly World News” because the stories are so ridiculous it is funny. In the most current issue, we learn that UFO’s aren’t really from other planets, but they are people from another time; UFO’s aren’t space ships, they are time machines. I jokingly acted as if this answered the world’s most important question for me, that I could live at peace knowing this information. The lady in front of me and the store clerk got a big giggle out of my comments. The stories of aliens, biblical prophecy and unusual creatures are so bizarre that it is impossible to take seriously. I read the headlines, but I would be too embarrassed to actually buy the paper. What if someone thought I believed the paper?
Embarrassment often causes us to do things differently. Anonymity gives us the boldness to speak or act in ways we might not normally speak or act. The Internet has provided many people with the forum to do many things they would never do in the real world. They can make up any name or personality, visit any page or chat room and pretend to be whatever they want to be for that moment. For some, there might be good reason to remain anonymous. It is much easier to seek advice from total strangers than from friends. It might seem harder to reveal personal problems to outsiders, but in reality it is easier. A stranger will not look at you differently; they will not change their perception of you.
As strange as it might seem, a great many people would prefer to ask for prayers anonymously on the Internet than to share their problems with their brothers and sisters in Christ at their home church. We have a tendency of adding our own perspective to their problem. They want prayers, we offer advice. They want us to love them as we always have, but we look at them through new eyes. If the problem is sickness, we look with pity. If it is sin, we judge. It takes courage to ask for prayers, and we all too often abuse the trust they have by trying to solve their problem rather than just pray. This is why it is much easier to ask strangers on the Internet for prayer.
“And he went with him; and a great multitude followed him, and they thronged him. And a woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, having heard the things concerning Jesus, came in the crowd behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I touch but his garments, I shall be made whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague. And straightway Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth, turned him about in the crowd, and said, Who touched my garments? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.” Mark 5:24-33 (ASV)
I wonder if the woman would have been bolder if she had found Jesus alone. She did not want him to make a big deal about her sickness. She just wanted to be well. She thought she could remain anonymous and still be healed. Jesus knew she touched Him and looked to find her in the crowd. It was not meant to embarrass her; He did it so that her faith would provide an example to others. Sometimes we have to be bold, to speak out about our problems so that we might be a witness to the saving grace of God.
As it turned out, the woman in the grocery store needed a good laugh and a kind word. Some days I would be too embarrassed to even pay attention to the articles on the paper, but for some reason I was loud and obnoxious yesterday. It opened the opportunity for me to speak with the woman, encourage her and give her a reason to smile. Sometimes we have to be bold, despite our worries and fears about the situation. When we need prayer, we don’t need to hide. We simply need to reach out to God in faith, knowing He will make us new. Thanks be to God.
Rain I grew up in Pennsylvania, so the Texas landscape is much different than I remember from my youth. The horizon was invisible, blocked by the forests, rolling hills and numerous buildings. We lived in the suburbs, close to a big city. Even when we drove in the country, the awesome views of the land were limited to those moments when we were on the crest of a hill or mountain. When there was a storm, it covered the earth as far as we could see. Rainbows were rare events, not because they didn’t happen, but because they were hard to see in our cluttered landscape.
Texas is much different. Since it is relatively flat here and we live on the edge of the city, we have an unencumbered view much of the time. Even in the city it is possible to see the gathering storm clouds in the distance. It is not unusual to see a rainbow because we can see the rain falling miles away while the sun shines at our house. It is amazing to watch the horizon and have see a distinct difference between the clouds that are pouring rain. Everything is a little darker and at times you can even see the direction of the raindrops as they fall to the ground.
I was never as aware of the rain as I am here, mostly because we do not often get any. It is more likely that we will have scattered showers that hit some places and miss others. At times I think we must have some strange dome above our neighborhood because the rain goes around us. I can sit by my window and see the rain – not just dark clouds, but actual rain – coming and yet it never actually falls over our house.
I can only remember one time in Pennsylvania when I witnessed that sort of phenomenon, only I did get caught in the weather. I was waiting for a bus on a corner where there were no shelters. I looked down the street and I could see the line of rain coming at me. I had nowhere to go; I was going to get wet. I remember wishing I had an umbrella or some sort of protection. When it rained, it poured and I was soaked by the time the bus arrived. Now, as I sit in my house and watch the rain falling five miles down the road, I wish it would come to our house to water our lawn and gardens.
In the way we think, it would be easy to ask what I did wrong to deserve the soaking I got that day so long ago. We look at people who suffer and think that they must have been unrighteous or wicked to deserve such a fate. As for drought, this too is often attributed to unrighteousness, particularly in biblical times. It is tempting to assume the worst of people and to separate ourselves from them based on what we see. However, we can’t look at flood or drought as a sign of a person’s righteousness. Suffering is not given as a punishment for evil.
“Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 (ASV)
We tend to give out our love based on our opinion of the people we know. We don’t love those who are our enemies. We would much rather love only those whom we see as good, right and true. However, God loves without condition. He asks us to do the same thing. We should not judge a person according to what we see – whether they are stuck in the rain or suffering drought. We are called to love even our enemies for this is the way of God. We should be especially thankful because at times it is we who are stuck in the rain or drought, but God still loves. Thanks be to God.
Temper It is said that the nineteenth century evangelist D. L. Moody had a temper which in Christian love and brotherhood he learned to control. There was an occasion, however, when he let a detractor get to him. When the man spoke a word of offense, Mr. Moody got angry and shoved the man down a short flight of stairs. He suffered no physical damage, but Moody’s friends were concerned that the tone of the evening’s meeting would be dampened by this outburst. How could the congregation be influenced by Moody’s preaching after having witnessed such an obvious act of sin?
D.L. Moody called the meeting and began with an apology. He said, “Friends, before beginning tonight I want to confess that I yielded just now to my temper, out in the hall, and have done wrong. Just as I was coming in here tonight, I lost my temper with a man, and I want to confess my wrong before you all, and if that man is present here whom I thrust away in anger, I want to ask his forgiveness and God’s. Let us pray.” Mr. Moody never repeated the offense, so we will never know what it was that made him lose control. It may have been really terrible – scandalous or libelous. D.L. Moody may have had a right according to our worldly justice to sue the man for the comment or take some sort of revenge. In some cultures, some words are bad enough to deserve death.
Gary Emery wrote in a book called “Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress,” about anger. He said, “Although a whole school of thought recommends that you verbally express your hostility, a great deal of recent research has found the opposite to be the case. Researchers have found that freely venting your anger corrodes relationships and breeds more anger, not less. In one recent study… only one out of three hundred happily married couples reported that they yell at each other.”
“Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.” Matthew 5:21-26 (ASV)
Some of the things Jesus taught are difficult to understand. What does He mean by “Raca” and “you fool” particularly since the first means very similar to the second. Which one of us has never wanted to respond to an attack, like that of Mr. Moody that evening, with a word of anger, a shove or even a threat for retaliation through the courts? I expect that many of us have even mumbled the words “I hate you” or “I wish you would die” to someone in our lives. Few of us have ever seriously considered murder as an option. We can respond with pride that we have obeyed that particular law.
Jesus makes it much harder though, because it is not just about keeping our temper under control. He desires more – reconciliation. He knows our hearts and our temptations. It is so easy for us to respond to our anger by yelling – showing our hostility. After all, we learn in preschool that words can’t hurt us. And yet, Jesus tells the listening crowd that calling someone a fool will send us to hell. The problem is not the words – it is the broken relationship. Murder is final. But lawsuits and verbal abuse can also create permanent separation. We are called to something better, to a life lived in peace. We can only do that when we are reconciled with our brother, despite the foolish things we all do when we fall to the temptations that bother us. This is why Jesus came – to bring reconciliation and peace. Thanks be to God.
Today's WORD was first posted on September 16, 2003. I think sometimes God calls me back to the old writings to remind me of the things I have forgotten. Please bear with me as I repeat this important lesson.
Healing A few months ago a dear friend of the family called to talk. She was a close friend of my mother, a woman I called aunt though there was no blood relationship. It was such a pleasure to hear from her, we shared memories of Mom and comforted one another in our pain. Unfortunately, she also had some bad news. She was very sick. We talked about faith, about hope and about love. I promised to keep in touch and to pray. I did as I promised, but a few weeks ago I realized that it had been some time since I had written; so I sent her a letter. It was too late. Her son called me when he received it to let me know she had died. I wrote in hope that she was still there, in faith that the prayers of those who loved her were making a difference.
I felt bad that my contact with her family was not words of comfort, guilty that it had been too long since my last letter. I wondered if there were more I could do. It would be so easy to get lost in these feelings and even get lost in doubt and uncertainty. There are so many who believe that healing is dependent on faith. When someone remains sick or dies, the healers justify the lack of answer from God by blaming the one who is sick. In a chat room recently, I heard someone tell another, “You do not receive because you do not ask.” At other times, I’ve heard it said that healing did not come because they did not believe, that they doubted God. Others blame the person because they are not good enough or faithful enough. Since many of the stories of miracles in the scriptures include Jesus’ words “Your faith has healed you” it is common among many to teach that faith is a necessary part of the healing. Yet, it was not always that way.
“After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wouldest thou be made whole? The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.” John 5:1-9a (ASV)
In this story, the man did not know Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus for healing, but complained that no one would help him. He whined a bit about his problem – he was alone and unable to get into the healing waters of the pool. I suppose he was hoping that Jesus might carry him into the waters to be healed when it was time, but he had no faith that Jesus could change his life. Jesus simply said, “Get up and walk.” The man was healed immediately. Even when questioned later, the man still had no idea about Jesus’ identity.
The good and wonderful things that God does in this world are not dependent on our faith, or else we would never see the goodness of God. We are all fallible; we all fail to keep our eyes on God. We all face moments of doubt and guilt, not knowing what to do. Yet, God calls us to pray and to have faith. He knows what He is doing. The last conversation I had with my dear friend was wonderful. We were encouraged by each other’s faith and uplifted by the hope of God’s promise for all who believe. Perhaps she was not healed in flesh before she died, but she received an even greater healing when our Father took her into His arms for eternity.
Yes, it is easy to wonder if we did everything right. Did we pray enough, write enough, and have enough faith? That’s our human disposition. Faith is an important part of our relationship with Christ and should never be discounted, but God is able to move beyond our faith. It is good that God does not always answer our wants and desires, He knows far more about what we need. He touches our lives in ways we do not even realize or understand. Thanks be to God.
Research I graduated from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 1985 with a degree in Education. That education focused on preparing me to be an Elementary school teacher. Along with the normal classes and the general education classes, I had to take classes in the specific subject matters. I remember the fun we had in the class for elementary art – we made clay pots and did finger painting. We played games in the class that taught us about physical education. Some of the classes took a great deal of research. We were required to build a list of books with cross referencing of subject matter for our children’s literature class. The research we did was designed to give us references and ideas that could be used in our classrooms.
That was a long time ago and I did not think I would ever end up teaching in a classroom. Most of my college books ended up in garage sales or at libraries. I certainly did not keep all that paperwork over the years. We have kept many of our favorite children’s books, since I knew I would have grand children some day. Over the years I have collected a number of resource books that I have used for Bible story times or other teaching opportunities at church, but not much. Even though I am paralleling another teacher at or school, I felt relatively unprepared to teach.
It was much harder to do research when I was in college. If the Internet existed twenty years ago, I did not know anything about it. I had to go to the library and look through the card catalogues and the shelves for children’s books. I had to come up with my own ideas for games and worksheets. It was good to have to do this work, but it is much easier today. Now, it takes little more than a few clicks of the button to get a list of the hundred best children’s books or a dozen different activities to teach the letter “A.” There are even websites that offer full lesson plans for an entire year.
I could have done it the easy way – relying on the established activities of my co-teacher or followed someone else’s lesson plans. It would have been enough – the children would have learned what they need to learn to prepare for Kindergarten. For me, however, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to put myself into the lessons, to do things which will be enhanced by my talents. I wanted to have the flexibility to adapt to the children in my class. The research I did helped me to get some ideas I could make usable for our situation, but it also helped me better understand the expectations and capabilities of four year olds. I felt it was important to seek more knowledge to help me do my job well.
“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, And the man that getteth understanding. For the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver, And the profit thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: And none of the things thou canst desire are to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: And happy is every one that retaineth her.” Proverbs 3:13-18 (ASV)
God’s grace comes to us through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Through Him we are reconciled to God and promised an eternity in His presence. There is nothing we can do to make our salvation better. We are assured of our place in heaven based on Christ’s work on the cross, not our intellection knowledge and understanding of His grace. Faith is all we need to be saved. And yet, is our salvation only a future hope? Is there nothing in this life that is better because Jesus is part of our life?
Faith in Jesus is good for far more than just making us heirs to the coming kingdom of God. In Christ we are given gifts to use for His glory – words in our mouth to bring faith to others and strength in our bodies to lift them out of the physical troubles that plague them in this world. We have faith, but it is also good to have knowledge and understanding, to know about the One in whom we have faith so that we can share our hope with others. Wisdom, according to God’s word, is the greatest treasure on earth, but it does not just come to us. Sometimes we have to work at finding wisdom, through prayer and bible study. As we grow in wisdom and share our knowledge of God, we will find the blessedness of living our salvation today. Thanks be to God.
Ornaments We were at one of the national craft stores the other day and we found the cutest scarecrows to put in our garden. There was another woman looking through the bin as we were trying to decide which one we wanted. We also purchased a small fall welcome flag and we were discussing the other items in the garden. I talked about removing the pinwheels and the summer patriotic items and this woman overheard our conversation. She told us that she keeps it all in her garden, just adds new things with each season.
I’m sure we have all heard of or seen gardens like this. The yards are fence to fence with strange little scenes, with trolls or gazing balls – entering the yard is like entering another world. Now, I have some ideas about landscaping my yard that might seem strange or unusual. I would like to use some old salvage materials to build climbing walls for vines. I even thought about buying the shell of a British Mini, filling it with dirt and then planting flowers so they flow out of the windows. Some of my other ideas are even more challenging and humorous. Despite the uniqueness of these ideas, I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of having yard ornaments that are not season appropriate. It would be tacky and cluttered. Sometimes these yards become eyesores. Some folk have been sued by neighbors over their muddled attempts at decorating.
There are many different things that motivate people when it comes to establishing their environment. I really think the lady at the craft store just loves all her things so much she wants to share them with everyone. I think she likes to make people smile. I’ve seen stories of people who do it to annoy the neighbors. Others do it because they really don’t understand how horrible it looks. Some people are just too lazy to take out the old stuff when they add new stuff. There are also those that are trying to show off something about their life – their heritage, their wealth or their faith.
I’m sure we all get out of control when it comes to certain aspects of our life. For some people it is the number of shoes that they own. There are those that are fanatical about washing their cars or mowing their lawns several times a week. I know people who can’t pass a sale without buying something even though they already have a closet full of unworn clothes. Some young people today cover their bodies with piercings and tattoos. Why any of us put so much energy into our obsessions is not known, but they can get out of control, making our lives tacky and cluttered. It is bad when these decorations become more important than everything else in this world.
“Moreover Jehovah said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, and the cauls, and the crescents; the pendants, and the bracelets, and the mufflers; the headtires, and the ankle chains, and the sashes, and the perfume-boxes, and the amulets; the rings, and the nose-jewels; the festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls, and the satchels; the hand-mirrors, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the veils. And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate and sit upon the ground.” Isaiah 3:16-26 (ASV)
This particular prophecy was directed at the women of Jerusalem who had lost sight of God in their quest to be more beautiful and richly ornamented than anyone else. This was one of the many sins of the Jews, along with injustice and dishonesty. They turned away from God and focused their hearts on their own physical needs and ignored the other needs in the world.
It is not bad to have pretty things in our lives – after all, God did give us the trees, flowers and animals to rule over and make our world beautiful. However, He commands us to worship only Him, to make Him the center of our life of faith. When we put all our energy and resources into the things of this world and ignore Him, our world begins to look tacky and cluttered. It is no longer the beautiful thing God created, but some strange universe we have created for ourselves. We may still do some of the unusual and humorous things in our yard that I want to do, but I hope we always keep our hearts and minds focused on God so that our resources will be readily available to serve Him rather than ourselves.
Special days Yesterday was “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” While this may seem like a strange reason to celebrate, it was just one among many unique holidays that can be found for nearly every day of the year. At one website, there are more than four dozen month long, more than two dozen week long, and more than three dozen day long celebrations and remembrances for just the month of September. These occasions include everything from Fall Hat Month to Hug a Texas Chef Month, Metaphysical Awareness Month to Update Your Resume Month. Some of the daily events include Be Late for Something Day and Ugly Woman Day.
I don’t know how these holidays get started, yet there seems to be something with which every person can identify. Certainly Mother’s Day is covers a large audience, but there are those for whom Mother’s Day can be hard rather than a joyous occasion. Christmas has become a holiday for even those who are not Christian, but there are still many who can’t identify with the celebration. So someone, who apparently has too much time on their hands or for whom a holiday might offer some source of advancement, picks a day and calls it “National Whatever Day.” National Pickle Month benefits the pickle industry. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month will help with breast cancer research. Some of these remembrances are quite valuable – who could deny the importance of letting people know about breast cancer? Other holidays on the list are ridiculous and bizarre. Yet, we can learn much about people by the things with which they identify. For example, I can see that those who celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day have a sense of humor.
It is funny how, in our society with hundreds of special holidays for very specific groups and our hyphenated heritage, we refuse to embrace the labels that identify our faith. Many Christians would rather not wear any labels in their workplace or neighborhoods, keeping their church affiliation hidden from co-workers and neighbors. Whether it is a fear of persecution or wariness of bringing up the subject of faith, they think it is possible to keep God out of their life in the world. Yet, we are called to be in fellowship with God at all times, to walk in His light and share His love with all.
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.” 1 John 1:1-4 (ASV)
I’m not very good at talking like a pirate, so International Talk Like a Pirate day meant little to me. There are dozens of special days that I will be glad to ignore. They benefit people, organizations, products or experiences which have no place in my life, heritage or faith. Yet there are some things with which I should be identified. I enjoy celebrating the festivals that are part of the Church year and I love those things which lift up the good things that are a part of our life in this world.
As Christians, we are called to live in fellowship with those who have also heard God’s message of grace through the witness of the Christians – saints – that have come before us. Through the Word of God given us by them – from the apostles to our parents and every Christian in between – we receive the blessings of life in Christ, becoming one in fellowship with Him even while we live in this world. Our faith, the manifestation of God’s Word in our life, identifies us with the Father, the Son and the Spirit, so that we will be one with God and with all those who have walked in faith. As we share our identity in Christ with others, through our own celebration of our fellowship with God, we draw others into our body and make them one with Him and us for eternity. Thanks be to God.
Car On the first day of her new season, Oprah Winfrey gave away a brand new car to every member of the audience. At her first show, Oprah said, “We're calling this our wildest dream season, because this year on the Oprah show, no dream is too wild, no surprise too impossible to pull off." The audience members were in the audience because they all needed a new car for one reason or another. She told the audience that they had twelve cars to give away. When she got to the twelfth car, however, every audience member had a box. The one with the key was to be the recipient of the final car. When they opened the boxes, they all found a key. They took the audience out to a parking lot where 276 brand new Pontiac G6 were waiting with big red bows.
This was a wonderful and most generous gift, but as the story unfolded we discovered that there was a hidden cost. First of all, the cars were not bought by Oprah herself, but were donated by the company. Pontiac agreed to pay the sales tax on the cars so that there would be no extra burdens on the audience. Every winner needed to fill out paperwork to claim their prize. In the days that followed, many winners realized they could not accept the gift. Unfortunately, the organizers did not take into account the problem of income tax. The value of the car was so high that the taxes would have been an impossible burden for most of the winners. Some have rejected the gift, others have accepted it but they will sell the car, pay off the taxes and buy something they can afford with the rest.
We are taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If someone tries to give us a gift, we ask “What will it cost?” In our reciprocal society, a free lunch usually means that we will have to return the favor – or at least we feel like we should. Large gifts often come with financial responsibilities and maintenance as well as obligations that tie us to the giver or the gift itself. I wonder if the planners of that surprise thought of the other problems that the winners would face, such as higher insurance and registration fees which can be quite expensive in some places.
Our experiences in this world lead us to a cynical attitude about many things, including the things of God. What can we make of a religion that worships a God of such incredible grace that He would send His own Son to die? We even wonder about the value of faith in such foolishness. Other religions consider faith a work of the human soul and heaven a reward for a life well lived. Jesus turned all that around, making faith a gift and heaven a promise based on love rather than a payment for righteousness. He did this because it is impossible for us to have faith without God’s hand and we can never be righteous enough to deserve the love of God.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” Revelation 21:1-7 (ASV)
Can you imagine how those winners felt when they learned that they had won a new car? It must have been a most exciting moment, especially since they all needed one. How would they have felt when they discovered the cost would be too great to keep the gift? It is certainly disappointing to find out that the gift isn’t free.
This is, perhaps, the hardest part about understanding Christianity. God gives us a kingdom – He makes us heirs to His bounteous wealth. He gives us a free lunch, and it is the most incredible banquet we will ever know. Yet, we have such a hard time believing that it is free. The rest of the world tells us that we need to earn our eternal inheritance. Yet, Jesus says, “Come to me, there is no cost or hidden fees.” Even the faith to believe in Him is a free gift, as the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and our lives to give us all we need to live in Christ. Jesus did it all, the story is complete. He is the beginning and the end and through His death and resurrection He has made everything new. Thanks be to God.
College As I think back to my college years, I remember wondering who would ever go to college for the fun of it. It certainly was not fun for me – too many classes, too much homework, and too many challenges made it difficult and anything but fun. There were people who audited some of my classes. When someone audits a course, they join in to listen to all the instruction but they get no credit for the course. Sometimes they have to pay full price for the course, so it seems strange that they would choose to audit rather than take it as an official class. Though the motives might be varied, for some it is the best way to check out a new subject matter without the additional burden of studying on their schedule. The auditing students are not required to take the tests or accomplish the other assignments, so they benefit from the classroom teaching without having to put any time into studying or writing. They are, in a sense, an outsider because there is a different expectation for them.
God chose a special group of people to be His. Throughout the scriptures we read the story of God’s relationship with Israel. God is always faithful to His promises, though Israel was not always faithful to God. As God blessed them with success in this world, they became indifferent to the troubles of those less successful. The whole world was unjust and wicked and God sent the prophets to tell them so.
Amos was one of those prophets, sent to point out the sins of the nations. As we read through the first few chapters of Amos, we can almost hear Israel cheering because their enemies were about to face the wrath of God. Yet, when we get to Judah and Israel, the message was no easier.
“Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Judah, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have rejected the law of Jehovah, and have not kept his statutes, and their lies have caused them to err, after which their fathers did walk: but I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem. Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes – they that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father go unto the same maiden, to profane my holy name: and they lay themselves down beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink the wine of such as have been fined.” Amos 2:4-8 (ASV)
The advantage to auditing a course is the lack of responsibility for the course requirements. You do not have to take the tests or do the work. You are there, benefiting from the knowledge, but you are not held up to the same standards as the rest of the students. However, you also don’t reap the reward of a grade or credit for your time.
The world in the days of Amos was indeed corrupt and unjust. They were brutal, dishonest, violent and greedy. They sold people into slavery and destroyed everything in their path. Yet, as we read then the woes against Judah and Israel, we find their sin is even greater than this horrific wickedness. They rejected the word of God, no longer living according to His Law. They too were unjust, but their lack of justice was worse than that of the other nations – because they knew better. They were chosen for a purpose, to live according to God’s Word so that the world might see Him through their life. When they rejected God, they suffered an even greater wrath.
While the people did suffer the consequences of their unrighteousness, the wrath of God fell upon another – one who did not deserve to die. Jesus Christ took the wrath of God on the cross so that we will not face the terrifying punishments we all deserve. Our sins might not seem so bad compared to that of the nations – the wickedness against Israel. However, we have ignored God and His law; we have rejected His word by our actions and lack of action. Thanks to Jesus, however, we no longer have to face God’s wrath but we live in His grace. Thanks be to God.
Chickenpox One of our students was out of school today because he came down with the chicken pocks. His mother was very surprised that it would happen – he’d been vaccinated for the disease and he showed no signs of the sickness. She noticed the blotchy rash and took him to the doctor who gave her the news. He will stay home for a few days and will be fine.
The problem with chickenpox is the fact that there is not warning – the child is contagious long before there are signs. He was in school on Tuesday, undoubtedly sharing his disease with all the other children. It will incubate in their bodies for a couple of weeks and eventually break out until a majority of our children will end up home for their week of recuperation. There is no way to know – those children who have been vaccinated might never see the sickness in their own bodies. Many of our children are only in contact for brief periods of time; some may not have even gotten close enough to the child to catch the disease. With each individual child we will not know if they will have the chickenpox until they break out in the spots.
Once the chickenpox break out it is obvious the child is sick, but many of the diseases that wrack our bodies are not so evident. People who suffer from cancer and heart disease can often hide their illness from others. It takes a caring heart and keen observation to notice. Mental illness is even harder to detect. Yet, the hardest thing to see is the dis-ease in a person’s spirit. We can’t judge the state of a person’s heart. Like some diseases, there are some symptoms that show, but ultimately faith is between God and the individual.
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31 (ASV)
In this story it is obvious that Lazarus is the sick man, the one who needs the help. The rich man ignored his needs and enjoyed his wealth without care or concern for those who were sick and hungry in the world in which he lived. Since Lazarus was lying at his gate, the rich man most certainly knew he was there – he probably even tripped over him entering or leaving his abode. Whatever his reasons, the rich man did not see the pain that Lazarus was suffering. This is a message we all need to hear – so that we will make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering.
However, not all disease is so visible. I wonder how many people we trip over every day who need healing and peace. Their dis-ease might be in body, hidden where we can’t see without the benefit of medical equipment. They might be hiding their sickness or poverty because they do not want to suffer the humiliation of charity. They might not even know they are sick. The rich man was sicker than Lazarus, though his body did not appear so. He was sick in spirit, separated from God by his apathy and blindness. While Lazarus will live for eternity in the bosom of God, the rich man will suffer without the love and mercy of Christ Jesus.
Who do you know who appears to be rich and healthy, but who really need to hear the message of the Gospel so that they might have true life in Christ. Are you tripping over those dying in sin because you are ignoring their needs like the rich man did to Lazarus? There are too many who are going to suffer the torment of eternal life away from God because we have not been willing to share the bread of life with them. Jesus bridged the gulf between heaven and hell so that we might be welcomed into the bosom of our Father. He has called us to share that good news with the world so that those who are suffering in spirit and flesh will have hope for the future. Thanks be to God.
Waiting We have all had the experience of waiting for a service technician to come to our houses. When you make an appointment for the phone or cable guy, they can’t pinpoint a time when they will arrive. I suppose they are getting better – they now schedule arrival for morning or afternoon. It used to be they would say, “The technician will be there sometime between 8:00 and 4:00. This is not so much of a problem for those who can take the time to wait, but most people can’t take that kind of time off of work. Even for the stay-at-home moms, such a big discrepancy of time can be a problem. When should I take a shower? Can I go to the grocery store? Should I let my child nap now if they might be awakened by the work noise?
I usually got up early so that I would make sure I was showered and dressed before the first hour of the wait, but the technician is never there that early. Usually they arrive at the very last moment. However, the one time when I was not here, waiting at the door was the very time the technician arrived. We had an appointment for afternoon, starting at 1:00 p.m. I got caught in traffic which made me no more than five minutes late. I found the note on the door with a phone number to call. Luckily, the crew had only gotten a few miles from the house and they were willing to come back. Otherwise I would have had to start the process over again.
I understand why the timing is uncertain. They make several appointments for the technicians in a certain time period. Anything might happen that would make them late. They could get stuck in traffic or find the previous job will take longer than expected. I’ve had technicians complain about customers that expect the impossible. The freezer delivery man told me of a woman who wanted her freezer in a closet that was barely large enough and it took him a lot of extra time to make the delivery.
You would think that the things that are expected to happen in the spiritual realm might be more trustworthy. God certainly knows the plans He has for each of us, and He knows the timing of all that is to come. And yet, that timing is not revealed to any of us.
“But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Mark 13:32-37 (ASV)
It is easy to say, “I am going away and I will be back at this certain hour.” And yet, we all know the difficulties that might occur that would delay our arrival. We could get stuck in traffic or run into car troubles. On the other hand, we may arrive earlier than expected. Whenever we drove from Little Rock to Texas, we always ran into trouble of some sort, our trips were always twelve or more hours long. The last time we drove it, however, there were no problems – the trip took less than eleven hours. We had made arrangements at the kennel for a much later time and no one was ready to receive us.
The passage tells us that only the Father knows the time when everything will come into fulfillment but He knows that it is useless information for us as we live in this world. We do not have faith in the things we can see because they are a certainty and then we become lazy or distracted by the things of this world because we know we need not be ready until later. Faith thrives in the uncertain because we have to live obedient to that which we can trust – God – rather than our own knowledge. We don’t know when grace might delay or hurry the plans of God for mercy’s sake. For this we can be thankful because we might just be the one for whom God is showing mercy. Thanks be to God.
Football We went to the High School football game last night. I was on the band front when I was in school, so Friday night football was a regular part of my weekend in the fall. Growing up in Pennsylvania meant that the weather was crisp and cool, typical football weather. Some evenings were downright cold – requiring layers of clothing and extra blankets. To me, that was all part of the football experience. I also enjoyed being with the band, right in the middle of the off-field action – screaming for my team until I was hoarse.
I have shared these experiences with the kids, especially as we were discussing Vicki’s plans for her high school career. I told her how much fun it was to be part of the band and go to the football games, but I don’t think she was convinced. She has other activities which interest her and there is only so much a student can do and still do well academically. However, despite the fact that she really does not like football, she agreed that we should go to a game. We decided to go last night because it was homecoming. Vicki had a great time and agreed that she should go to more games.
To me, however, the experience was strange. It was quite warm when we left for the game. We all wore shorts and did not even think about taking a coat along. All the while I was mumbling about how it is just wrong to have a football game on such a warm day – football season is supposed to be crisp and cool. There were some things that were shockingly different. Clothing styles have changed, as have language and attitudes. The girls ran around with three inch spiked heals and cell phones to their ears. The boys stripped to have their chests and backs painted with offensive markings. Yet, things were also much the same. We were excited for our team, which won the game. We wore our colors with pride. We yelled with the cheerleaders, jumped up with every touchdown and sang the school song and the Star Spangled Banner, loudly and out of key.
The more things change, the more some things stay the same. The students are as loyal to their school today as we were decades ago. Though the temperatures were too warm for football, the atmosphere was the same. We were all there to enjoy the game. If things can change so much in just twenty or so years, imagine how different it must be for us than it was for the patriarchs, the kings, the prophets, the disciples and the early church fathers. Yet, even in the midst of great change, there is something that stays the same.
“I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations. Of old didst thou lay the foundation of the earth; And the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; As a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, And thy years shall have no end. The children of thy servants shall continue, And their seed shall be established before thee.” Psalm 102:24-28 (ASV)
I joke about the difference in temperature, but I realize there is nothing I can do to change it. It is warm here in Texas and even if we waited until December to start playing we might have days that are much too warm to be considered football weather. There is not much I can do about the other changes. The world around us changes and I can only embrace that which I know is good and share the Gospel with those who need to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that they might be transformed into children of God. In the midst of all these differences we can rest assured that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Though we, and everything we know, will perish, He has promised to gather the faithful unto Himself for eternity. Resting in this promise we can walk through an unpredictable world in peace. Thanks be to God.
Books My favorite childhood book is called “The Hungry Thing.”* It isn’t my favorite because it necessarily has a nice story or lovely pictures. It is a story about a monster that comes into a town hungry for something to eat. He is wearing a large sign that says “FEED ME.” The monster has a strange way of speaking, so when he asks for his food it actually rhymes with what he would actually like to eat. He tells the towns people he wants shmancakes, tickles, feetloaf and gollipops. The adults in town make up ridiculous dishes to fit the words, but a little boy knows what the monster really wants. “Hookies sound like lookies sound like…” And everyone realizes the monster wants cookies.
I think what makes this my favorite story is that the children get into playing along with the stories. As I read it to groups of children, they sit on the edge of their seats waiting for the chance to yell out the next food. To do this, the children must be listening carefully so that they know what is coming next. They need to be audibly observant so that they can figure out they rhyme.
We look at children’s books and think they are nothing more than a silly story with pretty pictures. Yet, picture books have so much more depth. They teach lessons, they help children learn to look at the world more closely. One book we have is called “Animals should definitely not wear clothing.”* The cover of this book shows a porcupine wearing a dress, with its quills poking through the fabric. The hen’s pants make it hard for her to lay an egg. The moose’s suspenders get caught in his antlers. The authors of such books must be very observant, to notice these things and put them together into stories that will teach and entertain children.
The book of proverbs is a collection of sayings that speak truths about the world in which we live. King Solomon was the author of most, if not all, of the proverbs found in the Bible. The sayings touch on every aspect of life, and though spoken originally for the people who lived in ancient Israel, they still speak to us today. Laziness, greed, foolishness and wickedness are still bad. Righteousness, kindness, truth and honesty are still good. The proverbs don’t only speak of these things in human terms, but sometimes compares the rest of the created world to the truths. Through the examples of the animals we learn about how to live in this world. In Proverbs 6, Solomon tells us of the ant. “Which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” It takes an observant, wise man, to notice the workings of the smallest creature known to man at the time.
“And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all the nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.” 1 Kings 4:29-34 (ASV)
To me, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) might have been one of the wisest men who every lived because he was able to show us the world and make us think about it in new ways. Perhaps his stories seem like nothing but nonsense to adults, but the wisdom in those stories will stay with the children for the rest of their lives. Solomon’s wisdom was a miraculous gift from God, but it was also practical. God gave Solomon the ability to see the world through His eyes, noticing the details and applying them to the life of man. What king has time to consider the life of an ant when there are much greater things for him to do? What mother can worry about the life of the lion and bear as she is trying to make ends meet in her own home? Yet, the wise person sees God’s hand in every aspect of God’s creation and applies what they see to our life in this world. Thanks be to God.
* “The Hungry Thing” written by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, pictures by Richard E. Martin. “Animals should definitely not wear clothing” written by Judi Barrett and drawn by Ron Barrett.
Volcano Scientists are learning something new every day. They discover new creatures, new ways of doing things, new perspectives about old information. They learn by observing the world, testing theories and experiencing creation through natural and manipulated situations. Sometimes the knowledge comes relatively easy, almost as if they trip over it. Other knowledge is more difficult, with years of study, trial and error. We have seen the imperfection of science this year with the weather forecasts. Who would have thought Jeanne would ever touch land after dancing around in the Atlantic so long? And Charles changed path at the last minute giving no warning. All too many people evacuated right into the heart of the storm because the predictions were wrong.
They are not any better at predicting tornadoes or earthquakes. There are scientists who chase after ever storm, taking readings and hoping that they will find the key to understanding these unpredictable aspects of nature. Earthquakes are even more difficult because they happen underground. We have to get most of our information from the surface of the earth – not nearly as accurate as it would be if we could study the actual site of the quake. There are those who are testing other theories such as the actions of the animals before an earthquake hits. This is difficult because they can’t know when it is going to happen until it really does happen, and then it is too late to take accurate readings of the earth and creatures.
Mount St. Helen’s is a volcano in Washington that erupted on May 18, 1980. It was once a looming mountain, but on that day it was blown apart and scattered far away. Some people who lived and recreated under the shadow of that mountain died that day because there was no warning. Though there were some warning signs, there was no way for anyone to think that it would cause so much damage. The hills that face the north side of the mountain are still barren because the force of the volcano caused massive destruction.
Now we are hearing that the volcano is rumbling again. A series of small earthquakes are making the people in the area nervous. Yet, this has happened in the past, with quakes as recent as 2001 that did not cause a new eruption. The best they can say is that there is “an increased probability of explosions from the lava dome if the level of current unrest continues or escalates.” If we can’t figure out what is going on with the world in which we live, how can we possibly think we know what goes on in the heart of man? Even more so, how can we expect to know all there is to know about God no matter how much we study and pray?
“We speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought: but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ASV)
Each day the scientists learn more about the earth, and perhaps this volcano or the next hurricane will be the one in which they will find the key to understanding so that they can rightly predict what is going to happen. It may take more time, more experimentation and more unpleasant experiences before they truly know how to read the signs.
Isn’t it funny how the Church has lived through two thousand years of discussing the nature of God and His will for this world, and yet today we are no closer to understanding Him than the disciples were when they lived with Jesus? We are constantly learning new things about God and His world. There are things about God, however, that we will never fully know in this flesh. We can talk about the things we know, the things we believe, the things we see and understand. Yet, we can never claim that we know it all and anyone who does is deceived. We have to live in this world aware of the possibility that we might just be wrong. We can only truly trust that God’s promises are true and live in the hope of those promised fulfilled in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Diamonds We have a few antiques in our house – pieces we were able to purchase while we lived in England. We were never able to afford the pieces I would have liked to have – Victorian or earlier – but we did find some from the 1920’s that were in our price range. We enjoyed visiting the antique shows and the shops that lined the main street of every town. The better deals were usually found at the shows because the people did not want to carry the furniture back home. Also, the pieces tended to get a little nicked and scratched in the travel. The things we bought were never perfect, but they have served us well.
After awhile we realized we could only buy so much, our house in England was wall to wall furniture. We loved to attend the sales and so found something much smaller to collect – coins. It never ceased to amaze me how much some of the dealers trusted the customers at the sale. Only the most expensive coins were ever locked in cabinets, most of them were just lying on the tables. It would have been very easy to slip coins into a purse or a pocket without anyone noticing. Most of the dealers were unconcerned and rarely kept a close watch of their merchandise.
I suppose those of us who live in America find this difficult to understand because we live in a society where we lock every door and take so many security precautions. This is why it is shocking to us when we hear about an art theft or other criminal activity that should have easily been halted. When there is something of value, we expect that it will be well guarded. We enjoy watching crime dramas, but we do not believe that those situations could ever happen in the real world. Who would ever believe that a million dollar diamond could get stolen in broad daylight?
Well, it happened just recently at an antique dealer’s show near the Louvre in Paris. A jeweler had several expensive diamonds on display – a white diamond of 47 carats estimated at 6 million euros and the other a blue diamond of 15.74 carats worth 5.5 million ($13 million dollars for both stones.) The police reported that the case was forced open and the diamonds were taken in just seconds. Apparently no one was watching the merchandise and there were no security systems in place. I can’t find any more information about this incident, so I do not know if the police have any suspects. I can’t imagine having to guard such a valuable item with no more help than a lock on a glass case.
It seems ridiculous that it could be this easy to steal two $7 million diamonds, yet we often trust our most precious things to even less. We trust our good works to take care of our spiritual welfare. We think we can take a hold of our own salvation by our own strength and protect it with our own power. We hold on to our faith as if it is our Savior, putting our trust in our weak faith rather than in the One whom is our true refuge.
“I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and exult in thee; I will sing praise to thy name, O thou Most High. When mine enemies turn back, They stumble and perish at thy presence. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; Thou sittest in the throne judging righteously. Thou hast rebuked the nations, thou hast destroyed the wicked; Thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever. The enemy are come to an end, they are desolate for ever; And the cities which thou hast overthrown, The very remembrance of them is perished. But Jehovah sitteth as king for ever: He hath prepared his throne for judgment; And he will judge the world in righteousness, He will minister judgment to the peoples in uprightness. Jehovah also will be a high tower for the oppressed, A high tower in times of trouble; And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee; For thou, Jehovah, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” Psalm 9:1-10 (ASV)
The stories of those missing diamonds or priceless masterpieces make us wonder what stupid people were put in charge of security. Yet, is there anything in this world that is truly reliable in every situation? I imagine that even if they jeweler had spent a fortune on guards and electronic surveillance, someone could think of a way to beat the system. We can’t live in this world paranoid, but we would do well to remember that nothing of this world is completely trustworthy. We will be sorely disappointed if we think we can control this world and the next.
Our faith is a most precious gift. It is given by God our Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. We can not by our own power or strength believe in all that God has done for us without that faith which He gives. Yet, we tend to take that faith and make it the foundation of our life. We rest in our own faith, turning our hearts and minds away from the one in whom we are called to have faith. Faith is trust in God, but all too often we trust our faith without really trusting in God as our refuge. Our salvation rests solely on the shoulders of the one in whom we are to put our entire faith and trust – Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God.
Angels One of the most favorite trips in England was when we visited the region of Cornwall. There is something special about this place, a feeling of antiquity with many ancient sites that speak of the people who have lived there since the beginning of time. Since Cornwall sits at the farthest corner of the island, there is a sense that you have reached the end of the world. There is a village on the coast called Land’s End, and as you stand on the cliffs looking over the ocean, you can understand why the people of that place might have felt a particular bond to the spiritual realm.
Cornwall is a relatively small place, with tiny one track roads and hidden rock formations. We spent the day driving around, chasing after the more popular tourist sights, including a 1700 year old Celtic Christian chapel, an even older druidic fertility stone structure and the remains of a very old burial site. We saw other five thousand year old monoliths and quoits that hold a sense of mystery because we just do not fully understand the reasons these sites were created. I was disappointed because we did not find any Celtic crosses during that trip, but you really have to hike the hills of Cornwall to see those sites, they are often found in the gardens or hedgerows of the local residents rather than in a place that is easily accessible to tourists.
What was most amazing about that day, besides the antiquity of all that we saw, is that no matter where we were on the peninsula we could see on particular place. It is called St. Michael’s Mount and is an island off the coast of Cornwall. There is a causeway that becomes visible during low tide, making the mount accessible by foot, but at other times it is necessary to take a boat. Over the years the mount has been used as a port for tin trade, a monastery, a military outpost and a private home. It is a strategic and important property over which many have fought.
As with everything in England, the written history comes with a sense of mystery and myth. There are several ancient legends connected with this special place. It is said that the story of Jack and the Beanstalk have its origins in a story that comes from St. Michael’s Mount. A giant was known to live there, easily walking to the mainland to steal sheep for his lunch. A boy is said to have gone to the mount to fight the giant and tricked him into falling into a hole. There are legends about King Arthur that are placed at the mount as well as stories about the Celtic saints.
The name of the mount comes from a legend involving the Archangel known as Michael. It is said that some fishermen saw him standing high above the sea on a rocky ledge as if he were guarding it. The biblical stories involving Michael the Archangel show a mighty warrior angel fighting the devil. Many churches and religious institutions that were located on the top of a hill or mountain took the name St. Michael in honor of his feats in the heavenly realm.
“And, behold, a hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, thou man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright; for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel; for from the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, and to humble thyself before thy God, thy words were heard: and I am come for thy words' sake. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days; but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days; for the vision is yet for many days: and when he had spoken unto me according to these words, I set my face toward the ground, and was dumb.” Daniel 10:10-15 (ASV)
The modern understanding of angels is far different from what it was in the times of the biblical writers and even in the days of those who were living in England at the end of the earth. Angels today are pretty little things with fluffy wings and pure white garments. We rarely think of the angels in terms other than our helpers, beings that will take care of us. There are also many who think of the angels as people who have died and been transformed by God into guardian angels. We use this language to help people through their grief, to give them hope that their loved one is still with them in some way.
Angels are unique beings created by God for a specific purpose – to serve God as His messengers to the crown of His creation – you and I. Though in this life we are a little lower than the angels, for we do not have access to the throne of Glory as they, we will be the ones who dine at the table to grace at the great heavenly banquet that awaits us. For now, the angels move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world only in obedience to God’s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do.
On this day we recall and celebrate the angels, including St. Michael the Archangel, and we thank God for their presence in our world and in heaven. All too often we have forgotten that there is a great deal about God’s creation that we do not experience or understand in our flesh. We are not aware of the spiritual world that exists beyond our conscious reality and we even reject that it is real. As we learn more about all of God’s creation, we realize that we are just a small part of everything He has done. As we read scriptures like that in Daniel, we wonder about God’s love and care for us as individuals. How is it that with creatures like St. Michael and the angels, that God has any concern for imperfect man and all our troubles? Yet, through Jesus Christ we are made sons and daughters of God and the day will come when we will stand in the glory of God and join the angels in their constant and joyous praise. Thanks be to God.
Debate Tonight is the first of the three planned political debates scheduled before the United States election for President that will take place in November. This is an important decision that Americans need to make, so it is good for us to have every opportunity possible to get to know the candidates and understand their perspectives. However, the political process has already been going on for a long time – years it seems. As a matter of fact, in the conversations about this election, some people are already setting up possibilities for the next election in four years.
I am interested in the election but I have to admit that it gets to be too much sometimes. Every news program has political experts discussing every speech right down to the last comma and question mark. They analyze the candidate’s words, actions and clothing. They talk about the reasons for every decision – why they went to one city rather than another and what they should have done. The experts, reporters and hosts argue about every detail until it is more than we can bear. Sometimes I think they speak just because they want to hear their own voice. I often wonder if they think about anything besides the election.
Politics is not the only subject about which some people obsess. Discussions about religion and faith can bring on as much divisiveness as politics. There seem to be some people whose only interest is in arguing about the details of religion. They analyze every word in the scriptures and will spend hours in theological debate about the issues that face our world today. Of course, those issues can be as difficult as the issues in the political arena – oftentimes they are the same. We live out our faith in this world and we face the same trials, temptations and opportunities as those who are not believers.
However, as Christians we approach the issues from a different perspective – that of faith. Our understanding of that faith is not the same as our neighbors which is why there is such a separation between ideologies. It is strange for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to hear about the questions of our world discussed in Christian language. They wonder what faith has to do with the economy, civil law, taxes or war. Christians wonder how the world can deal with those very things without the guidance of God and His Word.
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he beheld the city full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with them that met him. And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, What would this babbler say? others, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him, and brought him unto the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by thee? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.)” Acts 17:16-21 (ASV)
Most of us have much more to deal with in this world to be so concerned about politics or religion twenty-four hours a day. As we look at the television or listen to the radio, it seems that there are some people whose whole live revolves around discussing the politics of the day. The same is true of religion, though this is less noticeable to those who do not run in those circles. Certain issues are discussed with more passion and frequency than others. As in the days of Paul, it seems like some people like to talk just to hear their own voice. This is not always a bad thing, because we learn from one another as we converse about the issues that affect our lives. If we were unwilling to discuss our perspective with others they would never know there is a difference and neither would we. However, we have to be willing to both speak and to listen.
The men in Athens thought Paul was teaching about some strange new God. They took him to the place where they spent all their time debating and asked him to explain. He shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them, showing them the true identity of the “unknown god” they had in their temples. Some may have listened and been changed by faith in Jesus Christ. Others may have simply heard it as another new thing to ponder, never coming to faith.
As for the political discussions – some people will hear and be changed. Others will never understand the other perspective. However, we continue to talk and listen to one another in the hopes that we can find some common ground and work together for the sake of everyone. In religion the same is true, but for Christians the common ground is much narrower and broader at the same time. Our common ground is Jesus Christ, the foundation of all things related to our faith. Thanks be to God.