Welcome to the April 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2003
April 1, 2003
Calendar On the first day of every month, our local newspaper gives a calendar of upcoming events. This is a humorous column, providing some valuable information about cultural events like art shows or concerts, but it also touches on the ridiculous. For example, did you know that April is National Cheese Sandwich Month and National Straw Hat Month? We can’t forget that beginning on April 21 (the day after Easter) we will celebrate National Egg Salad Week. I suppose it helps someone to know that Hugh Hefner’s 77th birthday is April 9th, Haley Mills’ 57th birthday is April 18 and Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday is April 30th.
At the end of the article is a contact for sending information to be included on the calendar for the month of May. For those organizations that are planning charity events or communities that are having special functions, this is a great way to get free advertising. There are some unusual listings, such as the Ozark UFO Conference and Hampton’s Hogskin Holidays. There is even an Arkansas Scottish Festival! And the produce festivals are starting this month with the Alma Spinach Festival on the schedule. Those who hold these events want as many people to visit as possible; they want to be remembered.
We all want to be remembered, to have an impact on the lives of others and to be appreciated for our contribution. We often hear historicists talk about how a president wants to leave a legacy. Those who sell cheese want everyone to love cheese sandwiches. The spinach growers would love it if the entire nation would eat more spinach. Parents hope their children will remember the things they were taught about life over the years. Charities want to sell out their events so that they might best help those for whom the charity is soliciting money. We want to celebrate the traditions of our forefathers so that we will never forget from whence we came.
Even God wants to be remembered, in our hearts and in our daily lives. He does not require a special day or an article in the paper, but He desires that we think about Him regularly. He wants the world to know about His love and mercy, to hear the Good News that is Christ Jesus. They will not hear if we do not remember Him daily, sing His praises and share the Gospel.
“O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known his doings among the peoples. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvellous works. Glory ye in his holy name; Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah. Seek ye Jehovah and his strength; Seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, O ye seed of Israel his servant, Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” 1 Chronicles 16:8-13 (ASV)
It is fun to visit these special events and to even ‘celebrate’ those days set aside for the normal things of this world. But in the end, there is only One who deserves our praise and songs of joy – the Lord God Almighty. The magnificent thing He has done is to promise that each of us in Christ will be remembered – not for our accomplishments or contributions to this world, but our faith in Jesus. He has saved us from ourselves, from our selfish wants and desires and given us the grace and love to live in faith. Cheese sandwiches and egg salad will never make our life better, they might deliciously fill our bellies but we will hunger again very soon. Let us always remember all the Lord has done and tell the world. For He has raised our Lord Jesus from death into life so that we too might live in His presence forever. Thanks be to God!
Information On one of the news programs the other day, I heard a report ask, “Without getting too detailed, can you tell me exactly…” and she went on to ask about a very specific incident that happened in the war. The reporters know there is a need for some information to be kept secret at least for the moment – information that could risk the lives of the soldiers or even the Iraqi citizens, yet they have this desire to know everything. It is almost comical to watch the press conferences as three or four reporters ask exactly the same thing over and over again, hoping that they might be the one to whom the answer is given.
I know how important it is for us to have as much information as possible, yet some things should be hidden for the sake of the mission. Take for instance the rescue of Jessica Lynch. The forces that found her not only knew which building in which she was being held, they also knew the exact room where she could be found. If someone responding to a question about prisoners had given specific information about the places they were looking, that young lady would have likely been moved or killed. Instead, she is now safe and receiving the care she needs. Now that Jessica has been rescued, we can have know more than we did before, and yet there may still be information that should be withheld, for the sake of those still in Iraq.
“And he strictly charged him, and straightway sent him out, and saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” Mark 1:43-45 (ASV)
What do we make of a story like this in our day of instant information and the right to know? This man who was sick was healed, how could He remain silent?
Jesus did many miraculous things during His ministry, but He often asked the recipients to keep silent. He was rather careful with the words He spoke to the people. He was not looking for notoriety or popularity; He was doing God’s work. They were unable to grasp the concept of what Jesus was doing without hearing the words God was telling them – about His character and plan. He did not tell them right away that He would die on the cross. It would have been too shocking, too difficult for them to understand in a new relationship. They most likely would have abandoned Him right away if they thought their work would lead nowhere except a cross. The more they learned, the more they could know. Too much information might have destroyed the relationships Jesus was building with the people – either as they expected the wrong things from Him or rejected Him altogether.
Jesus was in control. He did not allow anyone to guide His footsteps except for His Father. Unfortunately, the publicity of all He was doing made many think of Jesus in all the wrong ways. They wanted to make Him king. They expected that He would deliver them from the Romans. They weren’t ready for the truth, for early in the relationship the truth would not have set them free. Jesus knew that they had to know Him, not just hear about the things He was doing. The people needed a relationship with the One who would save them – God.
The man in our story today had been healed. Those of us who have had a personal, healing touch from our Savior understand the need that man had to share the Good News. We want to shout for joy and tell everyone what He has done. This command from Jesus is not that we should remain silent, but that we should ensure that we are giving the right information. That man did not understand that plan of God. He only knew that he was well. His report about the healing made many look to Jesus for solutions to their flesh and blood problems. Jesus was here to do more than fill our bellies and heal our disease. He was here to save us from sin and death.
We can’t know every move the military is making today, because our knowledge could mean disaster for those inside. The same can be said about the way we preach the gospel to the world. The scriptures are filled with many deep and wonderful truths about God, about His love and mercy in this world. However, too much too soon might destroy the budding relationship of someone who has just heard the Gospel for the first time. It isn’t a matter of keeping things a secret, but rather waiting until the right time to reveal the things we know. Let God guide your words today as you walk in faith, for He knows how much to say to those who are still in darkness and need His love. Thanks be to God.
Quarrel Vicki and I got into a bit of a quarrel the other day. She was very disappointed about something that did not work out in our schedule and she took it out on me. I didn’t help the matter very much. Everything I tried to do to help her get over the situation only made her more upset. My frustration led to anger. In the end we weren’t talking to one another and both near tears. It didn’t take very long before we were asking forgiveness and making up. The next morning everything was as if we never had the fight. That’s the way it is between people who love each other. Sometimes we quarrel, but our love is greater than our hurt, our relationship more important than the things that could divide it. We’ve had fights like this before, and somehow we always come out of it stronger, smarter and closer than we were before we began.
Unfortunately, not every relationship is built on such a foundation. Too often a quarrel between parent and child leads to much more harmful exchanges. In some cases, the child finds it impossible to live in the relationship and leaves. In other cases the parents just cannot find any way to bring the situation under control. At times a quarrel ends up violently. In cases like that, there is little hope for reconciliation, especially when physical, emotional and spiritual harm is done to either party. Families are destroyed when it is not built on love. This is why God found it important to establish some rules pertaining to the family relationships. The scriptures are filled with statements about how wives and husbands should treat each other and how children should act.
There are times we consider these rules and think them to be outdated and even harmful. They are, only when we do not take God at His word and add our own understanding of the rules. In Deuteronomy 5, God lists the Ten Commandments, which cover our relationship with Him and each other. Unfortunately, throughout the history of God’s people those rules have been used and abused by many. “Honor your father and your mother” has long been pulled out of the hat whenever a parent and child have quarreled. It has been used as an excuse for parents to have unreasonable expectations from children. “The Bible says so” is the reason they give when demanding certain obedience. Yet, they forget that as parents they have responsibilities to bring up the children rightly, in love and respect.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4 (ASV)
We have certainly noticed signs of Vicki’s growth and desire for independence since she became a teenager, and I foresee more quarrels in the months and years to come. It is my hope that our relationship until now has been built on a foundation of love and mutual respect – one in which she is obedient because we are her parents, but also that we do not exasperate her. I pray that we have trained her in the Lord that she will joyfully obey that which we ask and receive the benefits of this promise from God. For when He made the commandment to honor our parents, He knew the importance the family relationships would hold for us. We often find that when disaster strikes, there are few friends who are there to help – it is our family that stands by us through the worst. But when those relationships are broken and irreconcilable, who is left? Every relationship we have is a two-way street, even parent child. So, let us remember God’s word to honor our mothers and fathers. But as parents let us also remember our responsibility to bring up our children in the love of Christ, not oppressed by the Law, but instructed in His Word. In that way they will live in obedience to God and all authority in joy and peace, receiving the promise that comes with it – enjoyment in this life on the earth. Thanks be to God.
Bunnies Easter Sunday is right around the corner and many people are thinking about gifts to give loved ones on that special day. There will be baskets full of candy, stuffed animals and springtime toys. There may be special dresses and new shoes. Mothers will receive bouquets of flowers or pots of lilies and everything will be covered with eggs, flowers, chicks or bunnies. My favorite Easter treat is white chocolate bunnies.
Many parents are considering a very special surprise for their children – live rabbits. Unfortunately, no pet should ever be purchased on a whim. They all take a lot of work to meet their needs. Parents think it would be great for the kids – a cute animal and a chance to learn responsibility. Yet, the rabbit grows until it is no longer a cute little fluff ball and children quickly get bored of the work involved. Rabbits are timid creatures that need to be handled very carefully or they bite and scratch. They need constant supervision or they will chew through everything they can get their teeth into. After just a few months many of these rabbits are neglected or abandoned.
At this time of year, animal shelters and rabbit rescues produce reports about this problem. Each year they have to deal with the animals that are rejected and they want to warn parents that a bunny is not the best Easter gift to purchase for their children. They want parents to know the responsibilities that come with a pet and avoid the hardship that comes when they have to break their promise to care for the animal. Jesus made a similar warning to His people. How often do we swear oaths and then break them? When we make an oath to God but do not keep it, we bring harm for those to whom we made the promise and we mock the name of God.
“Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37 (ASV)
The rabbit rescuers warn parents not to jump into buying a live animal for their children this Easter because it is a responsibility that is difficult for most of us to keep. No matter how wonderful the experience might be for the child and family for a short period of time, it is not worth the danger to the bunny and all those involved when things get difficult after a few weeks or month. This is why the rabbit rescuers want to educate parents about the truth of rabbit care, so that they will be prepared and make the right choice.
Jesus wanted the same for His followers. We tend to make a big deal about things, swearing that we will make happen whatever it is we are swearing. Yet, we do not have that kind of control over things in this world. Something is always waiting to make things go astray. It is better to just say yes or no when asked to do something rather than swear an oath in God’s name. We should heed our Lord Jesus’ warning and beware of making oaths about thing over which we have no control. For we are not trustworthy and circumstances in this life make keeping an oath very difficult. Jesus gave us this warning so that we could avoid the pain and suffering that comes from our inability to keep our promises. By His grace we can keep our relationships strong and take care of the things He has called us to do. Thanks be to God.
Videophone One of the most unusual aspects of this war is that there are imbedded reporters following the American troops wherever they go. Unfortunately, this has put some of them in danger but there have been some wonderful advantages. In the earliest days I was heartened to see and hear stories of how the soldiers were caring for the people along the way – both dead and alive. There was no looting of the enemy bodies that were dead on the ground, but rather their personal effects were collected to give to the families. This caring attitude has cost some lives. In one incident, a screaming pregnant woman got out of a car and a few men approached to help. The driver set off a bomb killing all within range. With these imbedded reporters we are seeing integrity, mercy, patience and self-control.
Things have not been perfect. There have been mistakes that have led to the deaths of innocents. War is never good and death is always a sad event, but in many of the stories coming from the battlefield we are seeing men and women of character doing the best they can do. Martin Savage from CNN has reported such a story from the 1st Marine Battalion. He was in a foxhole with four marines and told them that he has gotten permission for them to use his videophone to call home and talk to their loved ones. The first man asked Martin if he could give his chance to his sergeant who had not talked to his pregnant wife in three months. Martin was touched and agreed. While that young man went to get the sergeant, the other three asked if they could call the parents of a fallen comrade. They wanted to see how they were doing. Martin was deeply moved and speechless after this incident asking simply, “Where do they get young men like this?”
We certainly have no idea the spiritual welfare of these young man and we cannot assume they are Christian, but I would like to believe that they are. This type of response to their circumstances is the way we are called to live – our faith seen in our actions and the fruit of the Spirit flowing freely in our lives. Do the people we meet along our journey of life see the love of Christ?
“But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them. And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36 (ASV)
War is never a good thing, but I pray we will continue to hear stories of these men and women of character who are acting with mercy and grace in the midst of such difficult circumstances. They are fighting an enemy who will do anything no matter the consequences, even commit suicide and risk the lives of children and pregnant women.
Finding goodness in the midst of war is a paradox we may never understand, but it is something we deal with daily as Christians. After all, we are fighting a war that cannot be seen, a war of Spirit against spirit. We fight this war with weapons that most of the world does not recognize – the Word of God and prayer. We are fighting against an adversary willing to do anything to win a war that he lost two thousand years ago. Satan doesn’t care but Christ has called us to love. The world will know who we are by the way we respond to our circumstances. Just as those reporters are seeing that these young Americans are men of character, is the world seeing the same in your own Christian witness? By the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord God Almighty has shown us the greatest mercy. May that love of Christ always flow our of our lives and may He continue to give us the grace to do good to all we meet along the way so that we will truly be witnesses of His love. Thanks be to God.
Mums We have a small flowerbed in our yard and an area where the grass does not grow very well due to minor flooding when it rains. I filled the flowerbed with hostas but put two very large pots, which I fill with flowers. There are three more large flowerpots in the other area. I surround those large pots with smaller ones and a few flowers planted directly in the ground. It is a rather pretty informal garden in the little space we have. The plants died when the weather turned cold last fall, so we pulled them out and threw them away. The other day as I was waiting with Zack for his bus I began planning my garden work for the year. I noticed that this mum was no longer dead, but had grown into a new plant. I easily pulled out the dead stalks and set the plant aside to use later. New life came out of the dead plant.
The Old Testament prophets promised to the people that God would do something new. He would save them from their enemies and bring them blessings beyond their imagination. They longed for the day that He would fulfill that promise, to bring them freedom and peace. Yet, God would not do things as they expected. They looked to Him to bring a military hero, a king like David and the blessings of prosperity and power as the other nations knew. They were watching for the Messiah, someone who would lead the people to victory! In the beginning they had hope for Jesus to be the one, and many followed to hear Him speak about the kingdom of God and the victory that would come to those who were oppressed and in bondage. As time went on, the things Jesus had to say were not what they wanted to hear. When they talked of making Him a king, He disappeared into another village. When He talked about the death He would suffer, they fled. They wanted a king who would save them from death, not a king who would die for their sake. But Jesus knew that new life comes from death.
“And Jesus answereth them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit. He that loveth his life loseth it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will the Father honor.” John 12:23-26 (ASV)
We are never comfortable talking about death, but sometimes it takes a death for things to be made new. A lost job might mean a new and better career. A broken relationship can open doors to true love. The death of a loved one might just free a person to have a different perspective on the world and begin something new. Even the plants must die for new life to be produced. We don’t like to see the good in death because we are afraid that we will offend someone or our words might seem callous or apathetic. This is why the Jews found Jesus’ talk of death so difficult to understand. How can anything good come out of death?
But Jesus foretold of His own death on the cross with this scripture. A seed is useless unless it is planted in the dirt. Only then can it die and grow into new life, producing many seeds. The only way something new could come for the people of God is if Jesus died and was raised into new life. We follow in His footsteps as we too die to ourselves by believing in Him. Then we are raised as new creatures, heirs to the kingdom of God. We give up everything of ourselves and do as God calls us to do. Our own wishes and dreams are conformed to His will and the world sees the glory of God reflected in our lives. Christ died that we might have life and now we are called to also die, follow Jesus and He will produce new seed through our lives. Thanks be to God.
Teach In 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a movie with a most unusual adversary – a classroom filled with five year olds. The movie “Kindergarten Cop” was about a big city cop named John Kimball who was looking for the ex-wife of a hardened criminal. There was evidence that she had taken a large amount of money and they cops wanted to question her. She and her small boy were tracked to a small town, so Kimball and his partner went to find them. The partner, a tiny, sweet looking woman, was supposed to substitute for the Kindergarten teacher, but she became quite ill before she could begin. They had no choice, tough man Kimball had to go in.
The first day did not go well, those little kids had him running in circles and the audience laughing hysterically. He was desperate to finish the job and get out of there. He sat them in a circle and asked them questions, hoping the answers would quickly reveal the young boy for whom he was searching. He got frustrated with every question. When asked if they had been born in that town, none raised their hands so he yelled, “Come on, raise your hands” so they all did. Then he asked who was born somewhere else, they all raised their hands. It was not going to be easy to get information out of the kids because he was trying to deal with five year olds as he might deal with a group of adults. He learned during the movie to deal with the kids on their level, simply and with gentle strength. By the end of the movie the concerned principal told Kimball that he was welcome to stay to teach because though she was at first quite skeptical, she could see he was an awesome teacher.
It is pointless to teach kindergarteners about the science of microbiology or nuclear fission. It is a waste of time to try to give them trigonometry homework or tell them to write thousand word essays on the origin of a species. As a matter of fact, it is pretty pointless to try to teach these things to most adults. The same is true of many other aspects of education, the Latin language for example. What purpose would it hold in the average person’s life to know such things? It is best to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, the things a person will use from day to day.
In the late 1600’s the educators thought it was useless to teach anything to the average folk. School was for those of higher rank, to teach Latin and other intellectual pursuits. But one man thought the poor should know how to read. John-Baptist de la Salle became a priest at a rather early age and was well on his way to greater things, but he gave up his family’s wealth and his position to teach. He thought it ridiculous to teach them how to read and write Latin, so he created a school and trained teachers to teach them in their own tongue. His enemies thought he was misguided and had him fired, but the teachers threatened to leave the school with him, so they stayed. He opened a school for delinquent boys and affected the lives of many. John-Baptist de la Salle is remembered today.
Jesus taught people right where they were. He used stories and ideas that came from their life experiences and he kept his teaching simple and clear. Those who stopped following did not do so because he was teaching beyond their ability to understand, but because they refused to believe what He was saying. He did not discuss the finer points of doctrine, but rather laid God’s Word before them to hear and believe. When asked to teach them, He did not give them fanciful words or prayers, just the simple truth in its beauty and grace.
“And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.” Luke 11:1-4 (ASV)
As we teach others about Jesus, we should remember the experiences of John Kimball in that Kindergarten classroom and to follow Jesus’ example. It does little good to teach the average Christian the finer points of the biblical languages or the difference between the different eschatological theologies of the church. We need to know of Jesus’ love, His sacrifice for our sin and the incredible mercy of God. We need to know about His life, death and resurrection. We need to know how to be good disciples. We don’t need to know any complicated prayers. We simply need what Christ has given us, a prayer which praises God and thanks Him, asks Him to be with us and provide all we need, confesses our sin and begs for forgiveness and seeks God’s help to walk as His. Christ met the people right where they were, living in the world. May we always do the same. Thanks be to God.
Homeless to Harvard I watched a movie last night telling the story of an amazing young girl who overcame the most incredible obstacles in life. She was the daughter of drug abusers who separated and lost their home. Her mother died of AIDS when she was just fifteen and her father also contracted the disease. Much of her knowledge came from an old set of encyclopedias, which she read from cover to cover. She did not go to school because she was dirty, her clothes did not fit and she did not fit in with the other kids. She passed every test she ever took and was promoted through the grades. Eventually social workers took her to a group home, but she didn’t last there either. She ended up living on the streets to avoid the abusive relationships that were all around her.
When her mother died, Liz decided she needed to do something with her life. She managed to get into a special school that had been newly founded in the city by convincing the director that she was going to overcome the troubles in her life. While homeless, sleeping on trains at night, studying in the park and working a low paying job, she completed an entire high school curriculum in just two years. Not only did she complete it, but also she was the best student in her class. The school took a group of the kids to Boston to see Harvard University, to show them what could be. Liz did not think it was possible, after all, how could she possibly afford to go to college, let alone Harvard. Her teacher said, “It will be difficult, but not impossible.”
Liz decided to go for it. She searched through the scholarship applications and was disheartened by the fact that the scholarships were only for a few hundred dollars. She would need to apply to dozens of that type of scholarship every year to have enough to go to any school. She found out about a scholarship from the New York Times that would cover her entire education. All she needed to do was write about how she overcame an obstacle in her life. She wrote a moving essay about her homelessness, but waited until the very last moment to send it in. It was her eighteenth birthday and she was legally an adult. No one could force her to live in a group home any longer and so she could admit in public the life she was living. The judges were very impressed with her academic abilities and with her touching story. She won the scholarship and went to Harvard. She is working her way through school by doing public speaking engagements around the country. The movie ended with a monologue by the actress playing the role of Liz Murray. She said that she could not carry the burden of her life alone. She shared her story with the viewers so she could let it go and move on to this new life.
I doubt there are many people who read this who have suffered such incredible experiences and overcome such a difficult life. It is amazing to hear a story such as this and to know how blessed our lives have been, even with the troubles we have had. As Christians, though we cannot compare our lives to that of Liz Murray, we can claim for ourselves a victory – the one that comes from Jesus Christ. By His mercy and blood, we have overcome death and the grave and we will live eternally with God our heavenly Father.
“I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:12-14 (ASV)
I looked forward to seeing that movie for several weeks after seeing it advertised, because it seemed like it would be one of hope. It was, though it was quite sad to see how difficult a life she had to live. I was encouraged by her strength and persistence and I pray great things will happen for her. I’m glad she was willing and able to tell her story so that others might hear, for it may encourage others to do whatever is necessary to overcome the difficulties of life.
Are we willing to share our own stories with the world? I often wonder why so many Christians remain silent about the forgiveness we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ. Why don’t we speak up more about our faith? After all, by sharing our stories to those who are lost in darkness, they might see the light and know that they too can have the peace and joy that comes from faith. Satan no longer has a hold of those who believe in Jesus. Christ overcame death and the grave for our sake, and we now can live in forgiveness on account of His name. What a glorious story to tell… why should we remain silent? Christ died that you might live. Shout it from the mountain tops. Thanks be to God.
Cries It doesn’t take very long for a mother to be able to distinguish the cries of her child and know what to do to meet his or her needs. A child has a unique cry for those times he is hungry or thirsty, lonely or tired. When there is some sort of discomfort, the child reacts with another type of cry. During the first days of a child’s life, it is difficult to distinguish between these cries. Many mothers spend hours doing everything they can to get the child to stop, never quite figuring out what the child needed. But as time passes, a mother can recognize a specific cry and meet that need more quickly. Even still, when a child is in pain, even a mom has difficulty knowing what to do to ease the suffering. As the child grows older and begins to talk he is able to tell mother where it hurts and she can make a decision about how to deal with pain. Words make a huge difference.
There is a trend in Christianity to know God ‘in spirit’ and to reject intellectual understanding of His Word. Bible schools and seminaries are rejected as unnecessary and Bible studies in churches are unimportant. There are certainly scriptures that talk about the Holy Spirit teaching us Himself, by laying God’s Word on our hearts. For many Christians this means they should reject all teaching and listen only to the Holy Spirit. But when they discuss scripture, their doctrine is confusing and does not line up with the character of God or the Gospel of Christ. When we use only our spirits and not our minds, there is a chance for false doctrine to creep into our understanding and set us on a wrong path.
Though there is this focus on the spiritual gifts, they are often misused and abused because they are improperly understood. Throughout his letters to the churches, Paul wrote concerning this problem. The Corinthians in particular were a church in chaos because they were letting the spirit lead them, but it was not always the Spirit of Christ. Their worship was chaotic and people were not being properly taught the Gospel. They saw themselves as more spiritual with all their tongues speaking, but when someone new came into their fellowship, they did not understand what was being spoken. The gifts were given to build up the church, but too often this spiritual understanding only benefits the one who has the gift.
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
A caregiver needs to understand the needs of the one to whom they are giving care. A mother is able over time to realize what a child needs with each unique cry, but it becomes much easier when real words are used. Though we are called to be spiritual people, to know God in the innermost parts of our beings, it is also important that we know Him with our minds. It does no good to teach a spiritual concept to someone if it does not bring them closer to Christ. This trend in Christianity is not based on the scriptural understanding of the gifts and it can be dangerous. Those who believe they are more spiritual condemn the ones who will not accept the teaching and call them ‘carnal’ or ‘fleshy’. They do not edify others; they only build up themselves. God gives the spiritual gifts for the sake of the entire body of Christ, so that we can agree with one another and be one together in Him. How can we do this if we do not understand the things being said? It is good to use our minds when we pray, sing and praise God so that all who are listening can join in the thanksgiving and grow in faith. Thanks be to God.
Organization I have been dress shopping. Bruce and I will be attending a ball in a few weeks and I need something new and pretty to wear. The last function I attended with the Air Force was so dark and drab with most of the men in dark blue mess dress and most of the women in black. I wanted something bright and colorful to liven up the party. I visited several different types of stores looking for the perfect dress – large department stores, small consignment and bridal shops. I received much different types of service in each of these stores. At the large department store I couldn’t find any help at all, the consignment store clerk helped all she could and even gave me suggestions as to other places I might look. The bridal stores were quite attentive and helpful. In one such store, a sales clerk joined me the minute I entered the store and after a few questions sent me to a dressing room. She brought me several styles in my size and helped me try them.
One of the difficulties I ran into during my search was that the stores were quite busy with girls looking for prom dresses. There was not nearly enough help to take care of all the customers. In one store a lady began to help me, but she was distracted several times by other customers. She tried to set me up with a catalogue or direct me to the right place, but without her help I was frustrated and unable to locate anything. When I did get her attention she either needed to run off to help someone in the dressing room or write a ticket for another customer. They had plenty of help, but each sales clerk was trying to do too many different things and none were able to accomplish much. At such a busy time like that, it would have been better if one stayed with the dressing rooms, one at the register and one walking the sales floor to answer questions. Defining specific tasks would have made it better for everyone concerned.
The early church dealt with some very interesting problems. They were growing quickly, as hundreds were being added to their numbers on a daily basis. If only the church could face that problem today! Early on the disciples realized that they could not do everything. With so many coming to faith in Jesus, they needed to devote their time and energy to teaching and preaching but there was so much else to do.
“Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4 (ASV)
A growing congregation faces the same kinds of troubles as these early Christians. It is never beneficial for a pastor to control every aspect of the congregational life, but it is even more important for lay leaders in large and growing congregations. Every Christian is gifted with specific abilities for the sake of the kingdom of God. He does this so that there is a niche in the fellowship for every believer and so that every need of the community will be met. We have to remember that we cannot, and should not, do everything ourselves. And we should not expect any of our fellow ministers in Christ, whether they are ordained or lay people, to do everything.
I found a lovely gown at a store that provided good service. Though it was not as busy as the other, it seemed as though they were more organized in the way they handled the floor, dressing rooms and customers. I think they would have handled a large amount of customers with grace and skill. The Twelve knew that the only way they could keep up with the growing church was to delegate certain responsibilities to others so that they could focus on the ministry of the word of God. God has gifted every Christian for service to the fellowship of believers and the world. What is He calling you to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Listen and take up the responsibilities He is turning over to you, for He will give you all you need to accomplish the work and bless you for your obedience. Thanks be to God.
Jury Duty I just finished serving jury duty for a circuit court here in Arkansas. In September I received a letter from the court telling me to attend an orientation on October 2. At that meeting, we were assigned to a specific jury pool. There were very few acceptable excuses accepted to get out of the service. We were called to serve for six months. Each Wednesday I called a phone number to see if there was a trial. If a trial was scheduled, I went to court Thursday morning. After role call, eighteen names were randomly selected from the pool present and those people were questioned. The lawyers then chose twelve to sit on the jury for that specific trial and the rest were sent home.
It sounds like a tough duty, but we weren’t called into court that many times in the six months. I didn’t really mind serving, though I have to admit that the days we had to report were usually bad days to have to spend several hours in a courtroom. I was called into the jury box twice, but I was rejected both times, so in the six months of duty I never sat in a trial. While it was a relief, I could not help but wonder what it was about me that made the lawyer turn me away.
During the questioning, both lawyers were given a chance to ask the jury pool specific questions about our lives, opinions and experiences. Most of the questions were rather broad – did we have a connection to the people involved, had we heard of the case, was there any reason we could not serve that day? Then they got more specific – what was our opinion about aspects of the case, did we have experience in that type of situation and how did we react, did we think we could judge the case fairly. They did not necessarily ask every juror, just randomly selected a few. Based on those answers, the lawyers chose the twelve to serve for that case.
It was very obvious at times why certain jurors were rejected. Their answers showed that they were passionately against the issues that would come up during the trial, and the lawyer could see that they might not be able to fairly judge the case. But the lawyers must have other things they look for – body language or something about the way we looked. On one occasion I never said a word and was rejected. A friend suggested that perhaps it was the cross I wear around my neck. I can’t be sure this is the answer. I may have made a face or shaken my head that was interpreted to mean something that it did not mean. Yet, it would not surprise me if my necklace was the reason, since Christ is still rejected in our world today. The things Jesus taught and the way we are called to live does not fit into the ways of this world. It was the same for the Jews in Jesus’ day as it is for us today.
“Hear another parable: There was a man that was a householder, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country. And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, to receive his fruits. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them in like manner. But afterward he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen, when they saw the son, said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance. And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And he that falleth on this stone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust. And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” Matthew 21:33-45 (ASV)
Perhaps if I had been called more than those two times, the theory about my cross might have been proven wrong. What I do know is that in this world there are many who reject the Lord Jesus Christ. To many He is real, but He is nothing more than a good teacher, political or social activist. They reject the truth of who He is and they try to take from Him what is His. Christians are ridiculed for their faith. It is my prayer that all those who have until now rejected Jesus will come to see the light, so that they will be broken of their hard heartedness and come to have faith in Him. Thanks be to God.
Under oath There is a story about Henry Augustus Rowland who was asked to be an expert witness during a trial. He was known to be a rather humble man, but when asked by the lawyer about his qualifications he replied with great boldness. “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend said he was surprised by Henry’s response on the witness stand to which Henry replied, “Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath.” The word humble is defined by Webster’s, “characterized by modesty or meekness in behavior, attitude or spirit; exhibiting deferential or submissive respect; unpretentious.”
It is difficult to see this story as one of humility because it seems like Henry was immodest about his knowledge. Yet, he showed deferential respect for the situation he was in, unwilling to speak of his humility in a situation where truth is the ultimate goal. He was not being pretentious by calling himself the greatest living expert because he was the right one for the task. We are much too quick to talk about our humility, showing a pride in our humility, which is really less than humble. Watchman Lee once said, “Genuine humility is unconscious… God’s workmen must be so emptied of self that they are unconsciously humble.”
The Christian understanding of humility is not necessarily a person who does not recognize their gifts and abilities. As a matter of fact, the truly humble servant of Christ is the one who knows exactly what they are called and gifted to do and who does it without pretense or talk. The submission is not to the things or people of this world, but rather to the will and purpose of God our heavenly Father. It is hard to talk about this subject without thinking about the life and ministry of Mother Teresa, who just did what needed to be done without a big show. She did not fake humility by saying she was unable to do so or by stepping aside for others to do the work. She submitted herself to the will of God and served those in need with her God-given gifts. Humility is not about thinking ourselves less than we are, but rather about seeing ourselves as God created us – gifted and called into His service.
“Unto thee do I lift up mine eyes, O thou that sittest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, As the eyes of a maid unto the hand of her mistress; So our eyes look unto Jehovah our God, Until he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Jehovah, have mercy upon us; For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scoffing of those that are at ease, And with the contempt of the proud.” Psalm 123 (ASV)
Henry Augustus Rowland may have seemed arrogant in this story of his appearance at a trial, but in reality he was unconsciously being humble before the greater authority – the court system. For a Christian, true humility is seen in those who live their lives entirely in the shadow of God’s love, looking always to Him for everything and doing exactly what He calls them to do. They are neither great in what they do nor insignificant in this life. They are simply the vessels by which God shows His love and mercy to the world. The slave and the maid know that their lives are dependent on their masters or mistresses – food, shelter and work. For some, they even owe their lives, for they may have been taken as a slave or maid during a battle in war. It is by the mercy of the master that they did not face death on the battlefield. We too are to look toward the One who has saved us from death and to submit to His mercy. For He has taken upon Himself the contempt and the ridicule of those who persecute us setting us free to serve Him with joy and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God.
King Throughout His ministry, Jesus was always moving toward something, His eyes set on a purpose and every step moved Him closer. Those who traveled with Him from the beginning could see there was something very special about this incredible man. He healed the sick, cast out demons and spoke with authority greater than anyone they knew. They could see how He fulfilled so many of the prophecies that pointed toward their salvation. Yet, as they drew closer to the final days, Jesus seemed to be following a different map than the one they were expecting.
To the Jews, the Messiah was to be a great king like David. He would be a military leader, one who would bring deliverance from the earthly oppression they faced in the land, which God promised to their forefathers. They knew He would be humble, faithful and filled with knowledge about God. They expected Him to do things that no one had done before such as heal a man who was blind from birth. When Jesus fulfilled all their expectations, they looked to Him to become the king, to lead them into victory. Yet, just when they were excited about the prospects of freedom and peace, Jesus talked of death, destruction and the end times. He warned of difficult times ahead and told His disciples that He would be leaving them. When Jesus spoke these strange ideas, many walked away because they did not understand. They could not see far enough forward to know that He needed to get through the cross so that they could receive the true salvation that comes from faith in God.
At the end of His ministry, Jesus set His feet toward Jerusalem. It was time for Him to face the culmination of His life on earth, the moment when humankind would be forgiven and reconciled to God through the blood of the Lamb.
“And when they draw nigh unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go your way into the village that is over against you: and straightway as ye enter into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any one say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye, The Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him back hither. And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door without in the open street; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had said: and they let them go. And they bring the colt unto Jesus, and cast on him their garments; and he sat upon him. And many spread their garments upon the way; and others branches, which they had cut from the fields. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest. And he entered into Jerusalem, into the temple; and when he had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.” Mark 11:1-11 (ASV)
The people were so excited to see Jesus enter into the city. It was as if everything they expected was coming true! Jesus was the king they waited for, the One who would deliver them. They praised God and sang the songs of their forefathers, repeating the words of the prophets. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” David’s throne was to be filled again as God had promised, and the Jewish people would be a strong and independent nation once again. The image of Jesus on the donkey, riding in as the humble servant of God who would lead His people was just what they longed to see, and they stood by the roadside waving the palm branches of victory.
The feeling would not last. In the coming days, the people would turn from Jesus and scream for His crucifixion. His disciples would run from Him and hide, afraid of what the authorities would do to them. Judas would betray Him and Peter would deny Him. Instead of victory, the followers of Jesus would see only defeat. Everything they thought to be true would appear to be wrong. For the next few days, we will follow the footsteps of Jesus, the disciples, the people and the leaders of the Jews. We will see the humiliation of Jesus; see Him as He submits to the will of God. We will betray Him, deny Him and run away at His moment of need. We will see Him die. These days, the Passion of Jesus Christ, is the most difficult aspect of Christianity to understand and accept. As Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Yet, these coming days are the foundation of our faith. What Jesus did for us, sinners in need of a Savior – not people in need of an earthly king – is something we can only know by faith. It is a story I long to hear every year as we look forward to the Easter Sonrise, because without it we would never truly know the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Game plan Jesus spent the evenings before His crucifixion with His friends in Bethany. Have you ever wondered what they talked about? Did the disciples try to plan Jesus’ days? Did they recommend places to go or people to see? Did Jesus reveal His plans and did they try to talk Him out of it? After all, Jesus was starting to sound a bit strange to them, this talk of death and going away. I wonder if they sensed in Jesus any anger, desperation, doubt or anxiety. I believe that Jesus knew the path He had to take and that He would take that path no matter what, but I wonder what it was like to be in His presence in those moments in such an intimate setting.
I imagine that they spent much of their time listening to Him teach and praying together. There was so much they needed to know, though they were still a bit dense about what it all meant. That would come with the presence of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. In the scriptures from Jesus’ passion, we see some very specific moments between Jesus and His disciples, particularly at the Passover celebration, but there were probably similar exchanges on the other evenings.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” Jesus went into the temple and looked around. Since it was late, He went back to Bethany with the disciples. Did they talk about what He saw? If it was late, the moneychangers and merchants were probably already home for the evening, but I can see the signs of a marketplace left behind – trash, booths, animal droppings and scattered feed. Jesus knew what went on in the temple, He’d been there before, but this visit really upset Him. He went back to Bethany and had all evening to think about His next move. The next day they went back to Jerusalem, back to the temple.
“And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of he money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he saith unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children that were crying in the temple and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were moved with indignation, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these are saying? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea: did ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise? And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there." Matthew 21:12-17 (ASV)
If things were quiet Sunday night, Monday evening was likely to have been rather heated. Can you hear the disciples? “Jesus, what were you thinking? We know that there is work to be done, but to walk right into the Temple and upset things like that is going to upset everyone. Even the crowds who were excited about your entry into Jerusalem yesterday are beginning to wonder about you! Don’t you think you ought to just slow down a bit, take it more carefully, maybe work from the inside? Let’s not rock any boats, ok?” They certainly would not have wanted the death of Jesus to come any quicker than necessary. Perhaps if they kept Jesus alive long enough, they could make Him change His mind.
Of course, all these questions and thoughts are my own imaginations. We know little about those private times between Jesus and the disciples. We only know that Jesus was set toward a very specific goal – the cross of humiliation for or sake. We also know that the disciples did not understand the entire story until it was over. We walk with Jesus with hindsight, but I doubt any of us would have been so willing to let Jesus come to any harm if we could help it. The whole world of the disciples was being turned upside down. They walked away from their lives three years before expecting to have a job for a long time. Yet, now their future was in question. Where will He go tomorrow? What will He say and whom will He upset?
Parables According to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days, this was His busiest day and most controversial day. If the disciples were concerned about rocking any boats with the temple rulers or the Romans, they weren’t able to control Jesus at all. He was questioned by the chief priests, spoke in parables and warned the people about the future. He spoke out against the hypocrisy of the temple leaders and defined what it meant to live in the kingdom of God.
As Jesus and the disciples walked from Bethany into Jerusalem, Jesus became hungry. He went to a fig tree and found no fruit on its limbs. He cursed the tree and Matthew tells us it immediately the tree withered. The disciples were amazed and asked how it could have happened. Jesus replied, ‘Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” In just a few days, they would be sent to do what Jesus had been doing for three years. They had to know that the words they speak would have the power to do incredible things through their faith. They would speak God’s forgiveness into the lives of many people, words that would change the world. It is also a subtle warning that they must be careful about the words they speak, because they can also bring destruction and death. In Mark’s recollection of this story, Jesus adds, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Their mission would be to bring forgiveness not destruction, and they should beware of abusing that power given to them by God.
Inside the temple, the temple leaders questioned Jesus. The Sadducees, who did not believe in any sort of resurrection, asked Jesus about marital relations in heaven. They wanted to what would happen to a women who was married to a succession of seven brothers according to the levirate law (to protect the widow, the brother of a dead man was to marry the widow to ensure an heir to the inheritance so that the widow would be cared for in her old age.) Jesus addressed their question by telling them that heavenly relationships would be much different than on earth – there would be no marriage. But He also rebuked their disbelief in the resurrection by saying, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
The leaders tried to trap Jesus by asking Him questions that would cause Him to lose the support of the people. They asked Him where He got the authority He had to speak these things and whether the people should pay taxes to Caesar. He always had an answer that could not be refuted, and the people were astonished at His teaching.
“But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.
Jesus silenced His opponents but He neither made them believe nor stopped their plans. He made things even worse by warning the people against their religious leaders. “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” They were hypocrites and placed heavy burdens on the people that they themselves refused to carry. He pointed to their false teaching and warned them that they will be condemned to hell for taking the innocent blood of the prophets who would be sent to preach the Gospel. The disciples wondered when all this would happen and though Jesus never gave a time, He warned them about the signs that would appear and told them to be ready. Then once again He left Jerusalem to pray and rest.
Silence The scriptures are strangely silent about the events of this day. I suppose it is not that unusual, after all, yesterday was a very busy day for Jesus. The temple leaders confronted him and He preached to the crowds. It was a day of controversy and prophecy, which for even those people who are the strongest and healthiest can be quite exhausting. Tomorrow will be Jesus’ final full day of life, another day with much to accomplish. He will celebrate the Passover with His disciples and institute a new covenant with them in the Lord’s Supper. He will give them final instructions and through prayer will reveal the heart of their mission after He is gone. It isn’t so surprising that Jesus would take time in between such busy days to be quiet and rest. He most likely spent time in prayer, alone with His Father to gain the strength needed for the coming events.
While the Bible is silent about what happened on Wednesday of Holy Week, we do know that the temple leaders were quite disturbed about the words of Jesus and the things He was doing. They had already, for some time, been considering how they could rid themselves of this problem. After the raising of Lazarus, they had decided among themselves that Jesus should be arrested. Caiaphas even suggested that it would be best if Jesus were dead. He claimed that Jesus would bring judgment from the Romans on the entire nation of Israel and believed it would be best if He were dead. Ironically, Caiaphas prophesied that year Jesus would die for the Jewish nation and the scattered children of God to bring them together and make them one, and now he was scheming to put Him to death. There were those among the leadership that did not agree, but they did not speak out against the treachery.
“But though he had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on him: that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and he hardened their heart; Lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, And should turn, And I should heal them. These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him.
Though the activities of Jesus are unknown for this day, there were secret meetings happening as His adversaries discussed how to deal with Jesus. It was finally time for Satan to do his work. He entered into Judas Iscariot and led him into betraying Jesus. Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to tell them where He would be. They were so delighted to have an inside source, they arranged to pay him thirty pieces of silver. Judas would eventually regret his actions and seek forgiveness, but he would find no compassion in the temple. Perhaps Judas had no control of the situation because of Satan’s presence or perhaps he thought he was doing the right thing to get Jesus back on course. When it was over, Jesus was dead and Judas fell into such a deep despair that he killed himself. The money he took to betray Jesus was used to buy a field where he could be buried.
While Jesus spent the day in prayer and resting for the events to come, others were running around in the darkness trying to stop those things from happening. It was all as God intended, yet it broke His heart that the hearts of men had come to this. They justified their actions in one way or another for the sake of the greater good, while Jesus willingly took their persecution for the sake of all those who would believe. Though the scriptures are strangely silent for the day, we can see that God was indeed at work bringing His plan to fulfillment. Thanks be to God.
Passover After a day of rest, it was time for the Passover meal. Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations. He had already planned the place and gave them specific instructions on how to find the room where their evening would take place. When it was time, they all gathered in the room for a final meal together. As we read the stories of this special evening, it almost seems as though we have intruded on a most private and intimate moment in the lives of these men. Yet, as Christians we are drawn into the story each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as if we are reclining at the table with Jesus and His disciples on that very night. We are part of that moment because Christ instituted a new covenant with His people in that upper room.
The evening began with a strange ceremony. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, an act of servitude that only the lowest of slaves would do. He took off His outer clothes and knelt before each man, carefully cleaning the dirt off their feet. When Jesus came to Peter, Peter refused. He did not think he was not worthy to have Jesus wash his feet. Jesus answered, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” He told Peter that He had to wash him or else he would not be a disciple. Peter answered, “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Peter was so passionate; he took everything to the extreme. At this dinner, Peter insisted that he would die for Jesus, and yet several hours later he denied even knowing Him. His heart ruled his actions rather than his brain, and it is a comfort to me to know this about him. Jesus knew this about Peter and loved him anyway. It is good to see the real, human attributes of the disciples because I often do the same things. To see Jesus treat that rag-tag mob of misfits with such love and compassion helps me to realize that those promises and gifts are for me also.
Jesus washed the disciple’s feet because He wanted them to know without a doubt that their mission in this world was not to become great leaders but rather to humble themselves and serve in love. If the Master can do a slave’s work, there is no task a servant of Christ should reject because it is too low or menial. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than the one who sent him.” Jesus revealed the things that were to happen in the coming hours – Judas’ betrayal, His own death and Peter’s denial. But He did not leave His disciples upset or confused. He offered them words of comfort and peace, prayed with them and for them. He promised that when He was gone He would send the Holy Spirit to live and move in their lives. With Him they would have all they need to continue the work of Jesus in this world. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
During the Passover meal, Jesus took the elements and instituted a new and better covenant. In the bread and the wine on that night and every time we join together to celebrate the meal, we see Christ’s body and His blood given for the forgiveness of sin. He Himself pays the price for our sinfulness; He is the atoning sacrifice that reconciles us to God our Father. They finished their dinner with a hymn and left the upper room.
“And they come unto a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith unto his disciples, Sit ye here, while I pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly amazed, and sore troubled. And he saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death: abide ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; remove this cup from me: howbeit not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came, and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they knew not what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going: behold, he that betrayeth me is at hand.” Mark 14:32-42 (ASV)
Already the disciples were showing their weaknesses, unable to even spend time in prayer with Jesus. As He went out of their immediate presence, they fell into temptation, sleeping rather than watching and praying. This was just the beginning of the end for Jesus. In the next few hours He would be accused, beaten, ridiculed and killed. There was no humiliation He would not suffer for our sake, even when we are nothing more than a rag-tag bunch of misfits who fall into temptation. Thanks be to God.
Good Friday I have been thinking a great deal about what I believe this week. Who is Jesus? What did He do? What does this mean for my life? Though I am not learning anything new, one thought has dominated this holy season. We can’t get to the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. Now, perhaps that sounds like a pretty simplistic statement and you are thinking “Yeah, so?” Well, it seems that there are a great many people who believe in Easter and the joyous proclamation of the disciples “He is risen!”
It is easy to believe in the Resurrection. God is all-powerful; it would be nothing for Him to raise someone from the dead. Such an incredible act would be no less than we could expect from the Lord God Almighty. It is a proclamation that brings joy and peace to all those who believe. Even those who do not believe in Jesus enjoy the celebration of Easter, whatever it means to them.
It is a lot harder to believe in Good Friday. Since God is all-powerful, why would there need to be blood to reconcile His people to Him? Why would His son, our Lord Jesus, have to suffer such incredible pain and humiliation? Why did He have to die? We have difficulty seeing anything good come out of suffering. Even if we can come up with the right theological answers to the questions we ask about the events on Golgotha that sad day so long ago, we still wonder in our hearts why it had to be. There are even those who reject it, claiming it to be foolishness. Paul said it would be so in his first letter to the Corinthians, "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”
So, we cannot reject the events of Good Friday, for it is here that the power of God is the greatest. After Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the crowds came looking for Him with Judas as their guide. He betrayed his Lord with a kiss, and the soldiers arrested Him. He faced the leaders of the Jews and the Romans, back and forth they sent Him, no one wanting to take on the responsibility for His death, but all hoping it would happen. He was humiliated, beaten and tried. The people chose a murderous thief over the King of Creation to be set free. His disciples fled, Peter denied Him. It was the most horrible day in the history of the world, for the Son of God was seemingly destroyed in heart, mind and body. And yet, He put Himself there. As Max Lucado wrote, “He chose the nails.” The Resurrection would mean nothing without the Crucifixion. Jesus had to take upon Himself the sin of the world, to experience the entire wrath of God so that it would no longer come upon us sinners. He was the Lamb to be slain, His blood would set us free. We cannot get to Easter without the cross.
“And when they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to bear it after Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
We see this story with twenty-twenty vision, knowing that in a short time Jesus will be raised from that death into a new life for us. We look at the story in the hope for Jesus’ imminent return in glory. Yet, we should not set this story aside and only rejoice in the good things. We are sinners in need of a Savior. The cross is the only way for us to have the forgiveness that God has promised to all who believe. Let us consider today our role in this story, our place in sending our Lord to His death. For one day we should not blind our eyes to the suffering that comes from our sinful natures and accept that this is the way God has chosen to bring reconciliation. For just one day, let us look to the cross of Jesus with Him on it, and see ourselves as we should be seen. Very soon we will rejoice again and live as Easter people, made new by our resurrected Lord and seen by God through His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Vigil So where does this leave us? Jesus is dead. The disciples are in hiding. The chief priests are feeling pretty good about themselves. Judas tried to give back the money and find some forgiveness from his religious leaders, but they refused to have any mercy at all. So, he fell into deep despair and killed himself, not knowing what else to do. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemous took Jesus’ body and laid it quickly in a tomb so that after the holy day they could properly prepare it. It was a day of mourning for those who loved the Lord.
For those of us who live after the Resurrection, we wonder what to do with today? We can’t possibly mourn because we know what is to come. Easter morning is just moments away and we anxiously expect to hear the words “He is risen, He is risen indeed!” Many churches will gather this evening for an Easter Vigil, a service of waiting and preparation. In early Christendom new believers were baptized on this night after the forty-day Lenten preparation period. The fellowship celebrated communion together after hearing the story of God retold from the beginning, through the flood, exodus and exile, into the gathering of God’s people and the fulfillment of all His promises and then the sending of His people into the world.
Instead of the normal pattern of quoting one scripture verse, I will list the passages that will be used tonight in many of those churches that will follow this ancient tradition. It is my prayer that we will all take this day, a day of mourning and expectation, to read God’s Word and see His mercy in the stories of His interaction with His people. Christ died when He intended and He rose at exactly the right moment according to the will of God. The disciples did not celebrate on this day, for to them there was nothing about which to rejoice. So, let us patiently wait and listen as God speaks to us through the patriarchs, kings and prophets. Each story will be followed by a response of praise from the scriptures. Tomorrow we will rejoice with them as they discover the wonderful news of Christ’s rising. Thanks be to God.
The Story of the Creation is found in Genesis 1:1-2-4a. We respond with Psalm 136:1-9, 23-36.
The Story of the Flood is found in Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13. We respond with Psalm 46.
The Testing of Abraham is found in Genesis 22:1-18. We respond with Psalm 16.
Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea is found in Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21. We respond with Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18.
Salvation is Freely Offered to All is promised in Isaiah 55:1-11. We respond with Isaiah 12:2-6.
The Wisdom of God is provided in Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 94b-6. We respond with Psalm 19.
A New Heart and a New Spirit is promised in Ezekiel 36:24-28. We respond with Psalm 42 and 43.
The Prophecy of the Valley of Dry Bones is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. We respond with Psalm 143.
The Gathering of God’s People is found in Zephaniah 3:14-20. We respond with Psalm 98.
The Call of Jonah is found in Jonah 3:1-10. We respond with Jonah 2:1-3 [4-6] 7-9.
The Song of Moses is found in Deuteronomy 31:19-30. We respond with Deuteronomy 32:1-4, 7, 36a, 43a.
The Story of the Fiery Furnace is found in Daniel 3:1-29. We respond with the Song of the Three Young Men. (This Canticle is also known as “The Prayer of Azariah.” The three young men are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the story in Daniel. I have included a link for your convenience. The Song of the Three Young Men
We follow the Old Testament readings with a lesson from the Epistles and finally the proclamation of that which long to hear, the Gospel of our Lord.
Paul writes that Christians are baptized into the death of Christ, and are also joined in Christ’s resurrection in Romans 5:3-11. We respond with Psalm 114.
The Gospel is found in Mark 16:1-8. In Mark’s recollection of that incredible day, the message of Christ’s resurrection is received with terror and amazement. How will we receive the Good News? Let us rejoice, for this is the day that the Lord has made, we have received His salvation as promised. This is the day He has given us eternal life in Christ. Alleluia!
Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed! This is the cry that’s been heard worldwide today as Christians gathered at the four corners of the earth to share the Good News. The biblical accounts of this greatest miracle tell a story of awe, confusion and wonder. One by one, each of the Lord’s chosen learned that the body had disappeared.
“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb? and looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great. And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” Mark 16:1-8 (ASV)
Where would we be today if those three women remained speechless because they are terrified and awestruck over the incredible events of that day? The other Gospel narratives tell us that eventually the women did go to tell the story. The disciples did not believe their testimony because it seemed like such foolishness. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see. John arrived first to the entrance to the tomb, but did not go inside. It was Peter who entered into that empty space, who saw the folded grave clothes where their Lord Jesus had laid. The walked away pondering what might have happened.
The witness John gives about that day tells us that Mary stayed in the garden weeping. A man asked her why she was so troubled. Thinking He was the gardener, she asked if he had taken the body of Jesus away. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” He said to her “Mary” and immediately she recognized Him and cried, “Rabboni.” He sent her to the disciples and she told them “I have seen the Lord.” It was all becoming so real, so true. His words were beginning to make sense.
Jesus appeared to two more disciples who were on the road to Damascus. He overheard their discussion about the events in Jerusalem those past few days and asked what had happened. They were surprised that there was anyone left who did not know of the crucifixion and how His body had disappeared. He answered, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” He walked with them and opened the scriptures, showing them how it all fit together concerning Him. When they arrived at their home, Jesus continued on, but they convinced Him to join them for a meal. When He gave thanks and broke the bread, they recognized Him and wondered how they did not know. They ran back to Jerusalem to tell the brothers that they had seen Him.
While they were telling the story behind locked doors, because they were still afraid, Jesus appeared before them and said, “Peace be with you.” These are the most wonderful words they could hear, for throughout this story they were often afraid and bewildered. Jesus continued to appear before them, explaining God’s plan to them once again, and they began to understand what it all meant. They shared the story with others until many were witnesses to the wonderful resurrection. Jesus ate with them, talked with them and loved them until it was time for Him to go to the Father.
Those witnesses continued to share the Good News with others, generation after generation. Now, today, we are called to do the same. Yet, how many times do we stay silent? Perhaps our reasoning is not as those women that day at the tomb. Perhaps we aren’t afraid or confused by it all. But we stay silent because we do not want to offend or be rejected. We often think we are not good enough to speak those marvelous words. But we need not be special to share the Good News of Christ; we need only to trust in God and believe all He has said is true. In faith we can go forth and share the story with all those who need to hear. Thanks be to God.
Spreading We have lived here in Arkansas for over two years now. This spring has been particularly lovely for some reason. I have been more aware of the blooming trees and the wildflowers. It seems like there is a different tree or bush blossoming each week. Spring rain is turning the grass green and the empty trees are filled with leaves. Homeowners have filled their flowerbeds with brightly colored annuals and everything is beautiful. Even the forests are filled with color, as the dogwood trees and wisteria grow wild among the trees.
I always thought of dogwoods and wisteria as cultured plants, carefully planted in gardens and cared for by gardeners. I don’t know if it has spread that much since our arrival or if I just never noticed it before, but the wisteria is everywhere this year, growing on hillsides and spreading through groves of trees. Wisteria is a climbing vine with purple flowers that look like grape clusters. They are particularly beautiful when trained to climb a fence, wall or arbor. It is one of my favorite flowers. Yet, I’ve seen a different side of this plant this season. Though the flowers are beautiful, the vines themselves can be dangerous to the host, often cutting off the light, water and nutrients necessary until the tree suffocates and dies. I have seen places where vines have taken over leaving nothing but dead wood behind. Everything looks fine because the vine is green and spreading, but the vines have destroyed everything in its wake.
The disciples were not the only ones talking after the resurrection. After Jesus died and was buried, the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus said He would rise again. So they placed guards at the tomb to ensure the disciples could not steal the body and pretend Jesus’ words came true. They also sealed the stone to make it as secure as possible. Shortly before Mary arrived at the tomb there was a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord appeared to roll away the stone. He was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. Matthew tells us that they were so afraid that they shook and became like dead men. The angel spoke to the women and told them that they would not find Jesus among the dead, but that He had risen. He told them to go tell the disciples.
“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told unto the chief priests all the things that were come to pass. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day.” Matthew 28:11-15 (ASV)
So, in the days following the resurrection two stories began to circulate about what happened to Jesus. Those who had seen and heard that Jesus had been raised believed in Him and rejoiced. They believed in Jesus and everything He said about Himself and the kingdom of God. But in those early days there were many who heard the story of the soldiers, the lie that the disciples had simply taken the body and hidden it. There are even those today who still believe that story to be true. Though they may believe that Jesus existed, He is nothing to them but a teacher and a good man. They still wait for a Messiah to come to set them free, but missed the One who came to save them because they believe the lie.
It is amazing how fast such things can spread, just like the wisteria. The wisteria is so lovely with its purple flowers that most people would not pull it out until it is too late. The story that was told by the soldiers made a lot of sense to those who did not see the resurrected Lord. After all, they were there at the tomb and they had nothing to gain or lose. Yet, the story of the disciples would greatly benefit their cause, giving their followers hope in the future. It is for this very reason that we know that this was from God, for even the lies of the enemy were unable to keep the message of Christ from spreading to this day. There are still some who refuse to believe, but everyday more people are coming to faith in Christ, this by the grace and mercy of God. Thanks be to God.
Earth Day The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, organized by a group of concerned citizens. Things were looking pretty bad – pollution was apparent to all the senses in many parts of our country and the world. We could see, hear, smell, touch and even taste the neglect humans had for our environment. The plans began only a few months before the scheduled date, with little funding or help. The organizers advertised in the New York Times and the event took off because the media picked up on the story and so many people were already concerned about the state of our environment. Add to that the fact that modern science had discovered a number of invisible problems that were being reported to the nation, and you have the recipe for a highly successful event.
On the morning of April 22, they had no idea how many people would be involved. By the end of the day, millions had done something for the environment. Now, thirty-three years later, Earth Day is still celebrated, mostly with educational opportunities, rallies and clean-up days. Many people plant trees and flowers or do some other small act that might help save our environment. In 1969, the environment was not even considered to be an issue for the people in America. By 1970, it was the top issue. In the past thirty-three years we have done much to clean up God’s world, though we still have a long way to go.
Isn’t it amazing that it took a national movement to get Americans to do what God commanded at the beginning of time? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the water and the land, the stars, sun and moon. He created the plants and the animals. Then He created humankind. He created man and woman in His image and placed them in the Garden of Eden to worship Him and care for His creation.
“And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Unfortunately, even though we were created in the image of God, human beings have always had a tendency toward self-fulfillment. I suppose this has been particularly true in the past few generations. With modern conveniences, technological developments and industrial explosion we have certainly filled and subdued the earth beneath our feet. God began populating the earth with just two, and that number has grown to nearly 6.3 billion people today.
One of the catch phrases of the environmental movement is “We don’t own the earth, we are borrowing it from our children.” While this is a lovely sentiment, and it is true that we should be taking better care of the earth for those who come after us, but there is an even better reason to be better stewards of these gifts. God gave us the earth and all that is in it to enjoy and to use for His glory. We are the crown of His creation, those whom He chose to rule over everything from the fish in the sea to the eagle on the mountain. The earth is a gift from God but such a great gift comes with responsibility. If we continue to destroy the earth, we not only make it impossible for future generations to enjoy this great gift, but we also dishonor the One who created it. Today, as we celebrate Earth Day together and learn better ways of caring for the resources we have to use and enjoy, let us remember the One who gave it to us and praise Him for His glorious creation. Thanks be to God.
Coincidence Have you ever felt you were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time? Did you ever feel that God put you someplace for a purpose? I think we can all recall times when we have been blessed by the opportunity to do something for someone when we really didn’t expect to be there. Sometimes these incidents are dramatic, such as a doctor who is lost while driving in a strange city comes across an accident and is able to save the life of the victim. Other times seem very insignificant, such as those times we run into an old friend in the grocery store and learn that they are in need of prayers. These moments are not coincidental; they are acts of God, the means of His grace to those who are in need. He guides us into situations where we can make a difference in the lives of others, even when we do not expect anything to happen. It is those moments that really make me realize how active God is in His creation, how much He loves us.
Esther was one of those people who happened to be in the right place at the right time. She was a beautiful young Hebrew girl who lived with her cousin Mordecai who had been living with other Hebrews in exile in the citadel of Susa during the reign of Xerxes, king of Persia. Xerxes was married to Vashti, a lovely woman he liked to show off to the leaders of Persia. One day she refused to appear when she was summoned so Xerxes sent her away for the sake of order in his kingdom. Yet, after a time he became lonely for her and wished her to return. His advisors told him it would be foolish to forgive her, and recommended that he find himself another wife. He followed that advice and sent for all the lovely virgins of his kingdom. Each girl was prepared for a year, well cared for and pampered with beauty treatments. Then one night she was called into the king’s chamber. When he was finished with her, she was sent to another part of the harem, where the concubines lived and they stayed there unless the king called her by name to return to him. With a palace full of pretty virgins, they rarely saw him again.
Esther was favored by the eunuch who cared for the young girls, and given special care. When it was her time to visit the king, he suggested the right things to take with her. She won the favor of all who knew her, including the king. He made her his wife. This must have been quite difficult for a young Jewish girl, for she was not given the choice of whether to go or not. She would be humiliated and rejected by her people for being with a non-Jew and the Persians would have rejected her because she was Hebrew. She kept her identity secret and lived in the care of the king.
There was a wicked man who was a high official in the king’s court. Haman convinced Xerxes that the Hebrews deserved death and an edict was issued to ensure the entire nation would be destroyed. Mordecai sent word to Esther that it was up to her to save her people. She was not sure how it could be done because she could only approach the king if he summoned her, and he had not called for her in some time.
“And they told to Mordecai Esther's words. Then Mordecai bade them return answer unto Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house will perish: and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.” Esther 4:12-17 (ASV)
Esther did approach the king and he had mercy on her. He listened to her plea and the Hebrews were saved. She told the king about Haman’s deceptions and he was put to death. Esther answered the call of God to act boldly for the sake of others even though she risked her own life and she carried out the purpose of her circumstances. She was indeed blessed for her obedience.
How often do we find ourselves in circumstances in which we can make a difference for others, and yet we do not respond to the call out of fear or some other reason? Do we miss a blessing when we pass off an opportunity as coincidence rather than seeing God’s hand in our lives? As Mordecai told Esther, if you don’t answer the call, relief will come from somewhere else and you will miss the chance to see God’s blessings at work. So, the next time you are in the grocery store and see an old friend, pray with them and see if there is anything you can do to help them through whatever life is throwing their way. God put you there for a reason. Seize the opportunity and praise God for the chance. Thanks be to God.
Enemy When I was a young child, there was one girl in my class who was cruel. I was not pretty or popular. I was overweight and smarter than a lot of the kids, the perfect combination to be the one bullied year after year. This young lady was the cruelest of my oppressors, doing everything she could to humiliate me. I suppose, to be perfectly honest, I hated her. She was an enemy over which I had no power. Though teachers were sympathetic, they did little to change the situation. “Kids bully other kids.” “It will build character and you will learn how to stand up for yourself.” Anyway, it usually made the situation worse. So I just learned to take it, though I knew I would enjoy the day she got her just reward.
One day toward the end of the school year she was being particularly hard on me. Finally, I could not take it anymore, so I stood up to her. There was no physical violence, but I told her in no uncertain terms that what she was doing was wrong and that I would not allow her to hurt me anymore. I don’t know what I said, but something cut her to the heart and she treated me differently from that day forward.
It is in our nature to desire that our enemies be defeated that we might have peace. The Bible is filled with promises that God will deal with our enemies and stop them from bringing us harm, and we hold on to that hope. And yet, our Lord Jesus has commanded that we love our enemies. How do we juxtapose these two ideas, particularly at a time such as this? We need to change our idea about what it means to defeat our enemies. We won’t necessarily find peace in the cessation of hostilities by gaining power, but rather by cutting to the hearts of the enemy. When God promised that the enemies of Israel would be destroyed, He did not necessarily mean that He would bring physical death and destruction.
“For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith Jehovah of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings; and ye shall go forth, and gambol as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make, saith Jehovah of hosts.
These closing words from Malachi offer a promise and a curse. These words promising that the evildoers will be gone can be comforting to those who have faced an enemy. Yet, as I recall my relationship with that girl in Elementary school, I realize that this does not necessarily mean destruction. As a matter of fact, after I stood up for myself, our relationship changed. Though we never became close friends, over the years our hearts were softened toward one another. My enemy was gone, but the person still existed.
Jesus came to fulfill the promise found in Malachi, but He did not do it with a sword. He did it with the sword of the Spirit and the Word of God, which cuts to the hearts of those who are lost in darkness and sin. In the past two thousand years, many enemies have been destroyed but through faith in Jesus they are raised again into new life. Those who reject the love and mercy of Christ are cursed by their own refusal to receive the great gift of God’s grace. But those who love Jesus, He will bring healing and peace to their lives forevermore. Though we will still face enemies in this life of flesh, we can know that reconciliation is possible with even the most arrogant evildoers by the sword of the Spirit and the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Housework Have you ever had one of those days when there seems to be so much to do you don’t know where to even start? And then when you begin, you think of something that is more important or that should be done first? I’m having one of those days. Our busy scheduled has made it difficult to even keep up with the simplest of tasks around the house, and now I’m wandering around looking at the mess wondering who I will ever get it all done. Just as I began one task, I realized that I should switch the clothes in the washer and dryer so that the dry won’t get wrinkled and the wet will get dry. As I was doing that, I remembered that I have some bills that need to be put in the mailbox to be sent before the mailman comes. As I walk through each room I think to myself “this needs to be done” or “that needs to be finished” and by the end of the day I’m sure I’ll feel I accomplished nothing.
Imagine what state of mind the disciples must have been in those days following the resurrection. Jesus was dead but now He’s alive and showing up all over the place teaching and enjoying fellowship with those He loved. When He appeared in the upper room that first night, He told the disciples that they had the power to forgive sins – something that not even the priests claimed they had… only God could forgive sin. He was sending them out into the world to share the love and mercy of God. This was all so incredible to these men who were just normal folk, no special abilities or purpose. They had regular jobs and families; they used to live normal lives. And now this risen Lord Jesus was telling them to go be like Him, taking the Kingdom of God to the other normal folk in the world.
I imagine that for those first few days they wandered around wondering how they should go about this unbelievable assignment, starting one thing then thinking something else is probably more important. That’s probably what led Peter to get into a boat on the Sea of Tiberias the day Jesus came to them a third time.
“After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself on this wise. There was together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing. But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes. So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now taken. Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, the net was not rent. Jesus saith unto them, Come and break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.” John 21:1-14 (ASV)
Peter did not know what to do. He was probably still feeling some guilt about denying Jesus on the night of His trial. He was in the room when Jesus appeared both times, heard Jesus’ commission that they forgive the sins of the people, but he had no idea where to start. How could he forgive other’s sins when he can’t forgive himself? So, he did what he knew best – he went fishing. After a fruitless night, Jesus stood on the beach and told the disciples to cast the net over the other side. When they did, they took in a huge haul of fish. Jesus had at least once told the disciples that they would be fishers of men. Though they were good fishermen, they still had no idea how they would be able to accomplish such an incredible calling. In this incident, Jesus showed them that all they needed was to do as He commanded and they would do well.
My biggest problem today is that my work seems so overwhelming I have no idea how I can complete it all. The best I can do is take one task at a time until it is finished and then go on to the next. It will do no good to have a million little jobs started if nothing gets finished. We often do the same thing when it comes to ministry. We know there is so much to get done but we don’t know where to start. So we begin one program after another, never getting any to work well enough to make an impact on the faith of the people. Then we feel discouraged like the disciples because there is no catch of fish. It is amazing that Jesus didn’t just tell the disciples to bring in the boat since they had more important work to do. He helped them complete the work they started before sending them out into the world. When we seem lost and unsure where to begin our work for the day, let us always remember that our task is to bring forgiveness into the lives of those how are lost and lonely in this world, that they might know the Lord Jesus. Cast your net where Jesus tells you, and you will see a huge haul of fish. Thanks be to God.
Idols I haven’t watched the show very much, but I understand that “American Idols” is very popular among the television viewers. Each week amateur singers are given a chance to compete for prizes and that chance for fame and fortune. The judges are people with experience in the business and they offer words of encouragement to some of the contestants and they speak honestly to those who are rejected with suggestions on how to improve. There have been many offshoots of this show. The Today Show held their own competition and now there is a show for kids to show off their talents. The winners of these shows have been interviewed on TV and are enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. I’m not sure any of these performers will ever reach true ‘idol’ status, though the show itself has come close. There are folk who won’t miss an episode, then rush to discuss every minute of it with their friends.
Who or what do we idolize in our world today? Certainly sports heroes and movie stars are often put onto pedestals and held in high regard. Sometimes we look toward our political and religious leaders as role models. Idols are not necessarily people, but can be places, relationships, jobs or material possessions. The definition of idol is “a representation or symbol of an object of worship” or “an object of extreme devotion.” Though most of would deny that we worship these things, when they are the most important part of our lives they are idols. We are devoted to our spouses, our homes, our hobbies and our ideas. When we schedule our lives around a television show, it becomes an idol.
While it may be fun to follow the budding careers of these talented people, or enjoy the things we love, we need to be careful to keep things in the proper perspective. Unfortunately, we tend to hold things in very high esteem, when they are just fallible, perishable works of God’s creative hands. There is nothing greater than the Lord God Almighty, and yet we rarely make Him the priority of our lives. Something else always stands in our way.
“Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them declare. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have I not declared unto thee of old, and showed it? and ye are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock; I know not any.” Isaiah 44:6-8 (ASV)
We are witnesses of the Lord God Almighty, called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Do they see that we hold God above all else in our lives, or are we caught up in devotion to the idols of this age? We don’t necessarily have figures made out of stone or wood like they did in the days of Isaiah, but we still have objects we worship, whether they are people, places, things or ideas. May we always be witnesses to the truth – that God is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. There is no one like Him. He knew it would be this way. Our human nature tends to look toward the things we can feel and see to make us happy and bring us comfort. Yet all things but God are perishable, they are unreliable. There is no God besides the One who is revealed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is our Rock and our Salvation. May we always keep Him as the priority in our life and put everything else in the proper perspective. For God will always remain faithful, He is God. Thanks be to God.
Blankey Buried someone in a box or a drawer, I still have the remnants of the children’s favorite baby blankets. At this point they are falling apart, torn at the edges and worn out in the middle. As each child grew older, the blankets were cut into smaller pieces to get rid of any stains and make them easier to carry. Yet, even with such changes, those blankeys were kept near. It was a comfort to them when things were hectic or confusing. If they were left with a babysitting, blankey was never far away. It was the one thing they could hold on to when everything seemed out of control to them. I think most children have something like this, such as a favorite toy, pacifier or stuffed animal.
It is understandable that children need something like this. We all are comforted by the physical presence of the things that make us feel sheltered. We like to be in our homes when bad weather strikes because we feel secure. We prefer to drive a dependable car so that we can trust we won’t find ourselves alone on a deserted road in a broken down vehicle. These items help us to relax, feel safe and sound. They give us a sense of peace in the midst of Some children become overly attached to these items, they get hysterical when the blankey or stuffed animal is missing or out of reach. This is true even if people who love and care are close at hand. Though Mom and Dad are the ones in whom the child can truly trust, he or she does not feel secure without that blankey or toy. It is fine for the first few years of life to have such an item, but it is problematic when a child goes to school. Eventually we all have to learn that peace cannot be found in the things we can hold with our hands.
In yesterday’s devotion, we saw God speaking through Isaiah. He said that nothing is like Himself – no idols can protect the people or speak about what is to come. He asks if there is any God besides Him. In our day and age, we don’t necessarily worship little statues made of gold, stone or wood, but we still have our idols. They are those things that we hold in higher esteem than God; the things that we rely on for protection, comfort and peace. Yet, those things are perishable, how can we trust in things that do not last?
“The carpenter stretcheth out a line; he marketh it out with a pencil; he shapeth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compasses, and shapeth it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the holm-tree and the oak, and strengtheneth for himself one among the trees of the forest: he planteth a fir-tree, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread: yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. They know not, neither do they consider: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none calleth to mind, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Isaiah 44:13-20 (ASV)
The children’s blankeys are faded and torn, worn out beyond recognition. Over the years they were reduced to small squares of fabric that could help no one through any real trouble. Yet, for some children, those security blankets are the source of their peace. Even though it is Mom and Dad who provided them with food and shelter, they cannot live without the comfort that thing provides. In adulthood we do same thing, but our security blankets are much bigger – our houses, our stock certificates, our cars or other physical things.
In the past few days I have noticed a number of newly burnt houses along the routes we travel. They are completely destroyed, with only a foundation and a few blackened beams left. The news from Wall Street often reminds us of the uncertainty that comes with investment. I passed an accident the other day with two completely destroyed cars. These things are helpful and good to have in our lives, and yet we have to remember that they are perishable. They are not worth our worship or complete trust.
I love the imagery in this passage from Isaiah. The carpenter uses the same wood to create an idol, a false god on which he will rely, as he uses to cook food and warm himself on a cold summer night. Wood is a good thing, a gift from God, given so that we will have homes, food and warmth. But it cannot be the foundation of our faith. Our homes, cars, investments and even our blankeys are not bad things. They should be used for their proper purpose but it does no good to worship them or keep them beyond their usefulness. Only God is without limit, only He can be our God. The rest is perishable, gifts from God for good purpose but not worthy of our worship. May we keep all things in their proper place, with God as the first and the last in all our lives. Thanks be to God.
Chat rooms I don’t have much time to visit the chat rooms on the Internet anymore, but when I do I find things haven’t changed very much over the years. I can remember in my early days of Internet surfing, I used to go to a room with a definite purpose in mind. I was going to convince anyone and everyone that they were wrong and I was right about everything. I was so forceful that I once made someone cry for several days. This was a sister in Christ and I treated her terribly. I was quick to justify my actions with the claim that I loved her and wanted her to know the truth. Though we should never allow false doctrine control the lives of Christians, we are called to do so with love and patience.
Yesterday, a regular face came into the room with some new insight she wanted to share. She approached the subject by testing the other visitors about it. “Do you know what this means?” In the end, she managed to insult quite a few people because they were not interested in that topic – they were busy with other things. She made remarks about Christians being unintelligent and unwilling to go deeper in faith. Most of us were quite familiar with the topic at hand so we stayed out of the discussion. As is typical, she left with a comment about how unspiritual everyone is and moved on. The topic was rather interesting, but it is hard to communicate with people in a chat room without someone becoming an adversary. We can claim we are doing it in love, but as soon as we pit ourselves against another, when there is any sort of animosity, then we have a relationship of hate, not love. After the incident in the early years when I hurt someone so deeply that she cried for days, I realized that the way I was sharing my faith was not one that showed my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Today we celebrate the feast day for a saint who knew how to show that love. His name is Vitalis and he lived in the second century. He was a rich man who was happily married with two fine children. Unfortunately for him, he was a Christian during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius who despised Christians. One day another martyr was executed for his faith, during which Vitalis stood close by offering words of comfort and peace, helping his brother stand firm in Christ. Aurelius and the authorities became quite angry with this and killed Vitalis also. He was stretched on a rack and buried alive. His wife was also beaten to death. Vitalis gave his life for the sake of his brother in Christ, not concerning himself with their differences but rather encouraging him into life everlasting.
“Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:7-11 (ASV)
There are always going to be differences between the way we understand our faith, whether they are cultural, or related to our gender or age. Some differences need to be worked out – there is a definite standard for truth and we cannot allow any to be led down a path of destruction. However, those who confess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are our brothers and sisters, and we are called to love them with our whole beings. If we relate to them with animosity and not encouragement into faith and truth, we are not walking in the light. It often seems as though the word ‘hate’ is overused in chat room relations, and the visitors are quick to claim that they do what they do out of love. Yet, when we make our brothers and sisters in Christ an adversary, we are not doing it in love, but rather hate and this is not of God.
We may not ever have the opportunity to encourage a person being executed for their faith like Vitalis. It is unlikely we will ever be killed in such a horrible manner for being a Christian. We are faced with plenty of opportunities to deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ – in church, our neighborhoods and work. Will we do so in fellowship loving one another as Christ loved us, or will we be adversaries and show the world our hate and animosity for one another? By God’s grace we will know how to love one another and live and die in faith just like Vitalis. Thanks be to God.
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