Welcome to the April 2006 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.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes











The Cross










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 2006

April 3, 2006

Aloud  I've been involved in many different types of Bible studies, everything from a workshop or lecture type to very small information groups of friends. Each style of Bible study has something valuable to offer – the large lecture type is a time for the students to simply listen and take in the information offered. Smaller, more intimate gatherings give each member a chance to share. Sometimes Bible studies are designed to be as much a time for support and encouragement. Other times it is meant to focus strictly on the passages being studied.

One of the nice parts of the lecture type study is that the students do not have to share their own thoughts or read anything. Some people have difficulty when it is time to read aloud. They are not confident in their reading ability and they are afraid they will make some terrible mistake in pronunciation. It is humorous to watch students in a small group setting. Some jump quickly to take their turn, choosing those very short passages with no strange names. I once attended a study where one of the men volunteered to read a passage. When he came to the last line, there were a bunch of unpronounceable names. He stumbled through, doing an excellent job. At the end, someone joked, “See, you should read ahead, you never would have picked that passage to read!”

Most people are even more uncomfortable when it comes to public prayer. I am not sure why, at one time I would have thought it because they are afraid to talk to God. Yet, I have known many people who have wonderful, disciplined prayer lives in private, who hate to do so out loud. Perhaps they feel they will sound foolish, or ask for the wrong things. Perhaps they just prefer to keep their prayer secret. After all there is scripture where Jesus even tells the disciples to pray in secret and not like the hypocrites.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 (ASV)

The trouble with assuming this means no verbal prayers is that here Jesus was addressing was not people praying together in study or worship. As a matter of fact, everything we do together as brothers and sisters in Christ should begin and end with prayer so that we keep God in the center of our comings and goings. We are called to raise up our voices together, asking God for His blessings upon all that we do.

However, there are those who do like to pray in public, but they aren’t talking to God. They use prayer as a way of preaching. They announce their opinions through prayer, supposedly asking God to bless the world according to their own agendas. They use prayer time as a way of convincing people that their way is right and every other way is wrong, rather than seeking God’s will in the situation. They use prayer to condemn the sinners and the weak. They use it to put themselves on pedestals, to raise their own image by babbling lengthy tomes with big words and flowery speech. This is the kind of public prayer that Jesus condemns, not the prayers said together with humble hearts. He calls us to be together in body, mind and spirit, not only in our fellowship, worship and study, but also in prayer. So, rest assured, the sincere prayer said in faith – whether it is eloquent or just a few simple words, is heard by God and answered according to His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.


April 4, 2006

Starry, Starry Night  I thought I knew all about Vincent Van Gogh. Some of my favorite paintings are by this master. I know what everyone else knows: that Vincent Van Gogh is the model of the starving artist, affected by mental illness, loneliness and unrequited love. He cut off his ear and committed suicide. His art was not appreciated while he was alive.

There is a measure of truth to what I wrote in the first paragraph, but I've learned that there is so much more to Vincent Van Gogh's story. He lived from March 30, 1853 to July 29, 1890. He was born the son of a Protestant minister in the Netherlands, one of six children. He said about his childhood, "My youth was gloomy cold and barren." He went to a boarding school and received some training in the arts, but Van Gogh was unimpressed with institutional education. He became an art dealer at his uncle's firm when he was just sixteen, but quickly learned to dislike the way the art was treated as a commodity and let his disdain show to his customers.

Van Gogh went through a period of religious fanaticism. He spent some time as a teacher in England and then as an assistant to a Methodist minister, "wanting to preach the gospel everywhere." He tried to go to school for theology, but failed the exam and then tried missionary school but failed. He did preach, but took his Christianity to such an extreme, living and sharing the hardships of the poor, that he was unable to serve his parish well and the church authorities claimed that he "undermined the dignity of the priesthood." Though it turned out poorly, his religious work gave him insight into the every day world which would eventually affect his art. There are those who believe that his mental illness made his art brilliant, but he was a far better artist during his times of lucidity.

Van Gogh created nearly two thousand pieces of art – approximately 900 paintings and 1100 drawings. You would think that to have created so much, Van Gogh must have started art early in life, especially since he was only 37 years old when he died. However, he was a prolific artist and he worked to excess. He did not take care of his body, eating poorly and rarely sleeping. He studied art (despite his dislike for formal education) and learned about anatomy, modeling and perspective which he said, "you have to know just to be able to draw the least thing."

Though he suffered from unrequited love, he did find someone to love. Unfortunately, both families opposed the marriage. He was accused in one village of impregnating the young peasant girls he used as models, suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. Some doctors believe that his mental illness was directly related to his physical diseases. His art was very dark and colorless in the beginning, perhaps mirroring the dark and colorless depths of his soul. As he grew as an artist, he became friends with other artists. These friends encouraged him to use more color. He liked the Impressionist use of light and color, though he did not like how the impressionists seemed separated from the world. Van Gogh was always engaged in the world around him and painted scenes that were full of life. He liked to use complimentary colors – like blue and orange together – because the contrasts between these colors bring out the intensity of both.

It is true that Van Gogh cut off his ear, but it was just the lobe and it was not due to unrequited love. He was friends with another artist, Paul Gauguin. It was a difficult relationship, they fought constantly about art and Van Gogh was afraid that Gauguin would leave him. He chased Gauguin with a razor, but ended up cutting off his own earlobe, wrapping it in newspaper and giving it to a prostitute to keep. Of course, that severed the relationship forever. In 1890, Van Gogh's difficult life and harsh living caught up to him. He walked into a field and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. The shot did not kill him, so he walked back to his room and died in bed two days later. His last words were "La tristesse durera toujours," which means, "The sadness will last forever."

"Like as a father pitieth his children, So Jehovah pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; And the place thereof shall know it no more. But the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, And his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, And to those that remember his precepts to do them." Psalm 103:13-18 (ASV)

I started reading about Vincent Van Gogh when I discovered that Don McLean's Hit "Starry Starry Night" was actually called "Vincent" and it was about Van Gogh. In the refrain McLean sings, "Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free, they would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they'll listen now." I've heard it said that Jesus must have been out of his mind to live as He lived and to die as He died. Jesus certainly did not live the same kind of life as Vincent Van Gogh, but in some ways their story is the same. They were unappreciated and unloved, but had a beautiful gift to give. For Van Gogh, it was his art. For Jesus it was life. Our lives do not last forever. Our bodies grow old and they die. Our minds and our hearts are frail. But in Christ we know the mercy of God that grants forgiveness to those who believe. In Him we have true life; life that will never end. Thanks be to God.


April 5, 2006

Job Interview  Bruce has begun his job search, visiting job fairs and job sources on the Internet. He has given his resume to several companies and has even had a phone interview with one. There are several options that interest him and several companies that seem interested in having him. He has attended several workshops that help him with the process, giving him tips on resume writing, interviewing techniques and other things that would help him make the right impression.

On an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond," Robert experienced what we would call a very bad interview. He was recommended for a job with the FBI, a definite step up from his work as a patrol policeman. The trouble began early that morning when his mother ironed his lucky suit. She accidentally left the iron on a spot too long, leaving an iron shaped burn mark on his shoulder. She tried to hide her mistake, but he found out before he left the house. He made a big deal about the burn, claiming that she was trying sabotage his interview. Throughout this show, she tried to keep her actions hidden from him.

She wanted to make it up to him, so she wrote and faxed a letter to the FBI agent who would be interviewing Robert. The man read it out loud during the interview, embarrassing him. He left quite angry and sure that he would not get the job. He went home and once again blamed his mother for sabotaging his interview. She went to visit the agent and during that conversation she realized that she really did not want Robert to have such a dangerous job. She tried to convince the man to hire Robert anyway, though he said that Robert was not nearly as qualified as some of the other applicants. She finally apologized for interfering in his business.

"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. Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God." John 12:37-43 (ASV)

Robert was rejected from a job he really wanted to have. He blamed his mother, and perhaps she had some part in the rejection, but it was also because he was not fully qualified. We don't know whether the interviewer might have given him a chance if his mother had not interfered. Bruce will interview with several companies before finding the perfect fit for his next career. In some cases he will decide that the work is not what he wants to do, in some cases he will be rejected by the company. Hopefully the tips he's learned will help him do what is right and they will give him a chance.

Jesus' ministry was almost like a job interview. He spent three years showing the people the kingdom of heaven and speaking to them about God. He was rejected by the people who would have done the most for sharing and spreading his message – the temple leaders. They could not believe because their hearts were hardened against Jesus. However, there were many people that did believe. It would not be until after His resurrection – and Pentecost – that they would have the confidence to speak publicly about their faith. Until then they kept their faith hidden out of fear. Just as we know some day Bruce will have a new job, the day would come when they would have the power of Jesus, the power to share the kingdom with others. Thanks be to God.


April 6, 2006

Job  As you probably know, about six months ago I began a part time job working for our church. When the job was offered, it was for twenty hours a week, flexible time, doing the tasks of a coordinator of communication and ministries. Basically, the part time work was meant to help ease the burden of our parish administrator while also strengthening the relationships between office, council and congregation. It is nearly impossible for one person to everything that is happening and like many churches, our communication network was sorely lacking. Without good communication, ministries were suffering and people were falling through the cracks.

Two of us applied for the job, each with different gifts to offer the congregation. Neither of us stood out as better qualified and neither of us really wanted twenty hours of work a week. I jokingly told Bruce early in the process that I would do really well at half the job and the other applicant would do well at the other half. Others were thinking the same thing, so as they decided to hire both of us for half the time each, creating a person with all the gifts they wanted for the position. Everyone was happy.

Despite the fact that we were each more gifted toward one aspect of the job, they did not want the job to become two separate positions; they wanted each of us to take a role in coordinating both communication and ministries. In some ways we do, but we quickly realized that she was the coordinator of ministries and I was the coordinator of communication. We have to work together, of course, because ministries can't work without communication and communication has nothing to share without the work of the ministries. But somehow it has worked out that we each have a specific title and job description.

I never realized how many places ask for some sort of job description when filling out applications or information forms. While I had no problem listing homemaker as my title for years, I often left that space blank because it didn't seem appropriate for the form. I'm really not that important in the office, with just a ten hour week and a few responsibilities listed on my job description, it sounds pretty impressive to say that I am the Coordinator of Communication. Those who know me, know that it really is not a big deal, but it sure does sound important to strangers.

"For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Ephesians 1:15-23 (ASV)

I wonder what it was like to know Jesus personally. I'm not really even thinking about those disciples that were close to Him during His ministry, but rather His family and neighbors. What did they think of Jesus and the things He was doing? We do know His family came looking for Him one day and wanted to take Him home. We know that the townspeople in His home of Nazareth didn't appreciate His words. Though Mary was not always cooperative with the way Jesus wanted to do things, she followed Him and believed. But what did she think of the title by which He called Himself and by which others called Him.

But even those titles – Rabbi, Son of Man, Son of God, Lord, Master – mean nothing compared to that which He has now been given. There is no title in human terms that can truly describe Jesus and the authority He has over all the earth. In the coming week we will see Him travel through His passion, from Triumphant Entry, to Last Supper, to Death on the Cross, to Resurrection. Each day, each task, was totally under His control, even to His last breath. He is and was above all things.

I wonder how many times we really remember this. I think most of the time we are more likely to try to hang on to control for ourselves. Despite the fact that we have power and authority of our own, we act like we do. What we forget is that Jesus had authority and power only because He willfully gave up everything for the will of God. He was obedient, even to death, and in His obedience He was given dominion over it all. In Christ we have the same power, the power to let go of ourselves for the will of God. We might not have an important title, but then we do not need one. Our Lord and Master is over all, and that's all we need. Thanks be to God.


April 7, 2006

Postcard  We received a postcard in the mail advertising the Easter weekend events for a local church. Many churches are doing such a mailing, including my own church. We are interested in reaching out to the community, to offer an invitation to those members of our community who have not yet come to know Christ or who have not yet found a church home.

As we were planning the postcard, we created several different advertising schemes. We made some with pictures of spring flowers and butterflies, thinking that the people in our community might be drawn by the idea of new life. There was also a picture of the Risen Lord as if He was in heaven surrounded by the religious symbols of Christianity. We decided against these themes because they were too strictly focused on Easter. Since the postcard was advertising all our worship opportunities for Easter week, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we wanted the image to be one that would take us through all the emotions we experience at this time of year.

The one we chose is a picture of a sunrise over a beach with the theme "A journey of hope begins with just one step," and on the reverse side we listed the worship opportunities for Holy Week. We included in the schedule an Easter Egg Hunt and BBQ we were having preceding the Easter Vigil service on the Saturday before Easter. This particular event is hosted by our Sunday School and it is an opportunity for us to fellowship with the families that are involved in our preschool and Mother's Day Out programs. While is it an important event for us, it is not the focus of the weekend. It is part of a bigger schedule that focuses on Christ, His life, death and resurrection.

The postcard I received from another church yesterday had a completely different focus. The picture showed a bunch of Easter eggs on the grass. On each of the eggs were words, advertising their big event for the weekend – their Easter Egg Hunt. "Great Prizes," "including," "Boy's Bike Girl's Bike," "Snacks and Drinks" and all the information needed to attend. In the middle of this picture is one egg that says, "He is Risen" with the "I" in risen drawn to look like a cross, though it is barely noticeable. When you turn over the card, it is obvious that the most important event is the Easter Egg Hunt. The color and size of the wording makes it stand out from everything else on the card. They say "Celebrate Easter Weekend with us!" and invite people to worship on Sunday, but there is nothing at all about Jesus. Except for the "He is Risen" on the other side, which is lost in the midst of the ad for the hunt, there is no reference to the cross, to Jesus or to anything that Resurrection Sunday is really all about.

"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens." Colossians 1:9-20 (ASV)

The other church's postcard will appeal to some of the people who receive the card, as would the other designs we had discussed at our church. We had to decide what it was we wanted to share with the community. We are Easter people, people who live and love and serve after the Resurrection of Jesus. However, we can't get to Easter without going through the cross. All too many people would prefer to walk from Palm Sunday and the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem right to the empty tomb. They would rather ignore the trial, the passion and the death of our Lord. We would never have had Easter if Jesus did not die, and we would never know God's incredible grace and forgiveness without His sacrifice. That other church might have more people attend their event because of their mailing, but do we really want to reduce the message of the cross to nothing more than an Easter Egg Hunt? Jesus, and Easter, is so much more than that. Thanks be to God.


April 10, 2006

Fame  Andy Warhol was a pop artist, meaning his art reflected popular culture. Unlike Vincent Van Gogh, about whom I wrote several days ago, Any Warhol used art as a commondity. His subject matter was from every day life – soup cans, popular people, camouflage prints. Once, when he asked people for ideas about what to print, a lady answered, "What do you like?" So Andy Warhol painted pictures of money. He liked to paint things that were mass manufactured, and then began to mass manufacture his pictures. Instead of painting, he did screen prints so that several copies of the same thing could be produced quickly.

Andy Warhol is perhaps as famous for one of his quotes as he was for his art. In a catalogue for an exhibition in Sweden he wrote, "In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes." The particular quote gained popular usage, so much so that he began to despise it. In a commentary about Studio 54, he changed it to say "In fifteen minutes everyone will be famous." Of course, the original quote was shortened and now everyone wonders about their own "Fifteen minutes of fame."

Someone once asked, "How would you like to be remembered during your fifteen minutes of fame?" Not everyone's fifteen minutes are pleasant ones. Think about people like Timothy McVeigh or the Branch Davidians. Brittney Spears has reached far greater fame status, but not for her singing. Some criminals would better be described as infamous rather than famous; their fifteen minutes came because of evil doing rather than some important accomplishment. Many sports heroes are more famous for their antics than their talent. Most businessmen will never be recognized unless they are convicted of a crime. Even politicians aren't usually remembered for doing something good, but rather for doing something memorable.

It is Holy Week. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day we remember the triumphant ride of Jesus into Jerusalem. He was pretty famous by then, and the crowds received Him with great exaltation. Jesus' popularity was little more than fifteen minutes because there were those who would rather see Him dead. They stirred up the crowds, whose expectations were to be shattered. Jesus didn't want fame, didn't seek popularity. He came to die for the sake of the world.

"Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein. Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always. The common people therefore of the Jews learned that he was there: and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus." John 12:1-11 (ASV)

I often wonder if Andy Warhol would be nearly as famous if he hadn't uttered his famous line. Would we still remember him for his art, film or other accomplishments? As we look at this passage, we see many of the characters that have been long remembered from the story of Jesus, and we see them in the very actions that made them memorable. Jesus was drawing crowds, but so was Lazarus. His fame came because he'd been raised from the dead. He'd been in the tomb for four days and yet there he was sitting, laughing and eating among friends. Martha served them, as Martha was wonderfully gifted to do. Many people consider themselves "a Martha" meaning that they tend to work themselves too hard for the sake of other's comfort. We see Mary, gracious Mary, who willingly bowed down before Jesus and honored Him with an incredible sacrifice. Her sacrifice was not only financial. She humbled herself before Him in great love. Here we also see Judas as we expect him – thinking only about money. The chief priests are forever remembered as schemers, and here they are not only looking to destroy Jesus, but also Lazarus.

How would you want to be remembered? This question is asked in many ways – "What will they put on your gravestone?" "What will they write in your obituary?" "How did you, or would you, spend your fifteen minutes of fame?" As we follow the story of Christ, we see people who believed in Jesus and those who did not. Some are remembered just for their faith and others for their lack of faith. Faith doesn't always make us popular with people – Mary's love for Jesus was not appreciated by Judas. In the millennia since Jesus lived and died, many people have suffered even greater sacrifice for their faith. They are remembered today because they laid down their lives for Jesus' sake. And we believe today because they did everything necessary to pass on the Gospel to us. If I ever have fifteen minutes of fame, I hope it is because I've given praise and thanksgiving to God by sharing His story with others. Thanks be to God.


April 11, 2006

Ball gown  Victoria needed a ball gown for a special event at a convention we attended last month. We began looking very early so that she would have the perfect gown for the evening. I happened to be out shopping one day without her and found a lovely dress in a color and style I thought she might like. It was even the amount of money I was willing to spend. Now, I don't normally buy Victoria clothes anymore because she's a teenager and mom never really gets anything right, but I knew I could return it and I didn't want to lose the opportunity.

She didn't like it. She said she didn't like the way it hung on the hanger. I told her that dresses never look as good on the hanger as they do on a body, but she refused to even try it on. "I just don't like it, Mom." "Ok, fine," I said to myself and we went shopping together. We searched the racks in one store and found every possible dress in her size. She did reject a few, some of which I was quite happy to put back on the rack. There was one dress that was beautiful. Victoria loved the colors, but she did not like the way it looked hanging on the hanger, so she put it back. She tried on what must have been a dozen or more dresses. One or two were ok, but none were perfect. Finally, I got the dress she loved, but didn't like, and I told her to put it on. "Just try it, you might be surprised." She was delighted with the dress. It was perfect. It was exactly what she wanted.

It was hard to keep from saying, "I told you so," so I didn't bother to hold it in. I reminded Victoria about how things do not look as nice on the hanger as they do on a body and how she should have at least tried on the dress I bought her in the beginning. I made her say, "Mom, you were right. I should listen to you more." It was all in good fun. I have to admit it was pretty nice having circumstances prove that I can be right occasionally.

Anyone with teenagers knows what it is like to have them come to a point in their lives when they think they know better than everyone else. They think they have all the answers and do not need anyone – including Mom – tell them that maybe they should look beyond themselves to someone else's point of view. I wonder if that's how Jesus felt as He was journeying toward the cross.

"Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far: Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name: and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me: and he hath made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he kept me close: and he said unto me, Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God. And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." Isaiah 49:1-6 (ASV)

I had one brief moment when Victoria willingly accepted that I might have some valuable input into her life. I know that I will have a million more moments when she won't hear or believe what I say. The best I can do is recognize that throughout the years she's learned life lessons that are not far from her mind and her heart as she makes decisions, so I can trust that she will do what is right even if it isn't what I think she should do.

Jesus loved the people for whom He was sent, loved them with all of His heart. At times it seemed as if they were listening, as if they heard what He was trying to tell them. Yet, in the end it was obvious that they did not fully understand. After the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the people were turned from Him. By the end of the week Jesus was not meeting their expectations and they turned from Him. This prophecy from Isaiah foretells of this happening. It must have seemed to Jesus that He labored in vain – at least to the disciples it seemed that way. Yet, the work God sent Jesus to do was bigger than just changing their minds about heaven. Jesus came to change hearts, and the only way they could be truly transformed was if He became bigger than life – eternal life. It wasn't enough to just save Israel. Jesus Christ came to save the world. Thanks be to God.


April 12, 2006

Soap Opera  I haven't watched for years, I admit to having been a fan of soap operas in my younger years. As a matter of fact I, like many others, scheduled my college classes around the television schedule so that I would not miss my favorite shows. The television room in the community center was often full during those hours that the most popular soaps played. I stopped watching when they canceled my favorite show, but even then the very things I liked about soap operas were the very things that were disturbing to watch.

Soap operas are designed to be almost like real life, but to make it interesting they add an extraordinary amount of tension – extreme lust, hate, betrayal and greed. The villains are meaner than normal and the innocent are hurt more deeply than the average person. Some of the soap operas have taken this to an extreme, making it less like real life and more like fantasy. The story lines include supernatural experiences and fantastical situations that no one has ever really experienced. It is more like myth telling than a record of life in our world.

It is said that there are only 52 stories to tell. Every story created uses one of those basic story lines with changes to the names, circumstances and other details. I suppose that's why soap operas eventually became boring – I no longer enjoyed seeing the same old stories over and over again. Yet, those story lines go ever further back – even to the days of the Romans and Greeks. They myths which were an important part of their culture is not much different than the modern soap opera, though they were set in another time and place. The stories are filled with lust, hate, betrayal and greed. Women tempt men, men abandon women, soldiers betray their kings or gods and evil people steal everything from wives to property to people's souls. A producer today could easily create a soap opera based on the ancient myths without changing much in the story – they've already used the plots for years.

I imagine Jerusalem might have seemed like a soap opera during Jesus' final week. The people were confused by Jesus' actions following the triumphant entry. The religious leaders were desperate to find a way to silence Him because His words were not in line with their teachings. The Romans were concerned about the emotions in Jerusalem with all the pilgrims visiting for the Festival. The streets were crowded with strangers; homes were packed with distant relatives; extra guards were posted to keep the peace. I don't doubt that there would have been arguments, theft, adulterous advances and other sinful activity. We know that there was betrayal.

"When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in the spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. The disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. There was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to him, and saith unto him, Tell us who it is of whom he speaketh. He leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus therefore answereth, He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him. So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. And after the sop, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore saith unto him, What thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy what things we have need of for the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went out straightway: and it was night." John 13:21-30 (ASV)

As I read through this story, it seemed overly dramatic of Jesus to say, "The one to whom I hand this bread is my betrayer." Why didn't He just say it was Judas and be done with it. It would certainly have been more clear to the disciples listening that Judas was about to do something shocking. In this dramatic act, however, Jesus was giving Judas one last chance. While Satan had entered into Judas before this moment and it was prophesied that someone would betray Jesus, God gave humans free will. Judas could have said "No." God, and Jesus, would have assured the completion of His plan. He did not need any human being to assure Jesus' death on the cross. Judas betrayed Him, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, but it was still a betrayal.

It is a story that is as old as time – a dear friend turns on one they love. Yet, in this case the betrayal led to something very important. Judas' betrayal took Jesus to the cross, the cross where we have seen the mercy of God and received His forgiveness. Thanks be to God.


April 13, 2006

Alternate  Vicki is an alternate for the theater department's competition one act play. They have been rehearsing for several months now and have done a terrific job. They have won two competitions so far and have moved on to regionals. If they win their next competition, they will go on to state. Alternates do not have any responsibilities but they have a very important job. They have to be prepared to step in, even at the last moment, if something should go wrong.

All too often the alternates consider their position without any value. They rarely show up for rehearsals, after all they won't do anything if they do. They don't bother to learn about the play or the technical aspects of theater. If or when the opportunity comes for them to step in, they have not become familiar with the lines or the actions of the cast members they might replace. It is not only cast members that might need to be replaced – technical crew members might also be replaced, so the alternates should learn how to do the lights and stage set-up. Vicki has not needed to step in for competitions, but she has had the opportunity to be active with the rehearsals. She ran the lights for several weeks, helped with props and costumes. She did the grunt work and learned a great deal about theater in the process.

In all of life there are some tasks that many people simply refuse to do because they feel it is beneath them. I have to admit that I've always said that there was no way I would ever flip burgers in a fast food place. Yet, I realized some time ago that I do not know what tomorrow holds for me or my family, and I've come to accept that if it was necessary, I could do it. There is no person too great to do any job and no job too small for any person. Sometimes it is in doing the work that seems 'beneath us' that we learn so much about ourselves, our work and the world around us.

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all the things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. So he cometh to Simon Peter. He saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt understand hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew him that should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them." John 13:3-17 (ASV)

Of all the tasks a person could be given to do, washing someone's feet was the lowliest and most undesirable. This is especially true in Jesus' day. They didn't have roads and pavements on which to walk – it was all dusty or muddy pathways. They did not wear shoes and socks that covered their feet, keeping them clean. Foot washing was left for the least of the servants – a master would never have even considered doing such a thing.

Jesus was not just any master. He was the Master who was training His disciples for a new covenant. The New Covenant would not be one where some people were greater than others. Before God, all men and women would be equal. In faith, all of Christ's followers were called to be servants – the lowliest of all. Nothing was beneath them, not even washing feet. Jesus calls us to the same kind of life. He is our Master and He willingly bent His knee at the foot of His students to wash their feet. He did so out of love and to teach us a lesson. We never know what we might learn about ourselves, about our neighbors or about the world when we willingly bend our knee for the sake of another. And we might just the face of Jesus in the one whom we are serving. Thanks be to God.


April 14, 2006

Words  Today is Good Friday, the day we recall the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Instead of writing about a word as I would normally do, I am simply going to post the last seven words of Christ. Take time to read these words, meditate on them and listen for God's grace and mercy for your life. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world. He died for you. It was a big thing that He did this to bring forgiveness to all people in all time, but it is an even bigger thing that He did it for you. I pray you will be blessed this Holy Weekend and that after the cross you will see the light of the resurrection and be transformed.

Matthew 27:46, "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Luke 23:34, "And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And parting his garments among them, they cast lots."

Luke 23:43, "And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."

John19:26-27, "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold, thy mother! And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home."

John 19:28, "After this Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst."

John 19:30, "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit."

Luke 23:46, "And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost."


April 17, 2006

Day out  Those who are active in ministry in their church will understand when I say Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, is a busy and sometimes stressful time. Many churches hold special services and other activities, so extra planning and preparation were necessary to make everything fall into place. The administrator at our church had six bulletins to prepare with hundreds of extra copies. The printer in our church ran constantly all week. Our whole family was involved in some way with most of the events and services this week. We had to be there early and stay late; during the activities we were busy with details. It was a wonderful week, but exhausting for us all.

The last thing I wanted to do was spend all day cooking a big dinner to celebrate the holiday. We thought about attending an Easter Brunch, but they tend to be so expensive and we are never hungry enough to enjoy the vast array of food. So, we decided to spend the day at Sea World. With our season passes, we could go for just a few hours, enjoy a ride or two and a show, eat dinner and just be together. It was our way of relaxing after such a busy week, a chance to laugh and play after such a busy week.

I'm sure most of those who are active in ministry will take at least some time this week. Pastors were required to prepare extra sermons, administrators extra bulletins. The altar guild took the church from palms to darkness to lilies. The men worked hard to ensure that the property was safe and attractive for our special day. The youth prepared an incredible breakfast which their leaders had to work even harder to get ready. The musicians held extra practices so that they would present music that would be fitting and inspiring throughout the week.

Isn't it amazing that something as freeing as Easter would take so much of our energy? It is not a burden while we are in the midst of the preparation, but by the end of the week we are exhausted from all the work. In the end, however, we rejoice that the love and grace of God has reached so many people in some many different ways. We praise God for His forgiveness that has reached beyond our usual crowds to others who have come seeking to know what all the hullabaloo is about. We are thankful that we've had the chance to share the good news of Christ Jesus and the freedom He has given to all those who believe. And on Monday morning, we thank God for the freedom we experience when we can sit back and relax. We can also thank one another for making it such a wonderful time of worship and praise to God.

"I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:3-11 (ASV)

I know for a fact that our pastor is taking an extra day off. We are going to ensure that other staff members at our church have time off in recognition of the extra work they did last week. I have no doubt that the music and other worship preparation will be subdued this week as people regain their strength. Sometimes the work we do for Christ is sudden and intense, but then God gives us the opportunity to sit back and breath, to enjoy His presence. I think for those in ministry, Easter is not so much the time for renewal that it could be, but in this week following we can take the time to consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means for us today.

I also hope that we will take the time to thank all those who have done so much to make our Easter experience a joy and love. I pray this will be a week of renewal for everyone who worked so hard to make this Holy Week an inspirational and life changing time. Thanks be to God.


April 18, 2006

Penguins  It was a very hot day when we went to Sea World. As a matter of fact, we are having record breaking temperatures right now. So, we decided to spend some time in the Penguin house. It is nice because they have it nicely chilled for the penguins. The first room has a large aquarium in which the penguins live. They have rocky ledges, falling snow and a nice large pool in which to swim. There are several different types of penguins, all just sort of hanging around. In front of the aquarium is a moving floor that takes people through slowly enough to see, but quickly enough to get them through. There is also a standing area little higher than the moving floor with benches where people can sit and watch the penguins play.

We were in no rush, so we went up and sat on one of the benches for awhile. Zack rode the moving floor a couple of times and Vicki went down to take some pictures. It was fun to watch the penguins while we relaxed in the cool room. After a short while, Vicki said that one of big penguins was showing off. He had his head held high and his chest thrown out. He definitely looked tall and proud. I soon realized that many of the penguins, including that one, were doing a little dance. It then became rather obvious that spring had sprung in the penguin house and they were in the mood for love.

Vicki commented on how so many of the animals seem to have characteristics of other animals. We've seen it in our cats. Sometimes Felix reminds us of an owl or a merecat. At times the penguins reminded us of things that Tigger and Felix do. One penguin waddled up to another and pecked it and then went toward the water and jumped in. The other looked annoyed. It was almost like when Tigger tries to get Felix to play chase tag and Felix looks annoyed.

I answered Vicki's comment with the observation that they often have human characteristics. There were two penguins, doing what penguins do, when a third came up to them. He started poking the one in the back as if he was jealous. They stopped and stood together for a long time. Finally, one of the penguins walked up, beside her partner and touched her wing to his. They looked like they were holding 'hands'. Of course, penguins don't have hands, but wing to wing they certainly looked like they were in love.

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ASV)

I know it may seem silly to think of penguins as if they had human characteristics, and yet I could not help but think of this passage as I watched those two the other day. They did not attack the intruder, even when he came back to bother them some more. They patiently stood there together for a very long time. I don't know if they were waiting for something – it is not as if there is much for them to do in that aquarium. Yet, they seemed to stand there with a purpose, to be purposely together. All I know is that as I was watching them, I thought about today's scriptures.

I wonder how often we take the time to sit and watch creation, really watch it to see how God is active in the world around us. We might notice, occasionally, something breathtakingly beautiful or magnificent and think about God. I was glad that we had a slow, unrushed day at Sea World because it gave us a chance to really see what they had to offer. All too often we rush through everything, trying to get everything in and we miss God's subtle reminders of His love as revealed even in the actions of penguins in an aquarium. Thanks be to God.


April 19, 2006

Splash  We have gone to see the Shamu show at Sea World about a half dozen times. Each time is slightly different, not because they necessarily change the show, but rather because the animals are unique individuals with personalities and moods. Sometimes the whales react more slowly or refuse to do the skill being performed or they just want to have a little fun with their human partners. The shows also differ slightly according to the place we sit.

Now, usually Sea World is incredibly crowded and the stadiums fill up quickly for the shows. It was not so full this weekend, so we were able to get seats closer to the pool. The closer to the pool you sit, the more likely you are going to get wet. This is called the "Splash Zone." We have had seats in the splash zone, but usually rather near the top. It isn't so bad getting splashed a bit when you are there on a hot day. And it was hot the day we visited. So, we decided to sit much lower in the splash zone than we had ever been.

The theme for this year's show is "Believe" and they tell the story of a boy who believes that he will one day see a killer whale face to face. It is a lovely story that brings in the stories of the trainers and audience involvement. Though many of the skills were the same as previous shows, they have definitely added some wonderful new things. I suppose I don't really know because I've never been so close to the pool, but I think they do a lot more splashing. I certainly walked out of there soaking wet, and I was still about ten rows up.

We laughed in expectation when the whales began the splashing, remembering the other times we've gotten wet during the show. Then it was just a few drops, perhaps a big splot on the leg, but no big deal. We dried in a matter of minutes. So, when the whale set up for the splash we waited anxiously, wondering how much more water there would be so close. It happened so fast we barely even saw it coming and it was as though we were standing underneath a waterfall. During the show we were hit several times and we left dripping wet. The thing we noticed that we'd never realized before – the water was salt water. We tasted it on our lips. Of course it is salt water, after all whales are ocean animals. However, we'd never realized it because we never got so wet as to be dripping from head to toe. The splash left a lasting affect. Our clothes, hair and even my purse were drenched in salty water and everything needed to be cleaned.

"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits. Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:9-21 (ASV)

The whale did not do anything wrong; he did what was expected of him during the show. The fact that we got soaking wet was our own fault because we sat in the splash zone even after the reminders that people in those seats would get wet.

However, as I thought about this event, it reminded me how our sin has a lasting effect on the people around us, even when the sin is seemingly innocent or is brought on by our own actions. When you take a joke too far, what was once funny might then significantly impact your relationship with the person who receives the brunt of the jokes. It might seem harmless to do a little flirting, spend too much money or coerce someone into having one too many pieces of pie, but even these actions that might seem petty can be life changing to someone else. That's why we are called to love with more than just words. We truly love with our deeds and our thoughts so that everything we do will build others, encourage them and bring them the life changing mercy and forgiveness of Christ Jesus. When we live the Christ-like life of which Paul writes evil is overcome in our own lives as well as the lives of those that cross our path. Thanks be to God.


April 20, 2006

Music  It is hard to believe, but we are down to just over a month until the end of school. Here in Texas this week the students are busy taking the state tests designed to measure their growth in the last year. It is a stressful time, but for most of the schools things will settle down after this week. There is still learning to do and finals to take, but everything will be winding down soon as the teachers present reviews and projects that will bring the year of learning together for the kids.

The end of the school year is also time for the extra curricular activity groups to have special celebrations. Sports teams and other organizations are planning banquets. Organizations are coordinating their records so that they can give trophies and awards to their exemplary students. The music departments are preparing programs to entertain the other students and also to present their gifts to their families and the community.

There are those who would say that these things really do not matter very much. Compared to the importance of the academics, the banquets and concerts are just frivolous. Some might even say they are a waste of time. With the recent news that as many as thirty percent of high school students never graduate, there might be some truth that there should be a greater focus on the intellectual aspects of education. Yet, there is a great deal of value in the extra curricular activities.

Sports help to keep students healthy and they teach students so many important lessons like team work, sportsmanship and even how to fail. Other organizations provide students a place to fellowship with like-minded people and they often schedule charitable activities that look beyond themselves to the community. Music programs teach discipline and commitment. Music also offers something else. It offers a way to learn.

Preschool and early elementary programs use a great deal of music during the school day. They teach the alphabet, colors, numbers and other concepts through song. They do this because music is retained by our minds much easier than prose. Anyone who has gone through the day humming an annoying tune will definitely agree. When the teachers use a catchy song to teach a concept, the children take it home with them and sing it all day long. That's usually how we end up with one of those annoying songs in our heads!

Martin Luther knew this to be true, and that's why he wrote so many hymns to be used by the people during worship. He knew that they would learn more about God's Word if he set the words to music they could sing. That's why it was very important to him to write the hymns in the common language. He meant the words to be heard, understood and learned. Yet, I recently learned that it was more than that. While the hymns did provide a way to learn the word of God, they also gave the people the word of God in their hearts and on their lips so that they could go out and sign them to others. Hymns were sermons to be shared with others, so that the word of God would be preached to all people. Though most people could not, and should not, write sermons to be shouted on the street corners, everyone can sing a hymn and share God with their neighbor.

"I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry." 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ASV)

It is hard to believe we have reached another end of the school year, but I know it is true because so many activities are being planned to celebrate the accomplishments of the last year. I am looking forward to attending the banquets and other events for my children because I am proud of the things they have done this year. I'm also anxious to attend the programs for the preschool at our church. I've gotten to know the children over the past few months and I am really excited to see them share what they have learned with their families and friends.

The next time you sing a hymn, listen to the words. What do they say to you about God, about Jesus and about faith? Is there some way you can share those words with someone else today? God calls us in faith to be prepared to share our faith. Most people would say that they are not gifted or able to preach the word to anyone. However, we all can share the Gospel with our neighbor. Sometimes it just takes humming a tune. Thanks be to God.


April 21, 2006

Party  Today is a very important day for Queen Elizabeth of England. It is her 80th birthday. The queen is spending the day at Windsor Castle as she does for her birthday every year. Yet, this year is a little different than normal. It has been tradition for the monarch to reschedule the birthday celebration for later in June, when the weather is more likely to be pleasant for the visitors. After all, when a monarch of a country has a birthday, the party fills an entire city, even the country. So, this year Queen Elizabeth's official birthday will be held on June 17th. Normally, she celebrates her actual birthday quietly, with family. Yet, today she took a walk among the crowds who gathered to wish her well. She received many flowers as gifts and enjoyed the presence of her people. As it turned out, the weather was wonderful, but the queen is lucky to have her birthday at such a lovely time of year. April in England is beautiful.

That's not true of every monarch. Her father, Kin George VI, was born in December. It would be impossible to schedule an official birthday celebration for the country in that dreary time of year. So, as previous monarchs, he simply moved his birthday to June. Queen Elizabeth continued the tradition. I'm sure there are plenty of children thinking to themselves, "Hey, I want two birthdays!" After all, two parties mean more cake and presents, doesn't it?

We have celebrations for so many different reasons. At this time of year there are many weddings being planned. Graduation parties and holiday picnics are on our schedules. These events take so much preparation and one of the most important details is choosing the right day. The hardest part of choosing the day is knowing what sort of weather there will be on that day. It would be ideal for the weather to be sunny and warm – not too hot and not too cold – for an outdoor picnic. If the weather is going to be nasty, we are more likely to plan the party to be indoors so that everyone will be safe and dry.

Another problem is deciding who to invite. After all, there is always someone who will be offended if they are left off the guest list and yet you can't invite too many people. There is only so much space for so many people. That's why the queen has her birthday in June. She can't invite the whole country into her home. Those who gather on the streets to catch a glimpse of her on her special day need it to be nice so that they will be comfortable and safe. Changing the date is one very simple way the monarch takes care of his or her people.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come? My help cometh from Jehovah, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Jehovah is thy keeper: Jehovah is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. Jehovah will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul. Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for evermore." Psalm 121 (ASV)

There is a really good chance that someone reading this is planning some sort of special event in the next few months. There is an even better chance that most of us have been invited to an event. If we concern ourselves with the safety and comfort of our guests, how much more will God do so? If the queen considers the weather when planning her birthday celebration, willingly moving it to another time of year for the sake of the many people who will participate and visit, how much more will God do for us?

Our Lord does not slumber or sleep. And though we may face the storms of life, we can rest assured that He will be with us in the midst of them. Perhaps our events will not all turn out perfect, but we can know that God loves and blesses us which is better than any party we can ever hold. He knows us and He knows what we need. When we face disappointment in some aspect of our life, He will be there to give us something even better. Thanks be to God.


April 24, 2006

Lists  This is the big week. Bruce retires from the Air Force after thirty years of service on Friday. We are expecting family and friends from all over the country to be here this week. Some of the family will be staying with us, while others are staying in hotels, on the base or in the homes of other friends. There is so much to do; I sometimes wonder how I will get it all done.

One of my organizational techniques is to make lists. I have a pile of papers on my desk with lists of jobs to complete and shopping to do. I have worked out a schedule in my mind of when everything needs to be done. I will clean certain rooms each day, leaving the high traffic areas for later in the week. I have different grocery shopping lists for each day, so that I will buy the perishable ingredients for each meal as it is needed. I don't want the food to go bad, but I also don't have the room for everything at ones. We've even scheduled sightseeing for our visitors.

Somehow in the midst of all this work, I still have to do all my normal tasks around the house. The kids still need to eat, get to school and go to their activities. The world won't stop for me, so there are a few things at my job that needs my attention this week. And of course, I hope to continue to write each day. Sadly, it is probably the daily devotional that will suffer this week as I try to fit everything into these very busy days.

Why is it that when we get busy, our time with God is the first thing we think we can give up? We know God is with us at every moment, so we think that it is ok to pray as we are running out the door rather than take the time to devote to our relationship with God. I know that when it happens with family members, when we are so busy that we barely even have time for a meal, that I begin to miss being with them. In the past few weeks Vicki has had after school rehearsals for the competition play, so we've barely even had time to sit down to watch our favorite television shows together. It seems that when we skip our quiet time with God, we don't feel the same sense of loss. Yet, it is when we are busy that we most need to take those moments to be alone in prayer and the scriptures. It is when we are overwhelmed by the world in which we live that we need to pay attention to God and to be thankful for His presence in our lives.

"Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; the righteous shall enter into it. I will give thanks unto thee; for thou hast answered me, And art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Is become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah's doing; It is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah: We have blessed you out of the house of Jehovah. Jehovah is God, and he hath given us light: Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt thee. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever." Psalm 118:19-29 (ASV)

I will do my best to keep aside some time to be quiet with God, to keep Him at the center of all that I do. It will be more difficult on a week when I have to make lists so that I will remember to take care of every tiny detail. Yet, God's grace is always greater than my failings and I know that God will be with me anyway and His forgiveness is mine. He is my salvation and my refuge. It is when we know that we don't have time for prayer and Bible reading that we have to take the time to do it. And when we do, we will find that we have more than enough time to accomplish everything else. Thanks be to God.


April 25, 2006

Youth  I went on a retreat with the youth of our church this past weekend. While we took the time to do some lessons, the weekend was more about team building and fellowship. The kids had a great deal of free time, time when they could freely use the sports equipment and enjoy the facilities. This might have seemed like a waste of time to others, most coordinators plan something for nearly every minute. I suppose part of the reason for that is to ensure that the kids do not get into trouble – free time often means trouble.

The retreat center we used has ropes courses. This was the main reason we chose this particular center for this retreat. The kids love to do the ropes courses. They are challenging and frightening, but when they accomplish the feat they are so encouraged. The low ropes course has team building activities – tasks that require them to work together to accomplish the goal. They played what seemed to be games, but in each one they learned about listening to one another and hearing other ideas. They learned to think ahead, to think about the outcome and work towards it. One of the activities included bungee cords hooked between a couple of trees in the form of a huge spider web. The goal was to get everyone through the spider web, each one using a different hole, from one side to another. To make it more difficult, the guide put a small stick in the middle. They could not drop the stick or they had to start again. Some of the holes were very small and very high – it took real team work on both sides to lift some of the kids through the web.

Though they had a great time with the group activities, they were most excited about the high ropes course. These activities really stretched their strength and their courage. The screamer is an extreme swing, the climbing wall as tall as some of the trees and the zip line sent them flying down a hill nearly into a grove of trees. The final activity was called "Leap of Faith" and was truly a leap of faith. To participate, the kids had to climb a fifteen foot pole with a very small platform on top. The platform was barely big enough for one person to stand, let alone turn around. Once to the top of the pole, the kids had to turn around to face a trapeze bar which was hanging about twelve feet away – just beyond most people's reach. The only way down, once standing on the top of the pole, is to jump. The participants are fully harnessed, with spotters and guides to keep them safe.

Most of the kids wanted to do the activity – they were never forced to do so – but it was a stretch to their faith and courage. Several of the kids wanted to turn around when they got to the top. It looks a lot easier from the ground than it really is. Yet, the guide and the group encouraged them to at least sit on the top of the pole, jumping from there. It was actually more dangerous for them to sit and jump, but fear and doubt can be very powerful. As a matter of fact, several of the kids during the earlier Bible studies talked at length about their fear. It was part of our teaching to remind them of God's presence even when we are in the midst of difficult times.

"Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:27-31 (ASV)

The kids had a choice. They could do the activities or not. However, they were encouraged to stretch their faith and their courage. They were constantly reminded of the presence of the Church – the adults and fellow youth cheering them on – and of God who is present in the midst of the Church. There were times they could not overcome their fear or doubt, but when they did they were incredibly blessed. Even when they failed they were blessed by seeing their teammates accomplish the feat. The next time they will remember how they were raised like eagles and they will be strengthened by the faith they saw in their friends. Thanks be to God.


April 26, 2006

No WORD posted.


April 27, 2006

Thank you for your patience during this week. Our company arrived yesterday and kept me busy all day. I will miss tomorrow also, but should return to a normal schedule next week.

Pantry  We have a pantry next to our kitchen. It is a fairly large room, like an extended walk-in closet. There is room for the washer and dryer, a commercial freezer and shelves filled with food and other things used in the kitchen. There is a door to the garage and places for large items like brooms and mops. The only problem with this room is there are no windows. No matter what time of day, no matter how bright the sun is shining, it is necessary to turn on the light to see what you are doing.

I have noticed something strange about this situation, however. The light in the pantry shines the same amount of light whether it is day or night, and yet during the day the room is not as bright as it is at night. The brighter light in the kitchen, from the sunlight shining through the windows makes the light appear dimmer during the day. It is hard to see, even with the light turned on. In the dark, the light in the pantry seems to be more than enough. As a matter of fact, during the darkness, the light in the pantry gives plenty of light. Yet, during the day, that same light is nearly worthless.

We live in a world full of darkness. Evil and self-centeredness abound all around us. In such a world, the goodness of one person can shine pretty bright. Think about the people who are known for their good works – Mother Teresa for example. When we look at the things she accomplished in the midst of such horror and tragedy, we see her as a bright light. Yet Mother Teresa did not see herself so highly. She lived in the presence of God, who dwelled in her heart and His light shone through her life. Her light was little more than that light bulb in the pantry. It seems bright in the darkness of night, but next to the light of Christ it was worthless.

"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. Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God. And Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that beholdeth me beholdeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me may not abide in the darkness. And if any man hear my sayings, and keep them not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I spake not from myself; but the Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak." John 12:37-50 (ASV)

Our light shines as brightly as that light bulb in the pantry and we do many good things with our lives. Yet, our light is nothing compared to the light of Christ. Our good works are worthless when we stand next to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are nothing without Him.

Should I keep the light in the pantry turned off during the day? No, because without the light I can't see anything. At least that light bulb gives a little help when trying to find something in the room. So, too, are we expected to shine our light into the world, because our light is a reflection of the light of Christ. Our good works are a reflection of the good works of Christ. Our love is a reflection of the love of God. He sent His Son to be both an example for us and to be our Savior. We can never be a savior to anyone, but we can continue to be an example, to share the love, mercy and grace of Christ with the world. Thanks be to God.