Welcome to the February 2005 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






















Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, February 2005

February 1, 2005

Valentine  The stores have been filled with Valentine merchandise since the minute the Christmas decorations dwindled from the shelves. You can buy anything from simple cards to expensive jewelry to figurines depicting lovers in love. There are hundreds of different kinds of candy and stuffed animals. You can buy heart shaped pink bowls or lacey handkerchiefs. Everything is red, white and pink and it is all frilly. For some reason, love is linked to frills and fluff for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps it is because these gifts are extravagant uses of resources. A stuffed bear has no real value except in the thought given by the purchaser. A dozen roses will wither and die in a week. There is no lasting reminder of a box of candy except for the ten pounds we gain after we’ve eaten it all.

In the end, however, it isn’t the gift that will convince our spouse or friend that we love them. A piece of fluff or a box of candy will not build a relationship. People try too hard to make Valentine’s Day special, when they ignore romance and love the rest of the year. A special Valentine’s Day will never make something wonderful happen if something wonderful isn’t happening any other day.

This is a difficult time for many relationships. The situational comedy take on Valentine’s Day always puts a man in the middle of a department store with lingerie on one side and boxes of candy on the other. He worries about buying the right gift, knowing that everything he could choose would send a signal. The wrong signal can destroy the relationship. Perhaps this is not a totally accurate representation, but which one of us hasn’t been through the difficulty of choosing the right valentine for the one we love? But is our love really visible in the gifts we give?

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:7-21 (ASV)

Love is not shared through frilly fluffy gifts. A stuffed bear or heart shaped box of chocolates will never prove a deep and abiding love. Love is a daily experience, sharing the simple things together. It takes work, more than an agonizing walk down the seasonal aisle at the local Walmart. It takes sacrifice and compromise. It takes faith and trust. Most importantly, love does not come out of human effort but from the grace of God.

John tells us that no one has seen God, but that when we love we are like Him. As we love one another, not with romantic trinkets or expensive bobbles, but with the pure love that comes from God, the world sees His image in our hearts and in our lives. We love because God first loved us. Even more importantly, because God loves us there is nothing less we can do but to share that love with our brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God.


February 2, 2005

Today’s WORD was first posted on February 2, 2003

Groundhog Day  Bill Murray starred in a movie called “Groundhog Day.” It is a very funny movie, where Bill Murray plays a weatherman from Pittsburgh sent to Punxatawny on assignment for Groundhog Day. He is an arrogant and condescending man, putting down his coworkers and the people of that small town. He hates the idea that he has to go on this assignment and grumbles the whole way. He can’t wait to get out of Punxatawny because he is awaiting news of a new network job. Unfortunately for Phil, someone had something else in store for him.

He gets through the day, but his weather forecast is way wrong and the crew gets stuck in Punxatawny for the night. At 6:00 am the alarm rings and Phil wakes up the exactly the same day. Over and over again, Phil relives Groundhog Day in the one place he would rather not be. For the first few days, Phil is confused, wondering why this is happening. Eventually he realizes that he can take advantage of the situation. He robs a armored truck, takes advantage of women and eats like a pig. He even ends up in jail, but wakes up the next morning back in bed with the same radio show blaring a wake up call. He decides that the day will never end as long as the groundhog exists so he tries to kill it. He kills himself in the process. When he wakes up again to Groundhog Day, he tries to kill himself. One day he electrocutes himself, another day he jumps off a building. Every day he wakes up again to a new Groundhog Day.

Through it all he falls in love with his producer, Rita. He realizes that if he is going to relive the same day over and over again, he might as well do something worthwhile. He learns to play piano and how to carve ice sculptures. He reads and learns about medicine and literature. He gets to know the people in the town intimately, and he experiences the same things every day. He tries to tell his coworkers about his problem, but they do not understand. When they do believe him, the day ends and Groundhog Day begins once again and they have no knowledge of what occurred. Finally, Phil takes the day to do many wonderful things. He saves lives and marriages, makes people happy with his talents and by the end of the day the whole town loves him. Rita sees this new Phil and falls in love with him. The next morning, the radio goes off a 6:00 am, and it is finally a new day. As they are leaving town, Phil decides he wants to stay in Punxatawny with Rita and live there forever.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (ASV)

Bill Murray’s character goes through a transformation that begins with his evil nature and he pursues the lusts of his flesh – greed, gluttony and sex. Eventually he realizes that this is useless and he becomes a transformed man – educated and caring. Instead of doing everything for his own benefit, he uses his days to do good and wonderful things. When he is finally transformed, completely selfless, the day ends and he begins a new life as a new person. In the movie, Phil’s transformation seems to be by his own works, yet you can’t help but think something or someone is leading him into a new life. Why this daily rerun of the same day, over and over again?

Do we ever feel like we are living the same day over and over again? The date on the calendar might change, but we get up at 6:00 am to the same old stuff – nine-hour workday, dinner, and the same old reruns on television. We lust after the same things and fall into the same traps. Yet, we have been saved by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus so that we can be transformed into a new creation. Just like Phil, each day we die to our old ways, learning new things about God and finding new ways to live in His love. For Phil, one day seemed to take a lifetime and a lifetime fit into one day. Tomorrow will be a new day for us. How will we use the time God has given us? Let us always live in God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. Thanks be to God.


February 3, 2005

No WORD posted due to flu.


February 4, 2005

Hiding  I found an article online this morning about applying to graduate school. The author questioned the appropriateness of emphasizing one’s religious or political leanings in the application. A resume filled with extracurricular activities might appear good at first glance, but they reveal a great deal about a person. The author suggested that an admissions committee might take offense to a specific religion and though that should not weigh in on a person’s acceptance, it might indirectly affect the outcome of the application process. The author of the article suggested that when writing one’s resume, he or she should be less willing to identify the specific groups in which they are involved, instead listing activities with vague or hidden references to their faith or racial identity.

I suppose we are all tempted to hide our faith identity from the world at times. It is difficult to be an employee in an organization that is obviously anti-whatever you are. If you are a Christian and the boss considers Christians to be unintellectual, it makes sense to keep your Christian faith hidden from your boss. By identifying yourself with a particular faith group opens the doors to persecution and harassment, even in our world where these things are unacceptable. It is much easier to hide our faith than to try to live openly as a Christian.

And after these things he went forth, and beheld a publican, named Levi, sitting at the place of toll, and said unto him, Follow me. And he forsook all, and rose up and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house: and there was a great multitude of publicans and of others that were sitting at meat with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with the publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:27-32 (ASV)

Imagine what it must have been like for Levi (or Matthew as he is also called). He was a tax collector. Now some tax collectors were horrible cheats. They took far too much money, getting wealthy off the poor. They were highly disliked, much like the tax collectors in today’s world. Yet, Levi was probably not a bad guy. We don’t know what kind of tax collector he was, but he obviously had listened to Jesus speak and knew that Jesus stood for something worthwhile. He left everything to follow Jesus. I wonder how his friends immediately reacted to the conversion. Walking away from his job would not have been welcome by the Romans; his fellow tax collectors probably thought he was crazy. It would have been much better for him to hide his Christian identity during the work week, only following his Christian faith on weekends. At the very least, he could have disappeared with Jesus and the other disciples and not worry about the backlash of his faith.

Yet, Levi did not hide his Christian identity. As a matter of fact, he celebrated it and invited his friends to a great banquet with Jesus. He shared his faith among those who might have been his greatest opponents. He did not worry about whether or not they would like him, whether or not the society in which he lived would accept him. He was passionate about Jesus and he went forth in faith. I wonder how many of us would be like Levi or whether we would prefer to follow the advice of that author and keep our faith hidden. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He calls us to give up our lives for His sake. This means taking our faith into our world, whether that world is school, work or our neighborhoods. Thanks be to God.


February 7, 2005

Cookies  I heard a statistic recently that the average family spends at least eight hours a day in front of the television. This seems like a rather large figure, considering that most of the time we are not even home and awake that many hours in a day, but if you include the weekends and the time the TV is on but not really being watched, I suppose it is possible for the average family. The most unfortunate part of this statistic is that we don’t even try to find other things to do – it is too easy to settle in front of the tube and vegetate. This means many children have lost the ability to find something to keep them busy.

I remember when I was a kid, my friends and I spent hours playing games and creating diversions for ourselves. Monopoly tournaments lasted weeks. We spent days pretending to be restaurant or store owners, doing all that was necessary to run the business. We made full fledged menus, scheduled celebrities to perform, set up tables or merchandise counters. At night we would play flashlight tag or have campouts. Our creativity was not limited to good and wholesome fun, however. We managed to get ourselves into trouble occasionally like the day we played bar at my parents’ bar – mixing drinks and dumping them down the sink. We also liked to go tic-tacking. Now, we were not vandals, soaping windows or covering trees with toilet paper. We simply enjoyed the thrill of tossing seed corn at windows to get the attention of the people inside and running off to hide. We generally did this at our friends’ houses, but occasionally we hit the nasty lady down the street or the weird guy on the corner.

As I look back now, I realize how horrible and dangerous such games can be, especially with a story that has recently been reported from Colorado. There, two teens were spending an evening together and decided to make cookies that they took to the neighbors as a good-will gesture. Unfortunately, they delivered the cookies late at night and they left the cookies anonymously. One neighbor was frightened by the incident and went to the emergency room because she thought she was having a heart attack. I would have felt awful if my games had caused a similar problem for one of my neighbors.

“And he said unto them, Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Mark 4:21-25 (ASV)

The girls were just trying to find something to do with themselves one evening. It was a very nice gesture to share the cookies with their neighbors. Most of the people who received the gifts were quite thankful and they even sent the girls thank you notes. However, we live in dangerous times and a knock on the door late at night can be a frightening experience particularly for a woman living alone. With the news programs filled with drive by shootings and forced entry break-ins, a person can easily assume the worst.

We need to remember that our actions affect other people. Even when we think we are doing something nice, we have to consider how it will be seen by those affected. The girls were very kind to share their cookies, but there is no reason they needed to do such a thing so late at night. The cookies would easily have waited for the light of day. Nothing we do need be hidden by the darkness of night for everything that is hidden will be revealed. Thanks be to God.


February 8, 2005

Doughnuts  All over the world today people are indulging in some traditional food as a part of Shrove Tuesday celebrations. In my home region, the food of choice is doughnuts or fastnachts (which means fast night). Fastnachts are a special yeast raised potato doughnut that are deep fried and then covered with sugar or syrup. Other places make similar foods. They are made with the ingredients that were required to be removed from the home during the Lenten fast such as flour and grease. The whole purpose of Shrove Tuesday was to remove from the home everything that would tempt a person to sin through Lent. After eating all the food, the people attended worship to be shriven – receive reconciliation – so that they can enter Lent free from guilt.

The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday has also been called Fat Tuesday. In many places this is a national holiday and is a day of celebration. The parties begin on Three Kings Day, January 6 and end with Mardi Gras. The carnival reaches a peak on Fat Tuesday with parades, feasts and costumes. The modern celebration of Fat Tuesday is wild, self-indulgent and sinful, seeming far from the Christian tradition of Shrove Tuesday. However, evidence of the Christian foundations of the day is still found in the fact that the party ends abruptly at midnight when Ash Wednesday officially begins.

This hedonistic party seems more an attempt to an attempt to enjoy oneself as much as possible before the season of fasting. It is like the partiers are trying to get it all out of their system before they have to spend forty days suffering. Many people choose to give something up for Lent – some sort of self-sacrifice to better understand the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Lend is a time of repentance, a time of reflection and a time of preparation. Because of the seriousness of the Lenten journey, Fat Tuesday is seen as a last bastion of fun until Easter.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof: neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” Romans 6:1-13 (ASV)

Unfortunately, I was unable to make doughnuts this year and I forgot to buy some at the grocery store yesterday so we won’t be indulging in one of my favorite traditions. Yet, these old traditions no longer hold the same purpose as they once did, since we do not empty our homes of things like flour and grease through Lent. Perhaps for Shrove Tuesday we should consider the things we would like to remove from our lives and seek reconciliation so that we too can enter into the Lenten journey free from guilt. Rather than seeing the next forty days as a time of suffering and self-sacrifice, it can be a time of peace and a deepening of our relationship with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.


February 9, 2005

Training  I was working as a cashier when I graduated from college. Though that was my main position, I also worked in other areas around the store doing customer service, stocking and display arrangement. My employers saw potential in my abilities and asked me to help with store renovation projects at other locations. During those visits, the district and store managers encouraged me to apply for the management training program for that company.

The program included lessons on management, personal, bookkeeping, ordering and all the other aspects of retail sales. I learned the ins and outs of the company, learned about the distribution of merchandise, went to meetings with other management trainees and was mentored by my store director. Eventually I graduated and became a full fledged associate manager of my own store. My bosses had the confidence to transfer me to another store that was having management trouble and I was well on my way to a good career in the company.

One day I received a phone call from a headhunter, looking for management for another company. This company was willing to pay a much higher salary than I was already getting so I met with the personnel manager and agreed to take the job. I was somewhat surprised, however, to discover that I was required to undergo another management training program, after all I had already been through one at another company. After I started the courses, I realized that there were quite a few things I already knew but there were also many things about this new company I had to learn. It was a larger organization with different policies and practices. It was necessary to attend the training not because they thought I was incompetent but because I had to learn their way of doing things. If they had just thrown me into the new job with no training, I would have been lost under piles of paperwork and confused by the differences between the two companies.

We might think that we are perfectly capable to enter into a new job or task in this world, but no matter how experienced we are, there are things we need to learn before beginning. I was tempted to skip through many of the activities required for the second training program, thinking that I already knew enough. I found, though, that the training was quite helpful even when it was repetition. There was a purpose and everything fell into a cohesive unit. It also helped me overcome my tendency of doing things the old way.

Imagine Jesus Christ, newly baptized by John the Baptist and preparing to enter into the ministry for which God sent Him into this world. He was the divine Son of God with gifts beyond anything we can imagine. With a word He could send demons running over cliffs and He could heal people of their dis-ease. He made the lame walk and the deaf hear. He made the blind see and He made God’s Kingdom real to those who listened. Yet, before Jesus could begin to preach He was sent into the wilderness for forty days for a time of testing and temptation.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” Matthew 4:1-11 (ASV)

Today is Ash Wednesday and we are entering into the church season called Lent. The next six weeks are reminiscent of the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. We may wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to go through such a difficult time unless we understand that this was a time of preparation. The devil tempted Jesus with the very things that would tempt Him during His three years of ministry. The testing helped Jesus grow in confidence by helping Him to see that He could overcome the difficulties He would face. The devil may have intended to turn Jesus away from His given path, but God used that time to build Him up for the good of the mission.

We may think that we can just go from Christmas to Easter without the disciplines of Lent, but the disciplines of Lent are important to for us to be transformed from our focus on the manger to our focus on the cross. We can’t go from birth to death without facing the realities of life, the temptations of this world and the testing of God which builds us in confidence and strength. Let us spend the next forty days in the wilderness with Christ Jesus, seeing how the devil tries to direct our lives away from the will and purpose of God so that we can face the cross with a renewed sense of assurance that this is the way of God. Thanks be to God.


February 10, 2005

Fence  We live in an area that is rapidly developing. Our own subdivision has added hundreds of new houses in the year we have lived here, and there are still several hundred planned in the next year or two. There are a dozen other developments going up within a few miles of our house. The builders take into account the reality of the landscape, ensuring that properties are graded in a way to take the water run off into drainage ditches and away from the foundations of the buildings. We are constantly being reminded by our housing association to not tamper too much with our yards or else we might divert the water in a way that would harm our own homes or those of our neighbors. The greatest problem we have faced with this house is the fact that the river that occasionally runs through our yard has eroded the dirt from under part of our fence. It is now hanging loose and will eventually fall apart unless we can find some way to fix the problem.

I have noticed that there are others dealing with fence problems. Some of the older subdivisions have fences that are falling over, often because the wood and foundations have weakened due to the running water. There is a low lying place on one of the roads I drive regularly. This is a road that often closes because of flooding, but as I was watching the other day I realized that the water must run into the backyards of the homes along that road. I can see the evidence in the fences along the road because they are old and rough, falling apart or leaning precariously. Several times after rain I have seen those fences ripped right off the posts and lying on the ground. It must get very frustrating constantly repairing and replacing those fences. Some of the homeowners have gotten creative with the way they are dealing with this problem. One person has cut off the bottom of the fence and reconnected it with hinges. Now when the water runs, it pushes the swinging ‘door’ taking the stress off the main part of the fence. At another house, the bottom twelve inches of the fence has been replaced by spindles which allow the water to run through.

Not all the solutions are practical or effective. I passed by the other day and noticed someone had placed a statue of Buddha between the flood waters and the fence. Though I can’t be sure the purpose of this statue, it seemed to me that it was placed there to protect the home from something. Somehow I doubt, however, that a small statue will do anything to stop the water that will inevitably run into the back yard of that home. Yet, I wonder how often we try to take refuge or solve our problems in ways that are ridiculous and pointless.

“In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge: Let me never be put to shame. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and rescue me: Bow down thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: Thou hast given commandment to save me; For thou art my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah: Thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb; Thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: My praise shall be continually of thee. I am as a wonder unto many; But thou art my strong refuge. My mouth shall be filled with thy praise, And with thy honor all the day.” Psalm 71:1-8 (ASV)

I love the creative ways people have been dealing with their fence problems and perhaps we will be able to consider some of the same ideas for our own property. Of course, we won’t be using any statues to keep the water from running into our yard. I would like to think that in all things I will trust God to keep us and when bad things happen I hope that I will continue in faith knowing that God will make good come out of it. Yet, I wonder if there aren’t times when we turn to foolish solutions to our problems without even realizing how foolish they appear.

Even when we do, we can rest in the assurance that God has promised to be our refuge and we can live in praise and thanksgiving for His mercy and grace. Let us all stand firm in the knowledge that God is our rock and our fortress and even when we face difficulties in this world we can trust in God’s faithfulness. Thanks be to God.


February 11, 2005

Commercials  Talk around the water cooler on Monday was heavily focused on the commercials that played during the football game on Sunday. Expectations for the commercials always run high, after all the advertisers pay millions of dollars for them to play. Some people watch the game simply for the commercials, ignoring the sports moments in between. I didn’t bother, but I did find the commercials online Monday morning.

Some of the commercials were absolutely stupid, others caused me a chuckle and yet others were moving. A few were done well enough that I was able to recall the product being advertised although most of them left little more than an artistic impression. Opinion was pretty consistent about the disappointment in this year’s commercials. Most of the advertisers were seen as playing it safe after the previous year’s problems. They did not want to risk doing anything that might seem offensive to the viewers. One company even had a second commercial removed without its knowledge during the game after the first commercial was seen as questionable.

Last night was a completely different story on Donald Trump’s television show “The Apprentice”. The apprentice wannabees were asked to create a commercial for a new soap product, a body wash that uses cucumber, green tea and lotion to help a woman’s skin stay healthy. It is a refreshing product meant to revitalize the skin that is harshly affected by make-up and environmental conditions. The teams were more concerned about making an impact than on serving the product with their commercials. They tried to be bold and creative but they did not take into account the purpose of the product or the people for whom it was created. For the first time in the history of the show, neither team won the task because both teams created ads that could not be used by the company to sell the product.

“For I know that this shall turn out to my salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if to live in the flesh, --if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, yea, and abide with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith; that your glorying may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you and be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries: which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God; because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Philippians 1:19-30 (ASV)

Everyone expected great commercials during the football game on Sunday, but many people were quite disappointed. Donald Trump expected the competitors to produce an impressive commercial to help the company with their advertising campaign and everyone was disappointed with what they created. Donald Trump and the company trusted that they would make something happen, but when the teams failed it meant inconveniencing everyone. The company needed to produce their own commercial and they have done a terrific job, but this experience will make some possible companies think twice about allowing “The Apprentice” to take up tasks for them in the future.

For Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ creates an expectation of life for himself and for others who have heard the good news. He expects that Christ will be glorified whether Paul lives or dies, is free or imprisoned. Paul also expects that those who have come under the grace of God will live the life worthy of the Gospel, the life that expects Christ to be glorified in good times and bad. The problem with some of the commercials on Sunday and last night was that they did nothing to sell the product. It can be the same way with many Christians – their life does not shine the Gospel or the love of God into the world. The life lived in faith will glorify God no matter what the circumstances under which it is lived. Thanks be to God.


February 14, 2005

Gifts  Today is Valentine’s Day and the stores are packed with last minute gift ideas. One store has taken the breezeway outside the store doors that is normally filled with barbeque grills, bulk items and garden supplies and made it a one-stop shopping haven for the person that does not know what to get for their loved one. This place is filled with racks of stuffed animals, carts filled with plants and cut flowers. They have an area set aside for wrapping and presentation so that it appears to the recipient that some time and thought was put into the gift. The store is catering to those people who realize late that they should have something for their loved one.

However, may Valentine’s Day gifts are items that should not be purchased too early. The most popular presents are flowers which can’t be hidden for two long or they will die. Candy is another favorite, but it comes with its own set of problems. Candy should be stored in a cool, dry climate which can be difficult in some places. Also, it can be quite tempting to open the box long before the special day to eat it yourself. So, sometimes it is best just to wait until Valentine’s Day to purchase the present.

The trouble with these types of gifts is that they are not lasting. Flowers die and candy gets eaten. Even if the giver decides to give jewelry or stuffed bears, these things are all temporary. Jewelry gets lost, bears collect dust. All gifts, like all things created, have an end just as they have a beginning. The jewelry and bears will last longer than flowers and candy, but they can’t be taken into eternity. They can be little more than symbols of the love we have for one another and can’t replace living a life that shows love daily.

“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; is any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11 (ASV)

Many people put a great deal of pressure on their loved ones to make this day more special than the rest of the year, so they feel like they have to fall into the trap of spending money on things that will prove their love. Yet, how can a box of candy or a bouquet of roses really prove anything – they will be gone after a week or so. Other gifts might say it more clearly, but even then the reason and purpose will eventually be forgotten, especially if there is no love on other days of the year.

God also gives gifts to those He loves, but His gifts are given not to prove His love to an individual Christian. Rather, out of His deep love for the world, He gives gifts that will shine His love into the lives of those who do not know Him. His gifts are for the benefit of the kingdom, for the good of the world that continues to live in darkness. We try to hard to show love through things that are perishable, when we have been given much greater gifts that are lasting. Most of all, we have been given eternal life, life with Christ even after death. When all the flowers and candy, jewels and bears have passed away, we will live in the glory of God forever. That’s love and sharing that with others is real love. Thanks be to God.


February 15, 2005

Vacation  We are beginning to plan our vacation for this summer. We are going home to visit family and friends which is a really wonderful way for us to spend our time. However, it has been several years since we have done something fun as a family, like a holiday at a theme park or at the beach or in the mountains. Such trips can be quite expensive and we only have so much money to be used for leisure trips. Even a trip to our hometown, which is more affordable because we have free lodging and food, still cost us a lot of money. So, we rarely get to go anywhere else we might enjoy. This year we are thinking about spending a few extra days on the road so that we can take a trip to a theme park and historical sites along our way. This way we can still take our trip to our hometown while also having the opportunity to enjoy a family holiday at a fun destination.

There is a great deal to plan, especially since we are driving. We need to map out our route, look into possible hotels, get tickets to the theme park and find information about the other things we can do. We need to start saving our money and let our family and friends know we are coming. As we get closer to departure time, we need to plan our wardrobes and pack our suitcases, prepare the car make sure we have everything we need. We need to cancel the newspaper and mail, and get someone to take care of the cats. It may seem like it is much too early to concern ourselves with these things, but the more we take care of now the less difficult it will be to take care of it later.

I wonder what it was like for people in other eras of human history to plan for trips. It is unlikely that a common family would go on a vacation and family was rarely farther than the next farm, but there are stories of people who traveled in other generations. For many the trips were pilgrimages to religious sites, some even went as far as Jerusalem from the corners of the known world to prove their love for God. Some religions still require pilgrimage at least once in the believer’s life though I imagine the look of those trips are much different today than they were a thousand years ago. Imagine what it was like to go on the road, on foot, with only a backpack to carry everything needed. Those pilgrimages might take months or even years; to do it would mean giving up the normal life.

On top of that, travel was much more dangerous than it is today. Though there are dangers in automobiles or airplanes, we generally do not have to worry about pirates or thieves on the road. We don’t suffer from the heat of the day or the cold of the night because our cars have air conditioning and there are hotels every few miles where we can stay. Unfortunately, we don’t take our pilgrimages as seriously anymore and it seems like we need not look to God as much as those earlier travelers for our daily care and protection.

“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)

This Psalm is a song of a pilgrim, sung to ensure those travelers that God was with them through their journey. For those who had to walk through wilderness under the heat of the sun and who faced criminals around every corner, such a psalm would offer hope and peace in the journey. We may not be subjected to the same dangers of the road, but it does not make our need for God any less than it was for them. Even if we never leave our home, we can rest in the knowledge that God will never slumber, that He will keep us and guide us through our daily walk. Thanks be to God.


February 16, 2005

Relief  It has been nearly two months since the disastrous tsunami that affected Asia. The latest news from the region is the joyful reunion of “Baby 81” with his parents after a DNA test proved which of the nine couples claiming him were really his. The baby had been washed from his mother’s arms in the wave and later found in the mud. Since the family had lost everything, there was no way of proving the real identity of Abilass without modern technology. There are still hundreds of families that have been separated by the disaster and I pray we will hear more miraculous stories or reunions in the months to come.

Despite the occasional news story, interest in the tsunami has waned and financial contributions have leveled off. I saw a report recently that most of the countries that made financial promises have been negligent in paying those pledges. Though some relief had to be immediate, the organizations working in those countries have repeatedly reported that the work would take years to complete. The people need to be provided with food, medical care, clothes and houses and this is the easy part. Additionally, the infrastructure of these countries needs to be repaired and the economy restored. It may take years before people feel safe to travel as tourists to those regions and the fishing industry is suffering. Farmland will need to be restored, buildings replaced and jobs created before many of the people can return to some semblance of normalcy.

I recently received and email about the current relief situation in the tsunami devastated areas which was sent in response to the caring offers of many people all over the world. Many people feel that sending cash to and through a relief agency is far too impersonal – they want to do something, not just pay for it to be done. While this is a wonderfully and deeply loving attitude, there are many reasons why our actions can actually be disruptive of the relief efforts. Many people would like to send clothes or blankets, but the email from Rosella and Daniel Kameo who are missionaries in Indonesia explained why this is unhelpful. They said that it is better to purchase these things from the local economy because it means they can find the kind of items that fit the culture. Also, local purchases help the economy and they are available much more quickly.

Some people have offered to be volunteers and have wondered how to arrange for youth groups or other organizations to be missionaries for a time to help. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why this is not practical. Foreign, untrained volunteers often get in the way because they do not have the skills necessary for working in a different culture. They do not know the language or understand the culture. Also, by finding local skilled professional labor, once again it is possible to help the economy by offering jobs to the people who need restored confidence. Foreign volunteers also end up taking valuable hotel rooms and eating from the limited resources of food and water. The relief agencies can do far more with the thousands of dollars it would cost for a volunteer to travel to Indonesia than would be accomplished if the person went there in person.

“Honor Jehovah with thy substance, And with the first-fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, And thy vats shall overflow with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10 (ASV)

It may seem very impersonal to just write a check and send it to some seemingly impersonal organization to help the victims. However, we have to remember that God has blessed us all with gifts – some of us with wealth to share, others with the geography and talents needed to do the job. It is somewhat selfish of us to try to use our financial resources in a way that would hinder the work being done to help them overcome this disaster.

We are called to be good stewards of our resources. Sometimes that means simply to give the cash necessary for others to do the work. In all things, we can also pray. Though that may also seem impersonal, there is nothing more powerful than the prayers of the faithful to change the world. When God gives us gifts, whether they are financial resources or talents, He will give us the opportunity to use them. Tomorrow you may need to be available to lend a helping hand to your neighbor, for whom you can make a real difference. Trust God to open the doors and use your resources wisely. He is faithful. Thanks be to God.


February 17, 2005

Book  Have you ever read a book that was so good you just had to share it with everyone you know? Over the years I have had some children’s books that I’ve bought for my friend’s children and inspirational books that I thought would help others through tough times. If I can’t afford to purchase the books I have managed to recommend them to everyone I know. I keep many of these books in my library so that I can loan them to people who might be interested. A good book is a real gift and it is important to share such gifts with others.

Some people are fanatical about keeping their books in perfect condition – they do not like to have the pages bent or the binding creased. For this reason, many people do not even open their bibles. I’ve known folks who have been upset to see writing in the margins or highlighting on the words. To them, the bible is meant to stay pristine, even if it means that it is never opened. They consider it a holy book that should not be touched or used. It is almost blasphemous to crinkle a page. The trouble with this attitude is that the Bible is a great gift from God which is meant to be used, studied, learned and loved. We should not be throwing it around or purposely damaging the pages, but we can’t know what God has to say to us if we never open His love letter.

Unfortunately, a great many Christians are like those unopened Bibles. They have faith in Christ but never take that faith beyond the church doors or the privacy of their homes. They don’t share the gifts they have with others, they don’t share the message of the Gospel with those who need to hear it. Christ died that we might be saved. Isn’t this a gift to be shared? Christ lives that we might have eternal life with God forevermore. Shouldn’t we be blessing others with this incredible gift? Forgiveness is not just for one person, it is for everyone. But how will they know if they never hear? We are blessed to be a blessing.

“Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and be thou a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 (ASV)

We have no problem accepting the gifts that God has to give to us. We easily hear the first part of this promise – that God will bless us and make us great. We love that God will bless our friends and curse our enemies. We fall short remembering that we are blessed for a purpose – to be a blessing to others. While the blessings given to Abram are different than the promises we have received in Christ, this promise is meant for us all. We are children of Abraham and benefit from his righteousness, but we are also expected to share our blessings with others.

It does no good for us to be a Christian hidden behind our weekday flesh. We are called to live in faith every day in every way, sharing God’s grace with our family, friends and neighbors whether they are believers or not. We don’t know what might come of our witness – we may never see the results of our gifts in the lives of others. That does not matter. God does not bless us to keep it for ourselves. He gives all good gifts abundantly, more than we can ever imagine or consume. Like that good book we can’t keep to ourselves, why would we ever keep God’s word from being shared with others?


February 18, 2005

Pluto  Seventy-five years ago today, a man named Clyde Tombaugh was searching the heavens for a possible ninth planet in our solar system. He was just 26 years old and an amateur astronomer when he realized the recurring speck he was seeing in the photographic evidence and in his telescope was most likely the object for which they were looking. There has always been some question among the professionals about whether or not Pluto is really a planet, but since there is not an official definition of the word, it has remained a matter of debate. When Mr. Tombaugh died in 1997 Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, removed Pluto from the display of planets. More recent research has shown Pluto to be erratic and more closely related to the objects found in an icy belt at the edge of the solar system. Though Pluto is much smaller than the other planets, it is spherical and it has an atmosphere and seasons. There is also a small moon that orbits Pluto.

Astronomers are planning to send a probe to get more information about Pluto. It will take ten years to arrive at Pluto and will hopefully send back data that will help researchers better understand the origins of our solar system and the planet. By more fully identifying certain aspects of the edge of our solar system, they may be able to write proper definitions for these objects and eliminate the confusion surrounding them. Yet, even if we can discover more information about space, there is so much more to learn that we will never fully comprehend it all. The same can be said about our understanding of God.

“O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, Because of thine adversaries, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yea, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!” Psalm 8 (ASV)

In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. This does not mean simply the farmer’s fields and the domesticated animals, but the entirety of God’s creation. Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing that we can send rockets into space that will send us pictures of objects that are billions of miles from Earth, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach.

Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory. Thanks be to God.


February 21, 2005

Invalid  When you look up this word in the dictionary, it gives one definition as a noun and means “one who is sickly and disabled.” In today’s world of politically correct language, this is probably not an acceptable use of the world anymore - and for good reason. As an adjective it means “without validity,” but certainly someone with a disability should not be set aside in our world as if they are nothing.

There was a Catholic priest in Shiner, Texas whose life shows the truth of the validity of all people. He was studying to be a priest at a seminary in Texas when he was overcome by polio. The disease left his arms and his legs paralyzed. It took him a great deal of time to learn to live life as a quadriplegic but he eventually returned to finish the work he began in seminary. Of course, ordaining a priest with no functioning arms and legs would take special consideration by the church, but after twenty three years of his own seeking and the discernment of the church, Charles Kram finished his education and was made a full-fledged priest. He worked as a chaplain in a hospital and was deeply loved by those to whom he ministered. He helped people see that they can make the most of their lives even when they suffered from a disability.

His live could have become one without validity. Many people who suffer from disease and disability give up living. They do not try to overcome their troubles or try to find God’s grace in the situation. Instead they blame God and the world, complain about their lot in life and surrender to the disability.

The Bible tells us the story of a paralytic that was healed by Jesus. He had been invalid for thirty-eight years, unable to get into the healing pool to be made well by the stirring waters. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well, he blamed his disability and everyone else for not being able to get well. Jesus said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus did not let him settle for invalidity, but told him to go and do something. Though Charles Kram was never healed to the point that he could walk, Jesus healed him too – by telling him to go do the work he had been called to do. Yet, not all people see this as good work. Jesus was persecuted for His healing words.

“And for this cause the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh even until now, and I work. For this cause therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only brake the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and greater works than these will he show him, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. For neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son; that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father that sent him.” John 5:16-23 (ASV)

Father Kram is being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood, for living the life God called him to live despite his disability. His live could have become useless because of his disability, so that he might have been truly invalid in this world. However, he did not stop when the disability tried to stop him, he continued to move forward even if it was slowly.

We might think the greater miracle would have been for Charles to have been healed, for God to have made him walk and give him back the use of his arms. However, he has touched a great deal of people through his disability, something he may have never been able to do if he had full use of his body. He overcame with the help of many people. He needed people and technology to be his feet and his hands, but through the grace of God he helped change the world one person at a time. The greater works God does in this world may seem less than the miraculous things Christ did when He walked in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, but I think we ought to marvel over every person who is transformed by the love of Christ and who live in the grace of God no matter what their circumstances. Thanks be to God.


February 22, 2005

Sinner  Margaret left her family to live with a rich young man, a man who refused to marry her. She always held hope that he would take her as his wife; she even bore his child in the hopes that she could convince him to legitimize the child and make them a family. One day he did not come home and she went on the streets searching for him. She found his body in a pit where he’d been left to die by some attackers. Of course, this left Margaret with nothing. She had no rights to his estate because she was not his wife. Her son would never know the life he might have been given. She did the only thing she knew to do. She went home to her family, but they rejected her and her son.

This story might sound like something out of today’s newspaper, a girl who was so desperate for the love of a man that she would do anything to keep him. When he died, she was left with nothing but a reputation as a sinner. Her sense of self was destroyed; she had no hope or peace in the life she had chosen. Though this sounds like a modern love story, Margaret was a girl who lived in the 13th century. When her father rejected her, Margaret was taken in by a group of Franciscan monks. They educated her son who later became a monk and they gave Margaret the love of Christ. She slowly realized that her life was not beyond redemption and she began to see herself through the eyes of Christ – forgiven and beloved of God. She became a nurse and her work spurred the creation of a community of women who would continue her work with the poor. The town in which she lived gave her the funds to start a hospital. Her life which once seemed beyond salvation became a shining beacon of the love of Christ.

“Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake unto them this parable, saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.” Luke 15:1-5 (ASV)

In Jesus’ world, especially to the ones who were considered righteous according to the laws of the day, publicans and sinners were beyond redemption. Much like Margaret’s father, they willfully rejected and avoided them and treated them like outcasts. They did not belong in the community of faith. This is why the Pharisees and scribes were so surprised that Jesus would eat with them. Such fellowship made a man of God unclean, something no real rabbi would even consider.

Jesus saw the publicans and sinners in a different light. He saw them as through God’s eyes, as one of His created and worthy of His time and mercy. As a matter of fact, it was those very people who did not see themselves as beloved of God that really needed God’s loving touch. So, Jesus ate with them, taught them about the kingdom of God and gave them the opportunity to return to Him in repentance. He went looking for the ones who needed to be saved. When we hear stories like Margaret’s or listen to our Lord Jesus tell us about the radical love of Christ, we realize that He reaches far beyond our expectations to bring mercy and grace to even the most awful sinners. If you are like Margaret and think you are beyond redemption, remember that Christ seeks those who need Him most and open yourselves to His love. If you like her father and think someone else is beyond redemption, remember that Christ loved you a horrible sinner and saved you from your sin. Would He do any less for your neighbor? Thanks be to God.


February 23, 2005

Decisions  We make many decisions every day. We decide whether or not we should get up in the morning. We decide what to eat for breakfast and what to wear. We decide how to drive to work – which roads to take and the speed to go. Throughout our day we make many decisions about how we will accomplish our work and our play, how we will deal with our relationships. Some of the decisions are pretty clear cut that they don’t even seem like a decision. After all, who can really choose to stay in bed all day in a world where there is so much to do? Other decisions are harder but don’t make much of a difference like what to have for dinner. Will it matter tomorrow if we choose to eat spaghetti today? Some decisions are weightier; they could change the course of someone’s life.

You might remember a few months ago I had some car trouble due to the inclement weather here in Texas. I drove down a road with too much water and it destroyed my engine. Shortly before the moment my car died I had made a decision – to drive down that road. I could have gone a little bit out of my way to another road that might have been safer. I even considered that option. Yet, I thought it would be safer to go the quicker route because the storm was still raging around me. It was obviously the wrong choice for that moment because it totaled my car.

Yet, even in the midst of that disaster – knowing I had made the wrong choice – I trusted that God would get us through the difficulty. In the months since, I have seen very positive outcomes from that disaster. Our new car is much safer and more appropriate for our family needs. We are handling the financial aspects quite well by making some more informed choices about our spending. I have realized that even the most seemingly inconsequential decisions can impact our lives. Yet, once the decision is made we must remember we can’t change the past. When we are facing the consequences of our decisions whether they are good or bad, we are called to walk forth in faith and trusting in God.

“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” Hebrews 3:12-15 (ASV)

The ones to whom the writer of Hebrews was referring were the men and women who were following Moses to the Promised Land. They provoked God by complaining about the circumstances under which they had been living – wandering in the desert. They made a major decision – to leave Egypt – and when things were not quite working out to the way they expected they began blaming Moses and God for their difficulties. They stopped trusting God and this was the greatest sin they could commit.

Yesterday is past and the decisions we made yesterday are over, even if we are still experiencing the consequences of that decision. We can’t do anything to change it except to walk forth in faith knowing that God can make good come out of our mistakes. We can’t live for yesterday, we can only live in today trusting in God to do His good and perfect work in our lives. Mistakes, even when they affect the lives of others, are not unforgivable sins. We sin when we stop trusting that God is able to overcome our foolishness and that He is faithful in the midst of our doubts. Thanks be to God.


February 24, 2005

Interview  A few years ago, when we were living in England, I happened to visit a small quaint town with some friends. A young man approached us while we were wandering the streets of this town, chatting about all the lovely things we could see. He said, “I heard your American accent and I wondered if I could interview you for a news report we are doing.” When we agreed, he called his cameraman to our group and asked us some questions. The story was about an American author who had shown incredible generosity at the local pub the previous evening. She had heard that the wait staff was donating all their tips to a charity for hotel workers, so she gave them the biggest tip they’d ever known.

The reporter wanted an American perspective on this story. He wondered if All Americans tipped so well. He seemed to have this take that the tip was the gesture of American arrogance, a show-offy action to flaunt her wealth. He thought perhaps she did it for the publicity she would receive as she was promoting her latest book. I saw the tip as incredibly generous and though I did not know the author or her faith, I told the reporter that from my Christian perspective I saw it as a kindhearted act of sharing her wealth with those whom she thought might be helped by the act. As it turns out, the author is indeed a Christian and did it because she believes she’s been blessed to be a blessing to others. She did it out of Christian love and concern for others.

I hoped that my witness to the reporter would help him realize that some people take their faith very seriously and that sometimes people do things because they are the right thing to do, not because they think they will get anything out of it. I managed catch the report on the news channel later that day and unfortunately the reporter cut most of my interview. The only ones who heard that witness were the reporter and the cameraman.

The most fascinating part of this incident was the fact that I was there to answer his questions. I thought it odd that we would be in that spot at the moment, but when it was over I was sure that God had called me to that place at that time. I will never know if my words had an impact on anyone, but it is not necessary for me to know these things. I need only trust that God will accomplish His work in His way and in His time. I am called to go forth in faith and expect God to shine through my life.

“For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be made desolate, And let no man dwell therein: and, His office let another take. Of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place. And they gave lots for them; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:20-26 (ASV)

We know very little about Matthias, the disciple who replaced Judas as an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had been following Jesus as long as the others, so he knew very well the work and words of Christ. Yet, he was not originally called among the inner circle. It seems odd that the apostles would use an act of luck through lots to choose someone of such importance, but they used it with prayer and trust in God.

Most people do not consider their daily actions or the events of their lives as part of God’s calling in their life. We think of Paul and the road to Damascus as God calling a disciple, not a chance meeting on the street of a small English town. Yet, whenever God’s Word is spoken and His work accomplished, it is done because God has guided or directed His people into that time and place. There may have been a better way of choosing Matthias as the twelfth disciple, but in the end he helped to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others by sharing his own gifts with the world. God can call the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things in the most unusual ways. Thanks be to God.


February 25, 2005

Direction  We have a great deal of new home construction happening in our corner of the world. Our own housing development is expected to double in the next year or so. Radio, television and print ads tout the benefits of living in one subdivision over another. They play on people’s desires to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city while still being close enough to enjoy the benefits. They talk about lower taxes, friendly neighbors and pleasant environment. One ad describes a development that has tried to impact the natural habitat as little as possible so that the yards are covered with old, well-established trees.

This particular development is quite close to where we go to church, on the road we take to get there. We pass by a new subdivision every time, so I assumed those houses were the ones I heard advertised, but I thought it was odd that I never saw the signs they claimed were visible to identify the place. Each time I passed, I looked for the sign, curious to know if I was right about my guess. One day I heard the ad again and realized that we would have to turn right onto the road rather than the direction we usually go. In other words, I was not even going the right direction to see what I was looking for.

I think this happens all too often with our spiritual journey in this life. We know there is something out there for us to do, work that God is calling us to accomplish for His kingdom in this world. We try to discern God’s will, seek to know God’s purpose and see so many opportunities to shine the light of Christ in the world. Unfortunately, we don’t always go the right direction. Even if the work we accomplish is good, we are only obeying God when we do the work He has assigned for us to do. We have specific gifts and when we try to do the things we aren’t gifted to do, we become lost and confused. We also take away the opportunities for the person with the right gifts to do their work in this world. We need to seek God’s guidance so that we will go the right direction and do what He has called us to do.

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the grain, and blossom as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have answered, and will regard him: I am like a green fir-tree; from me is thy fruit found. Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them? for the ways of Jehovah are right, and the just shall walk in them; but transgressors shall fall therein.” Hosea 14:4-9 (ASV)

To find these new developments that are being built in the countryside around our town, it is important to follow the directions they give or we might end up in a completely different place. The same thing happens on our journey of faith as we try to follow Christ in this world. We do not take the time to listen, to let God guide us in the He wants us to go. We wander out into the world, especially in our passion to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet all too many of us end up turning away from God, doing our own thing, following our own path because we do not take the time to listen to His directions or discern the way He is calling us to live. Even if our work appears to be good, God has created and transformed you for a specific purpose. We have been graced with the gift of salvation and with specific gifts to be used for His glory. Take the time to listen to the way He would have you go, to be healed of your own transgressions against the Lord so that you might do just what He has called you to do. Thanks be to God.


February 28, 2005

Karma  Karma is a very specific doctrine which is taught in some of the Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddism. Properly defined, karma is a force generated by a person’s actions which will affect the future life of the believer. For those who believe in reincarnation, karma is the force that will decide the kind of existence they will have in the next life. For many people, the idea of karma is used very loosely in their daily life. You hear about it on the sitcoms and other television shows, often in a joking manner. When someone does something wrong, the action is met with a threat that “it will come back to bite you one day.” Then, later in the show when something bad happens the person is met with “I told you so.” They are supposed to learn something from this experience – mostly that you should never do something wrong because it will hurt you in the end.

This kind of thought is given a positive spin also. Good karma comes to those who do good things. They are rewarded for doing kindnesses or paid back more than they gave. A person who gives a ten dollar bill should expect to be rewarded with an even greater gift somewhere in the future. Ultimately, the person who lives the good life will be reincarnated into a wonderful life, a life of comfort and peace.

Although Christian thought does not believe in the idea of reincarnation, it is not unusual to hear this idea of karma discussed in Christian teachings. Listen in on a stewardship sermon in many churches and you will hear the pastor promise some sort of windfall for the believer. One ministry claims that if you send them a certain amount of money in faith, that God will return that amount tenfold. It is interesting, however, that most Christians would never teach the idea of negative karma – the punishment for bad behavior. Why would God provide us with tenfold reward for a donation to a church and not also require recompense for the things we do wrong. What about the karma for those who are hurt? If they get through suffering, should they not be given some sort of reward?

Yet, karma is not a Christian teaching because it puts the power of God into the hands of human beings. In other words, we can control our destiny by doing good works. It makes righteousness a work of man and everything that happens a reward or consequence of his or her actions. Yet, we all know that our experiences are not caused by some previous action. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes good things happen to bad people. Sometimes we can’t explain why these things occur. As Christians, we can only expect God to be just, merciful and faithful. As Christians, we are expected to live Christlike in the world – just, merciful and faithful. This does not mean we will always receive justice, mercy or faithfulness.

“Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Matthew 5:38-42 (ASV)

We like the idea of karma because it makes the world a fair place. Everyone is treated ‘equally’ according to their actions. Yet, we know that it just is not true. Sometimes people get away with things they should not do and sometimes people never get the recognition they deserve. All too often, we try to make karma happen by being the ones to bring the consequences or rewards to those who have crossed our path. From a Christian perspective, however, karma does not fit into our ideology. Jesus taught us not to repay others for their actions, but rather to treat them with mercy and grace. In this particular message, Jesus even tells us to give the cloak off our back to someone who would steal it from us.

If karma were really part of our Christian thought, since karma ultimately leads to our next life, then every one of us should be very afraid of our future. None of us are good enough to deserve anything wonderful in our next life. We don’t live up to our God-given potential or gifts. We often treat others poorly, hurting them with our thoughts, words and deeds. We would not only fight for what we consider ours, but we would take more as payment for what our enemy intended to do. Jesus teaches us to live differently. We aren’t to live today as if it will make a difference in our tomorrow. Instead we are to live in Christ who has already assured us of our future. Thanks be to God.