Welcome to the February 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























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 2006

February 1, 2006

Idol  I have to admit that I am fascinated by the early weeks of "American Idol." I don't watch the actual competition, but I enjoy seeing the auditions. Perhaps it is because I feel better about my complete lack of musical talent by watching people who have similar or worse musical ability than me. The sad part is that so many of these people think they are the best. After all, they've been told by people that they are terrific singers. They hear themselves when they practice and know they are good. When the judges suggest that they were out of tune, they disagree vehemently and try to talk the judges into changing their minds. One contestant last night left the studio and said, "I know I was in tune," even though he hit notes that made my skin crawl.

The funniest thing is watching those characters that think something strange or unusual will get them noticed and picked. They wear unique clothing or do a choreographed dance so that they will make an impression. Last night one contestant went into the audition with the attitude, "They are going to see something they've never seen before." The reason it was never seen is because it was horrific. It wasn't even singing; it was unintelligible screaming.

Out of the thousands of contestants heard at every audition, there is always a handful that can really sing. That's not all a contestant needs to succeed on "American Idol," however. They need stage presence, a good attitude, an attractive appearance and potential. The judges rejected a few people that seemed to sing well, but who they felt would not survive very long in the competition. There was one example last night that was selected by two of the three judges. The third judge voted no, not because he sang poorly, but because he knew that the man would not make it through the next stage of the show because his image was not what they sought for an American Idol.

Some of the comments the judges make are not very nice. As a matter of fact, they can be downright cruel to the contestants. Not a few people left the audition in tears, having been told that they had absolutely no talent and no right to even be there. Others left angry because they knew that they deserved to win. The comments seem extreme sometimes, and I do feel bad when the singer's feelings are hurt. Yet, I can understand why they are firm and strong in putting down the dreams of some of the contestants. I would expect the same if I walked into that room and tried to compete. Some people are just not gifted to sing and it is our duty to help them find a way to channel their dreams in another direction. The "American Idol" judges don't have the time to show them another way, but they know they have to stop that person in their tracks. For some, it takes a harsh word to get them to turn around and go in the right direction.

"I have said beforehand, and I do say beforehand, as when I was present the second time, so now, being absent, to them that have sinned heretofore, and to all the rest, that, if I come again, I will not spare; seeing that ye seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me; who to you-ward is not weak, but is powerful in you: for he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth through the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him through the power of God toward you. Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate. But I hope that ye shall know that we are not reprobate. Now we pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do that which is honorable, though we be as reprobate. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we rejoice, when we are weak, and ye are strong: this we also pray for, even your perfecting. For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up, and not for casting down." 2 Corinthians 13:2-10 (ASV)

Paul was often very harsh with the people to whom he wrote and spoke. We read many of the passages from his writing and think that he is unfairly judging people. A great many theologians have even taken Paul's writing and tried to interpret it to mean something different than what has been understood throughout the history of the church. While it is true that we must look at the scriptures with the eyes of understanding that Christ gives us in every generation, we must be careful to see if our new interpretations are based on the truth of Christ or on some perspective that is based on imperfect emotions.

Jesus, Peter, Paul and Christian leaders in every generation have had to speak harshly to those who are far from the kingdom. We are shocked by those passages because they seem to be without grace. Yet, which is more full of grace – telling a really bad contestant he is a good singer but not right for the show, or telling them that they should never try to perform because they just do not have the gift? In this case, harshness might just be the way of grace, stopping someone from following a path to pain and destruction. So, too, we might have to be harsh when it comes to calling people to repentance because it will save their lives. For those who see the truth of Christ will know the salvation that comes from grace through faith in Christ. Thanks be to God.


February 2, 2006

Winter  This morning in Punxatawny, Pennsylvania, the famous groundhog names Phil popped his head out of his den to inform the world that there would be six more weeks of winter. This seemed like a most foolish event to my children, who never really grew up in a place where Phil's prediction actually meant something. Though it might seem like Phil got it right according to the weather reports in Pennsylvania and surrounding communities, we have lived in regions with much different weather.

We have always had a hard time taking Phil's report seriously for several reasons. Intellectually we know that winter is going to last until March 20, even if there is not a flake of snow or a day below freezing. And technically, though there might be snow following March 20th, according to the calendar winter is over and spring has begun. The seasons are dependent on the movement of the sun, not on the number on the thermometer.

It is even harder for us here in Texas this year, and in other areas of the country, because we are in the midst of a strange weather pattern and high temperatures. The forecast for today is temperatures near 80 degrees. We have only had a couple cold days, have not even been able to wear any of our winter clothing. The meteorologist said a cold snap is coming in a few days, but it is hard to believe as we are experiencing spring-like weather. To us, there has been no winter, so to say it will last another six weeks just doesn't make sense. On a normal year we might be having our worst weather right now, but we know that the bluebonnets and other wildflowers will be gracing the fields long before the official first day of spring.

For some reason the whole Punxatawny party has become a national – and perhaps international – event. It was never meant to determine the weather in California or Alaska, but it is reported to everyone anyway, as if it will influence our tomorrow. The event does not even make sense to us because we know that a groundhog in Pennsylvania will not be able to tell us the kind of weather we will have in Texas.

"For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel. For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship intrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel. For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof." 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (ASV)

We read these words from Paul with our modern perspective and are reminded of the many tongues of our politicians. They become all things to all people, changing their message for every audience, to gain wide acceptance and voter sympathy. Unfortunately, it becomes impossible to know what message they really believe or the platform for which they really stand. Paul is saying something very different in today's message.

Punxatawny Phil is meant only to predict the weather in a small region of the country. As a matter of fact, I'm told that other regions have their own natural forecaster, such as the mountain lion in California. The bottom line is that winter will end and spring will begin at the Spring equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and begins the assent to its northernmost declination, the Tropic of Cancer. By reporting Phil's prediction anywhere but Pennsylvania is giving us a wrong message about our own weather.

Paul's message never changed – he always preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, he shared that Gospel in a way that would be understood and relevant to the people to which it was being given. To the Greeks he spoke as a Greek, to the Jews he spoke as a Jew. He was weak so that those who are also weak might find the courage to receive God's word for themselves. God's Word is meant for all people, the Gospel given for the salvation of the world. We are called to take that message to all who will hear and to give it to them in a manner which will be received with joy. Not all will hear, but those who do will be saved. Thanks be to God.


February 3, 2006

Super Bowl  The football National Championship game will be played on Sunday. Some people have waited a long time for this day. This is the first appearance of the Seattle Seahawks in a Super Bowl game since their beginning in 1976. Though the Pittsburgh Steelers have made several appearances and have even won the Super Bowl, they have not been in this position for eleven years. We found out two weeks ago which teams would be playing, and though that is a relatively short period of time it is much too long for those fans anxious to see the game.

In those two weeks the teams have gone through extensive training to prepare for the game. They have met with reporters, gone through physical examinations and practiced. They have studied their opponent and built their game plans. The coaches and managers have insured that everything is ready for their team – the travel, the housing, the practice time and even the parties. The teams have even been playing the game off the field, building up support for their team while trying to psych out the opposing players.

Others have also been preparing. The city of Detroit has done everything they can to make the players and fans feel welcome. Hotels, catering and the stadium have been working overtime to prepare a place for everyone to sleep, eat and enjoy the game. Reporters have been doing background research on the teams and the players so that they can speak intelligently about the game and perhaps predict the outcome of the game. There are even entertainers preparing for their part in the day.

For those not so lucky to be going to the game, preparations are happening all over the country and the world. Television stations and distributors are preparing for the telecast. Advertisers are putting the final polish on their ads. Sports bars and other recreational businesses are planning for large crowds of rowdy folk. And many families are preparing their homes for guests as groups of people gather together to enjoy the company of friends while enjoying the game. For the past few weeks, sales in televisions have risen dramatically. Cable companies are working overtime to install cable in every household that wants it before the game. Pizza delivery places are hiring extra drivers for the weekend to cover the additional business on Sunday.

This seems like a lot of work for a game that will last just three or four hours. Yet, it has become so much more. This is THE game. Television commercials cost a fortune because so many people will be watching. For the teams and the players the outcome will mean not only a field victory, but it will mean prestige, endorsements and financial windfalls. For the businesses taking advantage of the day it could mean huge sales. Some people even gamble on the game and they could lose or they could win. The preparation is important for everyone involved. And yet, the Super Bowl is really quite unimportant when you consider the eternal things of God.

"Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you." 1 Peter 1:13-25 (ASV)

I am not a football fan, but I am looking forward to the party on Sunday. As a matter of fact, I have been helping plan a Super Bowl party. Even still, I have been amazed at the reports I have been hearing about the preparation for this game, the number of people involved and the amount of work that goes into putting on this relatively brief moment in time. Can you imagine what kind of world this would be if even a fraction of the Christians put this kind of time and energy into living the kind of life God has called us to live in this world? What if we put as much love into our relationships as we do into our hobbies and interests? What if we remembered that football games and physical life are fleeting, but the life our Father has given to us is eternal? Perhaps the world would really know the peace that Jesus promised. Thanks be to God.


February 6, 2006

Commercials The Super Bowl was last night and millions of people gathered in front of their televisions to watch the game. A great many of those people gathered together with friends and family. The average number of people at any given Super Bowl party yesterday was expected to be seventeen. We had just over twenty at our party. We had too much foot – healthy and not so healthy – and we had activities for those who were not interested in watching the game.

Many of the people watching the game were interested in something much different. The Super Bowl is known for some things other than football. The pre-game and halftime entertainment is as important to some people as the teams that are playing. There was some controversy over the singer chosen to present the Star Spangled Banner. Aretha Franklin was upset that the halftime show was not designed to honor the important musicians that came out of Detroit. A Motown show would have been a wonderful gesture for the hosts of this year's game. Instead, the Rolling Stones were given the honor of presenting the halftime show and many people tuned in just to see Mick Jagger strut on the stage.

All of this is shadowed by the real reason so many people tune into the game – the commercials. Millions of people watched the game, perhaps the biggest audience of any television program all year long. The advertisers, knowing they have a greater number of viewers are willing to pay costly fees to get air time during the game. This year it cost $2.5 million for just thirty seconds. The advertisers know that they need to really take advantage of their opportunity, so they go out of their way to put on an extraordinary show in their thirty or sixty seconds. They put extra thought and extra expense into creating these advertisements, knowing all along that it will pay off.

The funny thing is, no one is really sure that it pays off. Anheuser-Busch bought ten ads during the Super Bowl. Several of those ads were among the best this year, making you laugh and cry. So a reporter wanted to know if the ads would make someone buy the beer. When asked, consumers loyal to another brand said that they loved the commercials but would never change. As a matter of fact, most people will claim that advertising does not affect their purchasing choices. Yet, I wonder how many people are dying to have a Burger King Whopper this morning.

One thing I did notice about the commercials this year is that very few left the consumer wondering about the product being advertised. In previous years, there always seemed to be something that caught your eye but that left you confused. The story gave no clues about the product, the ad offered no information. Car commercials are well-known for doing this. This year's commercials left little doubt. You might have wondered about those dozens of women in strange looking costumes dancing around the stage, but in the end you knew they wanted you to buy a burger. Their message was not lost and it was those products that we probably will buy at some point because we subconsciously remember what they gave us at the Super Bowl.

"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Beroea: who when they were come thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the Greek women of honorable estate, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed of Paul at Beroea also, they came thither likewise, stirring up and troubling the multitudes. And then immediately the brethren sent forth Paul to go as far as to the sea: and Silas and Timothy abode there still. But they that conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed, they departed." Acts 17:10-15 (ASV)

Perhaps we won't go out today and buy Budweiser Beer just because we saw an advertisement during the Super Bowl, but advertising does work. It must work or the companies would not spend millions of dollars for a few seconds of our time. When we are at a moment of decision, our remembrance of what we heard will be part of the process, even if we do not realize it. If we have to choose between two fast food stores, we will probably start singing that silly song and see those dancing girls in our mind. It may even make us turn into the Burger King driveway.

I would hope that most people would put more into their decision than their opinion of a commercial. Advertisers certainly hope you'll just grasp their message and run with it, with little thought or consideration.

I suppose it doesn't matter very much when it comes to the fast food we buy, but there are decisions that require more thought and consideration. Yet, I wonder how many people choose a church or even make a faith decision on little more than some sound byte or brief encounter that touched their life. The Bereans were not willing to grasp Paul's message without putting more into the decision – they studied the scriptures and came to see that all that Paul spoke was true. They believed because Paul did not lose the message, but gave them a solid foundation on which to build.


February 7, 2006

Soap  Though the conversation on Monday was much about the game, I seemed to hear even more conversation about the commercials. Everyone wanted to know which one was the favorite. Many of the talk shows had people calling up to give their opinion. Expert guests appeared to interpret the numbers and explain the meaning of the different commercials. I did not see every commercial during the game, but I did take some time yesterday to view every commercial, which were posted at a website.

Several people asked me about my favorites, but I had a really hard time deciding. There were several that had an impact on me. Some were downright stupid. The movie trailers were nothing spectacular. There was a few that made no sense to me. Several made me laugh out loud. I suppose there were even one or two that brought a tear to my eye. For the rest of this week, we'll look back on a few of the commercials that had the biggest impact and see how we might relate our faith to the messages that were shared in those brief but powerful productions.

It is amazing how much can be said in a matter of seconds. The commercials generally run less than a minute, yet in that time the advertisers manage to give you the who, what, when, where and why of their product. In a good commercial, one that is successful, you learn who is speaking and who they are expecting as their audience. You learn what they are trying to sell. The question of when is not as easily defined, but most of the time you will know when the product can be used or purchased. The same is true of the question of where, but a well planned commercial will at least give you some idea where to reach the advertiser, whether it is an address, phone number or a web site. Finally, and most importantly, television commercials will give you some reason why this product is for you.

Dove Soap created a special commercial, very untypical for the Super Bowl show. They flashed the pictures of young girls with brief descriptions of their thoughts. They were insecure, unsure about their future and generally lacking in self esteem. The commercial was for the Dove Self Esteem fund, a resource established to help women, particularly girls, find some value in their life and realize their worth. The commercial was a favorite of many because it touched their heart. Thousands of people logged into their website following the commercial.

Of course, many thought the commercial did not belong during the Super Bowl, yet the Dove company was willing to pay the big cost of airing it then. More and more women enjoy watching the game than ever before, obvious from the incredibly high numbers of viewers on Sunday. With ninety million people tuned in to the Super Bowl, some of them were most certainly women. While it might have seemed quite out of the ordinary to present a tear jerker commercial during a rough and tumble event, there was some impact. All too often we try to fit our message to our expectation of the audience to which it is spoken, but our message very often falls on unexpected ears willing to hear.

"And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. But I write the more boldly unto you in some measure, as putting you again in remembrance, because of the grace that was given me of God, that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I have therefore my glorifying in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God. For I will not dare to speak of any things save those which Christ wrought through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit; so that from Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ; yea, making it my aim so to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but, as it is written, They shall see, to whom no tidings of him came, And they who have not heard shall understand." Romans 15:14-21 (ASV)

I am sure the disciples were often shocked when Jesus presented the Gospel to people outside their community. They were taken aback when He was speaking with a Samaritan woman, surprised when He willingly took the children in His arms. I am also sure that Paul was shocked when the Gentiles began hearing the Gospel and believing. Yet, he went forth in the knowledge that God can do amazing things, that He can speak into the hardest of hearts and bring salvation to all He desires. So, Paul spoke, hoping someone would hear.

Many people were shocked and disturbed to see that commercial Sunday night, and yet even more were touched by the message. Even though women and girls were targeted by the advertisers, many men were given some insight into the thoughts of their teenage girls. These men, the daddies of these girls, might just approach their daughters with more grace, loving them as they deserve to be loved. So, too, when we speak the Gospel into a life that is beyond our expectation, God can bring about a change that we never would have thought possible. Sometimes we are called to say the wrong thing at the wrong time so that God might bring about the right change in His time. Thanks be to God.


February 8, 2006

Colt  Yesterday I began writing with the intention of talking about the commercial about the young horse pulling the Budweiser wagon. I even typed 'colt' as the word for that day. By the time I completed the devotion, it had evolved into something completely different, having nothing to do at all with horses. I didn't notice it until I had mailed it to all my readers. Unfortunately I had not edited properly and may have confused the readers or they may have been excited to hear about the horse commercial.

One of the most popular of all the commercials that played during the Super Bowl starred a young Budweiser Clydesdale horse. The commercial began with the colt frolicking in the field with its mom and dad watching. When he ran into the barn, he came across the wagon, all ready to be taken out. The tiny horse slipped his head into the harness, pulling with all his might while his parents watched from the doorway. It was difficult, but as we watched – and stained with him – we could see the wheels trying to give way. Finally, the wagon moved and the colt proudly drew the wagon toward the door. As the camera pulled back away from the scene, we could see the mom and dad horse were at the back of the wagon, pushing it. Meanwhile a man and a Dalmatian were sitting nearby watching. At the end of the commercial, the man turned to the dog and said, "I won't tell anyone if you won't."

It is not always appropriate to help someone to do something like the horses did in this commercial. A parent should never complete a school project because they think it is too hard for their child to complete. Yet, there are definitely times when we can, and should, step in to help someone. Unfortunately, many people would do so in a way that would demean the weaker vessel. Instead of pushing from the back, they will go to the front and push the little one out of the way. Or, they will do it to make themselves look better, like those who will give charity for the acclaim. They want everyone to know that they are great, so great that they can be like a savior to the weak.

"Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus: that with one accord ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God. For I say that Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given unto the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; And let all the peoples praise him. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be the root of Jesse, And he that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles; On him shall the Gentiles hope. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:1-13 (ASV)

The older and stronger horses gave the baby a moment of joy by pushing the wagon. He will grow up in the environment meant to foster his vocation, which will be pulling that Budweiser wagon. It will take time. He has to grow bigger and stronger, but for that moment he had a glimpse into the future. In our faith journeys, there are times when we aren't quite big enough or strong enough to accomplish our purpose in God's kingdom. We need someone to come, to give us a lift or a push to get us moving on our way. We need others to give us help in our faith. Equally, we are called to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ when they need a boost. We don't do this for the acclaim; we don't do this to get ahead. When we edify another, God is glorified and the love of Christ is manifest to the world so that others might see and believe. Thanks be to God.


February 9, 2006

Burgers  I can't say that I have one particular favorite commercial from Super Bowl Sunday, but there are a few that have stayed with me all week. Not the least of which was the Burger King commercial starring the Whopperettes. This was, of course, the commercial that featured a bevy of pretty girls in a finale with singing, dancing and the creation of a huge Whopper. The girls wore costumes representing the different types of items that might be found on your Whopper.

Burger King has always promoted the idea that the Whopper is created when you order it, so you can have it "your way." In the Super Bowl commercial, the Whopper is built using one of each item, the bread, burger and all the toppings – pickles, ketchup, onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. In the end it really does look like a delicious Whopper, made fresh right before your eyes – except for the girl sticking out of the top of the bun. As the burger is built, with the girls flying in from every direction, you can hear the grunts and sighs of the dancers who are stuck on the bottom of the pile.

I think that's what I like about this commercial – it is honest. There is a cameo appearance in the show by the Burger King himself. Now, the Burger King has gotten a reputation for being freaky. It is understandable because that plastic face is sort of freaky and his commercials are almost frightening. That is, unless you see the humor in it. I think that humor comes out even more clearly in this newest commercial because the girls even tell you to call on the freaky king. They are playing on the impression they have already made.

A grand finale is not what you would expect from a fast food company, but they have already taken this design a step further. A new commercial has been released – an epic tale of the lowly mayonnaise. In this tale, the mayo feels left out because ketchup is the greater of the condiments. In the end, someone orders a Whopper with double mayonnaise and so two dancers in the mayonnaise costume is dropped on the burger. Watch for another commercial soon starring the cheese.

Have you wondered yet why they have not created a burger your way? No worries, I found a website today dedicated to the Whopperettes. The commercials are there available to watch or for download. There is even a place where you can make it your way, build your own burger show by choosing as many burgers and toppings as you would like. The site is still under construction, but it appears that other activities will arrive soon.

Again, this seems ridiculous. After all, the commercial is meant to get you to go to Burger King to purchase their food. And yet, if you are willing to go to a website to play with building your own dance girl show, don't you think it will make you hungry and cause you to crave one of those juicy flame broiled burgers? I don't know if it works, but the fact that the company is willing to laugh at itself gives me reason to support their efforts.

"Let no man deceive himself. If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He that taketh the wise in their craftiness: and again, The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise that they are vain. Wherefore let no one glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 (ASV)

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. We think we know it all, or at the very least we think we know more than our neighbor. We can't take a joke and we can't laugh at ourselves. That's what I like so much about this Burger King commercial. It is ridiculous. It is just too funny that those poor girls have to wear those bizarre costumes and get tossed on top of one another to build our burger is just crazy. The plastic faced king has been the target of ridicule, but he doesn't care. He goes on smiling that freaky smile selling his burgers.

We think we are wise, but we are not. We are insulted when people consider our faith ridiculous even though it is. After all, we believe in a story that is beyond belief. However, it is beyond belief because made it that way. He made it impossible for human flesh to believe the Gospel. It is only by His power that we can belief that Jesus died for our sins. The cross is foolishness, but not human foolishness. God's foolishness is much greater than our wisdom. In Christ we know the grace of God that allows us to laugh at ourselves and be true to that which we are, children of the Most High God today, tomorrow and always. Thanks be to God.


February 10, 2006

Refrigerator  Quite a few of the commercials from the Super Bowl were from Anheuser-Busch. The beer company has long held the reputation of producing creative and memorable commercials not only for the Super Bowl but also for other times. This year was no exception. With at least seven commercials, the company willingly spent a fortune creating and presenting entertainment meant to sell their product. Many of those commercials made it on to most of the top ten lists.

They used an entire stadium to do a card wave showing a bottle of Budweiser filling a glass and then disappearing as it is being enjoyed. They created a football game with the Clydesdales through which a shaven lamb streaked. They showed an office being destroyed as the workers searched for the hidden Bud Lights an employee put out to build up moral. We've already talked about the commercial starring the colt trying to pull a wagon.

I had difficulty deciding between two beer commercials for today's Word. Both were funny and held a valuable message for us. One commercial shows two hikers out in the wilderness enjoying nature when a bear suddenly attacks. They try to run away and get separated. The bear manages to corner one of the men who reaches into his backpack and gets out a Bud Light beer. He opens it and offers it to the bear; the bear immediately calms down. Out of nowhere the second man runs up and snatches the bottle of beer, leaving his friend trapped by bear. The final scene shows the man drinking the beer as the other man approaches from the back showing signs of a bear attack. The beer drinker is sitting there gloating about his prowess.

While that would have been a good commercial to talk about the consequences of our self-centeredness, I decided to use the refrigerator advertisement. In this ad, a guy is in his apartment filling his refrigerator with beer. There is nothing else in there, just dozens of bottles of beer. His friend comments about how the other guys will soon be there to watch the game and they'll wipe out his supply. He tells his friend not to worry, that he'd installed a secret wall to hide the refrigerator. As the wall turns, showing a small table and chairs, the camera pulls back and pans to the left. Then we see the scene inside the next apartment. A bunch of young men see the refrigerator and cry out, "The magic refrigerator is back!" They empty it of the beer. In the final scene we see them on their knees bowing toward the wall in a weird sort of worship calling for the magic refrigerator to return.

We could go several different directions with this commercial. Certainly there is a message about making idols out of the things of this world. What good is it to bow down to a wall in the hope that a refrigerator might come spinning into your life? Powerful as that message is, I'd rather look at the guy that owns the refrigerator. What happens when you hoard your blessings and keep them from others? If you hide the good things you've been given, you just might lose them to those who are waiting on the other side of the wall.

"But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God. For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (ASV)

The guy stocked his refrigerator for enough beer to last many people for a long time, but he chose to keep it for himself. Don't we do this? We stock our homes with many and beautiful things, our pantries are so full of food that it will take us months to eat and our bank accounts contain so much wealth that we could never spend it all. God has given us everything we possess, but He has not given it to us to hide behind a wall. He has given us our time, talents and resources so that we might share with our neighbors and give to those in need. If we never sow our seed, we never reap a harvest. We are called to be good stewards of our gifts – which means we are not to squander His blessings, but we are to share. Hoarding God's good gifts will only lead to disappointment as they are stolen right before our eyes or they fade away as do all things perishable. God has been so generous, may we be just as generous with all He has given. Thanks be to God.

February 13, 2006

Pictures  We are preparing for a very special event in our life. In just two and a half months, Bruce will retire from the U.S. Air Force after thirty years of service. We are preparing his retirement ceremony. A great deal of pomp and circumstance goes along with an event such as this, as people from Bruce's past will write letters of congratulations or even come in person to wish him well. Those in attendance will dress in their formal uniforms. He will be presented with gifts. His family is even planning a trip to Texas for the event. There will be a ceremony honoring Bruce, remembering his career and wishing him well in the future.

Though there is a type of ritual they will go through that day, it isn't all serious. The remembrances will include moments of laughter as the jokers roast him. There may even been moments of tears as we remember some of the more difficult times and realize that the day means an end to something that has been an important part of his, and our, lives for a long time.

We will produce a video or slide show with pictures from his life – from birth through today. We asked his mom to send us some pictures from his youth and she made some delightful choices. It is always funny to look at ourselves from other times. We find it hard to believe that we ever looked like we do in those pictures. Even worse, we can't believe we ever wore those clothes. The day the pictures arrived, it occurred to me that I should be looking for pictures from his life with us.

So, I have spent two days looking through boxes of pictures, trying to find anything that has Bruce with me or the children. It is tedious work, since we have thousands of pictures from the past seventeen years, but we have had such a good time at the task. As I looked through the pictures, I could not help but giggle at some of them. I was amazed at how their personalities are so evident, even when they were very little. Vicki is obviously an actress – always posing for the camera. The twinkle in Zack's eye tells me that we should have known that he was going to be a joker.

"For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them." Psalm 139:13-17 (ASV)

Bruce is not only preparing for a ceremony, he is preparing to begin life anew. He is trying to figure out what it is he is called to do once he is no longer an active duty airman. He is spending time in prayer and reviewing his own spiritual gifts, in the hopes that he will hear what God has to say about the issue. He's no different than most of us, who are constantly trying to figure out our purpose for life in this world. There are even times when I think that God doesn't even know what He wants from me.

However, God does know. He has given us our gifts and sent us on our path from even before we were a glimmer in our mother's eye. I wonder if we look at our own pictures from our youth whether we might see in them something that might help us to see the gifts God has given us. Bruce doesn't know yet what he will do with the rest of his life. The kids change their minds every other day about what they want to be when they grow up. I'm still trying to figure out my own purpose. Yet, as I looked through those pictures, I remembered that God does know what He has planned for our lives. Thanks be to God.


February 14, 2006

Boxes  As I was looking through the boxes filled with pictures yesterday, I couldn't help but think about the television shows that help people sort through their clutter. We used to have many of our pictures in photo albums, but after our most recent move we realized that the albums were taking up too much space. They did not look very nice crammed on to the bookshelf, stacked ten high just so that they would fit. So, we purchased some of the small photo boxes, emptied the albums and now the pictures are neatly tucked away. There is no rhyme or reason to the way they are organized, however, so if I want to find a particular picture, I pretty much have to go through every box until I find it.

We have other boxes, large plastic boxes that hold different types of pictures. One of these boxes holds duplicates since I used to purchase two sets automatically so that I could share pictures of our trips. Another box has odd sized prints, like panoramic and enlargements. Yet another box holds the most special pictures – those given to us by someone else. In that box we have very old pictures of my mom and dad, some from when my dad was in the military. There are black and white pictures of other family members. There are dozens of wallet sized pictures of the children of our friends, sent in Christmas cards over the years. There are photos from weddings, baptisms, new homes and other milestones in the lives of those we love.

As I was going through these pictures, I could just hear the guy from that 'get rid of the clutter' television show telling me that if I really cared about these pictures, I would take better care of them. After all, many of these pictures just seem to be haphazardly tossed into the boxes. I could hear him saying, "Wouldn't it be easier to find the one you want if you had these organized in categories?" Yes, I suppose it would be easier.

Yet, as I weeded through the pictures, thinking about how I would organize them, I came across picture upon picture of old friends and family. I laughed, cried, prayed. I wondered how they were and wished that we had not lost touch. I decided to write to some of those old friends, the ones whose email addresses I was able to find, in the hopes that I might renew the relationships. At the very least I hope they will respond with news of their life. If I had the pictures organized, I would have missed the opportunity to remember and pray for all those other friends. It might have taken more time, but it was not wasted. I really think this time has been a moment set aside by God to remember and pray.

"We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth; even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 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." Colossians 1:3-17 (ASV)

The organization guy might be right. There is probably an easier and better way for me to store my pictures. However, I would not have done anything different these last few days. It has been wonderful seeing those old pictures, remembering those old friends, praying for those who are no longer a daily part of our life. And hopefully those to whom I have written will write back so that we might restore our friendships again. That is one of the most wonderful affects of the Gospel. By grace God restores that which was lost and makes us whole – as individuals and as a community. Thanks be to God.


February 15, 2006

Newspaper  I was standing in the grocery check out line this morning when I noticed the headlines on one of those tabloid newspapers on the rack. It was, as usual, some silly story that might have some grain of truth, but overall is nothing but a fictional story written to sell papers. Of course, the paper claims to have the real news, to be the only paper that tells the truth. It is a joke, the stories are ridiculous and the editors have obviously tampered with the photographs.

When I got home, I took a minute to look up the newspaper on the Internet, to find out whether or not they have posted the articles in this current edition. They haven't, but then I decided to go see some of the other articles on the website. Some of the most popular topics are aliens, mutated animals and people, conspiracies and prophecies. The writers manage to put some sort of spin on these stories, often crediting themselves with the discovery of a sign pointing toward the end of the world or proof that some bizarre prophecy is true.

Of course, most of the stories involving religion have the affect of making believers look ridiculous. They announce the discovery of some new scroll that proves things are not as we have believed. There have been stories that supposedly prove that Jesus was an alien, that he didn't die or that he wasn't resurrected. They claim to have some revelation from God about a new way to live or a new way to understand God's Word. One story even claimed that a recent discovery meant rewriting the first few chapters of Genesis.

While the stories in the grocery store tabloid might be so outrageous that it is impossible for anyone to really believe, they are an extreme but not an exception. As a matter of fact, changing the text of the scriptures, transforming the story of God has become commonplace. It is nothing new, something that began in the Garden of Eden with Satan himself twisting the words of God, leading Adam and Eve into a path of destruction. We might ignore stories from the tabloids, but how many people are using other fictional work in a way that makes it appear as though it is Gospel?

"Would that ye could bear with me in a little foolishness: but indeed ye do bear with me. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive a different spirit, which ye did not receive, or a different gospel, which ye did not accept, ye do well to bear with him. For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; nay, in every way have we made this manifest unto you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them that desire an occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works." 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 (ASV)

I doubt that very many people buy the weekly grocery store tabloids because they think the stories are true. More likely they are purchased for the entertainment value. After all, it is funny to read some of those ridiculous stories. They are extreme, beyond belief. However, there are many writings published or stories put on film that are not quite as ridiculous. As a matter of fact, they hold more than a grain of truth – enough to make us wonder if it isn't really true. That's what Satan does. He takes God's Word and twists it. The truth is there, but it is changed just enough to no longer be true. We should not be changing the Bible because some editor claims to have proof of another story. Neither should we be changing the meaning of the texts because someone claims to have found something that sounds better. Satan can make himself look good, and he can make his lies sound right. Satan's word will fail, it will not stand the test of time. God's Word will always stand up against falsehoods and will last unto eternal life. Thanks be to God.


February 16, 2006

Job interview  A few weeks ago Bruce and I went shopping for some nice business clothes. With retirement right around the corner, we knew that he would need appropriate outfits for work. As we were chatting with the salesman, I made some comments that I thought were informed statements about men's clothing that I quickly discovered were wrong. The salesman was able to direct Bruce toward affordable and proper suits for both interviews and daily work.

I have recently read several articles about dress at work. One article focused on the types of clothes women wear in the office and whether or not they are too sexy for a business environment. This is not a new problem; women have been trying to figure out what is right ever since they began entering into the workforce decades ago. In one era it is better for a woman to look more male in her dress, wearing dark pantsuits and even going so far as wearing a tie. In another era the trend is toward a more feminine appearance.

Most of the articles discuss the issue of clothing as it relates to being noticed. Most people who are at work are looking to move forward in their career by moving up in the company. Though job performance is generally the most important thing considered, sometimes the difference between getting a raise or promotion has little to do with the actual job. In a highly competitive field, sometimes a business person needs to do something that will make him or her stand out from the crowd.

The article I read today described the bizarre behavior of some job seekers. They are willing to do anything to make an impression. Now, it is almost understandable when a performer arrives at an audition, such as those held by American Idol, with unusual clothing or an out of this world appearance. However, even in the entertainment field those tricks do not work. The judges saw through the act and rejected the more outlandish styles. Sadly, some of them may have really been those who had the talent and perseverance to make it in the industry, but their foolishness left them out in the cold.

"Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof. And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Matthew 7:24-29 (ASV)

In the article about the bizarre job seekers, I read that some people were willing to do anything to get their dream job. One guy wore a tuxedo, a woman asked the manager out on a date. One guy even showed up at the employer's church and sat next to him on the pew. People have tried to bribe the manager with gifts or made an usual presentation at the interview. These tactics do not work and they give a poor impression of the prospective employee to the interviewer. They are trying to build a life, a career, on shaky sand.

When it comes to our faith, do we ever do anything out of place? Do we try to stand out in the crowd by acting in an inappropriate manner? Do we try to stand on something that is shaky, rather than standing firm on the one thing that will bring us blessings? A job seeker has very specific talents and abilities. He or she would do well to stand on the truth than to try to be something they aren't. The same is true in our faith. We can try to do something to stand out from the crowd, but it won't get us anywhere. When we stand firmly on the truth, the Gospel of Christ, then we will not fail. Thanks be to God.


February 17, 2006

Comeback  On an episode of "Seinfeld," George is seen having difficulty responding to humorous jokes made about him. It was never until well after the event that he was able to come up with the perfect comeback. In one scene a coworker made some joke, but it was not until later in the car that he thought of something to say. As he shared this problem with his friend Jerry, he decided to manipulate conversation in a way to cause the guy to make the same joke a second time. Then, he could us his comeback. It worked, but after George made his joke, the coworker was quick with another response. George was left speechless again, until later in the car when he thought of something to say.

I write five days a week and I have to admit there are many days when it is difficult to come up with something to say. On top of "A WORD FOR TODAY" I also write a weekly devotional with which some of you are familiar. "MIDWEEK OASIS" comes out every Wednesday and is based on the lectionary scriptures we'll hear in church on Sunday. I usually attend a Bible study on Tuesdays and I am on several excellent email lists that discuss the lectionary, so I have plenty of inspiration. I also attend another Bible study later in the week using the same texts.

Even so, there are weeks when it is difficult to find a message in the scriptures. Sometimes it is because the texts are tough but most of the time it is because I'm distracted. This week was one of those weeks. My day was interrupted, I had several situations on my mind and the words just did not flow. Last evening I attended my Bible study and several of the roadblocks I faced during writing were gone. I kept thinking, "Why didn't I think of that yesterday?" We have all probably experienced something like this some time in our lives. What happens when we are stunned to silence when someone approaches us about our faith? Most of us do not have an answer to share when asked about the Gospel.

"Continue stedfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving; withal praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one." Colossians 4:2-6 (ASV)

The scriptures tell us that God will put His words into our mouth, yet I know we have all faced those speechless moments when we simply had nothing to say. George could think of an answer when he had time to clear his head, and then it came easily. Of course, then it was too late. I came up with some brilliant thoughts the day after I posted my midweek writing. Of course, then it was too late. When we are facing the world, a world that desperately needs to hear God's grace, we may not have time to think about what to say. We may not have a second chance.

The way to overcome this speechlessness is to be in prayer. This means not only to take a few minutes here and there to pop a quicky off to God, but rather we are called to live in a prayerful relationship with God so that at every moment we are prepared to hear His voice and speak His words into the needs of those around us. As God dwells in our hearts, He will also dwell in our mouths with a ready answer of grace to give to the world. Thanks be to God.


February 20, 2006

Fritos  We have lived enough places that we are familiar with the reality that there particular foods found regionally and more difficult to find other places. Take, for instance, some of my favorites. It is as difficult to find a good cheesesteak and pierogies here in San Antonio as it is to find good Mexican food in my hometown. Southern people have their own favorites while those who live in the Northwest have theirs. Even the names often mirror the place or the people who like to eat the food.

It is funny to think that a thrown together meal is considered a delicacy in another. I remember once seeing a recipe for a Frito Pie in a church cookbook. It was the kind of meal that I would make on those nights when everyone is busy, so they could put it together themselves when they had time or were hungry. It did not seem to be anything special, after all, Frito Pie is nothing but corn chips smothered in chili and cheese.

Yet, it seems that here in Texas, Frito Pie is a culinary feast. Frito Pie has been here in Texas since 1932, when Elmer Doolin bought the recipe, the machine and the rights to the Frito Corn chip. The corn chips were already being sold to nineteen retail accounts. They were named Fritos and the company grew. Elmer's mother Daisy created the first Frito Pie. Though it was more popular in the 1960's, Frito Pies are still available at burger stands and football games. Of course, in many places the Frito Pie has been replaced by a concoction called "nachos" which is a similar mess with cheese, meat and other toppings. I like when the cheese makes the chips all soggy, but the Frito Pie was developed purposely to stay crunchy. Fritos are used because they stay crisp longer than other corn chip.

Now it appears the humble dish has found notoriety. As a matter of fact, it is being made with brisket, quail, venison chili and even goat cheese. Some restaurants are even known for their versions of the Frito Pie, with fancy descriptions like "exemplary" or "piquant flavor." It seems hard to believe that any one would go out to buy something that can be tossed together at home using the microwave and eaten in front of the television. It is incredible to believe that chefs are competing for the best tasting Frito Pie. But that is the reality of regional food – what seems like a thrown together meal to one is a delicacy to another.

"For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise." Galatians 3:26-29 (ASV)

There are food differences all over the country. The people in one region like things one way, in another region they like things another way. That which is a delicacy to one person is nothing to another. Our religious practices are much the same. People in the south enjoy one type of worship while people in the north prefer another. Some people like loud and exciting worship while others prefer quiet contemplative worship. We have differences, many differences. Yet, in Christ we are the same. We are all believers, all heirs to the Kingdom of God. It doesn't matter if my worship is boring to someone or if their worship is too loud for me. In Christ we are the same. Thanks be to God.


February 21, 2006

Today's Word is a repeat from one year ago.

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 word 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, 2006

Crown  We were treated to a floor show during a recent trip to Burger King. A mother had taken her toddler out to lunch and he was having a marvelous time. As mom was getting straws, napkins and the other essentials, he was strutting around the place with his hand on his hip, showing off his lovely new crown. They'd made it just the right size for his head and it fit perfectly, but two year olds have a difficult time keeping still so it kept slipping from his head. He managed to put it back in place several times.

When his mom was done at the counter, she headed off to a table with two chairs so that they could enjoy their lunch. He turned around quickly when she called and the crown slipped right off his head on to the floor. He picked it up and put it on his head upside down. Now, someone might have thought this was a problem, but not this youngster. He got the biggest smile on his face because the hat fit even more perfectly upside down. The points held the crown in place much better than when it was on his head the right way. Besides, it was kind of cool to follow the beat of his own drummer, and the audience was enjoying the show.

He went toward his mom who noticed the hat was upside down. She put him in his seat and he began eating his lunch with gusto. She went to get something from the counter and when she returned she turned the crown right side up. I noticed that once again he had trouble keeping it on his head. We finished our lunch and left, so I don't know what else he might have done to entertain the customers, but I certainly enjoyed the few minutes we had to watch.

The mom just had to fix the hat, because it was not the way it was supposed to be. Yet, the way it is supposed to be was uncomfortable and inconvenient. The crown was bound to fall off again and again because of the way it fit his head. How much better it would have been for the boy and for her if she kept it upside down. She did not see it that way, so she changed it. I wonder how often she will do the same thing through the boy's life when she sees him doing things a different way?

"If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which thou hast followed until now: but refuse profane and old wives' fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee." 1 Timothy 4:6-16 (ASV)

I imagine it was difficult for Timothy. He was a young man, probably much younger than many of the other leaders in the church at that time. However, he had a position of authority, often greater authority than his elders. I can see the elders pointing out all his flaws, commenting on how he is doing things upside down – different than them. Paul encouraged Timothy to keep doing what is right, but not necessarily what is right according to those elders. Right, in Paul's mind, was not about doing this as they have been done before, but doing what fits the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Have you done anything out of the ordinary in your own church? Have you felt as though someone wants to turn that crown right side up when you know that upside down is the way it will work better? Ensure that you are doing things according to the Word and the rule of Christ and then go forth in faith, for He will bring success to that which is rightly done in His name. Thanks be to God.


February 23, 2006

Sunshine  The sun is shining this morning. After several months of cloudless skies, we've had a week or so of dreary weather. It hasn't been raining, unfortunately, since we really need the water. It has been misty cool and foggy. We even had some low temperatures a few days ago that left icy roads and dangerous conditions. Even after months of sunshine, it did not take very long for the dreary weather to disturb everyone's mood.

I think we've all been a little bit grumpy the last few days, but this morning I woke up with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I don't know whether it even has anything to do with the weather. Perhaps I just slept better last night. It could be the light and warmth of the sun. The dark dampness of winter weather has been proven to affect mental and emotional health. Depression and suicide are more likely during the winter. There is even a disease called "seasonal depression" that is rampant in those regions that have extended darkness and bad weather in winter.

What amazes me is how quickly it can take over your attitude. We had wonderful sunshine for months, but even just two or three days into the cloudy weather we were already bickering, tired and grumpy. It is as if we completely forget the sun exists as soon as it disappears behind a cloud, and yet in months of bright sunshine, I don't think we appreciated it. We took the good weather for granted. I would even say we cursed it at times because we knew we needed some rain.

Sounds much like our relationship with God, doesn’t it? When we are in good times, we might be happy and thankful for His presence, but after a time we take Him for granted. Even though He is shining bright all around us, we don't notice Him because we don't need Him. We have everything we want and need, so we forget that He is the one who has given us everything. Yet, the minute the storm clouds seem to hide Him from our sight, we become lost and filled with doubt. He has not gone anywhere. He just there behind the clouds, but we are blinded by the storm.

"Rejoice in Jehovah, O ye righteous: Praise is comely for the upright. Give thanks unto Jehovah with the harp: Sing praises unto him with the psaltery of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; Play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of Jehovah is right; And all his work is done in faithfulness. He loveth righteousness and justice: The earth is full of the lovingkindness of Jehovah. By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap: He layeth up the deeps in store-houses. Let all the earth fear Jehovah: Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. Jehovah bringeth the counsel of the nations to nought; He maketh the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect. The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast for ever, The thoughts of his heart to all generations." Psalm 33:1-11 (ASV)

I'm going to enjoy being out and about today because I'm sure everyone's moods will be better. And yet I can't help but wonder why we allow something such as this to affect our attitudes so deeply. We might not be able to see the sunshine, but we know it is there. We can convince ourselves that the wet weather is vital to the life of the earth, watering the flowers and grass and giving us much needed water for our own lives. We can say it in our minds, which should bring us a joy of knowing the earth is working as it should. Instead, we know that it is good but we still get depressed.

This is also how it is with our relationship with God. We know He is there behind the storm clouds we face, but in our hearts we feel that He has abandoned us. We might even intelligently be able to say that God is doing something good, but in our hearts we wonder how good could ever come out of it and we mourn a loss – a missing piece of our life with God hiding from our face. When we get to such a point, it would be good for us to turn to the scriptures, especially one like today's Psalm, so that we might remember God's goodness and faithfulness. Thanks be to God.


February 24, 2006

Mouse  There is a story about a city mouse and a country mouse. One day the country mouse invited her friend from the city to visit her home in the country. The city mouse was excited about the adventure, so he traveled the long distance from his house to her house. When he arrived, he found that his friend led a very simple life. She had invited some of her country friends over for tea and to meet her friend. She was proud of the good food she served, but the city mouse did not eat it. He told the group, "In the city I eat spice cake and drink wine."

The city mouse was quite bored in the country, so invited his friend to visit his home. She quickly agreed, wanting to see what it was like to live in the exciting city and to eat such extravagant food. When they arrived at the city mouse's home, the first thing they did was go into the pantry. There, on a low shelf, was a bag of brown sugar. The city mouse chewed a hole in the bag and they nibbled on sugar. The country mouse agreed that this was the most delicious thing she'd ever eaten. Suddenly the cook came into the pantry. The city mouse said, "Run!" and the two friends ran into the mouse's hole. The country mouse was shaking, frightened by the danger. But soon the city mouse said, "That was the cook, but she is gone now. Let's go. I have something even better to show you."

This time they were on a high shelf where there was a tin of dried fruit with a loose lid. The city mouse tipped off the lid and offered his friend a piece of fruit. The country mouse agreed that this was the most delicious food she had ever eaten. Suddenly they heard a scratching at the door. The country mouse said, "Run!" and the two friends ran into the mouse's hole. The country mouse was even more frightened. Soon the city mouse said, "That was the cat, but he is gone. Let's go. I have something even better to show you. They went into the cellar where there were piles of cheese wheels, strings of smoked meats and pounds of fresh butter. The country mouse was amazed and ran from one thing to another trying every different kind of food. Then she saw the most delectable piece of cheese on a piece of wood. Just as she reached for the piece, the city mouse yelled, "Stop!" He told her that it was a trap and that it would kill her if she touched it. The country mouse was so frightened she said good-bye to her friend and ran all the way home. When her friends in the country asked her about her visit she said, "I would rather lead a simple life in peace, than to dine on riches and live in fear."

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death. Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." James 1:13-18 (ASV)

The city mouse wanted an exciting and rich life, but lived with the fear and danger that existed around him all the time. He could not enjoy the fruits of his labor, but rather had to always keep alert and run away the moment there was danger. He might feast on delicious food, but his life was overshadowed by the fear of death and loss.

Our fears are different than that of the mice. We aren't worried that the cook will hit us with a broom, that the cat will eat us or that we'll get caught in a mouse trap. We are worried about traps of another kind. Our desires for good things cause us to pay for things on credit and then we worry if we will be able to pay. We have to keep expensive security systems on our homes to keep the criminals out and we are constantly watching our backs for those who would cheat us out of our money.

The country mouse was content with her simple life, appreciating every good thing as a gift. So, too, we are called to live that simple life, to praise God for every blessing and have no fear of loss and death. In Christ we have a promise that goes beyond all that this world has to offer. We might enjoy rich food and grand surroundings, but such things will never bring us the kind of joy that we will know in Christ. As a matter of fact, our search to satisfy our desires will actually bring us to destruction as we get caught up in the traps of life which lead us toward sin. I would rather lead a simple life in Christ than to have all the wealth in the world. In the latter we live in fear, but in the former we have true peace. Thanks be to God.


February 27, 2006

Bloopers  I was recently reading an email that included some of those funny bloopers that come out of church bulletins. You know, the ones where the secretary has omitted, misspelled or changed a word or two completely changing the message spoken. For example, "Ushers will eat latecomers." Or, "For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs." "Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community." That last one might have more truth to it than we care to admit.

There are plenty of reasons mistakes like this occur. Sometimes the production of the bulletin is rushed, so there is no time for proper editing. Most people would miss that kind of mistake even if there was time for editing. I think, however, that most of the mistakes occur when the secretary is on vacation, when the people taking over do not take the time necessary to do the job well. I remember a few years ago, a few churches ago, the secretary was on vacation and the pastor did the bulletin. I don't know what he was thinking when he typed the Lord's Prayer. It said, "Our Father, we art in heaven."

What a wonderful sentiment! This was very funny to me at the time, but I'm sure it was not so funny to some people. After all, at any given moment in our congregations there are those who are suffering from some distress that makes this life more like a living hell. All around us we see evil and death and we find it impossible to believe that we are living in heaven. Yet, to those of us in Christ, this mistake actually speaks to a truth we do not see around us. Through faith in Christ, we have eternal life. It is a present reality as well as a future hope. Though our world might not seem like heaven, we are in heaven in the sense that the Lord dwells in our hearts and in our lives from now and forever.

"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. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself: and he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a son of man." John 5:19-27 (ASV)

Some of those bloopers go unnoticed by those reading because they are used to seeing the words and they don't really read what is on the paper. As a matter of fact, most of the congregation missed that the pastor of our church typed "we art in heaven" when it should have been "Thou." It is so familiar that we do not even need to see the words to pray along. Yet, that also means that we begin to take it for granted.

Take, for example, the signs that Christians hold declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ at ball games. They write simply, "John 3:16" in the hopes that whosoever will read it will come to believe. Of course, that is the passage that comes from John that brings such hope to the world. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." I've often wondered, however, what it would be like to hold up the sign that says, "John 3:17." After all, this passage has even more hope. "For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him."

As we read into John, we see the incredible love of Christ, a love that does give us eternal life in the here and now even while we wait for the hereafter. Knowing this, we can say "Our Father, we art in heaven" even as we see sin and death and evil all around us. Thanks be to God.


February 28, 2006

Donuts  It is Shrove Tuesday. For those in New Orleans, it is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. For those in England, it is Pancake Day. For those in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it is Fastnacht Day. Having come from Pennsylvania, I'm used to the tradition of eating donuts on Shrove Tuesday. Of course, when I was a youth I never understood the reason. I just knew we were supposed to eat donuts on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. For our family, that meant a trip to Dunkin' Donuts, but I've come to learn more about the tradition.

Since Bruce's family has a PA Dutch heritage, making donuts for Shrove Tuesday is a yearly tradition. Several years ago I got my mother-in-law's recipe and I've been making donuts for years. The donuts we eat are not the sweet concoctions found at the corner donut shop, but rather they are a deep-fried potato yeast donut. The donuts are not very sweet, but they are generally eaten covered in something very sweet such as confectioner's sugar, chocolate, honey or cinnamon sugar.

If you think about the things people eat on Shrove Tuesday, you realize that many of them contain the same ingredients. There is good reason for this. Lent was a time of fasting. In many eras there were lists of food items that were banned for the faithful. Among these were yeast, flour, sugar and eggs. These items are found in most of the traditional Shrove Tuesday foods. By making donuts, a housewife could use up her entire supply of the banned foods and clean her house from every trace of them.

We still remember the fun part of the tradition – the eating of the donuts – but a part of Shrove Tuesday has been lost on many people. We look at the Mardi Gras parties and think about Fat Tuesday traditions and we see that the "shrove" part has been all but lost. The word "shrive" means 'to hear confession and give absolution' or to 'to make confession.' Instead of a time of confession, Fat Tuesday has become the day to get all our lusts and desires out of our system before the forty days of fasting during Lent.

"And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Teacher, say on. A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most? Simon answered and said, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that even forgiveth sins? And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." Luke 7:36-50 (ASV)

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. A great many people today are prayerfully considering what they should give up for the next seven weeks as they journey through Lent. Many of them are gorging on that very thing today, to fill up before their fast. Yet, today is about more than that. It is about confessing your sins openly, hearing the joyful words of forgiveness from Jesus Christ before walking into that wilderness time of Lent when the "Hallelujahs" are packed away and we will journey together toward the cross.

The Pharisees saw themselves as good enough, so good that they could condemn the woman in today's story. All too many of us will go into Lent thinking that we are good enough to condemn others because we've committed to give up something for Lent – usually something that we abuse and should moderate more during the rest of the year. This is a day for considering our faults and choosing our fast. But it is also a time for knowing that Christ forgives us and calls us to a life of change. Thanks be to God.