Welcome to the January 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.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2006
Puzzles A great many of you, I suppose, received a book of puzzles over Christmas as a gift. I have often purchased word or number puzzles to stuff into a stocking or give as an inexpensive gift. This year, however, we have something new and different from the usual crossword puzzle or "Fill-it-in." The latest fad is a game called "Sudoku" and is very addicting.
The game consists of a graph containing nine boxes of nine boxes and there are some numbers in some of the boxes. The object of the game is to fill each of the nine boxes with the numbers one through nine. The numbers one through nine must also appear in every row and in every column. Therefore, there will be no repeated number in any box, row or column.
The first time I tried Sudoku, I thought there was some mathematical solution to the situation. I tried adding numbers together to find the solution, but it did not make any sense. I gave up and decided to leave Sudoku to others. Unfortunately, my sister loves the puzzles and when I spent a few days with her a few weeks ago I learned that it is not a mathematical problem, but rather a logical one. As you look at the numbers that are already placed in the puzzle board, you can logically figure out where to place the other numbers. The more numbers preplaced, the easier it is to solve the puzzle. As we said good-bye, my sister handed me my own copy of a Sudoku book and I've been hooked ever since.
Some of the puzzles are extremely easy. They've given you just enough numbers to make filling in the holes a breeze. Some of the puzzles are much more difficult. As you look in the puzzle books or find the puzzle online, you'll find they often use adjectives like "impossible" or "insane" to describe some of them. Even the moderate ones are challenging, giving just barely enough numbers to get a start. I ran into one today that gave me no numbers at all in one box. There was no clue how to place the numbers in that box, so I had to play with the numbers, often putting them in the wrong box until I could find the right combination. I have to admit that I took a little help from the answer key. I dont think I would ever have finished that puzzle otherwise.
The hardest part of these puzzles is that when you get on a roll it is very easy to misplace a number. Then you base all your other choices on that mismarked square, so several numbers end up being wrong. Since there is only one solution to every puzzle, one mistake will cause real headaches. I usually find my mistakes fairly early and can fix them, but there are times when I have to start all over because it has become so confused.
"And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:5-10 (ASV)
We certainly can not compare a puzzle to the sin we daily commit in this world, but the Sudoku puzzle reminds us of something very important. Just like the misplaced number affects the rest of the puzzle, so too our sin affects the world around us. We may think that since our wrongdoing seems to affect no one but ourselves, then it is not sin. However, even when it seems to be a victimless crime, sin always touches others in one way or another. Our sinfulness has made the world a less beautiful place and it has caused brokenness in our relationships.
We are going to sin; it is part of our nature since the beginning of time. At this New Year, I'm sure a great many people have made resolutions to change things for the better. We will try to live up to our promises, but we'll fail. We will try to live more Christ-like lives, but we will fall. What we need to remember is that Christ died that we might be forgiven so that we can go on to another day of trying to be better. Whatever we do wrong, we can start each new day with a clean slate when we offer our confession and receive His grace. Our troubles lie in the fact that we too often refuse to believe that we have done anything wrong. Confessing our faith also means confessing our sin, that we might receive that which Christ has done and live according to His good and perfect Word. Thanks be to God.
Humor I just finished reading an article by Miami Herald humorist, Dave Barry. Dave Barry has a way of taking real events or circumstances and spinning them in a way that makes you laugh. With all the bad news from 2006, it was nice to be able to look at it with a sense of humor, with a giggle and a laugh. It might seem appalling to laugh at the events of last year, particularly since so many people perished or were harmed in other ways by the events.
In reporting the news, a writer like Dave Barry does not give the entire story. He pulls out bits and pieces and combines them with bits and pieces of other stories that make you laugh. You know the whole story, have lived it and already wept over the losses, so as the story begins you think you will have to experience it all over again. After all, that is what happens with the news reporting. The reporters will follow a story until it dies, and even then they continue as if they were beating a dead horse, or they will continue it until something more interesting comes along.
Dave Barry, however, never gets around to the whole story. Just as you think you are going to hear it all over again, he jumps in with a different character or a completely unrelated incident. Take, for example, his use of a certain reporter who spent most of 2006 in Aruba chasing after the story of missing Natalee Holloway. Dave writes, "In response to this historic development (Israeli and Palestinian agreement), Fox News Person Greta Van Susteren heads for Aruba to report personally on the Natalee Holloway disappearance." Then later Dave writes, "Abroad, the news from London is grim as four terrorist bombs wreak deadly havoc on the city's transit systems, prompting Greta Van Susteren to do a series of urgent personal reports from Aruba on how these attacks could affect the investigation into the Natalee Holloway disappearance." Then, "For her part, Greta Van Susteren personally broadcasts many timely reports from Aruba on how the Katrina devastation will affect the ongoing Natalee Holloway investigation. Finally, "Greta Van Susteren is elected prime minister of Aruba."
Of course these stories, including the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, are serious and provide issues that should be discussed and fixed in the coming months and years. Howeever, Dave's article gives us a moment of rest, a lighthearted break from the difficulties of life. He gives us a laugh and a respite from the pain. He does not diminish the importance, but only helps us to look beyond our troubles and realize that we can laugh even in the midst of our tears.
"Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem, and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of Jehovah. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah, after the order of David king of Israel. And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks unto Jehovah, saying, For he is good, for his lovingkindness endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, the old men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off." Ezra 3:8-13 (ASV)
Rebuilding the temple was an incredible act on the part of the returning exiles. They fought some opposition, overcame many obstacles and faced hard labor to complete the project. The fallen temple was a reminder of their own sin against God, the pain they faced, the time spent away from their beloved home. To see it raised again and in its glory brought out so many emotions. For some it brought tears, perhaps both of joy and of pain. For others it brought laughter. It was a solemn and serious moment, yet in it they found happiness. So too with us as we look back over the past and look forward to the coming year. We might weep at moments, remembering the sadness, but we can also look at it with a sense of humor and take a moment to laugh. It will give us a respite from the difficulty and perhaps even offer us a new perspective with which to face our future. A laugh will not diminish the importance of the work to be done, for God has great plans for each of us. Thanks be to God.
Bowl games I don't watch much football. I might join Bruce in front of the television while he's enjoying a game, but I usually find something else to do while the game is being played. I'm not terribly interested in what is happening on the screen and the outcome will not change my life in any way, so I just don't pay attention. I understand that last night's Orange Bowl game was a most exciting event, going into several overtimes. I know this not because I stayed up to watch, because I was asleep well before Bruce managed to come to bed. I know this because the win of Penn State over Florida State is top news for today.
This was a big game for the coaches as well as the teams. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have been college football coaches for a long time forty years each. They've faced each other numerous times over the years. At the end of the game, these two old friends greeted each other with a warm handshake and Bobby Bowden said, "No animosity. No animosity. I mean that."
College rivalries are not always known for such grace. As a matter of fact, the animosity before college rivals is often the stuff of legends. We've all heard stories of cheerleaders stealing the opposing team's mascot or the football players doing something to denigrate the players of the other team. However, there are few college pranks that are equal to the Great Rose Bowl Hoax in 1961. Best of all, this prank was not even done by either of the teams playing in the Rose Bowl that year.
The Minnesota Gophers and the Washington Huskies were the lucky teams to be selected for the big game that year. The Washington Huskies were known for their elaborate halftime display which included colored cards in the audience. The cards were used to create pictures and spell out words that went along with the music. Fifteen of these pictures were planned for the show on this day.
Caltech was a small technical school that existed in the shadow of Rose Bowl Stadium. They even used the stadium for their own bowl games. Upset that once again the Caltech Beavers were not invited to play at the Rose Bowl, a group of fourteen students decided to make a very public demonstration of their disappointment. A complex plan was devised. The Caltech students got to know the cheerleaders and learned how they did the show. They stole the instruction sheet, changed it to create different pictures and words, then replaced the stack without the cheerleaders ever realizing something was wrong.
The first eleven pictures were not changed, and everything was going great. Picture twelve was meant to be a husky, but somehow it came out looking like a creature with buck-teeth and round ears. The thirteenth image was designed to spell out the word "HUSKIES" but somehow the letters were backwards, thus spelling "SEIKSUH." Up to this point the stadium, and the Washington Husky band and cheerleaders, thought this was a bizarre mix up. Then came image fourteen. The change spelled out "CALTECH." The entire stadium went silent until they realized what had happened. The entire stadium roared with laughter and the Washington band marched, infuriated, off the field. All this happened on national television with an audience of ten million people. Caltech was finally represented at the Rose Bowl.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another." Romans 12:1-5 (ASV)
College rivalries are a long standing tradition that probably goes back hundreds of years to the time when universities were being founded in Europe. College pranks most certainly go back many years, though the pranks have evolved over the centuries. Unfortunately, some of the pranks in recent times have been harmful because they aren't based on relationships like that of the two coaches in last night's Orange Bowl. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden showed grace when they wished one another well. All too many college pranks are merciless.
The Rose Bowl will be played tonight by the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Southern California Trojans. I don't know if we will hear about any practical jokes that might occur between these two teams. Undoubtedly there will be pranks, but none will reach the technical brilliance of national prominence of the Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961. Perhaps that is a good thing. After all, it is only a game and each team is worthy of mercy and grace from their competitors.
Christians have been known to pull a practical joke or two. As a matter of fact, I've been both the recipient and the perpetrator of such pranks. However, they were not done out of animosity or from a competitive nature. It is my hope that when the Rose Bowl is over the two teams can leave the rivalry behind, shake hands and leave as friends until the next time they meet on the football field. So, too, our life as Christians might have moments of conflict, but it is my hope that with God's help we will always have mercy for our brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them with the grace with which God has first treated us. Thanks be to God.
Song Have you ever identified so closely with a song you have heard on the radio that you feel as if that song was written especially for you? I suppose this happens to us because our experiences are often very similar to those of other people. We have experienced romantic relationships; we have been through horrible break-ups; we have all known unrequited love. Christmas songs bring back memories of our own childhoods.
For many Christians, the hymns we sing at worship are often the most poignant. We identify with the feelings and the experiences that are found in the words. We learn from the stories that are told and we remember the promises of God. Music is a language heard and understood by so many, even if we come from different times and places. We identify with the words as if they were written just for us.
This has happened for many generations. Even the psalms were songs used in worship. Many of the psalms are attributed to King David, yet it is often difficult to figure out exactly the time and place the words were used. In my Bible there are notes from scholars explaining what the historians think are the stories belonging to each song. Yet, they often say that though the song was written by David for one thing, it was used throughout the history of Israel for other purposes. Psalm 30, for instance, is believed to be a song written to praise God at the dedication of the temple. Yet, the psalm was later applied to the exile experience and then even later it was used in Hanukkah observances. Each new generation found a way to identify with the words that were once written by King David even though they were written for a specific purpose.
"I will extol thee, O Jehovah; for thou hast raised me up, And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Jehovah my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Jehovah; And unto Jehovah I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever." Psalm 30 (ASV)
Though the language in this version of the psalm is much different than the way we talk today, I think we can all identify in some way with these thoughts. We exalt God because He has lifted us. When we cry out to God, He heals. We have known His anger and His mercy. We have wept those same tears and rejoiced at His grace. He has turned our own mourning into dancing.
Many of the songs we hear on the radio speak about the experiences we know in this life and we find comfort and peace in them. The same is true of the psalms. When we need comfort at the loss of a family member or as we face difficulty, we turn to our favorite psalms. When we need to repent or lament, there are psalms that can speak for us. When we are afraid, we can see that even King David and the other psalmists had moments when they too were afraid. The psalms provide for us a window into the past, while showing us that ancient Biblical characters experienced the same things that we experience today. There is comfort in knowing that we are not alone. Throughout time and space, we are joined together with all the saints in word and songs of praise. Thanks be to God.
Lights Are your Christmas lights still up? Do you still turn them on at night? How about your neighbors? Is your street still as brightly lit at night as it was a week or two ago? Ours are still up, but we haven't turned them on for a few day. We might have thought about taking them down on Monday since it was still a day off for everyone, but we've long stood by the tradition of leaving the lights on through Epiphany.
Though many people are not familiar with this important religious day, Epiphany goes by other names in other cultures. It is also called Three Kings Day because this is the day we remember the coming of the wise men. It is also the Twelfth Day of Christmas.
Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) sang a humorous rendition of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" using their favorite items from the Great White North as the items their true love gave. In the song they ask the question, "Where do they get twelve days?" They try to figure it out by counting Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and then the weekends, but are left we several "mystery days." Since the twelve days of Christmas is not really a tradition most of us follow anymore, it is hard to know what they mean. If you count from Christmas through Epiphany, you come up with twelve days. Christmas is not really over until we get to January 6th.
That's why we've always kept our tree and decorations up until this day. Epiphany is a season of light. The wise men followed a star, following the light until they came to the place where Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus were staying. We are familiar with the story the wise men came to worship the new king and present Him with gifts. The gold, myrrh and frankincense remind us of the roles Jesus would play in this world. The gold was symbolic of His kingship, the myrrh of His death as the perfect lamb and the frankincense as His role as the Great High Priest. We usually talk about the wise men, or the Three Kings, around Christmas. Why have a special day called "Epiphany"?
Epiphany is defined as "a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." At Epiphany we see that Christ has been revealed to the whole world. The magi, or wise men, were not Jewish. They were not from Israel, they were from other places around the world. The fact that they knew about Jewish prophecy only shows us that they were learned men. The fact that they came to see Jesus shows us that God lead strangers, outsiders, 'the nations' to seethe gift He had given. Epiphany reminds us that Christ came for the whole world, not just for one time or place or people.
"And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Matthew 28:18-20 (ASV)
Matthew began his gospel with the telling of Christ's birth and the visit of the magi. Even from the beginning of the story, Matthew indicated that the revelation of God in flesh was far greater than what was expected through prophecy by the Jews. Jesus came for the whole world. Even strangers from the East recognized the purpose of His coming and willingly followed a strange source of light to worship Him. At the end of Matthew's Gospel we are reminded that the story does not stop with us, either. We are given the gift of the gospel so that we will know Christ and take Him into all the world that they too might become disciples. Epiphany is the day on which we celebrate the manifestation of God's nature in the form of Jesus Christ and the coming of the magi but it is also a day to be reminded that we are called to be the light that draws others into a relationship with Christ. Thanks be to God.
Weather It seems like there is always some reason to complain about the weather. If it is winter, it is too cold. The summer is too hot, the fall is too wet. Even the springtime offers questionable weather, when the temperatures go up and down so fast that you do not know what sort of clothes to wear. If it isn't the temperature or precipitation, there's a problem with the pollen count. Sometimes the sun is too bright. Sometimes it is too cloudy and dreary.
Even know here in Texas, we are being blessed with the most beautiful weather. The temperatures have been warm, the sky sunny, the winds light. The trouble is, it is too dry. Unfortunately, we have had no appreciable rain for weeks. Everything is dying, not because it is winter, but because there is no water. The dry, dead grass is fuel for fire. There have been many fires.
Even though we always have something about which we can complain, what purpose does it hold for our lives? What good does it do to complain that it is too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry? We can't do anything to change the weather. We can only do whatever is necessary to keep ourselves safe and healthy in the midst of it. If it is too cold, we simply need to wear warmer clothing. If it is too hot, we should take care to keep ourselves hydrated and in the shade. If there is a fire danger, we should make sure that we do not do anything to cause a fire.
Since Christmas is over, it is time to take down the Christmas trees. I've been hearing on the radio that the city garbage company will be picking up Christmas trees for recycling later this week. In the advertisement, the announcer reminds people of the fire danger that exists in our backyards. He says, "Do not leave your tree to dry out in your yard, since it will be kindling in a matter of days." It would not take much to set off a dried up Christmas tree, and then the fire will spread rapidly along the dry grass, fences and other structures. While it is horrible that hundreds of acres of brush and fields have gone up, it is even more horrific that people are losing houses whole towns in this weather crisis.
"So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and questionings: that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain. Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all: and in the same manner do ye also joy, and rejoice with me." Philippians 2:12-18 (ASV)
There may be no use in complaining about the weather, but that does not mean we should go about as if there is nothing happening. When it is cold or hot, we dress accordingly. If it is snowy or wet, we drive more carefully. If it is hot and sunny, we wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
We live in a world full of sin. We ourselves are sinners and manage to do the very things we know we should not do while not doing the things we know we should do. This is the very reason our Lord Jesus Christ came to save us. We can't save ourselves. Yet, as we live in Christ, we can look at what's happening without complaint. Even though we may know pain, in Christ we have the strength to get through it. Even though we will be persecuted, with Jesus as our guide and companion, we will be able to stand firm in our faith no matter the circumstances. We can't run the race to win that which has already been won for us salvation. Instead, we continue to run in the race so that we will reach the end as God gives us the gifts to do so though His grace with peace and joy. Thanks be to God.
Prophecy I picked up one of those cheap newsstand rag papers yesterday. The headlines on the cover caught my eye. The articles inside the magazine were focusing on prophecy, with the main headline claiming a hundred prophecies for this year secretly encoded in the original texts of Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. According to the article, each one hid twenty-five prophecies focusing on a certain aspect of life in our world. Matthew's prophecies were about religion, Mark talked of politics, Luke was about science and John the environment.
The researches found these prophecies embedded in the text by counting letters. Computer programs pulled out letters according to some pattern, such as they chose every so many words. In doing this, they found these prophecies.
I don't bring up these prophecies because I believe them to be true. As a matter of fact, in my opinion if they are found in one of the newsstand rags, I am sure they aren't true. Some of the prophecies do have some semblance of truth to them; some of the prophecies are already on the way to being fulfilled. In other words, someone not using a special computer program could just as easily guess that these prophecies as someone who is really working to know the supposed will of God.
I laughed because one of the prophecies claim that there will be a breakaway Lutheran sect that begins worshipping Odin, the Norse god. As Americans read this prophecy, they will automatically assume that this will happen in America. However, I did some research on the god of Odin. Apparently Odin has many similar characteristics as Jesus Christ and some people in Germany long ago combined the two, or perhaps we should say confused the two, and now think they are one and the same. Odin is gaining popularity among people in the Germanic regions of Europe. Since the Lutheran denomination comes out of Germany, it is completely logical to assume that a group of people calling themselves Lutheran might stray off the true path and follow this foolishness.
How easy it is to assume that because it already seems to be happening, then the prophecy is true and we should believe the rest and watch for them to occur. However, we are called as Christians to always look at prophetic utterances with a discerning eye. There are other things offered in this list that simply does not stand against true Biblical prophecy. In one story they claim to know Jesus' plan to save mankind this year. However, the plans elements do not stand up to what we know to be true. If this particular prophecy should come true, we should be warned not to follow.
"And Jesus began to say unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray. Many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and shall lead many astray. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not troubled: these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be earthquakes in divers places; there shall be famines: these things are the beginning of travail. But take ye heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues shall ye be beaten; and before governors and kings shall ye stand for my sake, for a testimony unto them. And the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations. And when they lead you to judgment, and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit." Mark 13:5-11 (ASV)
It is pretty typical to find lists of prophecies for the new year in January. Just as December is the time to look back over the past, January is the time when we look toward the future. So called prophets and fortune tellers come out of the woodwork trying to make a name for themselves or a put a dollar in their pocket. They find ways to give their prophecies some credibility, either by attaching the words to someone else or by making it sound good, right and true.
As for us, we need not be concerned about what we hear, knowing that God has His plan already prepared. While we might face difficult times, and perhaps some of the prophecies will actually happen, we just need to keep our hearts and our eyes on the truth of Jesus Christ. Then we will not be deceived. God is with us and will give us the words to speak at the right time and in the right place. In the meantime, let's not be swayed by every breath or word of a so-called prophet, so that we will be standing firm when God calls. Thanks be to God.
Close I have heard a number of stories in recent days about families that have gone out of their way to move to be closer to one another. A friend that moved in to this neighborhood shortly before we did managed to convince their mother and father to buy a house in the same housing development. As it turned out, it was so good they were nearby. Family situations in other areas of the country necessitated the travel of the mother and father. Though they'd barely moved in to their house, they had to spend weeks away from home. The son and his family were able to take care of their house. If they had not moved here, their old house would have been unattended for those weeks.
It is never easy getting someone to leave their life, to sacrifice, even if it is for their own good. All too many parents would rather not give up the home they have lived in for decades. There are too many memories. That house is where children were born and raised. Everything is invested in that building. The other problem is that all too often our elderly parents do not want to admit that they need our help. We are the children and they do not to accept that the time comes when they need our help. The same thing will happen to us when we are older and grayer our children will want to take care of our needs.
I know that it has not been terribly easy for our friends. It was an inconvenience to take care of the house for so long without having had the opportunity to enjoy the companionship they'd hoped to have. Health issues have made it even more difficult. Though they are rejoicing that their family is together, they also have to watch illness and disease affect the lives of those they love. Even with these difficulties, they are more than happy to take care of the parents and are sacrificially generous with their time and resources to make life easier.
Ruth's story is a little different, but it is a story of sacrificial love. Naomi, her husband and her two sons moved to Moab because their homeland was suffering from famine. There is no home in a place where there is no food or water. While in Moab, Naomi's husband died. Her sons married native girls. They survived until Naomi's sons also died. Naomi received word that the famine was over, so she decided to go home. She had nothing else left no husband, no sons. Naomi and her daughters-in-law packed everything they had and set out for Judah. Along the way, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to their own people. She had nothing to offer them except hardship. One girl did return to begin life anew. The other, Ruth, chose another path.
"And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me. And when she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and the women said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and Jehovah hath brought me home again empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing Jehovah hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest." Ruth 1:16-22 (ASV)
It could not have been easy for either Naomi or Ruth, but Ruth's bold act of kindness led to the comfort and peace of poor Naomi. Ruth cared for her mother-in-law and eventually found a new husband from Naomi's family. She went out of her way to take care of someone she loved and despite the difficulties she faced, she also found peace.
We never know how much we will affect the life of another when we go out of our way to take care of their needs. Perhaps a simple act of kindness you do today will change someone's life. This is the way God works in this world through the kindness of His people. Keep an eye out. Though you most likely won't be traveling to a foreign country, there just might be someone waiting around the corner who needs your compassion.
Flowers We have two large bushes on either side of the main doors into our church. They are a plain bush with green leaves. I don't think I've ever seen any sort of flowers on it, but it might have a small spring bloom that I don't recall.
In the effort to make our church look very warm and homey for Christmas Eve, one of the decorators took silk vines of small red flowers and interwove them into the bushes. In the evening with spotlights, the flowers looked very real, almost as if they were holly bushes in full berry. Quite a few people commented on the Christmas miracle at our church. Even now, several weeks later, the flowers are still in the bushes and visitors can't help but go up to the busy to feel the flowers. The flowers look so real from a distance that it is very hard to believe that they really do not belong.
In the past few weeks there have been other "miracles" at our church. I suppose it is not proper to call them miracles because there is a very real, earthly explanation for them. However, they are, in their own way, miracles. We talked about getting a big screen television for the church so that we could plan fellowship events like movie nights or a football party. Within a week there was a television in the building. Other tremendous gifts of money for youth and furniture for the church showed up out of the blue, almost as soon as the need was mentioned. Real people donated these gifts, they did not come out of the nowhere, but they did it quietly and without fanfare, so that people are still wondering "How did that get here?"
Occasionally Jesus did His miracles in front of a group of witnesses, but most of the time He brought healing and peace to people behind the scenes. He did not want to be known as a miracle worker, even though the miracles were a sign that He is the Messiah. He often asked the recipient of the gift to keep their secret or He hid His miracles from plain sight.
"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there after the Jews' manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. And they bare it. And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him." John 2:1-11 (ASV)
There is no real comparison between the miracles of Jesus and the gifts given by members of our church. Yet, there is some connection. After all, the gifts arrived when members felt the tugging of the Holy Spirit on their hearts and their wallets. Though it might seem quite worldly for a church to have silk flowers in a tree or a television in fellowship hall, these gifts have had an awesome affect on the ministry of the church. I know that I have personally been aware and amazed at the generosity shown by so many members of the congregation. Though we may not be turning water into wine, we have followed Jesus' example of bringing the extraordinary out of the ordinary to the glory of God. Thanks be to God.
Car My daughter just called me on the phone. She is on her way to a weekend away with Key Club. The group is traveling to a camp just outside of Dallas in a caravan of cars. The three vehicles were doing very well staying together when suddenly the lead car took an exit off the road. The other cars quickly followed suit, not sure why the driver of the white car would want to turn off. The two cars followed it for some time until it finally pulled into a shopping center. Suddenly they realized they'd been following the wrong car.
The same thing happened to me once. It was nine years ago when we first moved to England. We had bought a brand new car to ship over because it was smart financial decision for us at that time. Since Bruce had done most of the driving in the few weeks until it was shipped, I was not very familiar with the car. We were in England a few weeks before the car arrived and in that time I had not driven at all. I was not familiar with driving on the left hand side of the road or driving through the roundabouts peppered all over the countryside.
The day came when we had to go get the car. I was a bit nervous, but thankfully the port was right on a major highway and I would have some time to get used to the car and the roads before being on the small country roads of England. I was doing quite well following Bruce until we came to our exit. I was barely on the exit ramp when it suddenly began to shower and I had no idea where to turn on the windshield wipers. I was headed into a roundabout and could not take my eyes off the road. Through the raindrops I kept my eyes on Bruce's red car right in front of me. We managed to get through the roundabout safely and I found the knob for the windshield wiper.
We were traveling along this country road when I realized Bruce was traveling very fast. Within minutes his car was nearly out of my sight. Though I knew the speed limit on the small country roads in England was 60 mph, I was trying to get used to the whole idea of driving on the wrong side of the road. There was no other traffic, so it would not have hurt to drive more slowly for awhile. I was getting upset with Bruce for being so inconsiderate when I realized that it wasn't Bruce's car. I was on the wrong road and I was not headed for home. Fortunately I remembered just enough from our earlier adventures and I was able to find signs directing my way, so I made it home a little later than I expected but having had a delightful adventure. They say you see the best things in England when you are lost. I certainly saw some wonderful things as I made my way home.
Though Vicki's story and my story both turned out well, I've heard similar stories where losing sight of the lead car has left people in dangerous situations. All too often the followers don't have proper instructions and no way to reach the lead car. It is really important to keep an eye on the car you are following but it can be very difficult particularly in heavy traffic or when there are so many cars on the road that look alike.
"But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 (ASV)
As I listened to Vicki tell her story today I remembered my own experience with losing sight of the car I was following. It was, for a moment, a frightening experience. I did not know whether I could find my way home and I had no way of contacting Bruce to help me. It is so easy to lose sight of a car in the midst of traffic or weather especially since there are so many cars that look alike on the roads these days.
Even worse, however, is losing sight of God. It happens very easily to us all at times in our lives, especially when we are dealing with moments of distress. The world offers so many things that look good to us; they even look right. However, there are definitely times when the things of the world jump in front of us, divert our attention and lead us down the wrong path. That's why it is important that we keep ourselves in God's Word, in fellowship with His people and continue to be fed with His sacraments. These disciplines will help us to keep on the right track, to keep our eyes on God and if we are diverted will draw us back to Him. Thanks be to God.
Reformers Today we remember the lives of two very different men. Both are considered renewers of society, but they lived in different eras and did not have the same impact on the world around them. Though the national holiday is next Monday, Thursday is the traditional day to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King boldly proclaimed the equality of all men and women despite race. He was a pastor and took his preaching to the streets. At that time many people preferred to change things using violence, but Dr. King was passionately nonviolent.
George Fox came from a different time and place, but his preaching also impacted society. This 17th century preacher lived in England and became disillusioned with the church in which he was raised. He found no comfort in the teachings, so he broke off all relationships, even with his family. He became a traveling preaching, emphasizing the light of Christ in the hearts of believers, which is the true source of comfort and peace in this world. He preached against slavery and began the abolitionist movement in England. He also founded a fellowship of believers called the Quakers, as others followed his example and traveled to preach. They eventually settled down into communities that are known for a more mystical worship. When they gather together they quietly wait for the presence of the Holy Spirit to join them, spending much of their worship in silence.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Fox approached the issues of their day from different perspectives, Dr. King on a more practical level and George Fox on a spiritual. Yet, both ministries were founded on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. They both undoubtedly faced persecution for their work Fox was harassed and imprisoned, King was killed. Neither allowed it to stop what they knew should be done.
But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; That they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen. Jude 1:17-25 (ASV)
Our world is different than it was in the 17th century and even than it was in the middle of the 20th century. Yet, we continue to face issues that need to be dealt with, hearts still need to know the comfort and peace that come from life in Christ. The people need to hear the message of the Gospel, both in practical and spiritual terms. Everyone needs to know about the light that is Christ, the love from God that was incarnate in the man Jesus Christ. Though we may not ever do so in a manner that will be remembered like King and Fox, we are all called to share this message with the world in which we live. We will face persecution, but what matters most is that we keep our focus on the one thing that will truly change the world our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Cable We rearranged our living room yesterday. We have purchased some new furniture which will be delivered in a few weeks. Part of our plan was to move the television to another part of the room which meant we would have to use a longer cable. Since we all had the day off, we spent time in the afternoon spreading the cable while trying to hide it along the base boards. We nailed it at a few spots for safety and aesthetic reasons, then made sure the television and cable were working properly.
Unfortunately, we had chosen the wrong kind of cable and some of our stations were not working properly. After a lengthy call to the cable company, we arranged to have a cable guy here today to fix the problem. When he arrived, he checked some other parts of the system and changed a few things around. It took some time to get through all these fixes and it still did not work properly. Finally, he tried a new cable and everything worked as it should.
Now, it might seem like we went to a lot of trouble over one small problem. However, in his search, he discovered that there were other problems as well as the cable. Over the years we have had a few minor problems with our box and our remote control, so he was able to replace those with new ones. Also, the signal coming into the room was not as strong as it should be. When he walked into the room he was sure that that problem lie with the cable, but his search fixed other things first. If he had changed the cable immediately, we would still be dealing with those minor problems.
We aren't perfect. As a matter of fact, I can list a number of things about myself that I would like to see changed. I have prayed about it and even taken steps on my own to make the changes that would make me a better person. There have been times when I have failed miserably, but there have also been changes. The changes are sometimes so small that they are unnoticeable, but they are a step in the right direction. The funny thing is, those changes are often not the thing that I would like to see fixed. Yet, as I think about it, those changes are often necessary steps toward wholeness. I suppose if God were to jump right to the big things, then there would still be hidden problems. Instead, He takes one thing at a time, building up with the little fixes so that when He gets to the obvious, it is the last step in making us whole.
"For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:14-25 (ASV)
We want to be perfect. Just as we want our electronic equipment to work at its best, we want our lives to look and feel right. We do everything we can to make ourselves look as we think we should to the world and we work just as hard trying to make our inner selves as beautiful. We often fail. We end up fixing some things, but leaving other sins buried under the surface, so that no matter how good we think we appear, we still do the wrong things. But God does not leave us to our troubles. He's like that cable guy who will search out every problem, transforming one thing at a time until the day when we will finally be transformed fully into His likeness. Until that day, we will do what we don't want to do and we will not do what we want to do. Through it all, our Lord Jesus Christ stands with us through it all, helping us along the way and bringing about the changes that will help us to be all that our Father has created us to be. Thanks be to God.
Hokey Pokey We all know the song, it has long been a favorite childhood game and one that is often played at events such as weddings or family reunions. The song leads the players in a dance as they are standing in a circle. First everyone puts their right hand inside the circle, then they put it out and then they put it back in and shake it all about. Then everyone does a silly dance while turning in a circle. The verse finished with everyone clapping while saying, "That's what its all about!"
The song for the Hokey Pokey is being used for some commercial on television and Vicki just happened to see that commercial yesterday. For some reason she was in a highly philosophical mood and she asked, "What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it is all about?" Her question made me laugh, but I also wondered, "What does Hokey Pokey mean?" After all, if that is what it is all about, it would be nice to understand it better.
So, I went to my computer and did a search on the Internet. I found some fascinating information about the Hokey Pokey. First of all, there is great controversy over the origin of the song. Apparently Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak and Tafit Baker were granted copyright for the song in 1950, having claimed written it for the ski set in Idaho's Sun Valley Resort. American servicemen stationed in England during WWII claim to have danced something very similar long before the supposed writing of the song in Idaho. Looking even further back into history, there are written records of very similar folk songs from other countries from back into the 19th century. The song is known as the "Hokey Cokey" in England. It is also known as the "Okey Cokey." Even the Shakers had a version called "Hinkum-Booby." The lyrics were published in 1940. We may never know the true origin of the song.
Some scholars have suggested that the term Hokey Pokey is related to the words "hocus pocus." Apparently in Satanic ritual there is a parody of the Catholic mass in which the words "Hoc est enim corpus meum" (which means, "this is my body") is portrayed as some sort of magician's spell. Though this explanation came from a reliable online encyclopedia, the song itself seems to have little to do with the differences between religions. On another website I discovered that the second favorite ice cream in New Zealand is called "Hokey Pokey." It is an ice cream with bits of toffee that apparently melts into a gooey, yummy mess in the heat of the summer. It is supposed that the name comes from the cry of Italian ice cream venders who yell in Italian "Ecce pocce" which means "Get it here, its cold."
It is not a new question. Jimmy Buffett wrote in a song written in 2000, "Maybe it's all too simple for our brains to figure it out. What if the hokey pokey is all it really is about?" In response to a Washington Post contest, Jeff Brechlin of Potomac Falls, Idaho put an old English spin on the song. "O proud left foot, that ventures quick within then soon upon a backward journey lithe. Anon, once more the gesture, then begin: command sinistral pedestal to writhe. Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke, a mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl. To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke. Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl. The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt. Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about."
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. 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. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him." John 3:11-17 (ASV)
Vicki's question made me laugh and the research I have done since then has been humorous and interesting. There were dozens of web blogs asking the same question. For some, the answer was that it is a good thing, that an eternity in heaven doing the "Hokey Pokey" would be such a joy filled experience. Others thought exactly the opposite that an eternity of the "Hokey Pokey" would be like hell. We can make the question quite difficult by trying to solve the question of its creator or look at it like Jimmy Buffett maybe the questions we ask are much more difficult than the real answer.
The answer to the deepest question in our heart is really very simple. Jesus Christ is what its all about. Thanks be to God.
Difficulties Did you ever have one of those days when every corner you turned seemed to take you to another problem to solve? I had one of those days today. I would love to spend hours complaining about my troubles. As a matter of fact, I even called my sister with them. She gave me some advice and helped me realize that those troubles were worth getting so upset. It took me some time to calm down, but once I did I knew she was right. The difficulties were stealing my time, my energy and my emotions.
How easy it is for us to get caught up in the cares of the world, even those that really have no value. There are situations in life that need our attention, that need to be resolved with hard work. Most of the things we worry about are really pointless. They can be dealt with simply and quickly if only we would let go. I suppose what it really takes is putting everything in perspective. Can our worry change the situation? Can it make a difference to someone else? Will the world be a better place because of how we dealt with the situation? Most often the answer to these questions is no. Most often we would do well to let go and move on to more fruitful work. Most often we would do more to turn to God and ask Him to remove the worry so that we can accomplish something that will really make a difference in the world.
"Praise ye Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah from the heavens: Praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his host. Praise ye him, sun and moon: Praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For he commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away. Praise Jehovah from the earth, Ye sea-monsters, and all deeps. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; Stormy wind, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills; Fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children: Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For his name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and the heavens. And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, The praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah." Psalm 148 (ASV)
The worst part of today is that as I went about my work I realized that I had not spent enough time recently just praising God. I've been busy with work, with ministry, with caring for my family. I've attended worship, studied the scriptures and prayed. Yet, in the midst of it all I've spent very little time just praising God.
Our little troubles are really insignificant when we consider the amazing things God has done. He has created the entire world and everything in it. He has redeemed all of mankind by the blood of Christ. He has brought salvation to our lives, ordained His people to service and promised to do even greater things through His Church. We might suffer for a moment. We might have difficult work to do in this world. But no matter what we face, we believe in the God of the heavens and the earth. If only we would spend some time each day just praising God, singing songs of adoration and admiration, we might realize more quickly how inconsequential our troubles really are. Thanks be to God.
Water What is the silliest thing you've ever done with water? A few years ago, when we were living in Spokane, Washington, Bruce and I had a Fourth of July party. We were all sitting around in our back yard enjoying the weather and the company. I had in my hand the tiniest water gun you can imagine. It was so small that it held only a few tablespoons of water, but I could hide it very easily.
Nonchalantly I began shooting, a squirt here, a squirt there. The first few squirts went unnoticed because I hit clothing or hair. Eventually I managed to hit someone in the arm and they slapped at it as if it was a bug and then looked up in the sky wondering if it was going to rain. The next person was more vocal about the drips. Then I started getting a little anxious about what I was doing and someone caught me with the water gun. From that moment a major water war broke out. People were pulling out the hoses, my pots and pans and anything else they could use to get me wet. They refused to finish the game until I was soaked to the bones. In the end, I stood in the middle of the yard and they drenched me from head to foot. It really was a fun moment.
We all probably have some sort of water memories, whether they are from time at the ocean or a lake, or even those fun bathtub moments. I can remember as a child molding my soapy hair into bizarre hairstyles. I know that during the years of my youth, the pool in our yard served for many interesting moments. We played games and swam late into the night. I can remember days when my skin was like beat red prunes and my very blond hair was green from the chlorine after spending hours in the water. Some of our antics were silly in terms of being funny. Others were silly because as we look back now we know that it was foolish to do such things. Even with all those silly moments, I don't think I ever tried to walk on water.
"And straightway he constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side, till he should send the multitudes away. And after he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when even was come, he was there alone. But the boat was now in the midst of the sea, distressed by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night he came unto them, walking upon the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a ghost; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto the upon the waters. And he said, Come. And Peter went down from the boat, and walked upon the waters to come to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and saith unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were gone up into the boat, the wind ceased. And they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God." Matthew 14:22-33 (ASV)
I suppose we should not consider this action on Peter's part as something 'silly.' It was a moment of faith, an act of courage. Yet, in some ways it was a test of Christ. Could Peter walk on water just because Jesus was around? Could Peter do the impossible at the word of Jesus? For a moment Peter did walk on water, but he looked away. He became aware of the wind and storm that raged around him. He lost sight of Jesus in the midst of his fear. It was not silly for Peter to walk in faith. But it was foolish of him to do so and then let go of the one thing that held him above water.
When I was playing with the water at our party in Washington, I went too far. I took a risk and had a little fun. It was when I got anxious about it that someone discovered what I was doing. I made the mistake that cost me getting drenched. Peter took a risk also, but it was not the risk that caused him to get all wet. It was his lack of faith in the end, his fear about the wind and rain that made him look away. Our faith in Christ might lead us into doing things that might seem silly or foolish to the world but it is our doubt and fear that is truly foolish. We are called to keep our eyes on Him. But when we fail and get all wet, we can remember that He will reach out and pull us back up again. Thanks be to God.
Reverse In the movie "Ferris Buehler's Day Off" a high school boy takes a day off of school. Ferris is a troublesome youth, however, and has done this a number of times before. This particular day would be the last time he could play hookie without having to return to for summer school. Since he was near to graduation, he knew that this was his last hurrah. If he was going to skip school, he needed to do it right with all the risks and excitement he could muster.
He convinced his girlfriend and his best friend to join him for the day. They borrowed his friend's father's car, a very expensive sports model that the father treasures. Even a mile added to the odometer might be noticed. The friend, of course, tries to convince Ferris that they should not do this thing, but Ferris is too strong. The three head into the big city for an adventure. They parked the car in a lot where the attendants were just waiting for some hot little number to use for a joy ride. The red convertible was the perfect choice. When Ferris and his friends return to the car after outsmarting authorities, hiding from parents and joining in with a parade, they discover that the car had been driven hundreds of miles.
Ferris' friend was certain this would mean his end. Apparently his father thought more of the hot red car than he did of his own son, or at least that's how the son felt. He began blaming Ferris and calling him selfish. Ferris assured him he could fix the problem, so they put the car on blocks, put the car into reverse and put a brick on the accelerator, thinking that by running the car backward for a hundred miles would counteract the miles put on by the garage attendants. Anyone who knows anything about cars knows that this trick does not work. The odometer only works in drive, so it is impossible to remove mileage without tampering with the equipment.
They say you can't go home again. We certainly can't relive yesterday. We can't turn back the hands of time just as we can't turn back the miles on the odometer. However, do we really want to go back? We may think that yesterday was a better time, but today we know so much more. We may have been younger yesterday with more energy, but today we walk with the wisdom that comes from experience. We may have done something wrong yesterday that we would like to change, but then we would miss out on the joy or redemption, forgiveness and absolution.
"Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law. And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." Romans 13:8-14 (ASV)
Ferris' friend freaked out about the car thinking that his father would kill for using it without permission. To add to his pain, when Ferris tried to turn back the clock, or the miles, disaster happened. The car fell off the blocks, and flew out the window of the garage into a ravine. The car was totally destroyed. When Ferris and his friends tried to turn back the hands of time, they caused pain and suffering.
While we long for the day for Christ to come, we also realize that everything will change in an instant. In that day, the world as we know it will no longer exist. We will also face the greatest test will we be welcomed into heaven or not? We might want to turn back the hands of time, to restore broken relationships, to do things differently. However, we can't. What we can do is to live today knowing that we are always moving forward, that the day of Christ's return is closer now than it has ever been. Knowing that we can't turn back, we will live as if Christ is near, loving our neighbor. Thanks be to God.
Sink Our cats are very predictable. I suppose that they are very much like people in that they get into habits very easily and then those actions become a natural part of their day. We have recently gotten into a new habit. It actually began some time ago when the cats followed Bruce into the bathroom after they'd had their breakfast. Felix would wait on the sink until Bruce would turn on the faucet. He would take a drink and then have a bath. Tigger was curious as to what Felix was doing on the sink, but he was nervous about climbing on to the sink to see. Some time later, Felix began following me into the half bath on our main level. He jumped on to the sink and waited for me to turn on the faucet. Tigger watched him and you could tell he wanted to try it, but he was afraid to jump. One day I lifted him up so that he could see what was going on.
Now Tigger follows me into the bathroom every time I go. He jumps up on the sink himself, as long as Felix doesn't get there first. Now, Felix has developed a good pattern of licking the water and he gets a pretty good drink from the running water. Tigger has not quite figured out how this works. He is funny to watch as he tries to catch the water. He can see that the stream seems solid, so he bites at it. However, just as he gets his face under the stream, he ends up getting all wet and the stream splashes away from him. He takes his paw and tries to pull it back, but then his paw just gets wet so he has to lick off the water.
I don't know why they feel they need to drink water out of the faucet. It is not just because their water bowls have been sitting there all day they do it even if we've just put cool, clean water in their bowls. Tigger has been known to drink the soapy water left in the shower and the water in the toilet. I suppose they know that running water is fresher and cooler than anything that will sit in a bowl for any length of time.
"So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph: and Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. For his disciples were gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said unto unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw." John 4:5-15 (ASV)
Felix and Tigger come running every time I walk into the bathroom because they know that they will get a drink of cool, clean water. You would think that we don't take care to give them cool, clean water in their bowl every day, yet there seems to be something special about the water that comes out of the faucet. There is. Running water is fresher and cooler. It doesn't take very long for standing water to become old or to take on a strange taste.
The woman was at the well at an odd time in the afternoon rather than in the morning when the other women went. We do not know the reason for her lonely walk to the well, though we do know that her relationship pattern of so many men was not normal or acceptable. When Jesus offered her living water, she thought he could offer her running water cool and clean and fresh. He offered her something even better, Himself. Jesus is not able to quench our physical thirst, but He does quench the thirst that goes deep into our soul. He is the living water of life and as we drink Him in, we are renewed and strengthened for whatever is to come. It is good for us to seek to spend time with Him on a regular basis. Perhaps we should even allow it to become a habit, like the cats running to the bathroom for water, so that we will spend time with Jesus daily and grow ever closer to Him. Thanks be to God.
Printer I am the designer and maintainer of our church's website. It is not a difficult task, though time consuming, keeping everything up to date. It is usually easiest for me to do the work on my own, rather than spending the time to teach someone how to use the editor and having the confusion of too many hands working on the site. It is frustrating when two people decide to work on a project at the same time and then discover that they are destroying each other's work.
Even though I'd rather do the work myself, I don't want the website to be solely mine. I would love to have input, and thus far I have had people share pictures with me. Thanks to their help, we have hundreds of pictures from church activities available throughout the website. The next step is to get team leaders to help me design their pages and getting them to keep the information available on the site up to date.
One of the team ministry pages had a number of pictures of the people who were involved in a project. Since we are a growing church, there were a number of people whose names I did not have. I wanted to print a screen shot of the page for the team leader so she could write a list for me. Unfortunately, what often happens with the Internet is that web pages are slightly wider than the printing area of my printer. When I print, a small amount of the text or pictures are left off the page. The page was useless because some of the people whose names I needed were missing.
I realized, though, that all I needed to do was turn the paper and then everything would fit. So, when I commanded the computer to print the page, I used "landscape" instead of "portrait." It took more pages to print the page from top to bottom, but the entire width was covered. Now I know that I can print the web pages for all the ministry team leaders to show them what I have done and they will have a better idea of what I have already done. They can give me their input and the pages can stay relevant and up to date.
It is amazing that such a simple fix can solve such a big problem. I don't know about you, but I've been very frustrated when I've tried to print pages of information I needed for different projects. After the pages are printed, I discover that the last few characters of every line are missing. You can sometimes piece together what is being said, but there are times that it is impossible, there are too many letters missing to figure out the word. Now I know that I simply turn the paper and I will see everything more clearly.
"In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4 (ASV)
We are much like that piece of paper that is not quite wide enough to print the entire web page. We seek to know God, take time in prayer and Bible study and worship Him, but He is so much greater than we can every really know. It is only by His revelation that we can know Him at all and He does not choose to reveal everything to us it is too much for us to handle.
It might seem odd to us that Jesus would tell the disciples that they should be like little children. We pray, study and worship so that we might mature into a deeper and fuller faith, and yet Jesus tells us to do the exact opposite. It is not that He does not want us to grow closer to Him. Instead, He tells us to be open to His word, to receive it like a child with innocence and faith. All too often our search for God is not about the relationship but rather to have knowledge and better understand God. We will never fully understand, but if we become like little children and receive Him with joy, we'll grow ever closer and will see more clearly God's love and mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Clearance rack I went shopping with a friend yesterday. We went to the outlet center just up the road. Now, I remember going to outlets many years ago with my mom that were truly money saving experiences. Those outlets were located right in the manufacturing plant and offered goods that were either damaged, discontinued or simply not up to par with the expectation of the manufacturer. It was possible to save quite a bit of money on clothing at those places, particularly if you didn't mind slight irregularity in the merchandise.
The outlet centers can still be a place to save money, but some of the stores that rent space in those centers really do not offer the incredible prices we knew in the past. These shopping centers have the high cost of overhead rent, utilities, and transportation for the merchandise. They also pay decent wages for the sales clerks and other employees. The outlets in the centers can't offer the same incredible low prices as those located in the factories.
It is still worthwhile to visit these outlet stores clearance items. Very often the outlet stores get merchandise that the company has discontinued and is no longer shipping to its regular stores. This merchandise can be priced very low for quick sale. The clearance racks had nice things though perhaps last season's styles at amazing prices. I found several things that were 90% off the original price. You have to be careful because the 'original price' is sometimes higher than you might find similar items in other stores. However, at 90%, 75% or even 50% off, it is a good deal.
My friend told me she does not like to shop the clearance racks because they are overwhelming. All too often the clearance racks are a hodge podge of different sizes, styles and quality of merchandise. An 'as is' item with a pull or stain might be right beside an item of higher quality. You almost have to look at every single item hoping that at the end of your search you will actually find something worthwhile. To her, it isn't worth the time. Yet, as we went into the outlet stores yesterday, she was amazed at how I could go right to the sale rack and find some incredible buy. I found a wool coat for $25, a shirt for Vicki for $5, a t-shirt for myself for just $2. Vicki has learned to do the same thing by going with me on shopping trips.
We learn things by watching others. Vicki has learned to shop the sales rack by shopping with me. Students learn how to do math, science and grammar by watching their teachers. An athlete learns a great deal by watching other athletes, not only about how to do it for themselves but also how to compete against others. Even in our Christian life we learn from others. Our Sunday School teachers, our pastors and the members of our congregation provide for us an example of how to live Christ-like in this world.
"So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them." John 13:12-17 (ASV)
Today is the day that we remember Timothy, Titus and Silas, friends of Paul. They learned about Christianity from Paul and traveled with him at some point in his journeys. Then they went their own way, to continuing sharing the Gospel with others. While Paul did have an extraordinary experience meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, he learned about Christianity from other disciples. They shared what they had learned from the Twelve and from Jesus Himself.
We live our life learning from others, taking their knowledge and experience and applying it to our lives. Thankfully we have many people who are willing to share these things with us so that we might learn both from their mistakes and from their successes. Many aspects of Christian faith come naturally, as they should since they are gifts from God. However, those who have come before us are also gifts and we have much we can learn from them. It might not matter whether we find the perfect sale or not, but it does matter how we live our lives in this world. Jesus passed on His example that we might live like Him today. Thanks be to God.
Breakfast San Antonio is preparing for Rodeo, an event so big that the San Antonio Spurs basketball team has to go on the road for two weeks while the rodeo takes over the AT&T center where they normally play. The Rodeo is accompanied by numerous other events including a Barbeque, a golf tournament and a gala, concerts and plenty of activities for kids. The unofficial kick-off for Rodeo was held today and is a huge breakfast.
Now, when we think of a huge breakfast, we might fondly remember the annual pancake breakfast held at the neighborhood fire station or the Easter breakfast served at our church. It is amazing how much food they are able to produce in a relatively short period of time. It isn't just dozens of eggs cracked to be scrambled but hundreds. They cook more pancakes than we can count and huge amounts of sausage. No, the San Antonio Cowboy Breakfast is even bigger than anything we've experienced. As a matter of fact, in 2001 the breakfast won the honor of being called biggest cooked breakfast by the "Guinness Book of World Records".
This year the organizers were planning to serve 60,000 people in a matter of a few hours. They obtained use of a grill so large it is built directly on to the trailer of an 18 wheeler. This grill will be used next week at the Super Bowl. They used 10,000 eggs for the breakfast tacos and grilled 15,000 brats. They also served biscuits and gravy as well as coffee. They served free breakfast to so many people this morning that they ran out of tortillas. The amount of work that goes into this breakfast is overwhelming for us to think about. I saw at least a dozen people grilling food on the huge grill and there must have been hundreds of hands involved in making the tacos, the coffee, the biscuits and gravy. The clean-up following this event will be a monstrous task.
"After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they beheld the signs which he did on them that were sick. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude cometh unto him, saith unto Philip, Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred shillings' worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, who hath five barley loaves, and two fishes: but what are these among so many? Jesus said, Make the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to them that were set down; likewise also of the fishes as much as they would. And when they were filled, he saith unto his disciples, Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost. So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which remained over unto them that had eaten." John 6:1-13 (ASV)
The news shows had reports from the Cowboy Breakfast this morning and it was fascinating to see an hear everything that goes into preparing and serving such a huge meal to so many people. The thank you list after such an event probably goes on for pages naming businesses and people who donated everything from the eggs to the plates to the hands for wrapping breakfast tacos. No one man could have ever done it themselves.
The crowd at Jesus' dinner was not nearly as big as gathered in San Antonio this morning, but He managed to feed five thousand men, not including the women and children that were probably also on that hillside that day. Jesus' disciples passed out five loaves of bread and two fish, more than enough to feed everyone until they were satisfied. We might think there is little comparison between the two events, since Jesus created a miracle to feed so many people. Yet, when you think of the time and resources that went into this morning's cowboy breakfast, isn't it also a miracle that they could provide sixty thousand people with enough breakfast that they were more than satisfied? Just safely dealing with the traffic was a huge undertaking.
While an event like the Cowboy Breakfast might seem a little overwhelming, we can face such events with a sense of awe and trust that God can make amazing things happen whether it is Jesus feeding thousands or hundreds of people feeding thousands. God works through the hands of men. Let us glorify Him for His amazing grace! Thanks be to God.
Eggshells All reports indicate that the Cowboy breakfast on Friday was a huge success. Sixty thousand people enjoyed good food and fun. There were no reports of any problems. Even the gravy seems to have been handled with care. See, there was a huge controversy during the days leading up to the breakfast that the organizers had decided to omit the gravy for the biscuits from the menu. In previous years, apparently the small bowls of gravy found their way to the ground causing a slippery and dangerous mess. This year, however, after the threat of no gravy, the people were extra careful to ensure the gravy was not a hazard.
The part we rarely consider when hearing about stories like this is the clean up that must come afterwards. Cleaning up gallons of spilled sausage gravy is probably a disgusting and difficult task. Besides that, they have to ensure the proper disposal of all waste products. Can you imagine the tons of styrofoam cups that they must have used to give sixty thousand people a cup of coffee? Add to that plates, wrappers, packaging from the food, and they must have had to haul away a city's worth of garbage from one three hour event.
One item that won't go to the dump, however, are the thousands of eggshells that came from the eggs used to make the tacos. The city is preparing for another great event, FIESTA, which will be held in the spring. There is a tradition at FIESTA and other Mexican holidays, to use cascarones. Cascarones are eggshells filled with confetti and sealed with a small bit of tissue paper. They are beautifully painted and decorated. Then they are broken over the heads of friends and family. Of course, the confetti and eggshells gets all over everything, but it is so much fun.
You would think that ten thousand eggshells would be enough for one event, but apparently that number is just the tip of the iceberg. They will be making two hundred and fifty thousand cascarones before May. I don't know where they will be getting all those eggshells, though I've heard restaurants, bakeries and other businesses save them to be used. The eggshells need to be cleaned, painted, filled and then sealed. One speaker said that they will save a few of them as they do each year in the "Cascarone hall of fame," a collection of the prettiest cascarones. You have to wonder about putting so much time and effort into a small object that is created to be destroyed. Yet, they lovingly produce hundreds of thousands of cascarones every year.
"Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew 6:25-34 (ASV)
Have you ever thought about how much thought and care God has put into creating you? There might be people in the world that think you are worth little more than the garbage dump. Perhaps you feel that way about yourself. You see nothing special or worthwhile about your life. However, God loves you and He loves you so much He created you. He loved you so much that Jesus died that you might be forgiven, redeemed and set free from the bondage of sin and death. He cares about where you are and what you do.
It is not the type of care, like that of a dominating spouse or parent that only cares to control you and make you do things one way. No, God's care comes from a deep and abiding love, a love that would take a useless shell and transform it into the most beautiful cascarone worthy of display in a museum. More likely, however, you will be a beautiful cascarone that will be broken over someone else's head, that they might know the joy and glory of God. Thanks be to God.
Carwash The carwash down the street has one of those signs where they put messages for the passing traffic. I've seen Happy Birthday messages and other congratulatory notes. They have put up special deals and money saving offers. They even put up words of inspiration. The most recent note is a bible reference from the book of Exodus. "Do not make anything an idol," the sign says, quoting Exodus 20:4.
Ironic, isn't it? Of all our possessions, expect perhaps our homes, our cars tend to be the one thing into which we put our whole beings. We spend a big portion of our time, our money and our energy choosing, purchasing, cleaning and taking care of our vehicles. We can't live without them. How would we get to work, to school or to our leisure activities without our cars? Most of us don't have just one car in the driveway; we have a car for every driver. I humbly confess that I'm probably among the worst offenders in this. I can't imagine life without a car of my own, and I am thankful for the freedom the vehicle gives me. I don't think I would admit that the car has become an idol to me I can say, with a certain amount of pride, that the car does not control my every waking thought or action.
Yet, it seems like in recent days we've spent even more time concerning ourselves with the price of using a car. How many conversations have you had about the price of gasoline? Have you changed your life in any way to ensure that you will have enough money to fill the car this week? An idol is a representation of some god and a god is something beyond yourself for which you are willing to give yourself at the cost of something or someone else. The ancient faithful were willing to give their children to the gods so that the gods would bless their harvest. In other ages, the faithful were willing to give their time, money and energy to appease the gods and seek their blessings.
So, the irony of the carwash sign is that the business itself exists for the care of cars, feeding our most difficult temptation idolizing our cars. Some people visit the carwash on a regular basis, at least weekly, to ensure their vehicle looks its best. So, while the carwash people are caring for the spiritual welfare of their customers and those who see the sign, they are at the same time leading us into temptation, drawing us into the trap of putting our cars above other things and people in our lives.
"And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me: but whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh! And if thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. And if thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire." Matthew 18:5-9 (ASV)
Exodus 20:4 is part of the first commandment given to Moses by God on the mountain. We are to have no other gods besides God. This means that we should not make idols of anything. Martin Luther writes in his Small Catechism, "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things." This is probably the most difficult of all the commandments for us to obey, because it is so easy to get caught in the trap of fearing, loving and trusting the things of this world more than God Himself.
In the explanations of the other commandments, Martin Luther looked at the commandments from two perspectives. First of all we are to be obedient to the rules; we should not murder, covet, or steal. But Luther took the commandment one step further. He also wrote that we should not cause our neighbors to murder, covet or steal. This means that in everything we do, we must take care that we do not cause our neighbors to stumble, by putting in front of them the temptation to do that which would make them sin. This is not just true of the 'thou shalt not' commandments. It is our responsibility to help our neighbor to fear, love and trust God above all other things, without providing the very temptations that might cause them to create idols and honor other gods. For the Lord God Almighty is the only One worthy and able of changing our lives. Thanks be to God.