Welcome to the July 2006 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes





















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


July 3, 2006

Youth  Thousands of high school youth are going to be converging on San Antonio this week for the National Youth Gathering of our church. They are expecting thousands of youth to be here this week and then more will come next week when the planners will do it all over again. The week will be filled with worship and music, learning and bible study as well as fellowship opportunities. The kids are really looking forward to the event and so are the adults.

Bruce and I are going along as chaperones this week. We don't know what to expect, since we have never been to such a large gathering of young people. It is going to be a hectic week, since they have things planned for nearly every hour of the day. The kids have the freedom to choose some of their activities, but it is our hope that they will take advantage of every moment. These gatherings only happen once every three years, and they will be too old to attend the next one, so this is their one opportunity to experience it. The workshops will be informative and formative – they are designed to help build their faith and practice of their faith. It is always our hope that the youth will come home anxious to share what they have learned with the congregation and with the community.

I think the part we are looking forward to the most is the child-like expression of faith I know we will see. Some of the youth might be offended to hear me refer to their faith as child-like; after all they are nearly adults. Just this morning Zack told me that I should not refer to teenagers as kids, "They don't like it," he said. Kids are little children and we aren't little.

But there is something very special about the way children express their faith. That includes youth. They have not been corrupted by the politics of church and they still see the stories as they did when they were children. Some may be uncertain, grappling with questions they do not really understand and answers that are even harder to understand. They may be questioning the whole idea of religion, the whole concept of faith. Yet, they listen with an open heart and an open mind. And they worship with a sense of freedom that most adults lost long ago.

"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. 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!" Matthew 18:1-7 (ASV)

I'm looking forward to this week. I am not looking forward to chasing those young adults all over town or trying to keep up with them for five days. I'm not looking forward to having to stay awake long into the night to ensure that they keep to their rooms when they should be there. I'm not looking forward to fighting the crowds at every food booth or finding a seat at the events. I'm not looking forward to dealing with the petty problems that can come up when so many people are sharing a space for such a long period of time.

However, all of that is meaningless compared to the joy we will see in their eyes and hear in their voices as they grow and learn and praise God together. They might be young adults – some of the youth are headed to college this fall. They might be responsible, mature people – quite a few have jobs and other activities that keep them busy throughout the year. They will sing for joy and praise God with ease, unconcerned about time or what other people might think if they raise their hands or move to the music. They will enjoy their week because they still receive God's word like little children – humble, innocent and full of hope. We will enjoy their week because we will see faith lived out as God intends it to be lived – in freedom and His grace. Thanks be to God.


July 5, 2006

Fire  I have a few moments today, so I thought I would take the time to write. It has been a very busy time already. Yesterday was filled with training and preparation. We spent a great deal of time walking from one venue to another, getting to know the lay out of the city and discovering that it is going to most of our free time just getting around.

By the time we got to the hotel last night, we were pretty tired. That is true of the adults and a few of the kids, anyway. We took a few moments to gather together to discuss some of the rules and our schedule for today. We also took the time to pray. Then we adjourned to our rooms to rest for another busy day. The kids were given some time to play cards and then they had to be in their rooms with lights out.

Since we were here a day early – most of the attendees do not arrive until this morning – the hotel was fairly empty. By tonight it will be full. Most of us were just getting to sleep when suddenly we heard a piercing noise. It was the fire alarm. We roused the kids and headed down to the street, the stairway was full of half asleep teens. Thankfully the storms of early evening had passed and the streets were dry. The fire truck arrived even as we were gathering the kids. As we waited word, we made sure we had everyone. We weren’t upset or afraid, just annoyed. After a few moments, the hotel manager called us back in.

The youth leaders were given the scoop. Someone in a non-smoking room was smoking, which set off the fire alarm. So, what could have been a truly horrifying experience was even more annoying than originally thought. Some of the people were mad. I even heard a few kids say that they wanted to ‘get’ the culprit. I can understand their feelings. However, we sent them back to their rooms with the assurance that they did not need to worry about it. It was not for them to decide what would happen.

“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:17-18 (NIV)

I imagine all the kids in this hotel can quote the often used Gospel passage about loving God and neighbor. As a matter of fact, a great deal of the things they will learn this week will be directly related to that very thought. However, we do not often learn the message within context, and we even more rarely live it.

We talk about loving our neighbors as ourselves, but what does that mean? It means that we should not hold a grudge against them, but that we should deal with their sin as we would hope others would deal with ours. It means that we should recognize that God is the power and authority in our lives and that He has chosen to grant forgiveness to those who seek Him. Yet, if we spend our time and our energy seeking revenge, we will have little left to seek the One who can help us to live the greater way – the way of love.

We do not know what will happen to the person who set off the alarm last night. There is most likely some consequence to the action. However, it is not our concern. Our concern for this day is to love that person with the kind of love God has given to us, a love that is from grace with mercy and forgiveness. Thanks be to God.


July 10, 2006

Cascarones  As you can tell, there was no time to write last week. We had one free moment; the rest of our week was filled with activities or walking to activities. It was an exhausting week, but incredible. Since we were at a youth gathering, everything was designed for the youth. Yet, it was also for the adults in many ways. As a matter of fact, I think many of the adults left the place changed, just like the youth. The messages were strong, challenging and uplifting. The music was exciting and fun. The workshops were organized and valuable. In the end, many people described the event as awesome.

I think one of the most important things to me had to be the opportunity to make new acquaintances. I don’t know if I will ever see or hear from any of them again. However, just the chance to meet someone new, learn something about them and share a bit of my own faith was the best reason for attending. We met people from all over the country and a few international guests. I even had the chance to mingle with a few of the musical guests and speakers.

On Saturday night, they organized a FIESTA for the entire group, some 15,000 people in Old San Antonio. They had food, music and storytellers for us to enjoy. It was a little bit crowded – or should I say very crowded. It was hard to even move from stand to stand at times, but we had a really good time enjoying the music and the food.

Zack and some of the other members of our congregation came down to volunteer at the event. They served the food and the water. They assigned the kids (Junior High age) to the cascarone booth. If you are from the north, you might not even know about cascarones. They are egg shells that have been cleaned, filled with confetti and then covered with tissue paper. They are painted with beautiful colors. These are made to be broken over the head of another person, so that the confetti will pour over them. The confetti ends up everywhere – in the hair, on the clothes and on the floor. Some even ended up in my bottle of water.

Bruce and I bought a few of the cascarones. As we walked away from the booth, Bruce smashed one over my head. I tried to do it back to him, but since he is a little taller than me, I couldn’t reach. A young man standing nearby grabbed one of his own cascarones and smashed it over Bruce’s head. This brief moment of silliness wound up in a lengthy conversation with these kids.

As it turns out, they are from my home town. The more we talked the closer to home this young man got. He goes to the same school from which I graduated. He lives in the same neighborhood where I grew up. Finally, we realized that he lives in the house directly across the street from my childhood home. What are the odds that I would meet that one young man out of the 15,000 people who were here this week?

“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” Matthew 25:31-40 (ASV)

It might seem like this was quite a coincidence, but I believe it was a God moment. God moments are those times when something miraculous comes out of the ordinary. Will anything come of our meeting? No. All I know about the young man is his first name and his home which is far from me. Yet, in those few moments, we saw God in one another. The young man was just acting silly, but he was in a sense doing what they had been teaching us all week – to be advocates. I don’t think I had anything to give to that young man except a word of thanks and a story to tell his parents when he arrives home. Yet, we traded grace that evening, God’s grace that is present in the love between the parts of Christ’s body.

The next time there is a God-incidence, we both might just be a little more ready to receive the stranger in our midst. Because we have seen His hand in a safe place like the FIESTA among Christians, we will be more open to see His hand in the world. We will offer that cup of water, that bit of food, that robe for the back or that word of comfort because we will recognize that God is in that meeting. Thanks be to God.


July 11, 2006

Power  I saw a report on the news this morning that talked about people who purchase sale items just because they are on sale. Something like forty percent of Americans have purchased something just because it was on sale. All too often the items were things they do not need and will not use. Closets are filled with clearance items that still carry the tags, dresses that have never been worn or shirts that could not be matched with a skirt or pair of pants. People will justify purchasing $1000 television because it was half price – originally $2000. They can't really afford even $1000, but buy it anyway because it is so cheap.

In the meantime, they go into debt, using credit cards to pay for their terrific deals. They convince themselves that they have saved so much money that it is like having money in the bank, even though they never would have spent that money and now they are out a thousand dollars. I'm guilty of it too. I love to shop the outlet malls and I always manage to find a bargain or two. There may even be a few pair of pants in the closet that I never really wanted. So, we run after these treasures even though they are not really the savings and in the end they end up costing us even more because we have charged them on credit without being able to pay it off.

Watching reports such as this one about clearance shoppers, you can understand why it appears that Americans are only interested in material possessions. Our homes are filled with things we don't need; our closets filled with outfits we'll never wear. I suppose it might be true in many other countries. Yet, I think there is something that human nature seeks even more than 'stuff.' We chase after power. After all, when Salome was offered anything up to half the kingdom, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Of course, she was being obedient to her mother who was seeking power over John.

"At that season Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore do these powers work in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced in the midst, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. And she, being put forward by her mother, saith, Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. And the king was grieved; but for the sake of his oaths, and of them that sat at meat with him, he commanded it to be given; and he sent and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the corpse, and buried him; and they went and told Jesus." Matthew 14:1-12 (ASV)

While we do chase after 'stuff' and we all love to find a bargain, there is something we crave even more. We crave power, control. Though there are very few people who really have the kind of power that was wielded by Herodias, Salome and Herod, we all find ways to take hold of the power we need. The boss wields power over the employees, parents wield power over children. While our quest for money and stuff may be more apparent, in the end it is really about power. They person with the most toys wins in our world. The person with the most money can control what happens to their families and their lives. The person who has it all seems to be able to get even more.

We are called to live differently. It might seem obvious to us that in our Christian faith we should not be wasting our resources on items we'll never use. We are given wisdom that helps us to know that it is foolish to think that we are saving money by buying something on sale. However, we fail to realize that our quest for 'stuff' comes from an even deeper need – that need for power. When given the opportunity to choose, our sinful nature would most likely respond like Herodias, seeking the power over the fortune. For those with power will also control the money. Yet, in Christ we have a greater power and an even greater fortune. We are given the power of God to forgive, the power of God to heal. And we are made heirs to the kingdom of heaven. We might not appear to have it all. As a matter of fact, we'll appear poor indeed. In reality, we have the much greater inheritance. Thanks be to God.


July 12, 2006

Grocery stores  I went to the grocery store last night – one of those supercenters that has more than just food – with the intention of getting just a few items. Unfortunately, I had to go to one end of the store for one thing and to the other end of the store for something else. What should have been a quick trip ended up taking me nearly an hour. It doesn't help that I found a bunch of other things to see. The store had a section filled with back to school supplies already, so I spent some time looking at everything. I ran into a friend who told me I needed to fill my shopping cart with all that stuff. She was kidding, of course.

After looking at the school supplies I wandered in the direction of the food. Along the way I caught glimpses of other things that would be interesting – movies I wanted, furniture that would be helpful, clothing that looked nice. Filling my shopping cart would have been very easy. However, I went to that store to purchase a few specific things, so that's what I bought. The funny part was that when I approached the check out, I'd spent so much time wandering I forgot to pick up the most important item.

This morning, I found an article online about the tricks supermarkets use to get you to buy more. They gave five methods used to get you to spend more money. First of all, they put unnecessary items – sweets, toys and junk food – in convenient places near the items you need to purchase. Have you ever noticed that the shelves of candy are right across from the cereal? Cereal is one of the most frequently purchased food items, so mothers have to go down that aisle. The children that are tagging along see the candy and beg mom to buy. Supermarkets also put kid friendly products at eye level for children. This is especially true of sweet cereals, animal shaped pasta, kid's drinks and snacks. When children see these items, they bed mom to buy.

Another thing they do is they put items on an end cap so that it appears as though the item is on special. All too often the item is not really a cheaper price. Supermarkets change their shelf arrangements often to keep you confused. The intent is to keep you in the store, walking around as much as possible so that they can tempt you with other items. In another effort to keep you shopping, they have installed coffee bars. With a cup of coffee in hand, there's no need to rush through the store. Since the music they are playing is slow, you take your time and look at far more on the shelves than you had intended. Finally, they tempt you with good smells – fresh bread, cakes and cookies, roasted chicken and other food items. The minute you walk in the smells whet your appetite and you spend more money. This manipulation works with me. It is very rare that I can get out of a grocery store with only the items on my list.

Unfortunately, there are those that will use similar types of manipulation to get you to buy ideas and practices. This even happens when it comes to the things of faith. I had a friend who got caught up in a church that was more like a cult. The church owned a coffee shop. When people visited the coffee shop they were made to feel at home. The members joined them, chatted with them, and shared their faith. My friend was made to feel like one of the family. Of course she would want to get involved. Eventually she was able to see that the things she was learning did not line up to what she knew to be true and she pulled away.

"But thou didst follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience, persecutions, sufferings. What things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." 2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ASV)

When I was a manager of a retail store, we learned about the tricks of the trade. It was a toy store that also sold other products relating to children. Our diapers were priced well below value – the catch to get our customers in the door. Then we put them way in the back so that our customers had to pass miles of toys. It was our hope that they would find something else along the way. Grocery stores do the same.

What do we do as churches to get people through our doors? Do we have some sort of manipulative techniques to make them want to stay? Unfortunately, many churches do so, and they even use the teachings to draw people in. They share a message that we want to hear, fill our brains and hearts with warm fuzzies. Yet, in the end we end up buying something like junk food. It does not fill us or make us whole. But we have been given God's message of love and grace and it has been planted in our hearts. Christ Jesus walks with us, the Holy Spirit speaks to us. We do not need to fall for the temptations offered in this world or be overpowered by the manipulation. God has given us all we need to do His work in the world. Thanks be to God.


July 13, 2006

Tears  Norman Vincent Peale writes in his book "The Power of Positive Thinking", "Who decides whether you shall be happy or unhappy? You do!" He then tells the story of a dinner he had with a couple during a trip on a train. They were eating in the dining car. The wife looked fabulous in her fine clothes and jewels but she was extremely unhappy. She complained about everything. Her husband, however, was very pleasant. Peale asked the man about his occupation. The man told him that he was a lawyer and then added that his wife is in the manufacturing business. Peale asked, "What does she manufacture?" The man answered, "Unhappiness."

I have to admit that I have been feeling a little bit like that woman the past few days. I am sad. There have been circumstances in my life which have given me little about which to be happy. Those around me might just think that I'm manufacturing my own unhappiness, and it might be true. But I know the circumstances are very real and that God will lovingly reach out to me in and through my emotions. I have decided to face these circumstances through tears and in prayer, seeking comfort from God through His Word.

"Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; with the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein; Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity." Psalm 98 (ASV)

The chapter of the book in which Norman Vincent Peale has written that story is called "How to Create Your Own Happiness." That may be true; perhaps I could create my own happiness. I know I could go through the day in hysterical giggling, feigning a happiness that is not real. I could put on that happy face for the world and appear as though nothing is wrong. That is actually what I did today. Yet, that does not diminish the truth that I am sad today. And the fact that I am sad does not mean that I do not recognize the incredible gifts of God's love and mercy.

No, in my sadness – in my grief – I can still sing out for joy about all the Lord has done. Instead of manufacturing a happiness that is not real, I would rather receive the comfort and the grace the Lord has to give. Sadness is a very real emotion and it is even a gift. For in our sadness, the Lord reaches out to us, holds us and reminds us of His love. I won't be sad forever. Today's difficulties will pass and tomorrow I will know happiness again. For today, I will remember that God is God and that He has done marvelous things. Through my tears I can join with all of creation to sing God's praises. Thanks be to God.


July 14, 2006

Grandma's house  It has been a very long time, but I remember taking Sunday trips to see my Grandma and Grandpa who lived a few hours from us. They lived on a farm, had an extensive garden and served delicious food. There was always a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, corn, some sort of meat – usually beef – as well as other bits and bites. By the end of the meal we were stuffed and ready for a nap on the couch in front of the TV and there were piles of leftovers.

The same thing happens at our house when we serve a meal to company. In our attempt to ensure everyone will have enough to eat, we prepare large quantities of everything. When it is over, everyone is stuffed and there are piles of leftovers to spare. Sometimes there are far too many leftovers and after a few days they need to be discarded. I cringe at the waste, but it would not be any better to keep it once it is unhealthy to eat. We don't think about the leftovers when we are preparing the meal, we only think about satisfying the needs of our guests. This is gracious generosity. It is an attitude that what matters most is providing the best for those we love. This is what God does for us.

"Now when Jesus heard it, he withdrew from thence in a boat, to a desert place apart: and when the multitudes heard thereof, they followed him on foot from the cities. And he came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. And when even was come, the disciples came to him, saying, The place is desert, and the time is already past; send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food. But Jesus said unto them, They have no need to go away; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. And he said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they all ate, and were filled: and they took up that which remained over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And they that did eat were about five thousand men, besides women and children." Matthew 14: 13-21 (ASV)

God's gracious generosity is beyond our comprehension. This meal, simple as it may seem, was far more than we can imagine. Five thousand people ate and were satisfied. This was not a tuna fish sandwich, which would probably not satisfy most people as a complete meal. This was enough fish and enough bread to fill their bellies. Then, when it was all over, there were basketfuls of bread remaining.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the leftovers? Did they pack it away in plastic containers and make sure everyone had some to take home? Did they take it to the local soup kitchen? The story does not tell us what happened to those twelve baskets full of bread. Now, Jesus could make the miracle, but don't you think that he would have made it perfectly, without leftovers? Perhaps there is some sort of symbolism to the twelve baskets. However, in this story we see God's gracious generosity. We see how God was more concerned with feeding the hungry rather than ensuring there was no waste.

That's what He does with His grace. He gives it out in abundance, not concerning Himself with what is left over. Perhaps, just as it is up to us to consider what it means that there were twelve baskets left over, we should also be considering what to do with the grace that runs over in our lives. There is surely someone with whom we can share it. Thanks be to God.


July 17, 2006

Sight  The ELCA National Youth gathering finally ended yesterday, with the second week visitors heading home. The gathering drew some 40,000 youth and adults to our fair city, a number too large to be accommodated at once. So, the organizers divided the time into two weeks. Most of the artists, speakers and musicians were invited to appear both weeks and the five day long schedule was identical for both groups. It was an amazing thing to see – San Antonio downtown filled with tens of thousands of Christian youth praising God with their voices, with their actions and even with their clothing.

We were part of the Servant Corps the week we attended, having quite a bit of responsibility for making the gathering safe and fun for the rest of the visitors. Our group specifically served as ushers for the evening events held in the Alamo Dome. The evenings were filled with music – concerts given by some of the top Christian bands – and speakers who encouraged the youth and adults to live out their faith in the world. It was an inspiring time for all.

I was stationed at the door where all the "definitely-abled" people were brought into the Dome. This door was near an elevator, and it was away from the crowds. The guests were given a little extra time to get in to their seats since they had difficulties which would have made it hard for them to get through crowds safely. Some of the disabilities were obvious – they were in wheelchairs or were walking on crutches. Others were less obvious – the hearing impaired were the hardest to see. After a few days, I began to recognize the guests and looked forward to seeing them each evening. There were hired helpers from the Alamo Dome each evening to help with safety and security. Each evening I had to explain to the new worker the tasks involved with our job at that door. They were often surprised by the groups coming through, expecting to see the disabilities. By the end of the evening, each of these workers understood why we call them definitely-abled, because though they needed extra time and help, they were definitely abled.

There was a girl who was blind, and I was quite taken by her ability to get around so easily. When she was walking with her friends, it was nearly impossible to realize that she was completely unable to see. As is true of so many blind people, the loss of sight often helps them develop much sharper senses of touch, smell, hearing and even taste. They overcome their difficulty with the ability to 'see' with other parts of their body. This was certainly true of one man who encountered Jesus.

"And it came to pass, as he drew nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And they that went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God." Luke 18:35-43 (ASV)

This is a story of healing, but it is also a story about something more important than visual sight. Mark tells us the name of this blind man is Bartimaeus. He was a beggar, sitting at the side of the road hoping travelers and pilgrims would give him a handout. Another man – Louis Braille – was also a blind man who spent some time begging. He went blind at the age of four, but by the time he was ten he was enrolled in a special school for blind children. Though he was very fortunate to be taught a trade and limited reading, he was not expected to get very far. School was tough and conditions were horrible for the students (as were all schools in the mid-nineteenth century.) A young war hero came to the school with an idea. It was a raised letter system meant to be used by soldiers at night to pass messages. It was impractical because many of the soldiers could not pick up the system. However, Louis Braille saw something in the idea and he adapted it for blind people.

Bartimaeus was blind, but he had sight much better than the people who were traveling with Jesus. When he called out "Son of David" he recognized that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Though Bartimaeus may have been annoying, crying out to Jesus and seeking healing, the crowd was probably more bothered by the title he was giving to Jesus. They could not yet see that Jesus was more than just a rabbi with authority, a teaching with powers beyond their comprehension. They could not see that Jesus was the Savior for whom they were waiting. They wanted to silence Bartimaeus because they weren't able to see the truth. Jesus called the blind man forward and gave him all he sought – sight. When it was over, not only Bartimaeus left praising God, but all those who witnessed the healing also praised Him. The beggar may have been blind, but he was definitely-abled; able to see beyond the physical imitations of our eyes. Thanks be to God.


July 18, 2006

Quiet  It is hard to believe, but our kids go back to school in less than a month. The summer has slipped away from us again. With scout and church camp for Zack, a trip to New York, theater camp and the National Gathering for Vicki and Vacation Bible School for both of them, our summer has been full of activities. We have had a week or two with no commitments, which have been spent together at home or doing some of the fun things we wanted to do this summer.

Though the kids have been busy, there's been no quiet time around our house. During the winter I am used to a few hours of silence when the kids are at school and Bruce is at work. Since Bruce retired from the military in April and has not yet gone back to work, he's around more than the kids. There is never a time when I am home alone. There is never a time when it is quiet. This makes it very difficult to pray.

Add to the hectic nature of our summer the fact that the other staff at my job has been taking their vacation time, giving me plenty of opportunity to work in the office. There isn't a chance for quiet time there, either. The church office has not been very busy, but you never know when the phone is going to ring or the UPS guy is going to show up. There is always some task to accomplish – this week has seen the production of the newsletter. It takes several hours to publish our newsletter, so the printer is constantly running. This also makes it very difficult to pray.

This does not mean that I don't get around to praying. There are often brief moments in my day when I say a prayer for someone, especially when they have been brought to mind in my every day activities. I stop and pray for the person who has sent a request via email. I pray when I hear the news. I pray for my kids constantly even as they are running off to their room to hide or become vegetables in front of the television. I pray when I hear sirens or see fire trucks or pass by the hospital. Those quick prayers are important and valuable because they not only lift up the people in need but they also keep you in constant touch with God. It is like He's there with you every day.

Yet, those quick prayers are not enough. Imagine what it must have been like for the disciples. Jesus was constantly in the presence of people – someone always wanted something from Him. Whether it was a word, or a touch or a miracle, the people sought Him out daily. This meant the disciples were never alone with Him. They were never alone. They had no quiet time, no chance to refresh themselves or reflect on the things they had heard and seen and done. Jesus knew they needed time alone.

"And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth. And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons." Mark 1:35-39 (ASV)

The hustle and bustle of summer has been fun. I enjoy being around my family. I love having the kids around. I have been blessed to be able to spend this time with Bruce and Bruce has been blessed by spending this time with us. These are joyous and wonderful experiences. I have even enjoyed the time I have spent in the office, helping with the ministry of our church. Yet, I have noticed that something is missing – that time alone with God. Everything is so noisy and busy in our lives. Jesus knew how important it was to get away from the crowds. It was not that He did not love them, or want to help them. He needed to be alone to talk and listen to His Father. If Jesus needed to be in a quiet place to pray, who are we to think we can do it in the busy-ness of our lives?


July 19, 2006

Saints  I have a book called, "A Calendar of Saints" which is filled with stories about people throughout history that have been recognized by the Church and by the world as having an exemplary life. The book was published in England, so has an English perspective, though most of the people listed have been officially recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The saints are listed according to the special day on which they are remembered, most often the day of their death. The stories are accompanied by paintings and quotes attributed to them. There is at least one person listed for every day of the year.

The stories are filled with trials, temptations and virtues. There are stories of people martyred for their faith and stories of people who gave everything for the sake of the kingdom of God. There are stories of the rich and powerful forsaking their high life for a life of humble servanthood and stories of the poor finding great riches in Christ. There are stories of great sinners coming to repentance and stories of lifelong Christians living according to God's will from the time they were children. It is a fascinating study of Christians – good, bad and ugly – who have a story to tell from which we might learn something for our own faith journey.

Today is July 19th, the day we remember St. Arsenius. As I read his story, I was deeply troubled by the synopsis of his life because this particular book highlights an attitude that is dubiously Christian. Arsenius was born to a life of wealth, was a renowned teacher and a leader in the church. He even became the tutor for the emperor's children. His position gave him even more wealth and power. He became increasingly uncomfortable with his comfort and eventually fled to Egypt where he could live among monks in the wilderness. Each year he became increasingly disconnected with the world until he even rejected the company of Christians for quiet and solitude. He said, "God knows how dearly I love you all; but I find I cannot be both with God and with men at the same time; nor can I think of leaving God to converse with men."

"No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also." 1 John 4:12-21 (ASV)

I find it interesting that the very thing that made St. Arsenius "great" among his peers and others is the very thing that kept him from living out his love for God and brother in the world. Though he is said to have died in peace and full of faith, he was also still afraid. In his final hours he was seen weeping and a brother asked if he was afraid to die. St. Arsenius answered, "I am very afraid - nor has this dread ever forsaken me from the time I first came into these deserts." The fear he faced was founded on the reason he left Rome in the first place, the scripture that sent him on a quest for solitude and complete rejection of the world – "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" He was so afraid of anything that might interrupt his fellowship with God that he rejected everything but his own solitude and silence.

I know how he feels. There are times when I would like to walk away from the world and live in total solitude with God. What a joyous experience it would be to worship Him day and night, night and day without interruption. There were stories from the life of Arsenius that would do us well to emulate – his humility, his recognition of his own failures, his unselfish attitude. Yet, it was those very virtues that kept him isolated and kept him in fear. It was not a fear of God, but rather a fear that he might lose the gift of God's salvation. God does not call us to be saints alone for this very reason. He calls us to be saints together in the body of Christ. It is there, in the midst of the good, the bad and the ugly of all the Christians, that we will find true peace. Thanks be to God.


July 20, 2006

Today's WORD is a repeat from two years ago.

Questions  I’m not as computer savvy as I appear to be. I can design simple pages, use search engines and overcome minor difficulties as they come along, however I get just as stuck as the next guy when something major occurs. I have some friends who can help me, and I generally know where to search for other help. Yet there are times when I can’t find a satisfactory answer to my questions.

Have you ever written to a software company or some other computer programmers with a question and gotten a form letter in return that didn’t even come close to answering? When I set up this particular mailing list, I ignored the part of the set up that asked about what section of their directory under which I would like to be listed. Now I can’t get listed which means that people browsing the lists will never find “A WORD FOR TODAY” through topica.com. I’ve written to their help desk several times. I have received an answer that had nothing to do with directory listings. Needless to say, it did not solve the problem.

I recently came across a webpage that teaches people how to ask the right questions. When you fill in a form letter, the automatic responders will pick up a word or two and send the answers according to those particular words. If you have included those words in your question, you will get the form answer even if it has nothing to do with the real question. This webpage I found explains how to word your questions so that you will get the most satisfactory answer.

This concept – asking the right question – comes around in our every day life also. Ask the wrong question and you won’t get a complete answer. Ask the right question and you might get an answer you did not want to hear. Some people would just as soon not reveal too much, but withhold information if they can do it without being dishonest. In other words, if you ask your kids where they have been, they might say “at a friend’s house.” Delve more deeply and you just might discover they were somewhere you have told them not to go.

“Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death; and they found it not, though many false witnesses came. But afterward came two, and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest stood up, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? They answered and said, He is worthy of death.” Matthew 26:59-66 (ASV)

Jesus was in the midst of a trial – a trial in which His enemies were trying to find some cause to get rid of Him. They did not like what He was saying or doing – it went against their authority and threatened to strip them of their power. So, a number of witnesses came to speak against Him. They told lies, they invalidated each other’s stories. So, when the priest came to Jesus and asked Him to answer these charges, Jesus remained silent. There was no answer to that question because they were lies. To speak out at that moment would have not saved Him, nor would it have spoken the truth.

So, the priest asked another question, more specific this time. “Under oath, are you the Messiah?” Jesus answered “Yes.” I don’t know what sort of answer the priest expected Jesus to give, but answering yes to this particular one caused a great deal of excitement and alarm. The priest ripped his clothes as if going into mourning and cried out to the crowds, “See, what more evidence do we need? He confesses his blasphemes with his own tongue.” Yet, the answer Jesus gave was the truth. The truth would put Jesus on the cross, but that is exactly where He wanted to go, for our sakes. He could have easily disproved the claims against Him and gained the support of the crowds. Had he answered the first questions, tried to justify His works against the false witnesses, the road to the cross may have been suspended. But Jesus had His face set to the salvation of the world; He was going to the cross for you and I. He answered the right question at the right time for our sake and died that we might have life. Thanks be to God.


July 21, 2006

Phone  I have a cell phone. As is pretty typical, I got the cell phone to use for only emergencies. I like having the cell phone because it gives me some freedom to move around when I need to be available for the kids. Sometimes their activities have no set end time, which means they have to call me when they are ready to come home. If I had to sit at home waiting for a phone call, I would never get anything done.

Of course, that's not the only reason we use cell phones. I like to give Bruce a call in the afternoon to see what he wants for dinner. I prefer to use my phone to make personal calls when I'm at work, so that I am not tying up the business phone. When we were at the Youth Gathering, we relied on our cell phones to keep in touch. At one point I recall looking at my phone and thinking, "What would we do without these?"

It was not so long ago that we lived just fine without cell phones. Youth groups have been attending gatherings for decades, and they never had use of such technology. Vicki goes away for a few days and I hear from her in the morning and at night. I recall similar trips from my youth during which I was completely cut off from my family. If there had been an emergency, my parents would have been contacted; otherwise I had to go it on my own.

We have come to rely on cell phones. A gentleman from our church came in the office the other morning with a question about his cell phone. We could not answer it for him because we weren't familiar with that type of phone, but suggested he go to the company to talk to them. He was having some sort of trouble; trouble that might suggest he should get a new cell phone. Looking at my own phone, I think it might be time to find a new one for myself. The phone works, but the battery is loose, the cover is scratched and I worry that one more drop will break it beyond use. It is good that cell phones are relatively inexpensive.

I saw an article today about new, "must have" gadgets. One of them is a cell phone that has all the bells and whistles you might expect from a pricey phone. It also is studded with diamonds. The price of this particular cell phone is $1.3 million dollars. When I read the article, I could not help but wonder why someone would want to spend so much money on an object that even with the best of care will become warn, out of date and even broken within a few years. If I were to spend $1.3 million dollars on something, it would be an object that would be lasting. I wouldn't waste beautiful diamonds on a cell phone; I would rather have them embedded in a piece of jewelry. Someone will purchase the phone, if only because it is a 'must have' gadget.

"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." Isaiah 55:1-2 (ASV)

I like having a cell phone. I admit that I have probably come to rely on my cell phone too much sometimes. There is no reason why I should have to call Bruce to find out what he would like for dinner. In reality, those calls are as much to be in contact, to say "hello" and "I love you." It is a nice benefit to modern technology. These things are not lasting, however. Through we rely on them for our daily life, we should never look at them as things we can't live without. And there is no reason why we need to put so much of our resources into the purchase of these things. There is something far more valuable into which we can pour our hearts and our lives, and it doesn't cost us a cent. It is a free gift from God – true life as found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. More valuable than a diamond studded phone; more practical than any modern gadget, faith in Jesus will satisfy us not only for today but for life eternal. Thanks be to God.


July 24, 2006

Butterflies  When I sat down to read the newspaper on Friday, an article caught my eye. It was accompanied by a picture of a pretty little butterfly sitting on a flower and the headline "Area is being besieged by butterflies." The writer began the article, "If it seems the tiny winged creatures meeting a messy demise on your windshield are a bit more striking than the usual bug carcasses, you're not alone." I recall seeing a butterfly or two in my yard, but I didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary.

That is until I left the house that morning. As I drove down the street, I notice hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these small butterflies. There were pockets where the insects seemed to be swarming, especially noticeable when we stopped the car at a light. The butterflies, the American snout butterfly, keep fairly close to the ground appear to be dead leaves blowing across the street. The appearance provides protection for the butterfly, hiding it from its predators.

Did I see the butterflies before Friday or were they actually there the day before? I don't know for sure. I don't recall seeing them in such amazing quantities. Perhaps I noticed blowing leaves, though it is not fall we are in the midst of a terrible drought and I might have simply thought some tree had died and the dead leaves were blowing in the wind. Perhaps there were more than the usual amount of butterflies, but they are so small they can easily be missed when not actively looking for them. When I read the article, my mind was more aware of the possibility and I could not help but notice them all around.

Have you ever noticed that once someone brings your attention to something, you can't help but notice it? A friend makes me listen to a song for the first time, and then I hear it everywhere. Was it playing everywhere before I listened to it? Perhaps, but I never noticed it. Someone purchases a new car and I suddenly notice how many of that vehicle type or color are around. I purchase a new flower for my garden and then I realize everyone has one similar in theirs. Until the item is brought to my attention, I really don't notice it even though it is everywhere around me.

"For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby. But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus, Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down:) or, Who shall descend into the abyss? (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!" Romans 10:5-15 (ASV)

The author of the article interviewed a biologist wit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department about the butterflies. The biologist said that he'd been receiving calls about swarms of these butterflies. Of course, the department was able to provide an explanation for the phenomenon – the lengthy drought and recent heavy rains provided the perfect conditions for an explosion of new butterflies. By virtue of his job, he is more aware of these situations than the average person. So, he provides the information the general public will need and when the information is heard, others become aware of the butterflies. Should we have noticed them, too? Yes, perhaps. However, we needed someone to draw our eye to the butterflies to even notice them.

Those of us who know the Lord Jesus can't imagine what life would be like without Him. We wonder at those people who are able to live day after day without some relationship with God. We can't fathom the atheist who claims there is no God, especially when we see a perfect rose, a brightly colored rainbow or feel a cool breeze on a hot day. We see God's hand in the coincidences that seem to occur at just the right moment in just the right place to answer our prayers. We see Him in our relationships, in our worship, in our lives as we walk forth in faith. So, we can not understand how they do not see Him also.

Yet, even as we do not understand how they do not see Him, do we show them? When I read that article, I did not believe that there were so many butterflies, but almost as soon as I walked out the door I could see that it was true. Those who hear us speak about the Lord may not believe when they hear. They may not even believe a week, a month or years after they heard. However, once they know that God is there, it is hard to miss Him. Eventually they will realize that the things they see are not simply dead leaves blowing across the street, but rather that they are the living, loving God of creation. It might be easier to wonder why they don't see Him. Sharing the Word is not easy. We face persecution, rejection and broken relationships. But how will they know if we do not tell them?


July 25, 2006

Antenna  Vicki is in Montana this week for theater camp at the Missoula Children's Theater campus. She left very early Sunday morning from the airport in San Antonio. It was still dark outside, but the airport was already bustling with people getting ready to travel to several different cities. A group of people were wrapped in blankets, sleeping on the floor. They must have had a lengthy layover or a cancellation. Three different airlines were opened, checking in passengers. The hustle and bustle was less than it would be later in the day, but there were still many people in the terminal.

Since Vicki is old enough to fly on her own, I was not allowed past the security gate with her. She was confident and comfortable, so I did not fight to go with her. I found a place where I could watch her, to ensure she got through the security without incident and then tried to call her to wish her a good trip. My phone was just fine when I pulled it out of my pocket. She didn't answer right away. As I turned and started walking away from the gate, my phone rang. It was Vicki to tell me that she got through just fine. As I answered my phone, I realized that my antenna was missing. The phone was working fine, but I knew that I would need that antenna sometime, so I began scanning the floor for it.

I must have looked rather suspicious walking back and forth with my eyes moving searching the floor. I walked my path three times, hoping that I would be able to find it. The floor was dark, with speckles similar to the color of my antenna, but it should have been noticeable anyway. The speckles were smaller and lopsided. I did not know if someone might have kicked it to another part of the floor or if it fell and rolled under something, so I eventually gave up looking. I went home, dropped my purse at the door and went back to bed.

When I got up later that morning, I found my antenna near the door. I don't know how it got there, but I assume that when I made the first phone call at the airport it fell off and got caught up in my purse or my hair. Then, when I came home and dropped my purse off by the door, it was knocked off onto the floor. I joked that God must have found it and brought it home for me.

"I will bless Jehovah at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in Jehovah: The meek shall hear thereof, and be glad. Oh magnify Jehovah with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were radiant; And their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him, And delivereth them. Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him. Oh fear Jehovah, ye his saints; For there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; But they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of Jehovah. What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, And thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous, And his ears are open unto their cry. The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cried, and Jehovah heard, And delivered them out of all their troubles. Jehovah is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, And saveth such as are of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But Jehovah delivereth him out of them all. He keepeth all his bones: Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; And they that hate the righteous shall be condemned. Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants; And none of them that take refuge in him shall be condemned." Psalm 34 (ASV)

I don't know that I would consider my found antenna an answer to prayer, though I have to admit that when I was searching for it in the airport I was talking to God. I don't believe that some angel found it at the airport and brought it into my house while I slept, but that does not make this story any less miraculous. Somehow that antenna clung to my hair, my shoulder or my purse as I walked from the airport, to my car. It stayed there as I climbed into my car, drove home and climbed out. It stayed there as I walked to my house and opened the door. It did not fall off until I was in a place where I could find it again the next morning.

This is not the first time I've found something in a place where it could not be expected to be found. The loss and the find were never life changing. I could have easily replaced the item or lived without it. Was it an answer to prayer? I'm not sure that even matters. What does matter is keeping God's praise continually on my lips. He is Lord, even over telephone antennae. Though there are far more important things about which we can and should pray, we are called to live a daily life of thanksgiving and praise to God for everything. Thanks be to God.


July 26, 2006

Funeral  I watched a show last night about the development and symbolism of heaven and hell. The experts talked about why we imagine these places as we do. They pointed to literature and biblical references as well as historical and cultural perspectives. One of the major reasons why human kind has developed certain understandings of eternal life is based on our misunderstanding and fear of death. We want to look beyond that frightening time, so that we might have hope that our end is not nothingness. Fear of death is the driving force behind other aspects of our life like how we spend a fortune on health related products – equipment, drugs or special foods guaranteed to extend our lives.

Our cultural, religious and historical perspectives help us deal with death. Besides dealing with our own mortality, we have to face death all around us. In our world today we are constantly hearing stories on the news about death – death from accidents, violence or war. We hear about the family that perished in the car that crashed and the innocents who are dying near the battlefield. We hear about the passing of our favorite old time television and movie stars. We hear about assassinations. The top headlines for this day include people suffering from the heat and threatened by fire. We can't avoid death.

There are some changes in attitude about death, or seemingly so. Recently I've heard stories about funeral homes that are developing strategies for reaching out beyond the funeral market. They are building facilities that will also provide places for parties, weddings and other celebrations. Even funerals are having a more celebratory feel. Another story showed how people are preplanning their funerals to make them a happier occasion, a party celebrating life rather than a time for mourning loss. The story suggested that some folk are being cremated and then having their ashes transformed into diamonds. Others are planning their funerals or memorial services to be held in favorite places – ball parks, cruise ships, mountain retreats. This certainly could help with the fear. If death is faced through a lens of joy and happiness, there is nothing to fear.

I've often heard people on the edge of death say, "Don't cry for me. Rejoice that I will be in a better place." These same folk are the ones who are planning life celebrations instead of funerals. This can be a beautiful act of compassion for family members who will be left behind, because a funeral is meant to be a time to remember with joy the life of those we have lost. Yet, I could not help but wonder if we should really force our loved ones to put on a happy façade when they are facing their loss. While it is important to rejoice in the life of our loved one, it is also important to grieve. It is ok to be sad. God even provides for those who mourn. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted."

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ASV)

While we should not be afraid of death, especially if we have faith in Christ who promises eternal life, we need not reject the sadness and grieving that comes with loss. It is ok for us to mourn, and it is important for us to mourn. There is a time for mourning, just as there is a time for rejoicing.

I think it is wonderful that so many people are concerned with the emotional well-being of those they love, wishing not for sadness but celebration at their passing. Yet, there is a time to weep and we should give our beloveds room to do so because it is in weeping we cleanse our hearts and water fond memories. I personally like the idea of becoming a beautiful diamond when I die, and I would love to see my family and friends rejoice with me in the joy that I will be experiencing in the eternal life that I will receive through faith in Jesus. Yet, I hope they will also mourn, so that they might receive the comfort that will come at the hands of God Himself as He touches them in love and mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.


July 27, 2006

Pizza  We have been thinking about having pizza for supper today. With Vicki out of town, we are treating Zachary to some of his favorites at dinnertime. Pizza is, of course, one of his favorites. He was more than willing to settle for a frozen pizza – to him pizza is pizza. I would much rather have something delivered. Pizza from a pizza shop is much better. It is baked in those big, hot ovens that are made for pizza, where the crust sits on the hot metal and cooks just perfectly. I don't know what, but there also is something about the pizza arriving in those special boxes that are meant to keep the pizza hot while it is being delivered. There's also something to be said about the lack of dishes to wash at the end of the meal.

We have plenty of choices around here and we have our favorites. As a matter of fact, we have a coupon deal from on of our favorite pizza places and it is just minutes from our house. It is where we normally get our pizzas. However, with Vicki gone we don't need quite as much pizza and we have to watch our dollars right now. So, I thought about getting a pizza from that place where the large pepperoni pizzas are hot and ready for just $5.55. That is not our favorite pizza. As a matter of fact, it might just be our favorite pizza to criticize. But for that price, it is worthwhile.

There's some things in life that we are more than willing to accept if the price is right. We'll go see the lousy movie at the cheap theater that we won't pay $10 to see. We will buy a book at a yard sale for a quarter that we'd never buy at full price. We'll take the broken floor display if we can get a big enough discount. We are even willing to settle for less when it comes to matters of faith.

I once met a woman who called herself an "eclectic" pagan. She had studied many different religions and decided that she would believe the best of all worlds. So she picked the parts of each religion she likes, throwing away the parts she didn't like, coming up with a conglomeration of many different faiths. This way she could be 'a Christian' in the sense that she believed in Jesus, but the parts of Jesus' teaching she didn't believe were set aside. This is an understandable attitude. Some of the things Jesus taught were hard to accept.

"Many therefore of his disciples, when the heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said unto them, Doth this cause you to stumble? What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, are are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, For this cause have I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of the Father. Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Jesus said therefore unto the twelve, Would ye also go away? Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God. Jesus answered them, Did not I choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil? Now he spake of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve." John 6:60-71 (ASV)

The hard teaching to which the disciples referred was what Jesus had just told the crowds in the verses prior to this passage. Jesus said, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day." We don't look to kindly on people who tell us to eat the flesh and drink the blood of humans, especially those we love. Yet, Jesus was pointing toward the future, foretelling of the way in which His people would be physically bound together – in the bread and wine of the Eucharistic meal. However, the people who heard this message could not accept it. While they loved that Jesus would heal the sick and forgive the sinner, they could not receive everything He offered.

It is much easier to settle for less. Most Christians are willing to believe in a Jesus who heals and forgives, but they are much less willing to follow the narrow path to which Jesus calls us to travel. Some of His teaching is hard and the cost of discipleship is believing in the whole Jesus, the Jesus who is revealed in all of scripture. There might be a less costly type of faith, an eclectic faith that accepts the best of all world. But Jesus' disciples are those who believe everything He says and follow Him because He has the words of eternal life. Thanks be to God.


July 28, 2006

Flowers  I love to have fresh flowers in my home. That was one of my favorite things from our time living in England – we could buy bouquets of fresh flowers at the market for very little money. I would often fill three or four vases with flowers to set around the house. Flowers are more expensive here so I don't do it as often, but I still have flowers once in a while. Usually I will buy them when I have company coming, to add a touch of beauty and a fresh scent in the house.

Nearly two weeks ago we were going to have some overnight guests, so when I was at the grocery store I purchased some flowers. Vicki was along and she picked some daisies that were dyed pink and line green. A friend, who had seen the flowers when they were fresh, stopped by yesterday and noticed the flowers. She remembered that they had been here two weeks ago and she wondered if they were even real. She asked if they were fresh flowers. I answered that they had been fresh when I first bought them, but that they were starting to get old now. She was amazed. She wondered where I bought flowers that would last so long.

She told me that she enjoys having fresh flowers, but she doesn't buy them very often because they get old and smelly very fast. She was surprised to discover that I bought them at the grocery store, since she expected such long lasting flowers must have come directly from a florist. She was certain, during the second visit, that the flowers must be silk flowers. She knows I also like to keep silk bouquets around for the times when I can't get fresh flowers. That is an option many people have taken so they will have the beauty without the nasty smell and need to throw them away eventually. Companies have even created fake smells to make the silk flowers seem to be real.

We know what we like and we know what we are willing to give up to have what we like. In other words, we know how far we are willing to go to have things our way. We bring flowers into our homes because having them reminds us of the great outdoors. It is like having a touch of the garden inside when we really don't have time to enjoy having a garden. For some people, silk flowers are not enough because they want the fresh scent and other advantages of having real flowers in the house. Others prefer silk because they look so real these days and sometimes even smell real, and they last seemingly forever.

The reality is that the cut flowers, silk bouquets and even potted houseplants are nothing compared to a garden. Cut flowers and potted plants will eventually die and even silk flowers get old and ugly after a time. But a garden, tended by a master gardener, will always be a beautiful, living place.

"I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth its bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Isaiah 61:10-11 (ASV)

Just as we try to make our desire for a garden to fit our lifestyle, so too we try to make the righteousness of God fit into our way of doing things. We settle for less than the true salvation by working toward something that is less than real. We seek after redemption that comes at our hands without knowing the freedom of redemption from the hands of God's grace. We cover ourselves with garments of works righteousness without receiving the garment of salvation given to us through Christ our Lord. We work to make ourselves righteous when the Master Gardener is the only one who can make us truly righteous. In the garden which He has created, true praise will ring out because it is praise for the only One who truly deserves to receive it. Thanks be to God.


July 31, 2006

Checks  I absolutely hate writing checks for a very small amount of money. It is almost embarrassing to spend $1.87 at the grocery store and pay with a check. I don't normally write checks anymore because I use my ATM card at the register most of the time, but even then I don't like it to be for just pennies. Surely I can come up with a few dollars in my purse, even if it is all in change! Yet, there have been times when I could not find quite enough, so I've had to use the check or ATM card for a few pennies.

The stores don't much like the use of checks for such a small amount of money. It costs businesses a certain amount of money to use the check guarantee programs that assure that their profit will not be affected by bouncing checks. I do not know how much it costs, probably just pennies, but enough to eat into their bottom line. So, a check for under $1.00 will probably cost them more than it is worth. Also, the time taken at the register to write and approve the check reduces production and slows the lines for other customers. It isn't even worthwhile for the customer using the check, with all the costs involved in purchasing and processing the check.

This is why a recent protest affected a politician more than we might realize. I read an article recently about the gubernatorial campaign in my home state. One of the politicians running for governor made a political decision that upset some of his constituents. In response, a group of supporters decided to protest by sending the politician ridiculously small financial support – checks for just a penny or two or three. The story made me laugh because I can imagine how annoying it must have been to the campaign to have to deal with all those tiny checks.

Politicians code each of their checks so that they will know how they received the check. They might note on the check an abbreviation for a fundraiser or a certain group of people. If the check came from a stop at a particular business or organization, they will add that to the notation. For this particular protest, the politician decided to note the checks with an abbreviation for "a small supporter 06." Of course, that abbreviation is an offensive word. The protest may never have made the news except that someone showed their cancelled check with the abbreviation to the media and now it is front page news. The politician has apologized, but this might affect his campaign.

However, not everyone was offended by the abbreviated. There was a quote from one of the protestors in the paper. She said, "I am willing to believe that there is a code that says 'a small supporter.' I also believe that it is probably a disparaging remark. But if I have the right to protest, he has the right to call me 'a small supporter.'" Her words are filled with grace.

"Then was brought unto him one possessed with a demon, blind and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the dumb man spake and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed, and said, Can this be the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This man doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons. And knowing their thoughts he said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you. Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come. Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Matthew 12:22-37 (ASV)

I don't know if the protest will make a difference. Apparently, though, despite their disappointment in the decision of their politician, some of his constituents still offered support. While the support was miniscule and useless – perhaps even costly – there was no evidence that they turned their financial support over to one of the opponents. Perhaps they will, after they have made their point, even send a more helpful check to their candidate.

The Pharisees wanted to bring negative attention to Jesus, especially since there were murmurings that Jesus was the Messiah for which they were all waiting. The Pharisees were not ready for the Messiah to be someone like Jesus – Jesus would not serve as they wanted Him to serve. So, they claimed His gifts came from Satan. If Jesus were driving out demons by the power of Satan, then Satan would have no power. If He were driving out the demons by the power of God, then they better listen

I doubt that the woman really wants the politician to fail. She had a point to make about his decisions, perhaps in the hopes that he would make better decisions the next time. He mouth was filled with grace; her answer was respectful and honest. Her heart was not out to destroy, but to make things better. The Pharisees were out to destroy. Jesus healed the people and taught them how to look for God's kingdom in the world. Where there is no grace, there is only condemnation. Where grace appears, God is present. Thanks be to God.