Welcome to the June 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, June 2006
June 1, 2006
Code Yesterday we talked about communication and how sometimes the fellowship of being face to face is as important as the actual words that are used. For Mary and Elizabeth it was not just the news that mattered, it was being together to share the joys and pains of their situations. It would just not have been as powerful a moment if they heard the news via email or over the telephone.
How would we feel if communication was impossible? What if we could not talk even to those people who are living in our presence? This is what happens to those in prison, whether it is a prison to which they have been confined by criminal behavior or otherwise. Take, for instance, those living in the Nazi concentration camps. Fellowship was impossible and talking could mean death. This is a way for the captors to keep control. By limiting fellowship, they captives are left weak by the lack of encouragement from others. Dr. Julius Segal, in his book "Winning Life's Toughest Battles" wrote, "Few individuals can cope with trauma alone. Even the most powerful figures in the world need contact with others in the face of crisis." So, the captors force solitude to diminish strength and courage of their captives.
In the same book Dr. Segal related the experience of Vice Admiral James Stockdale who was held captive for many years as a POW in Vietnam. He was apparently an uncooperative prisoner, so the North Vietnamese forced him to sit for three days in the courtyard where everyone could see his suffering. The other prisoners could not communicate with him without risk, though that did not stop them. During their time together, the prisoners had developed a sort of code which only the prisoners could understand. It was much like Morse Code, though different, a series of taps which spelled out the letters of the alphabet. The prisoners developed different ways of using this code – tapping on the walls, shuffling their feet or sweeping a broom. One prisoner could even tell the prisoners the news in his cell block by snoring the code. He would pretend to sleep during the siesta period, but he was really communicating with the others.
The prisoners encouraged James Stockdale with this code. One day he heard a towel snapping and recognized the letters – GBUJS. It meant, God Bless You, Jim Stockdale. He said it was a message he would never forget.
"Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations; Knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways. But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun ariseth with the scorching wind, and withereth the grass: and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his goings. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death. Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." James 1:2-18 (ASV)
It is unlikely any of us will ever really know what it is like to live in a situation with no fellowship with others like Vice Admiral James Stockdale. However, there are more people suffering from a lack of fellowship due to the wickedness of others. Women live in fear of violent partners; abused children are ignored and worse. No matter what our situation, there are surely times when we suffer from loneliness and doubt. There are times when we do not experience the type of fellowship that will give us courage and strength to get through out bad times.
Yet, there is a code we can listen for in the midst of our troubles. It is a code that is founded on the love of Christ. There may be no way for words to be spoken, but if we listen hard enough we might just hear God's message being tapped out in an unknown code so that only you can understand. He is saying, "God bless you," in the midst of your difficulties so that you might know that you are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Morning Show Victoria is in New York this week with a trip hosted by the theater and art departments of her school. They will be visiting several museums and seeing several shows. They will take an acting workshop with a real Broadway actor and tour many different theaters. They will even go back stage at some of the television shows that are filmed in New York.
This morning they were to visit the CBS Early Show. She called us fairly early to tell us what will be happening so that we can watch to see her in the crowd. She would be on the top of a red bus. So, we watched the entire program, constantly watching the background, particularly during the concert that was playing, to see if we could see her. At one point we caught a view of someone that looked like Vicki. She was wearing a shirt that looked like one of Vicki's. We thought we'd found her. Then we got a much better look and realized that it was not her. Even the shirt was nothing like the one she has. We called Vicki on her cell phone and asked her for details. She told us what she was wearing and exactly what happened. As it turned out, we were looking for all the wrong things.
Have you noticed how many people are seeking after the things of God, but they keep jumping from one idea to another. They will run out to purchase the latest book that deals with spirituality or look for some new way to get in touch with their soul. All too often they fall for the latest fad that promises a closer walk with the divine nature, but it is often some strange understanding of God. All too often it is faith in some other sort of god – health, wealth, idols or even ideology. People willingly throw their money into palm readers, astrology, numerology, witchcraft or gemstones and rocks. They think these things will bring them joy, peace and hope. Even worse are the trendy offerings that claim to be Christian but really teach and follow a false Christ.
"And then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there; believe it not: for there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have told you all things beforehand." Mark 13:21-23 (ASV)
It is fairly easy to recognize a false god presented by those who do not believe in Jesus. What is much harder is to recognize when someone is offering a false image of Christ. Unfortunately, Satan knows the scriptures even better than we do and he knows how to twist the Word in a way that makes it sound good when he is speaking lies. All too many people are seeking after something, anything that will give them the peace and joy for which they long. However, they are looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong places. That's why it is so easy for anyone to present an image that can be taken for Christ. Being a Christian does not necessary make you immune to the lie.
That's why it is important that we spend time in God's Word on a daily basis. We need to know for whom it is we are watching. We would never have found Vicki if we had assumed that the girl in the green shirt was her. However, we learned that she was wearing something else and exactly when she might be on the television so we could watch for the right thing.
Watch the news and you'll occasionally see stories about faith, particularly when there is some trendy item for sale in the stores. Unfortunately, there are many who fall for the trends, thinking surely they must be true. They even use those books as if they are bibles, filled with the real story that we should believe. They follow after a false image of God, and Jesus, and then try to convince others that what they have read is true. Keep God's Word close, not only in your hearts, but also in your mind by reading daily and seeking Him constantly so that you will know Him when He comes and not be fooled by the lies. Thanks be to God.
Straw Charles Dickens was an English novelist during the nineteenth century. He was born into comfortable circumstances in 1812, the son of a naval pay clerk. His family moved around during his childhood. It was a simple time. Charles spent much time outside reading. He thought of himself as a "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of-boy". Though they were fairly well off, Charles' father was sent to prison for debt because he spent all their money trying to keep up with a lifestyle he could not really afford. Charles was just twelve years old, but old enough to go to work in the boot polish factory. He supported his family on just six shillings a week.
The situation eventually improved for his family but his mother would not let him leave the job. He was never able to forgive his mother for this. He resented his life and this, along with the reality of the conditions for the working poor had an impact on his writing. Most of his stories involved social justice and his gift of storytelling made the characters real to his readers. He was a popular writer even in his lifetime and he is now considered by some as the greatest writer of all time. None of his books have ever gone out of print.
One of his books was called, "Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation." It is a story about a man and his greed, his lusts and his losses. It is also about his sad and forsaken daughter who eventually marries the man she loves and lives happily ever after. Somewhere in the story is one of the first known uses of the popular idiom, "the straw that broke the camel's back." I have not read the book, so I do not know the quote in context, but Dickens worded it, "As the last straw breaks the laden camel's back…" Here we can see and pretty well understand the meaning of the idiom – everyone has a breaking point, and it is usually something seemingly insignificant that can make us go over it.
All too often we get into situations with our friends, family and coworkers in which we put up with things over and over again. We forgive over and over again until one day something strikes us the wrong way. It is usually something seemingly insignificant. Take the situation where one best friend starts flirting with the other's boyfriend. So often the girls work out their relationship – usually leaving the cheating guy behind. Other things might happen, then one day the girl friend does something really silly – like buy a dress that the other said she was going to buy – and that is the straw that broke the camel's back. We look at it as really unimportant, but it was finally too much to bear. Have you ever felt that way?
"And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith." Luke 17:1-5 (ASV)
We have all heard the phrase, "the straw that broke the camel's back." We've probably also experienced it. This same idea has been worded, "the last feather that breaks the horse's back" or "the drop of water that makes the glass overflow." There comes a time in our relationships when we just can't take anymore. We can't go that extra step; we can't take that one last straw. It usually happens with something seemingly insignificant but for us it is just too much.
Even when this happens, however, our Lord Jesus reminds us to forgive. We are to forgive until it hurts. We are to forgive even when it doesn't make any sense. We are to forgive even when we can't bear it anymore. This is why the apostles answered this command with the prayer, "Lord, increase our faith." We can't forgive on our own because once that straw has broken the camel's back there seems to be no possibility of healing. With Christ, however, there is always healing. There is always peace. There is always hope. And there is always forgiveness. Even for us when we think there is no way we can go on with the relationships and we give up. He will forgive. He does forgive. He has forgiven. It is on this promise that we can continue to carry those burdens that we think are just to hard to carry, because we know that Jesus carries it for us and with us. Thanks be to God.
History Most newspapers carry a section that gives a list of things that happened in history for that day. Today, of course, is the sixty-second anniversary of D-Day. That's not the only thing that happened on June 6. In 1918 the WWI Battle of Belleau Wood began. It is also the day that George Orwell's "1984 was first published in 1949. In 1933 the first drive-in theater was opened. In 1981 a train avoided hitting a cow but crashed killing six hundred people. In 1958 the television show "Truth or Consequences" went off the air. In 1998 "Sex and the City" premiered. It was Nathan Hale's birthday.
This day in 2006 is National Hunger Awareness Day. It is the birthday of Gary "U.S" Bonds, Dwight Twilley, Bjorn Borg, Colin Quinn, Sandra Bernhard and millions of other people. For many it is an anniversary – this being the most popular time for weddings and graduations. It may be the last day of school for some students. There are dozens of other reasons why this might be a special day for someone. Yet, if you had listened to the news this morning, or checked out the front page of the newspaper, you might have thought that this was to be the last day of history.
Many of the news reports early today had to do with the fact that today's date is 6-6-06 (666). People have long been fascinated by the number, Christians especially, since it has been written into the book of Revelation. Of course, since Revelation is considered by many to be a prophetic book – prophetic in terms of foretelling the future, they have long sought to interpret the number in terms of history and culture so that they will understand what God is doing in the world. Many are watching and waiting for that last day, hoping and absolutely convinced that they will see it very soon.
There may have been reason to take care today because human beings do look at numbers and pay attention to dates. We care about the history, about knowing the dates when things happened. We celebrate our birthdays and anniversaries, remember other special days. It is especially true when there seems to be something special about the day. Remember Y2K? It is good for us to pay attention to the world around us and this particular date because there are those who would purposely choose this day to do the evil they want to do because it would be more symbolic than to do it on any other day.
But we should not assume that this day is special to God. We should not separate this day as if God would specifically choose to do something spectacular just because there is a pattern to the numbers or because the numbers spell out something we've found in the scriptures. God does not live within time the way humans live in time. He does not follow a calendar. He does not accept our dates as if they should determine the timing of His works.
"My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah." Psalm 62 (ASV)
All too often we want to make God live according to our own calendar. We expect that just because we think a day is important – based on some of the silliest reasons – that it is when God will do magnificent things. However, God does not work within our time or space as we do. So, we are called by Christ to live the life of faith at every moment in everything we do. We are to trust in Him at all times, looking to Him in our joys and our sorrows, in our busy-ness and in our rest. He is our salvation and our glory, our rock and our refuge.
Could something have happened on this day? Of course, something horrible or something joyous could have happened today. We could have experienced a life-changing moment, as did many people throughout history. Some child at this moment is being born, someone is graduating from school. Someone is on the brink of death. In ten, twenty or a hundred years, some newspaper will be printing the big news story of today in their article "This day in history."
Is God doing something magnificent today? I have no doubt that He is. He is touching the heart of someone who needs healing and peace. He is healing someone who is sick. He is comforting someone who mourns. He is bringing forth new growth in the world even while something else in His creation is passing away. Could today be the last day? Yes, it could. The day is not yet over. But should we sit and wait as if this is our last breath? No. We walk in faith, trusting in God. No matter what happens in the next moment we need not fear, for God is our refuge and our strength. Thanks be to God.
Healing What happens to us when the straw finally breaks the camel's back? All too often it means a breakdown in relationships, cutting off of family or friends. We end up quitting our job, divorcing our spouse or leaving fellowship with the people who have hurt us. We turn our back and walk away, thinking that this is the best way to deal with our pain. Sometimes, the separation is instigated by the other party – they push us away or do everything they can to cast us off. We are more than willing to go because we think that everything will be better away from those who cause the pain.
Unfortunately, there are very few situations where there is only one person to blame. In other words, even when we have been hurt by someone else, it is likely that we've played a role in the situation. We justify our actions and magnify the other person's faults to make ourselves look better. We lay all the blame outside ourselves so that we can be a martyr, suffering for our self-righteousness. The trouble with this is that the other person is probably doing the same thing. This makes reconciliation impossible and it makes healing very difficult.
In the story I've chosen for today's devotion there is an outside source causing the problem in the person who needs to be healed. Yet, we can see in this story that things have just gotten out of control. The dis-ease probably started much smaller – one tiny altercation that continued to build over a period of time. Eventually things got so out of control that the man had to be removed from society altogether.
"And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. And when he was come out of the boat, straightway there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling in the tombs: and no man could any more bind him, no, not with a chain; because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been rent asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: and no man had strength to tame him. And always, night and day, in the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out, and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he saith, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God? I adjure thee by God, torment me not. For he said unto him, Come forth, thou unclean spirit, out of the man. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he saith unto him, My name is Legion; for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country." Mark 5:1-10 (ASV)
The man in this story suffers from demon possession and while we should not reduce the reality of the presence of demons, this gives us an example of what happens when legions of problems are piled on a person. As we saw yesterday, there is a moment when all the burdens become too much for one person to bear. Our human response is natural – we blow up and then we turn away. But we rarely deal with it. This means that the problems do not go away – though we think they will because we have walked away from the people we think are causing our problems. Instead, the problems build on top of one another.
We see in this story that the man had been bound by chains, but that he became to strong for him. Before the chains he was troubled enough for someone to want to bind him. Before that his dis-ease was probably a few symptoms that disturbed his neighbors. The worse he got, the more he was pushed away. The more he was pushed away, the worse he got. It is a vicious circle.
Though our relationship problems, our pains and suffering are not necessarily caused by an unclean spirit, our troubles build one upon another making our life difficult and out of control. When the straw breaks the camel's back and we turn away, nothing is solved. We need healing and reconciliation. We can't do it ourselves, just like that man could not do anything for himself. The community can't do it for us either, just as the community could not bring healing to the man. Jesus can bring healing and reconciliation. He calls out our demons, makes them public so that we can deal with them. He shines the light of truth in our life so that we can see that we have our own faults. He gives us the strength and the mercy to forgive the faults of others. By His grace we can see beyond ourselves. He lifts our burdens so that we will not have to carry them anymore. This is how He heals and it is how He brings reconciliation so that we will not be like the man running out of control among the dead. Thanks be to God.
Team We have been using a spiritual gifts assessment with the members of our congregation to find out what sort of gifts we have available for doing the work of the church. It is a long and sometimes frustrating process. It is hard to get people to sit down for even fifteen minutes to take the assessment because our busy schedules simply do not give us the time. Even worse, however is that many people would rather not know what it is that God has gifted them to do. It can be a shocking experience to discover that you have a gift that you would rather not use, most particularly the pastoral gift.
In an effort to collect as many assessments as possible, we have given a 'take-home-test' to some of the folk who regularly attend Bible studies. In most cases we have them take the assessment and bring it back for scoring. Then we share the results in a way that will help them understand how the gift can be used in the congregation and the world. A few people have used the online assessment and scored it themselves; they have seen their own results without the benefit of understanding the gifts and how they can be used.
Since most of the people who have taken the assessment are already actively involved in the work of the congregation, it has been fascinating to see how their gifts do line up to the work they are already doing. We are drawn toward doing the things that fit the way God has created us to be. If we have the gift of teaching, we tend to seek after the work that has to do with teaching. If we have the gift of administration we tend to seek after the work that has to do with administering. This makes a lot of sense.
There are some gifts that manifest themselves in more ways than others. The gift of hospitality is one of the most common gifts in our congregation, but it is also one of the most used gifts. We might assume the gift of hospitality would belong to the ladies who put out cookies on a Sunday morning, but it is valuable for many other tasks. Ushers often have the gift because it is their job to make members and guests feel at home. Many Sunday school teachers have the gift because we want the children to be welcome so that they will return.
One gentleman did the spiritual gifts assessment on the Internet and discovered that his highest score was for the gift of hospitality. As it turns out, he is presently on the church council in charge of the resources and property team. After he took the assessment, he sent me a copy of the results and said, "I guess this tells me that I should quit my job as resources and property team leader and become an usher!" He was joking, of course, but the stress of the position had made him want to look for excuses to not do the job.
"But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all. See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward. Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings; prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 (ASV)
The gift of hospitality is one of the most common gifts because it can be, and needs to be, used in so many different ways. It is not just about cooking a nice meal or serving yummy snacks. The gift of hospitality is one that makes people feel at home, comfortable in the activities that are going on around them. It is an excellent gift for the one leading our resources and property team. He need not be able to swing a hammer if he can make the one who can swing the hammer feel welcome on the team and in the work of the church.
So, as we seek to know what it is God has called us to do, let us always remember that we have been gifted with everything we need to do the tasks He has set before us. Sometimes it may seem as though we do not have the right gifts, but God is able to do the miraculous. He only asks that we walk in faith, always remembering that He is faithful. So, as we approach the work of the church, joining the team where we can glorify God, let us do so in joy and peace knowing that God will work in and through us to complete the work He began. Thanks be to God.
Gambling When I went to the airport to pick up Vicki from her trip to New York, I waited with a young man who was there to pick up one of the other girls. As it happened there was a flight arriving from Las Vegas, which gave us something to talk about. He told me he would love to go to Vegas, but that he isn't old enough to gamble. "I do well at poker" he said. Apparently he plays online often and has made some stunning moves in play. I warned him about the dangers of gambling – that you win just enough to make you think you are a brilliant player but then your luck runs out and you begin to lose. The temptation is to keep going anyway, thinking that your brilliance will overcome your bad luck and you will win again like you did in the beginning. All too many people have gotten caught up in this vicious circle and they have suffered for it.
It is so easy for us to experience and succeed at something once and think that it means we have a gift. I once knew a girl who had an incredible experience with the Holy Spirit during which she gave a powerful prophetic word which made a difference in the life of the Church. She was immediately convinced that she was a prophet and that everything she said should be accepted as God-given. She wrote sermons, corrected and rebuked others. Unfortunately, her later "words" were filled with error. They did not line up to the scriptures and were even at times dangerous to the spiritual health of those who followed her teachings.
In both these stories, these young folk listened to the warnings I offered and accepted them as good advice. The self-proclaimed prophet came back to me several times for advice. She shared some of her writing, asking for me to share the wisdom I'd accumulated in my Christian journey. However, she wasn't looking for correction. She knew what she knew and rejected what I had to say when I pointed out her error. She wanted me to tell her she was truly a brilliant prophet. She rejected everything I said when I did not do so. Wisdom is quickly forgotten.
"I have also seen wisdom under the sun on this wise, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard." Ecclesiastes 9:13-16 (ASV)
I couldn't foresee what will happen either to the young man with his gambling or the young lady with her ministry. I could only share a bit of my experience and knowledge with them and hope that they will make the right decisions when the time comes. The irony of my relationship with the young 'prophet' was that she pursued our relationship because she thought I was one too. When I didn't say what she wanted to hear, she told me I wasn't a prophet – an office I never claimed for myself.
Unfortunately, I don't think the young man will take my thoughts to the table with him. My experience with gambling has always been penny ante, trivial when compared to the numbers he's been dealing with online. The young girl stopped listening when she stopped thinking of me as a prophet because I became like a 'poor man' whose wisdom was not worth remembering. The scriptures are given that we might remember that the wise words we may see are fleeting, which is why we are to rely solely upon God, for His wisdom is eternal. Thanks be to God.
Readiness kit The first tropical storm of the season is in the Gulf of Mexico, headed for Florida, and the first of many reports on how to be ready for an emergency is on the news. I found one report very interesting because it was more in depth than usual. Instead of just listing the items needed for a readiness kit, it also laid out some common sense strategies for avoiding disaster. Of course, when the disaster is brought on by something in nature beyond our control, the best we can do is prepare to handle the after math. However, far more families suffer catastrophic losses due to accidents that are within our control.
The report talked about how to deal with a power outage or gas leak. Too many people live with a dozen appliances plugged into the same outlet. Others will dig into their back yard without finding the main pipes. A gas leak could lead to an explosion and the loss of home, possessions and even lives. Most of the reports today are helping people along the gulf coast to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, but disasters can happen anywhere and in many other ways. A little preparation can mean the difference between survival and complete destruction. Different disasters require different preparation and response.
When we become Christian, we are called to a new and different life. But it is a life of surprises. We never know what we will face. We might meet someone who needs to hear a message of hope so that they will be encouraged as they walk through a difficult time. Someone else may need to hear a message of rebuke or correction so that they will repent and walk according to the will and purpose of God. When we are young in faith – whether it is when we are young or when we are old – we are given tools and words to use by teachers who have come before us. Then they send us out into the world to share what they've taught. They help us to prepare for whatever we will face.
"I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry." 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ASV)
I was glad to read the article today about how to handle emergencies and prepare. I might not need to worry too much about the possibility of a hurricane, but there are a dozen other things that could happen without warning. It is difficult to prepare at the last moment, so it would be good to insure that we have everything we need today for the things that might happen tomorrow.
Paul was close to the end of his life when he wrote this letter to Timothy. It would soon be Timothy's responsibility to carry forth the work Paul began and worked during thirty years of ministry. But the time came for him to charge someone else with the task. And the charge extends to us even today. God calls us to be prepared, to preach the word, to reprove, rebuke and exhort with patience and sound teaching. We don't know what we will face, but we know we have been called to continue what Paul started so many years ago. Let us all be ready to provide whatever it is that is needed in our current time and place. God knows the difficulty, but he'll be with us even when it seems like disaster has struck, and He will bring healing and peace. Thanks be to God.
Washer The theater department at Victoria's high school is doing a summer camp experience for young people in Junior High. It is a way to get to know the children who will be coming to the school in later years and to provide them with an opportunity to learn what it is like to be on stage. Victoria is serving as a counselor this year and is having so much fun. When I arrive at the school to pick her up at the appointed time, I always hope that she will be ready to go so that I do not have to go in to the school to find her. When she isn't ready, I end up inside and I get to see what's going on in the school.
Summer vacation is a time when the janitorial staff deep cleans the entire school. The move furniture and give the floors an amazing lustrous sheen. The cafeteria floor looks like you could ice skate on it right now. It is funny to see the chairs all stacked against the wall and to see all the other things they have to do to make sure the school is clean and safe for the students next fall.
There is an enclosed courtyard in the school near the cafeteria. The students often sit out there to eat their lunch, to get a bit of fresh air without actually leaving the school. There are trees with benches underneath on which the kids can sit and visit with their friends.
The floor is made of cement. The easiest way to lay cement, particularly in such a large area, is to do so by laying it out in blocks. They build a form, fill the form, let it dry and them build a form right next to it for the next block. This leaves small gaps between the blocks, gaps where dust and dirt can settle. Then seeds settle into the dirt and grow. Somehow the plants find a way to sprout in these less than ideal circumstances and if they are allowed to continue to grow, they can even damage the cement blocks with their creeping roots. There is usually not enough room or nourishment to sustain the plant for too long, but they grow large enough to be difficult to control.
So, one of the janitors this week has been given the task of cleaning out the gaps. He has a hose connected to a machine that shoots our very high pressure jets of water. Patiently he stands for what seems like hours in the hot sun, slowly moving the spray along the crack. When I saw him today it seemed as though he had barely moved from the spot he was cleaning yesterday. I'm not sure I would have the patience to do a really thorough job.
"Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:15-17 (ASV)
I'm nothing more than a crack between the cement blocks in the courtyard of life. Dirt manages to settle in me and seeds are planted that really should not be allowed to grow. Somehow those seeds take root and grow, sometimes causing damage to the blocks around me. Even when someone tries to rip the weeds out the crack, the roots are left behind to grow again. But Jesus is like that janitor, patiently cleaning me out with a hose and machine that sprays very high pressure jets of water. He is patient, thorough. Even as He is doing it this year, He knows that He'll have to do it again next year. Yet, to Him I'm worth His time and His energy and His patience. Thanks be to God.
Computers I have some knowledge of computers. I am able to install my own software and hardware. I can solve most problems when they occur. I'm able to manage websites and mailing lists. I can use the software available and I seem to have a gift of finding things I need on the Internet. I am not an expert and there is a great deal I can't do, but I'm not afraid of the computer and I can try to solve a problem before I call for help and I willingly try new things to get the most out of my computer.
Since I seem to be a little more competent than most of the people I know, they come to me to help them with their problems, particularly at work. Someone will call me at home and say, "Something is wrong with the computer. Can you help?" I do not have that much knowledge. I have to see the computer, push a few buttons and look around in the system settings to see what I can do. This is particularly true when the person is asking advice about programs I do not use. I might be able to help if I can just get my hands on the mouse and play for a few minutes, but I can't do anything if I can't get into the computer myself.
One of the difficulties is that most people would rather not have someone else playing with the inner workings of their computer. And rightly so. What if something went wrong and something was done that is irreversible? They also want to learn how to do it themselves. So, they prefer to stay at the computer and have me tell them where to go. Most computer experts would prefer not have so many hands in the inner workings of the computer however. The more hands in the pot, the more likely something is going to go wrong.
Jesus knew what He was doing. With just a word people were healed and demons were cast out. With just a word people believed and were changed by faith in Him and in the Kingdom of God. Forgiveness came with just a word. Hope came with just a word. Joy came with just a word. It is no wonder that the disciples preferred to let Jesus take care of the business of the ministry. He was so much better at it all than they and He was much better than strangers trying to do the same thing. They even approached Him one day with the bad news that others were casting out demons in His name. "How could they do such a thing?" Jesus said, "If they aren't against us, then they are with us."
"And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest." Matthew 9:35-38 (ASV)
Many computer experts, or would-be experts, prefer to keep their knowledge to themselves. They want sole control over the settings of the computer so that there will not be the risk of damage or other problems. There is good reason for this. I personally prefer to be the only person with access to the websites I manage, if only to ensure that someone else won't go in and make unwanted changes to the pages I worked hard to create.
I think that we sometimes do the same thing with our ministries. We don't want someone else to get credit for the work we do. We don't want someone going in there to mess up what we have already accomplished. We don't want too many hands in the pot because it might just be inconvenient. The disciples wanted Jesus to tell the 'others' to stop casting out demons in His name. They were jealous for Jesus, but also for themselves. Jesus was not concerned, except that there were already too few doing the ministry He had called the disciples to do. He told them to pray for more laborers. We need not do it all ourselves, for there is more than enough Jesus for everyone. And there is so much work to be done, let us also pray for more laborers so that the Kingdom will be shared and the harvest will be picked. Thanks be to God.
Decisions I was listening to a caller on a radio talk show this afternoon who was telling the host about an experience he had in college. It was about a class he had to take to graduate with a teacher that had a completely different point of view. From his perspective it seemed that the teacher scored papers based on her bias, giving higher grades to the students who agreed with her. It did not take this young man long before he was writing what she wanted to hear rather than what he believed. He was willing to give up his principles for the perfect grade.
We don't know the whole story, of course. The teacher may not have been that tough – he based his opinion on one grade. There may have been other things wrong with the paper. However, there are teachers that allow personal biases and perspectives to rule their teaching practice. Assuming it is true for the teacher, the student was left with a choice. He needed the class and wanted the best grade, so to accomplish this it was necessary to write things he did not believe. The other choice was to deal with a grade that would destroy his grade point average. He chose what he thought was the better of two bad outcomes. We make tough decisions all the time.
"And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there who had his hand withered. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man that had his hand withered, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him." Mark 3:1-6 (ASV)
Jesus often presented to His listeners with choices. He laid out challenges that were black and white, but there were many who not willing to accept His choices. In the case of this passage, the choice was whether or not to heal on the Sabbath. Since it would mean being disobedient to the Law as they understood it, they could not make that choice. Yet, they could not very well say that it was better to let a thing die than to save it. So, they remained silent.
In the end they made their choice. They chose death over life. They decided to destroy Jesus because He demanded from them something they could not give. They could not give Him the answer to His question because they thought it was unlawful to heal. Yet, in not healing they were choosing death. Jesus did not concern Himself with their opinion. He healed the man despite their perspective. He chose life even though it seemed as though He was choosing disobedience. For Jesus this was not a tough decision, however because He put it into its most basic form -- good verses harm or life verses death.
Did the young man make the right choice by writing what he did not believe? Which is good, which promotes life? Would an "A" based on lies do anyone any harm? Would they do anyone any good? Perhaps the "A" would not harm anyone, but standing for his principles just might have done some good. When we have decisions to make, especially when it seems we are choosing between two equally bad choices, we should follow Jesus' example and choose life. Thanks be to God.
Songs Who might have guessed when Britney Spears released the 2000 hit song “Oops, I did it again,” that it would come back to haunt her over and over again. Britney has long been the source of special interest for the paparazzi. Even the mainstream media has been fascinated by her life, her loves, and her faults. Every time she is caught in the act of doing something strange or (can I say it?), stupid, her face is plastered all over the newspapers and other media reports. It never fails – the report is accompanied by the song, “Oops I did it again.”
This weekend another musician will discover the reality of his music. In the 1960’s, Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to a song that would become a staple at many weddings and birthday parties. He wrote, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” Now, on Sunday, June 18th, Paul McCartney will be turning 64 years old and he’s still looking pretty good. I imagine that when he wrote that song for his dad’s 64th birthday, 64 looked pretty old. He was still a young man, in his twenties. Perhaps his dad was dealing with those very questions when he reached that particular birthday. Ironically, despite Paul’s health and success, he’s asking the same questions today. He is in the middle of a messy, very expensive divorce.
We can’t know how or when our words will come back to haunt us. Certainly Britney Spears never expected that one of her most famous songs would be used repeatedly to point out her failures by the same media she once courted for attention. Now Paul McCartney is dealing with the same thing. He probably did not even expect to make it to 64 – that’s so old, you know. Now that he is going to be 64, he has realized that he still may have many good years to go.
“Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor. For each man shall bear his own burden. But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:1-10 (ASV)
I doubt that anyone reading this will face the same kind of media circus that people like Britney Spears or Paul McCartney will face, but our words can come back to haunt us, too. Have you ever made a promise that you could not keep? Have you ever been too quick with an angry word or a bit of gossip? Have you ever said anything that seemed meaningless when you said it, but that became very important some time later?
We do reap what we sow. Certainly the stars face special circumstances as the entire world watches to see them fail. However, we have the world watching us too, especially since we are Christian. Perhaps our failures will not make it on the evening news, but they can mean the difference between someone knowing God and someone rejecting Him. So, we are called to sow righteousness, to speak truth and to live according to the word of God so that the world will see Him and His glory. Our words will come back at us, but if we live according to and speak appropriately God’s Word, our words will bring peace, joy, hope and forgiveness to all who might hear. Thanks be to God.
Pelican I went to the coast this past weekend for a night. Vicki had a church youth group event which she could not attend until another was finished on Thursday, so I took her down. After dropping her off at the beach house, I went to a hotel and enjoyed a day free of responsibilities. I took along some projects to do in the hotel room, thinking I might just hide away for a night. I had done some research and there were several tourist attractions I wanted to visit, but I did not really have the time needed to enjoy many of the sites.
When I dropped Vicki off at the beach house, I drove around a little bit. I could not be so close to the beach without seeing it, so I went down a public access road. It ended right on the beach, so I drove out to the edge just like everyone else. I got out and took a few pictures of the ocean and of the seagulls that were looking for food in the splashing waves. As I turned around toward my car, I saw a pair of large brown birds flying by. They were magnificent. I quickly took a picture, but wasn't sure that I got a good shot, so I waited. Soon several more pelicans flew by. Then I saw another group. I was too far away to get a good close-up, but I was hoping at least one of the pictures would be nice.
In the evening I decided to go to a performance at the local community theater. I arrived at the theater early to buy my ticket, and then I walked around taking more pictures. The theater was located near the port; the complex was right on the bay. There were no beaches in this spot, but there was a wonderful break wall with stairs leading down to a fishing pier. Several fishermen were busy with their rods. Several seagulls soared overhead. I suppose they were hoping to get a tasty treat. There was also a pelican. I noticed the young fisherman feeding something to the pelican out of his hand. The pelican was more than willing to return over and over again for a treat.
It was a very windy day. It was so windy that even the birds were having trouble flying. It was even worse for the pelican to sit on the railing of the pier. He would flap his wings to land, but he was never able to fold them in to rest. He stood on the railing with wings raised, just to keep his balance. Almost as soon as he landed he gave up, spreading his wings until the wind picked him up off the railing. He was clumsy going down, but so beautiful when he began to fly. He flew close enough several times for me to take close-ups. It was a wonderful experience I might have missed if I'd tried to do all those tourist attractions.
"He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah" Psalm 52:6-8 (ASV)
The pelican wanted to rest and he kept trying to land on the pier to rest. But he was unable to rest because the wind was just too strong. It was only when he let go and let the wind carry him into the air that he truly seemed at rest. I was looking forward to my trip to the shore because I knew that I was going to be away from the hustle and bustle of our life. Yet, I was thinking about filling my time with a different kind of hustle and bustle. Instead of trying to do everything I would have liked to do, I decided to take it easy – to spend time just sitting on the bayfront and the beach just watching the birds.
I think we spend a lot of time and energy trying to rest, seeking after relaxation and peace. Yet, we find we are fighting like the pelican was fighting the wind. The way to truly find peace and rest is to spread our wings and let God carry us. Thanks be to God.
Today's WORD was first posted on June 20, 2002
Bumper Stickers Many radio stations use bumper stickers to advertise their stations. Some even use them for contests. If some sort of ‘prize patrol’ sees their sticker on your bumper, you could win anything from a dinner at a fast food restaurant to something larger like a trip or a chance at a car. The station uses prizes such as this to get people to put the sticker on their car for cheap advertising.
Schools – from elementary school to college – offer bumper stickers to the parents. All around town you might see “My child is an honor student at…” or some other statement of pride in a child’s accomplishments. These stickers are often used help the parent/teacher organization fund some special project. Other groups like boy or girl scouts use them for similar purposes.
Bumper stickers have long been used to put forth some agenda or make a statement. In just a few words, people can let others know where they stand politically, their favorite charity or cause, and what they believe. Unfortunately, bumper stickers leave little room for proper explanation. Even Christians use these stickers to share sound byte theology with the world in the hopes that someone may come to know Jesus. However, one or two words are not enough to share the depth of God’s love and the truth of the Gospel.
I saw one the other day that said, “Jesus is coming. Look Busy.” While there is a bit of truth to this statement, it really doesn’t say what needs to be said. Looking busy when Jesus comes is not enough. Our society is constantly busy. People are always headed off to some activity, some event. The children are involved with school, and during the summer there are numerous of opportunities for them to learn and grow. Men and women spend their days at a job, often working overtime to get everything finished. Even our churches have plenty of opportunities to look busy. Yet, is it enough when Jesus comes?
"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you: and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you; to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (ASV)
It isn’t enough for us to look busy when Jesus comes. He is looking at our hearts. Are we living in faith, walking in His promises? Do we love one another and the rest of the world in a way that they will see Him and know of His love and mercy? When Jesus comes He will be looking for those who believe in Him and all He said about God our Father and the kingdom.
We are busy these days, busy in good and wonderful ways. As a non-Christian looks at a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy,” they can easily say, “Well, I got that one right. I’ll just show Jesus my day planner and I’ll be fine.” Even some Christians take on that attitude when they think about all the things they do at church and for the church. Yet, Jesus is not looking for busy people. He’s looking for people who are living in His heart, people of faith who are busy believing in Him and through whom He is shining His light to the world. Thanks be to God.
Midweek Oasis Perhaps some of you already know that I write another devotional. It is called Midweek Oasis and is distributed once a week on Wednesday. It is based on the scriptures that will be read the next Sunday in many Christian churches, those that follow the lectionary. Midweek Oasis takes more thought, prayer and research than A WORD FOR TODAY. I not only read the scriptures, but I also read commentaries, attend Bible study and participate in only discussion groups that focus on those same scriptures. Today's message is based on some of the research I've been doing for this week's MIDWEEK OASIS.
"And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side. And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And there ariseth a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling. And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion: and they awake him, and say unto him, Teacher, carest thou not that we perish? And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Mark 4:35-41 (ASV)
I have always followed the perspective that the disciples' calling for Jesus was a cry for help. "Jesus, do something!" But they say, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" This followed after the teaching of the parables of the kingdom of God. Farmer sows his seed along the path, rocks, weeds and good soil. Lamp on the stand. Growing seed. Mustard seed. These are all parables that help us to live without worry as we share the kingdom of God. Scatter the seed -- some will grow. Shine your light. God will bring growth. Don't worry if you are just a weed.
So here the disciples and others are in the midst of the storm and they think they are perishing. They say to Jesus, "Do you not care that we are about to die?" They were not necessarily looking to Jesus to do something because Jesus would not have any sailing experience or abilities. The ship's captain, the fishermen on board -- they could handle the storm the best they could. But by golly, how can Jesus sleep when we are about to die? Isn't he at least a little bit worried?
Additionally, the sailors would have turned the boat into or away from the wind (I'm not a boating expert, so I only know what I've read in researching). To keep from capsizing, the boat is positioned to face toward or away from the breaking waves. This helps balance the boat. Water may still get onboard, but at least the boat isn't going over. Now, Jesus was sleeping in the stern. If they pointed the boat away from the wind, the breaking waves would have been splashing mostly into the stern, getting Jesus wet! "Jesus, don't you care?" Where is His worry? Where is His fear? Who is this man who can sleep through a storm and not be concerned?
Jesus answers, "After listening to all those stories about the worry-free kingdom of God, you still worry?" And He said, "Quiet, be still." He said this 'to the waves' but perhaps also to those on the boat? "Quiet, be still, do not worry."
Have you ever known someone who had such peace through a storm? You just want to know how they do it. "How is it that you aren't worried, concerned, troubled in the midst of your... cancer? Unemployment? Church troubles?" Or "Don't you care that we are perishing?" They answer that question with a sense peace in the midst of a storm in a way that makes you feel more comfortable; they can share that peace (plant that seed, light that light, offer a place of refuge). By a word (God's Word) they are able to tame the storm. Perhaps the storm still rages around us, but seeing their faith gives us a sense of peace.
So, those on the boat ask, "Who is this?" I have read this as a bit of the old, "the disciples just don't get it." This is true throughout the book of Mark. They never quite get that Jesus is LORD, Lord of the Sea, Lord of the storm, Lord of our worries and fears. However, consider that person who has such peace in the midst of their own storms. Do you not ask, "Who is this that they can be so calm?" This is even more true of Jesus. He's more than just someone who can speak the parables of the kingdom of God – He lives them. He can bring calm in the midst of the storm. The storm might still rage around us, but in the bosom of the Lord of the Sea (and everything else) there is peace.
Sermon Yesterday I told you about Midweek Oasis, a devotional I write each week on Wednesday based on the scriptures used in the lectionary for the next Sunday. For many churches, these are the scriptures that will be used in worship and in the preparation of sermons. The lectionary offers four scriptures for each Sunday – an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, a lesson from one of the letters and a Gospel story. Sometimes those passages have some sort of connection, sometimes they seem unconnected. The lectionary is designed to fit into the church year, so the stories and encouragement from the passages will relate to the season in which we are passing. The lectionary during Advent will relate to the coming of Christ – both as a babe but also in glory. The same is true for Lent, Easter, Pentecost. Using the lectionary helps us to see the entire story of God throughout the year and a good portion of the scriptures during the three year cycle.
Pastors will then take the four passages of scriptures and pray about what they have to say. With four different passages, it is often difficult to find just one message to give to the congregation. It is impractical to try to preach on all the texts because it could take hours. Some of the individual passages hold within them weeks' worth of messages for the people. So, the pastor must find the one thing within the texts that the people need to hear. It is interesting to note that a dozen pastors, a hundred pastors, will most likely each find a unique message for their congregations. While one might find a powerful message in the Old Testament lesson for that day, another will prefer to focus on the Epistle or Gospel. Even if they select the same passage, one might find a message of hope while another needs to preach a message of rebuke or correction. It is dependent on the needs and experiences of the congregation.
This does not mean that we can make the scriptures say whatever we want it to say. All too often people will take a verse of the Bible and fit it into circumstances that are inappropriate. They twist God's Word to fit into the situation as they want it to fit. It is easy to pull one sentence out of the Bible and find in it condemnation for our enemies or justification for our sins. It is also very easy to dig so deeply into the text that we make the message unrecognizable to those listening. God's Word need not be manipulated in such a manner. It is given for the people to hear, know, experience and love.
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we faint not: but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (ASV)
The Bible is a living, breathing document. It is through the scriptures that God speaks to His people. Each one of us might read the very same passage and hear something that speaks uniquely to our situation. What a joy it is to share with one another in study how God is touching us through His Word. As we study together, we are also able to keep one another from digging so deeply into the text that we lose site of what God would have us hear. We shine the light into one another's lives and we keep one another firmly in the Word. Thanks be to God.
Command It is hard to imagine why someone would hurt a child, but we have heard too many stories in the last few years about people who have done so. Even sadder are those stories where the perpetrator is a parent. Just yesterday a man in San Antonio allegedly took his fifteen month old from his mother. He put a shoelace around the child's neck like a noose and threatened to kill him if the police were called. Thankfully the child was returned safely to his mother, but not all stories end so well. Tragically, too many children are killed every year by their mothers, fathers or someone else they love. The most tragic thing, however, is when the guilty party claims to do so because God told him or her to do so.
Out of a sense of obedience to some strange understanding of God, these folk willingly put their faith ahead of the health and safety of their children, and then they turn to God to explain the unexplainable. They hear a voice, believe and do whatever it is the voice tells them to do. Yet, these bizarre stories are the very reason a majority of the population is cynical about the idea of hearing God's voice. Our reasonable answer would be that it is all in the head – there wasn't a real voice. And this is why it is difficult for us to take some of the stories of the Old Testament to heart. They don't make sense because we do not understand how some of the characters could be so obedient to a questionable command.
"And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. And the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. And she said, As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said; but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it forth unto me, and afterward make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah, which he spake by Elijah." 1 Kings 17:7-16 (ASV)
We read stories like this from the Bible and we wonder why the woman would ever have been so obedient to a complete stranger in a way that would endanger her child. What would we do if someone would come up to us today like Elijah to the woman, asking us to give them our last meal?
We listen to the stories of women and men who have done bizarre things in the name of God and we question how they could think that was what God would want from them. Would God ever tell a person to kill his or her son? The Bible says that God did exactly that to Abraham. Yet, in the story of Abraham there was a promise. In the story of Elijah and the widow there was a promise. Where is the promise in the stories of those in today's world who think God is telling them to do something like murder?
We should listen for God's voice in our life, for God has a purpose for us each day. While we are listening, however, we must remember that the voice we hear will never contradict that which God has already given to us in the scriptures. He will not tell us to kill our children; He will provide the ram. He will not ask us to feed the poor without ensuring that our children will also be fed. He will not send us on a mission without first laying the foundation we will need to do the work. God had already commanded the woman to feed Elijah. She was not unprepared for the task. He was not asking her to do anything that God had not already promised. As we listen for God's voice in this world, let us never forget that God has already spoken and He does not contradict Himself. Thanks be to God.
Electricity There was an interesting article on my Internet from Fortune magazine that talked about teamwork – most particularly teams that work. They listed several characteristics common to those teams that are successful, from sports teams to creative teams to business teams. Of all the examples given in the article, I found the one about Thomas Edison to be most interesting. It led me to do more research on the man. Though it is impossible to summarize the man's life in just a few paragraphs, I think what I learned most about him is that he has been viewed in both positive and negative light.
The brief article focused on Thomas Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey research and development center. This was the first such place ever created – with a variety of different laboratories in one area working on different inventions at the same time. Edison was a genius in team design who invited the most intelligent, creative and passionate men in diverse fields to join his team. These men were able to work together to create much of the technology that has become a staple of our lives today.
When asked about Thomas Edison's greatest achievement, most people would say that he invented the light bulb. In reality, Edison had little to do with that invention – it was another man's idea that was developed and perfected by his research team. Sadly, there are those who would put Edison down for this very reason, claiming that he can't be considered the greatest inventor because he didn't even invent the thing for which he is given the most credit. Yet, of the thousand or more inventions that came out of the research and development center, Thomas played a hands on role for many and actually did invent quite a few. On top of that, Thomas Edison can be called "the father of the electrical age" because he was the one who first developed the standardized, commercially centralized, underground central power facility. By doing so, Edison proved that electric light and power could be made practically available to all of mankind.
When asked where this amazing historical event took place, many might say it was in New York City. Thomas Edison was indeed working on such a station in New York, but the real success was developed in Brockton, Massachusetts. Edison was a practical man who knew how to handle the business aspects of inventing as well as the actual inventions. He knew that he would receive more publicity, acclaim and credit if he presented his work in New York. However, his work in New York paled in comparison to the work done in Massachusetts. His critics even agreed that Edison deserved recognition for the plant in Brockton. Yet, Edison kept his focus on New York. Now, the history of Edison's greatest accomplishment is practically forgotten and school kids remember him for something that he really did not even do.
"Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name." John 20:30-31 (ASV)
If you asked a student about Thomas Edison, he would most likely tell you something different than an electrician who would tell you something different than a historian. Some would have positive things to say, others would have negative things to say. Thomas Edison was certainly a man with great accomplishments, but also a fascinating study business savvy and ethics. He was an inventor, but he was also a man who received credit for the work of others. Yet it was his very ability to choose the right men at the right time for his team that made him – and them – very successful.
Who is Jesus to you? This is a most important question, yet it is a question that comes with as many answers as people answering. Your answer will be different than your neighbor's answer, even if they are Christian. The non-Christian will have a totally different answer. Some say Jesus is a friend, others Savior, others a wonderful teacher, yet others say He is a miracle man. The scriptures give us His story, they tell us the stories that revolved around His life. We see the people He chose – not always the most intelligent, creative or passionate men. At times they seem foolish in their uncertainty. However, Jesus was not dependent on the disciples. They were chosen to support Him, to follow Him, to take His grace to the world. In the stories we see the human nature of the disciples so that we will see ever more clearly the Christ. Who is Jesus?
He is indeed friend, Savior, teacher and healer. But He is much more. The scriptures show us that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Believe in Him and you will have life. Thanks be to God.
Shopping cart I was in a department store the other day, the type that has everything you need from food to auto parts to clothing. Zack was with me, but he had gone to look at something in another department while I was in the clothing. As I stopped at a rack I turned from my cart for just a moment and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a child beside me. From that perspective I thought it was Zack. I turned back to the cart and started walking down the aisle. I thought it was odd that Zack was walking beside me like he used to as a small child – hand on the shopping cart obediently tagging along. Then I suddenly realized I had another child! The little boy realized at the same moment as I that he was with the wrong mommy. I asked him if he knew where his mother was, he went back to the place where we met and looked into the clothing section. He saw his mom and ran toward her. I watched to ensure that he was safe then went on my way.
It reminded me of those horrifying moments when my own kids were briefly lost in a store. It happens to every mommy at least once. With Victoria, it was a trip to a clothing store. She was wading in and out of the clothing racks, hiding amongst the clothes. She was playing a game of hide and seek with me. One minute I knew exactly where she was and in a split second she was gone. With the help of the salesclerk and a few customers, we found her frightened and in tears hiding in a fitting room. She learned her lesson that day and did not wander far from me again.
"See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man came to save that which was lost. How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." Matthew 18:10-14 (ASV)
We often think of the story of the lost sheep in terms of Jesus looking for those who need to be saved. This is a great interpretation of the story as Luke tells it. However, in Matthew's book, this story is found in the midst of a sermon about the kingdom of heaven. Here, the sheep are those who are owned by the shepherd – believers.
There are those who insist that believers can't be lost. They are those who think that if a person backslides – falls for the temptations of this world and sins – then they aren't really believers. While it would be ideal if all the sheep would remain true to the Lord at all times, we fail. We are imperfect even while Christ makes us perfect. As Martin Luther would say, we are "simul justice et peccator" which means "simultaneously saint and sinner."
I suppose there are those who would say that the mom in that store that day was not doing her job. After all, how could she allow her young son to get away from her like that? Yet, the child knew exactly what to do – hold on to the shopping cart. For that brief moment, he thought he was right where he should be. Vicki thought the same in that store that day, hiding amongst the clothes. She didn't know how far from me she had gotten. Even while I was searching for her she was getting further and further away in her search for me.
That's the way it is with us Christians. We fail. We make mistakes. While searching for Christ we get farther and farther away from Him until we are the ones hiding in the dressing room in tears. But Jesus knew there'd be times we would fail, and He promised to come find us. He would not allow His children to be lost forever. He seeks His own, even while He is seeking those He would choose to make His own. Though we should do our best to dwell in the shadow of the shepherd, we can rest assured that if we should wander, He will find us. Thanks be to God.
Vacation We are well into summer and it seems like it is flying by. The kids have had so many activities scheduled that there has been little time for any sort of summer vacation for the family. We've managed a few activities together, but there hasn't been enough time to go away anywhere together. Vicki has been to New York and will go to Montana in July. Zack has been to Boy Scout camp and is currently at church camp. They have had local activities that have been fun learning experiences like theater camp and they will be helping with Vacation Bible School in a few weeks. The National Youth Gathering for our church is here in San Antonio next week and we will be involved. So while we have not had that family time, we have had a good time this summer.
Things were so much different when we lived in England. We didn't have nearly as many activities so we had more time for travel. We enjoyed so many different places around England and Europe. It was amazing to see the history and to enjoy the tourist sites. We probably visited a hundred different churches, nearly that many castles and dozens of other landmarks. It was easy to get away for the weekend or even take a day trip together. We learned so much, saw so much and it was really good for the kids.
When we left England we promised ourselves we would continue to travel, but we have gotten so involved in the activities of youth that we do not have the time. This is not necessarily a bad thing – their activities are also good for them. At Boy Scouts, Zack learns so many things. Vicki is actively involved in service organization and her theater activities are building knowledge and experience for her future.
Our travel would be much different anyway, since the U.S. does not have the same type of landmarks as Europe. Though there are significant historical landmarks, all too many of them have been developed into tourist sites, with all the kitsch that comes with it. A family traveling in the U.S. is far more likely to head toward an amusement them or water park. Another favorite destination is an outdoor adventure. While some families will find the time to visit an historic site or two, it is very unlikely that they will leave home with that as their reason for travel. It will be an afterthought or an additional benefit to the choice they have made. Family vacations are more likely for fun than for learning.
Sadly, the least likely place for most vacationers to end up is in church. Most churches are dealing with the reality that attendance will be low during the summer because travel and nice weather keeps members away. Unless they have gone to visit family, they aren't willing to seek out a congregation for just one visit, preferring to use that time for rest or play. It seems like summer vacation is not just a time away from school, but it is also a time away from church. Many churches will cancel Sunday school for the summer. They cut back hours and services. They feed this idea that we can take a vacation from our relationship with Christ and His body. It doesn't help that the church year seems to follow the same pattern – after all, there isn't even an important church holy day during the summer. It is easy to think that we can live from Advent to Pentecost and take a break again until it is time to start over. However, it is important that we continue year round to live in and fellowship with the body of Christ.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh." Hebrews 10:19-25 (ASV)
It is summer vacation. Good weather and extra time leaves us with the freedom to go and do some of the things we enjoy doing. We can take a weekend and travel to the amusement park. We can visit our families or go camping in the woods. We can visit historic places that we might not have the time to see during the winter when it is more difficult to travel. Yet, it is also a time when we can visit other Christians, to experience fellowship with people who might worship a little differently or who might sing different songs. What we will find when we do so is that they are also a part of the body of Christ and though there might be some differences, there are many things that we hold in common.
Most importantly, however, is that we should not forsake the fellowship even for a few weeks. We can't take a vacation from God and we should not take a vacation from worshipping Him in the company of believers. We might be on vacation, but there are certainly churches just about anywhere we might go. If we are home, we should be careful that we do not fall into the habit of deciding it is too nice to go to church. The golf course will still be there at noon, the pool will not go away. Your presence is as important to your neighbor as your neighbor's is for you. Most of all, we are much stronger as individuals, and the body of Christ, if we continue regularly to worship Him and encourage one another. Thanks be to God.
Pictures When I went to Corpus Christi the other week, I took a roll or two of photographs. I took pictures of the waves coming toward the beach, the sea birds and some of the notable sites around the area. Some of the pictures turned out pretty good. A pelican came so close that I was able to get a very detailed photo of him in flight. I found some seagulls wading in the waves looking for bits of food along the shore. Some of the pictures show how rough the water was that day. Others show the graceful flight of the pelicans. Yet others show fishermen hard at work. There are some that show the seemingly endless expanse of beach and sea.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that was certainly true today. I took the pictures along to work with me and showed them to some of my friends. It was interesting to hear their comments. One shared stories of her own trips to Corpus. Others compared what they were seeing to other places they have been. There is a group of artists that meet in our church on a weekly basis – they saw potential paintings. One woman was fascinated by the close up pictures of the birds. She thought the one picture of seagull would be perfect for studying the proper way to paint birds in flight. Everyone found something appropriate and valuable to their own interests in the pictures.
The Bible paints a picture. It is a familiar picture to all of us. It is a picture of God, His love and mercy. It is a picture of His Son and His grace. It is a picture of His Spirit and how He dwells amongst His people, moving and breathing life into the world. Though the picture is the same for all people, it is also very different. It is even different for each of us at different times in our life. Our relationship with God lives and moves as He breathes into our lives. At times we are like His child, under His care and protection. At times we are like His friend, as we dwell in His presence learning from Him. At times we are like a partner, as we share what we have learned with others.
That's what is so amazing about God. Though He is eternal and unchanging, He speaks to people in their needs. He offers comfort to those who mourn. He offers correction to those who wander. He offers direction to those who are lost. He offers hope to those who are at the end of their rope. Though each of us might read the same story, we will hear something different in the words, because God speaks to us through His story that we might find peace in all our circumstances.
"Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father. So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:11-18 (ASV)
I don't think there is any two groups that would hear the Gospel more differently than the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews hear the story through their history, their heritage. The Gentiles hear the message that is counter to their entire world. Yet, that same message, that same God in Christ Jesus, can give peace to all. Though we might have a different perspective on the stories – from others and during various times in our lives – Christ Jesus is the same for all. We all receive different gifts, but the Gospel is the same. We all have different needs, but God's love and grace is the same for all. We might see the picture differently, but it is the same for all. In that picture we all find God's peace. Thanks be to God.
Today's WORD is a repeat from July 18, 2004
Paper airplanes Today at church, our pastor asked Vicki and I to help with the children’s sermon. We were supposed to be as much of a distraction as we could be. So, when he called the children up, we slipped into the front row. He asked the children to pay close attention to the story he was going to tell and then Vicki and I got started. I made a paper airplane which I threw toward the kids. Vicki and I discussed an article in our church magazine. I tore out a page, made a ball and threw it at the pastor. We called out to Zack who was acolyte today, trying to be as well behaved as possible. Its pretty hard when your mom is being so silly.
Needless to say, Vicki and I did our task well. Pastor finally had to stop telling the story and ask us to stop. Then he talked to the children about how distracted we can be by the things around us when we should be paying attention to more important things – like God’s word. When the service was over, several people suggested that perhaps I was having way too much fun being a distraction this morning, all in good humor of course.
It was fun, but I have to admit that even though it was what I was asked to do, my silliness even became a distraction. It took several minutes after it was over to stop giggling and I might have missed a bit of the sermon as my mind wandered thinking about things I could have done. The point of the lesson was quite clear, however. We don’t listen very well. Either we let the world around us become a distraction or we simply focus inward and we do not hear what others are saying.
“Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ASV)
What Martha was doing was not a bad thing. She was taking care of her houseguests, meeting their physical needs. However, she was worried and distracted by the work so much so that she was more concerned about herself. Jesus did not berate her for making lunch or doing the work of hospitality. He told her to stop letting the distractions of this world make her miss out on the greater things such as hearing the word of God.
When Vicki and I were playing during the children’s sermon, we were certainly a distraction to the children – fulfilling our task that our pastor asked us to do. However, in the process of doing this good thing, we also missed out on the story ourselves. Every day we go out into the world in faith doing what God has called us to do – serve Him by loving our neighbor. However, sometimes our good works can become so self-centered that miss out on hearing Him speak into our lives. We get burnt out because we begin to think we are the only ones who are doing all the work.
Whenever we hear this story, we are tempted to think Jesus is lifting Mary above Martha and teaching us to be like her. The reality of this story, however, is not that we should spend all our time sitting at the feet of our Lord, but that we should not worry and fuss over the distractions of this world that keep us from hearing Him. A balanced life of being Mary and Martha, listening and doing, is the way Christ calls us to live. We can’t know God’s will if we don’t hear His voice, and once we hear His voice, we can’t help but go out and do His will. In the meantime, let us focus our attention on the things that really matter – Jesus and all He has to tell us – so that we might live in the grace He has given. Thanks be to God.