Welcome to the May 2004 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, May 2004
Time and Place Today is May Day. To be honest, I am not even sure I know much about this particular day, though there are those who celebrate the first day of May. The holiday means different things to different people. May Day is thought of as a turning point in the seasonal year. Spring is pretty well sprung all over the northern hemisphere. Flowers are in bloom. Thoughts of love linger around the young at heart. For pagans, May Day marks Beltaine is time for a fertility festival. In many parts of the world, May Day is a day to honor the working man, a labor day of sorts that remembers those who died trying to make better working conditions.
As I began to do some research about May Day, I realized the information I was reading was much different than I had read in other years. Several years ago I wrote about the holiday in England and recalled some Russian history connected with the day. Yet, as I did a web search today, the pages I found were much different, giving a history of May Day directly connected to labor riots in the 1800’s in America. It is a holiday we no longer celebrate here, but has apparently been picked up around the world. We, instead, celebrate Labor Day, a much different celebration.
What I have learned over the years as we have moved from place to place, is that the responses I get to an Internet search is directly related to the time and place where I am at the moment. It makes sense. It would do me no good to find information about local grocery store chains from Washington State if I were in Florida. A web search about the history of a holiday will come up with diverse links around the world. A person in China looking for information about Christmas will get a completely different listing than another person in South America or Australia. Apparently, the English perspective about May Day is much different than the perspective we have here in America.
The same is true about time. If you type vacation ideas in December, you are likely to find information about ski resorts or cruises. In the summer you will get back results pointing toward outdoor vacations in the mountains or at the beach. A search for craft ideas will yield information about Christmas ornaments in the fall and Easter eggs in the spring. The search engine tries to meet your needs more specifically, to make your search easier. Of course, the information is not always what we want it to be, so we have to be more specific in our request to find what we are looking for.
Our needs as Christians differ also, not only in time and space as with our physical needs, but also in spirit. One person may need comfort in their afflictions; another may need correction or discipline. Prayer lives are different. Bible study – the style, subject and outcome – is unique for every individual. We even find something new in our own prayer and study life over time. Our understanding of scripture and our relationship with God grows with each passing day. Our needs now are different than our needs tomorrow. Yet, God always provides what we need in this time and in this place.
“Howbeit ye did well that ye had fellowship with my affliction. And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need. Not that I seek for the gift; but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account. But I have all things, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, and odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. And my God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now unto our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Philippians 4:14-20 (ASV)
God provided for Paul through the congregation at Philippi. In his letter of thankfulness for their gift, Paul promised that God would also see to their every need according to His glorious riches in Jesus Christ. This was not a demand to God to give them what they wanted, but a statement of faith that God knows our needs and provides in His time and way. Paul needed financial assistance to share the Gospel around the world. The Philippians had different needs in their city at that time. God knew, and He met those needs.
I didn’t find the same information today as when I searched on the subject of May Day several years ago, but I learned something new. It was what I needed in this time and place and God provided. Paul was not sure where he would get his daily bread, but he rested sure in God’s promise. When we are searching for something, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual, let us also rest assured that God will be faithful to provide what we need in the here and now and let us glorify Him. Thanks be to God.
Kitten We are thinking about getting a new kitten to be a friend for Felix. We also promised Vicki that she could have another cat when we moved here to San Antonio. It was, in part, a bribe, to get her a little bit excited about moving away from her friends in Arkansas. Yet, it was not only that, since we realize the Felix would be happier when we are out during the day if he had some company. I have taken Vicki to see the kittens available and she is having a most difficult time choosing just one. Each one is adorable and they all need homes.
Adopting a kitten is a big deal, but not nearly the responsibility as adopting a child. It is not something I have experienced personally, but we have known families that have gone through the process. It costs a fortune – the lawyer fees and travel expenses. When the baby is coming from an unwed mother, the hospital costs are often covered by the adoptive parents. On top of the immediate responsibilities, adopting a child is a lifelong commitment, not something you can dismiss in a few days. It is a gift of life for the child, but it can turn out to be an immense burden. This is especially true when the child being adopted suffers from some sort of physical, mental or emotional disability. With all parents, whether the child is naturally born to them or adopted, a burdensome child can lead to bitterness.
Imagine what it would be like if you adopted a disabled child who was also the only remaining offspring of an enemy? Suppose you were godparent to a child, written into the will of his or her parents as the guardian if they should die, but some time later you fought bitterly and broke the relationship. What would happen if they suddenly died and you were given custody of the child? Could you care for them? Change your life for them? Feed and cloth them for as long as was necessary? What if the child was disabled and could not fend for themselves the rest of their lives? This is what happened with David.
“And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake? And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba, and they called him unto David; and the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he said, Thy servant is he. And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, who is lame of his feet. And the king said unto him, Where is he? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo-debar. Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came unto David, and fell on his face, and did obeisance. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he answered, Behold, thy servant! And David said unto him, Fear not; for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father's sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually. And he did obeisance, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am? Then the king called to Ziba, Saul's servant, and said unto him, All that pertained to Saul and to all his house have I given unto thy master's son. And thou shalt till the land for him, thou, and thy sons, and thy servants; and thou shalt bring in the fruits, that thy master's son may have bread to eat: but Mephibosheth thy master's son shall eat bread alway at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my lord the king commandeth his servant, so shall thy servant do. As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem; for he did eat continually at the king's table. And he was lame in both his feet.” 2 Samuel 9:1-13 (ASV)
David was certainly not a perfect man. He made some horrible mistakes throughout his life. Yet, it can be said that he had mercy on his enemies. While Saul tried to kill David, David never threatened his life. When Saul perished by his own hand on the battlefield, David mourned the loss of the king. Even though Saul’s family continued to do David harm, obstructing his rule over Israel, David honored them. When Saul’s son was murdered, David punished the men who thought they were serving him by ridding him of his enemy.
In this passage, David wondered how he might show kindness to the house of Saul for the sake of his friend Jonathon. As it happened, Jonathon’s son was disabled but alive, living in fear of what would become of him. David had mercy, took him into his own house and ensured that he would live well for the rest of his life. Perhaps Mephibosheth was not a child at the time, but David provided all he needed.
A kitten might be a great responsibility, but one I know we can handle. I wonder if we could be like David and give such mercy and grace to our enemies. Certainly we are called to do so, granting forgiveness through Christ our Lord and loving our neighbors. We are much like that adopted son, lame and weak in flesh, but loved by God. As children of the Most High God, we have all we need to live in this world and go forth in faith to share the kingdom of God with others. Thanks be to God.
Doctor Paul Harvey did a story about Walter Reed, a Major in the U.S. Army at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Virginia in 1851, Walter was the son of a Methodist minister and extremely intelligent. Paul Harvey tells us that things were much different in that time and place and Walter’s life turned out much different than he would have liked. His family could not afford the kind of education he wanted, one geared toward the philosophical rather than the scientific. Unfortunately, it was very expensive to get that type of degree, the medical degree was far more affordable. He received his first doctorate at the age of 18 and his second a year later, doing both two year courses in half the time.
For several reasons, Dr. Reed’s private practice never made it off the ground. He was so young that none of the patients trusted his doctoring ability. He might have succeeded if he could grow a beard, it would have made him appear older, but hair would not grow on his face. Additionally, Dr. Reed was not of the upper classes, where his social and family contacts would have given him enough credibility and patients to build a practice. Before long, Dr. Reed gave up on private practice and joined the army. He was in love, but knew he could never marry the woman if he had no financial stability to offer her. He became a surgeon and his time in the army provided many opportunities for success.
Since yellow fever was major problem around the world at this time. Scientists were just discovering the fact that many diseases come from microorganisms that are passed from person to person through the air or by touch. Dr. Reed, in association with other scientists, helped eliminate yellow fever by pinpointing the source of the contamination – mosquitoes. Dr. Reed’s dedication to finding the truth led to an experiment with twenty four very brave soldiers who allowed themselves to be bitten by infected mosquitoes. They proved that it was the mosquito, and not other sources as commonly accepted at the time. They realized that to reduce the number of people contracting the disease, they had to eliminate the carriers, so cities dealt with the breeding places and recommended that people have only enough water necessary for daily living in their homes and well covered. Eventually a vaccine was discovered, thanks to the work of Dr. Reed. He died in 1902, having accomplished something great for humanity. He may have begun his life on a different foot than he wanted and laid to rest in Arlington Cemetary with these words as his epitaph, “He gave to man over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever.”
“Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.” 1 Timothy 4:9-16 (ASV)
The hospital named after Major Walter Reed was first opened on May 1, 1909. It is an awesome way to honor this man who through his persistence and integrity managed to change the world and help many people. Yet, hearing his life story, we realize that in many ways he is no different than ourselves. He did not have control over much of his life, and yet in the end he accomplished just what he wished to accomplish. He was too young, of the wrong class. He could not succeed in one way but managed to succeed in an even greater way. Timothy was also too young, but Paul warned him to ignore those who tried to stop him from doing his work for the Lord.
We may have goals that seem impossible, but we can trust that God will use our gifts in some magnificent way, we need only follow God’s calling in our lives without worrying about how the rest of the world will react. Give yourself fully to your own work for the Lord and He will bless the world through you. Thanks be to God.
Parenting It is not easy being a parent. The children go through so many stages, from infancy to toddler, child through teenager. Finally they grow to be adults and our work is complete. Through those years we have so many things to deal with – each stage of independence, teaching moral and ethical lessons so that our children will grow to be men and women with integrity. We train them in the faith, hoping that the Word of God will be written in their hearts and they will continue to follow in His ways when they are grown. We have to make decisions about how to handle each situation such as how to discipline. Sometimes it will take nothing more than lecture, sometimes the punishment needs to be more severe.
We even have to consider what things need our attention and what actions need to follow their own course so that the child will learn by experience. Sometimes, as hard as it is for us to admit, parents do not always know best. I can remember what it was like in school twenty years ago and tell my children about how we dealt with situations, but the world is a different place today. An acceptable response in my day is not always acceptable today. Likewise, something that was not acceptable then just might be acceptable now. For example, using calculators for math homework is not only acceptable but required. It would not be right for me to refuse to allow her to use the equipment available when it is assigned by the teacher.
Sometimes we have to give up our opinions about things that just do not matter. If someone has convincing proof that our point of view is wrong, we should be able to admit it. Children rebel even more when parents are not able to give a little leeway on some things. We forget that they have to learn from their mistakes just like we did. We want to help them avoid the pitfalls of a wrong decision, but they have to learn how to overcome their wrong decisions, so we need to let go.
Unfortunately, we often hold on to our ideas with even more passion than our relationships. We are afraid that if we are proven wrong on one point, then perhaps everything we stand for is wrong. So, we stand even more firmly when we are shown our error, fighting a fight that should not be fought. We are obstinate even when it means we might lose someone we love. Yet, there are some ideals that should be protected with our lives – ideals like love, hope and faith. We should be willing to stand firm in these things, even if everyone around us rejects it as foolishness.
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 (ASV)
We pass on our faith to our children, but there might be a time when they reject what we have given them. We can only hope that the lessons given have been written on their hearts so that one day they will return to the right path. What we cannot do is set aside our faith for the sake of another. We should not set aside our faith for others, accepting their judgment about Christ as if it were true. They might have convincing arguments about the foolishness of our faith or the superiority of their ideals, but we must hold on firmly to that which has been given – Christ our Lord. Just as we stand fast when we know that what our children is doing is wrong and will be harmful to the point of dangerous, we also much stand firm in our faith. For it is in the love of God that we find all good things such as love, hope and peace. Thanks be to God.
Moon I could not help but notice the moon as I drove home from a meeting last night. I was coming over the crest of a hill when I noticed it just on the horizon. It was incredibly large colored with a magnificent shade of orange. I kept watching for it as I continued my drive, catches glimpses whenever there was a break in the trees and houses. As it rose into the night sky, it began to lose its color, but it was still beautiful. I called home because I was so impressed; I wanted them to see it also. They could not see it until it rose above the rooftops, but even then it was a sight to see.
When I called, Bruce told me that they had gone to look at the moon. It is nearly time for the full moon and Vicki had an assignment to draw if for one of her classes. The timing could not have been better, I have rarely seen the moon so clear. It seemed to loom larger than normal in the sky. I can understand the strange coloration; dust in the air can give the moon that unusual orange color. But I do not know what would make it seem so big. Since cosmic bodies do not move in perfect circles, the paths form ellipses, it is possible that the moon is passing closer now than at other times of the year. Light refraction might make is seem bigger.
We can come up with many scientific theories about why the moon looked as it did last night. Space travel and other research has given us a good understanding of the heavens and the earth so that these unusual circumstances are not so strange. As I was driving home, I thought about the ages past when the people would look at that moon rise with a greater sense of awe and fear. An orange moon would have been an omen. Whether it was good or bad might depend on other signs in the heavens or on earth. The size may have been frightening as the ancient peoples would have seen that as actual growth not an optical illusion caused by other factors. The perception of last night’s moon would have been much different five thousand years ago or even a hundred years ago.
There are those today who still see such signs and seek to insert some supernatural meaning to the event. Many people read the scriptures, desperately hoping to find the key to unlock the prophecy so that they might be the first to see the signs of Christ’s coming. For ever generation since the scriptures were penned, there are some who find the fulfillment of those events in the world that surrounds them. They pinpoint dates when we will see the end of days based on their perception of the signs in heaven and on earth.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. Therefore be ye also ready; for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord tarrieth; and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 24:42-51 (ASV)
When Jesus instructed the disciples to watch, He was not telling them to waste their time interpreting every sign to pinpoint the hour at which He would come. Instead, He was teaching them to be prepared for the moment, to do that which He has called us to do. Our task is not to interpret signs, but to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.
Unfortunately, it is likely that someone will have seen the moon last night and perceived it to be some sort of sign. They may interpret its meaning in a way that will bring fear and doubt to the hearts of others as they wonder what sort of evil will befall them. While there is always something to be learned from all of God’s creation, for God speaks to us through all things, we must be careful we do not lead people astray into a false sense of understanding that leads to the acts of the sinful nature, but rather give them the hope and peace that is found in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Media I don’t think we really understand what an impact the television has on our life. Oh, perhaps we can recognize moments when we are deeply affected by what we see on TV. Sometimes it informs us of things we did not know, and we become passionately involved in the situation or issues. Sometimes what we see affects change in our hearts and in our lives. We laugh, we cry, we buy products we’ve seen in commercials and we arrange our schedule around our favorite shows.
But do we know the real impact it has on our world? Things were much simpler a hundred years ago because the news was from our own neighborhoods. Now we hear news from all over the world. We know it is raining in New York and sunny in Paris. We hear every detail about elections in South America and war in the Middle East. People we do not know and will never meet suddenly become as much a part of our lives as our next door neighbors. Unfortunately, because we spend so much time with the television, we rarely know what is happening in our own neighborhoods. The characters on “Friends” are more real to us than the guy next door. The kidnapped child in another state is more important than the girl down the street being abused by her mother. Our world view has gotten so big that we can’t see the forest for the trees. There is nothing I can personally do for a person a half a world away, but I can befriend the lady next door. I can’t stop Christian persecution in China, but I can share the Gospel with my mailman.
It seems as though the larger our world gets, as we are more aware of the bigger picture, the smaller it actually becomes. Our life can fit into a box – the television – even though most of what happens there is either unreal or so far away it could not matter. That is a big part of it, though. Because what we see is not real to our personal lives, we can focus more heavily on our own needs while seeming to be interested in others. We send money and say prayers about those matters on the other side of the world, patting ourselves on the back for being such good people, while ignoring the needs that are right under our noses. We justify our inaction with excuses that the needs are out of our reach or by thinking we have done enough with our money and our prayers for those thousands of miles away.
“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (ASV)
Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers the question by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor was the man in need on the road. One man, a Levite, passed him by because he was on his way to the Temple to do the work of God. He could not touch someone who was hurt and unclean in spirit or else his task at the temple would be invalidated. He saw the bigger picture and thought he could help more by passing by. The Samaritan had his own work to accomplish, but he took the time to care for the stranger. His saw his neighbor as the one in need at that time and place.
Tonight millions of people will watch the final episode of “Friends,” including myself. There will be laughter and tears as we wish our six friends a fond farewell. As strange as it may sound, this will be a heartbreaking moment for some people, the friends have been their only friends for ten years because we have lost touch with our neighbors.
Who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is anyone who crosses our path who is in need. Yet, sometimes we have to look more carefully to find them. Not all who are in need are lying by the side of the road in pain. They don’t all make it on the evening news. We have to look beyond the world we see on television and seek out the needs that are right under our noses, to bring healing and peace to the people who live right next door.
Music Zack’s school had a band and choir concert last night. This was a chance for the students to show off what they have learned this year. To be honest, I expected to squirm a bit as these 10-12 year olds played their instruments, certain that there would be a number of sour notes in the pieces. I am happy to report that they were amazing. They played difficult pieces and they played them well. The band director explained that one piece was something she did not even learn until she was in high school. The fact that these fifth and sixth graders could perform such material is a credit to the teacher, their parents for making them practice and to the children themselves for working so hard to do well.
One of the groups that played last night was an African drum band. This was a new group at the school, started in response to a visit we had a couple months ago from a singing group from Africa. A special teacher volunteered to teach the children how to play. Without seeing these kids at the drums, you never would have known they were so young and inexperienced. The teacher was in the audience, but had no intention on joining the children. The band director tried to get him to play, but he wanted to refuse. She got the crowd so hyped up that he could not refuse. He made the drum band sound even better, if that is possible.
The finale included all the performers in one song. The fifth and sixth grade bands, the drum line and the choir sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. They were great individually, but they were even better together. We had a great time enjoying the gifts of so many children.
There are a great many people who enjoy a life of faith in God but who prefer to do it alone. They argue that the Church is not a building, but individual believers in personal relationship with Him. They claim that God can be found anywhere, in the quietness of the fields and under the shade of a tree. While this is true, there is something to be said about joining together in the fellowship of the saints, not only through time and space, but where we are in the here and now. Our praises, sung together in the presence of God is far more beautiful to His ears than those we sing alone.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah from the heavens: Praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his host. Praise ye him, sun and moon: Praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For he commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away. Praise Jehovah from the earth, Ye sea-monsters, and all deeps. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; Stormy wind, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills; Fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children: Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For his name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and the heavens. And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, The praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 148 (ASV)
We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are, because everything He has made sings along with us. Yet, there is something very special when Christians raise their voices together to glorify God in the here and now. When you consider the entire creation – the heavens that reach far beyond our imagination, the microscopic organisms that could destroy a population of humans, the redwood trees that reach so high we can’t see the top, the depths of the sea that are too deep for our technology – it is easy to see the greatness of God. It is also easy to see that we are not much in the entire scheme of things. It is humbling to realize our place in this world. Yet, He has created us to be the crown of His creation. Should we not want to glorify Him together with one voice of praise? He has given us the heavens and the earth. He has given us the sun and the wind and the rain. He has made the animals, birds, plants and trees for us. And He has given the care and love of one another. Thanks be to God.
I’m sorry One of the greatest questions that is debated among Christian circles is “What happened to Judas?” There is a difference in opinion about whether or not he was saved. There are those who say that he went to hell for killing himself, a statement that all suicide is an unpardonable sin. Another possibility is that the sin of Judas was a lack of hope, that he went to the wrong source for forgiveness. Others have suggested that since he went to the priests and gave back the coins that he was truly remorseful and God would have mercy on his soul. There is, indeed, scriptural evidence to give us reason to believe in both his eternal punishment and God’s mercy. I suppose that we will not have the answer to this question until the day Christ returns. Until then we must look for the grace of God in the situation and trust His will has been done.
When Judas realized his betrayal was leading to Jesus’ death, he went to the chief priests and confessed his sin of betraying innocent blood. The priests answered with indifference because Judas did exactly what they wanted him to do. The priesthood was the only place where the Jews knew to seek forgiveness and they did not care. He was left with no hope. The act of repentance – giving back the money – was not enough for him to be saved. All he needed to do was go to Jesus and say the words that would bring true forgiveness. Instead, he took the easy way out.
Suicide is not an easy way of dealing with our problems, but sometimes it is easier than saying the words “I’m sorry.” It is amazing how those two words are difficult for many to say. A great many people will repent of an argument or sin in action, but they never get around to apologizing. We usually focus our admonishment to showing our repentance in acts of love. Yet, it is also important to finish the work of repentance by saying the words. Words mean something and they make a difference. When they go unsaid, something is left hanging in the relationship that never mends.
“O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and return unto Jehovah: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept that which is good: so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods; for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him.” Hosea 14:1-4 (ASV)
Israel was very good about taking their sacrifices to the priests in the Temple, paying their dues with animal blood. Yet, these offerings were not the kind of repentance God really wanted from His people. He wanted their hearts and their words. Hosea encouraged the people to speak the words of true repentance and ask God to accept this verbal offering. After all, the words do matter and by saying “I’m sorry” we can make a difference in the relationship that are broken by our sin.
It is well and good to do works of repentance, to repay our debts and to compensate our victims for our crimes against them. Yet, acts of sacrifice are meaningless unless they come with the harder offering of words. There would have been no question about the fate of Judas had he survived long enough to speak the words of apology to his Lord Jesus. Jesus has mercy beyond our human ability to understand, and he forgives those who are truly repentant. That repentance is seen through acts of penitence, but even more so, it is heard in the words of confession when we go to God and say we are sorry for what we have done. Then we will know that we are forgiven because He speaks the words of forgiveness into our lives and heals our hearts with His love. Thanks be to God.
Mother The American Mother’s Day was first started in the late 1800’s by Julia Ward Howe, the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It was meant to be a day of peace. Mothers gathered at an organized meeting in Boston Massachusetts each year. In 1907, another woman campaigned to make Mother’s Day a nationally recognized holiday, beginning with having a special worship service in honor of her mother at her church. The tradition spread. By 1911, it was being celebrated all over the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday in 1914. There is a connection between the earliest Mother’s Days in Boston and what we celebrate today since Mother’s role tends to be as a peacemaker, sharing her love with her children that they too might love one another.
Today is Mother’s Day. This is a day when families give special attention to the women in their lives who have borne and raised children. Some of the more common gifts are flowers and brunch at a fancy restaurant, but some people like to give clothes, jewelry, perfume or other personal items that show the intimate relationship that exists between mother and child. This is a day when mother are expected to relax and enjoy being waited on, since she is normally the one that works to run the household and meet everyone’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It is, at times, a sacrificial love, since many mothers give up many things to ensure that their children have everything they want.
A story circulated a number of years ago following a massive forest fire in the western part of the U.S. As a firefighter was combing an area that was burnt from the fire, he heard the sound of baby birds chirping. He did not know how anything could have survived because the area was complete destroyed. At the base of a tree, however, he found the charred remains of a mother bird with her wings outstretched over her babies. She gave her life so that her babies would live. Those chicks were received as a sign of hope in the midst of despair and that mother was recognized for her sacrificial love.
“When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and straightway shall he glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:31-35 (ASV)
When we are young, we rarely see what our mothers have really done to make our lives better. Too often we notice only those moments when she is makes us clean our rooms or each our brussels sprouts. We remember when she said that we could not have the brand new toy or the clothes that were in fashion. We did not notice that she never bought a new outfit for herself because the money went to school supplies and after school activities. We forget the hundreds of miles a week she drove and the hours she watched our sports events. We missed the look of pride on her face when we received an award at school or when we accomplished our goals. Mothers sacrifice many things in their lives for the sake of their children. Mothers are even willing to go as far as that bird in the forest, giving their own lives that their children might live.
Jesus had that kind of love for us. It is odd for us to see glory in death, and yet that is exactly where the glory of God can be found – in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus told His disciples that they could not follow Him where He was going, although eventually most of them did follow Jesus by being martyred in His name. They could not go with Him at that moment, for Jesus had to complete the work of the cross before they could go on to do the work of the kingdom in this world. He left them with one thing – each other. It seems odd that He would call loving one another something new, since God always intended His people to love. Yet, this new love is deeper. It is a sacrificial love, just as Christ was willing to love us to through the cross. And this kind of love that radiates from our lives, marking us before as disciples of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Prayer beads I went to a workshop a week or so ago about Anglican rosaries. The workshop leader explained the history of prayer beads, rosaries and most specifically the Anglican type. There are symbolic aspects to the configuration of the beads, the number used and the type of cross. The purpose of these rosaries, as with all types of prayer beads, is to help the faithful focus their prayer lives, to give some discipline in time and direction in the words that are used in praise, thanksgiving, petition and supplication to God. The Anglican rosaries are designed to give the user freedom to choose the types of prayers they say, but plenty of possibilities are offered in books and on the internet to help guide proper use of the beads.
I was so impressed with the workshop and with the idea of the prayer beads, that I decided that I wanted to make some to share with others. I have invested quite a bit of money purchasing the materials needed. Yet, when I’ve suggested to some people that the use of the rosary would help in their prayer lives, they were quick to reject the idea. They insist that it is a shallow form of prayer, or too institutionalized. Some even reject it because it is simply a Catholic tradition. Yet, the use of prayer beads or similar items goes much farther back into history. Men of God who went into the wilderness to fast and pray often used stones to count their prayers. Jewish prayer shawls have fringe that are fingured during prayer. Buddists, Muslims as well as many Christians have found value in the use of different aids to help establish a powerful prayer life.
We tend to hear about things like this and quickly react – either for or against – and set our minds on our opinion without really considering the possibilities. Usually our decision is based on a gut reaction and we never look beyond that for a deeper understanding. One friend explained that she would never use such a thing because had seen people callously handling the beads without even paying attention to the prayers. They were looking around and by their body language she thought they obviously thinking of other things. While it might be true that some people misuse and abuse prayer beads, it is also true that they can be quite helpful. So, we must carefully study the issue through the scriptures and prayer to know if it is good for us to do.
We should do this with every issue that we face, including our salvation. It is very easy to listen to a preacher and believe what he says, or read a book that is life changing and consider it true. Yet, millions of people have been affected by self-help books that will fade the minute something new comes on the market. Today’s weight loss miracle will be forgotten when tomorrow’s is discovered. So, we are called as Christians to search the scriptures to see what God has to say about it.
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Beroea: who when they were come thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the Greek women of honorable estate, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed of Paul at Beroea also, they came thither likewise, stirring up and troubling the multitudes. And then immediately the brethren sent forth Paul to go as far as to the sea: and Silas and Timothy abode there still. But they that conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed, they departed.” Acts 17:10-15 (ASV)
Paul was sent to Berea because the Jews of Thessalonica rejected the Gospel. They had a gut reaction based on their own faith perspective. They refused to even check out the scriptures to see if the message Paul was sharing was one worth considering. They were so against the good news of Jesus Christ that they threatened Paul. There were other examples of people refusing to believe, but also of people who had a shallow belief that quickly fell apart. Many of the people who followed Jesus fell away when He began to teach the deeper things. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had a shallow faith that wanted to benefit without responsibility. They did not search the deeper things of God for the understanding and living faith that truly changes the heart.
The Bereans were much different. They heard the Gospel but they went further. They searched the scriptures to see that what Paul said was true, and God’s word cut deep into their hearts. Many people in Berea were converted to Christianity and God made a real difference in their lives. We are called as people of God to be like the Bereans. We should never accept something someone has said at face value, whether we think it is good or bad, but we should instead search God’s word to know what He has to say about it. Whether it is about something as unimportant as prayer beads, or as important as our salvation, God provides the foundation of our faith and the answers to our questions. Thanks be to God.
Emergency kit One of the things we have learned, living in tornado alley, is the necessity of having an emergency kit available for when there is bad weather. The kit is supposed to include a radio, flashlight, extra batteries, plenty of clean water, blankets and clothes for warmth, medical necessities such as medicine and a first aid kit and some food. It is never easy to face some sort of natural disaster, but having supplies on hand that will take care of the most basic needs of the family can make it less stressful.
Most people do not have these kits prepared, but they try to gather the supplies when the weather reports indicate severe weather. Even if they are not trying to make a kit, the stores are filled with people ensuring that they have enough to get them through the storm. In hurricane country, men run to the home repair store to purchase tape and particle board to cover the windows of their homes. The women run out to the grocery store to stock their pantries with good food to eat. Bread, milk and water quickly disappear from the shelves. The shoppers also buy plenty of chips, cakes and other munchies. If the family is going to be trapped inside the house for any length of time, it is nice to have comfort food to share as they watch the storm. The stores have difficulty stocking enough of the necessities as well as the nicessities to provide for all the people who are shopping at the same time.
The smart store owners are those who pay attention to the weather reports, because they ensure that they will have extra stock on hand for those times of emergency. Yet, it is impossible to predict some natural disasters far enough in advance to prepare. So, during those times, we often see television reports of grocery and home improvement stores with empty shelves. This is why it is recommended that we prepare ahead, to be ready when the storm strikes so that we will not be left wanting when the time comes.
No matter how prepared we are, there are times when we are not prepared enough. We faced a tornado warning one day in Arkansas. It occurred about the time the children were coming home from school. Vicki’s school bus driver was near our house when the dispatch ordered that he abandon the bus and find a safe place for himself and the children. They came to our house. If the emergency had lasted any length of time, we would have not had enough for such a large group of people. Yet, who would have expected company at such a time? And where would I have gotten enough food if I would have had to feed them?
“In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them are come from far. And his disciples answered him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commandeth the multitude to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples, to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, he commanded to set these also before them. And they ate, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand: and he sent them away.” Mark 8:1-9 (ASV)
Even when we are prepared for an emergency, keeping a kit available with the necessities to get us through times of disaster, it is unlikely that kit would be made for more than our family. If the storm comes too fast, or we wait too long to prepare, we might find that the necessities are not available at the store, leaving us wanting through a time of trial. Yet, it is highly unlikely that we will face the same desperate situation as Jesus and the disciples did that day near the Decapolis. The people had been following Him for days from the ten cities. They probably had taken food with them for the journey to see Jesus, but after so much time their food was gone and they were hungry. They were far enough from their homes that hunger would have overtaken them in the wilderness. Jesus would not send them away hungry, but where could they find enough food?
In this story, different than the feeding of the five thousand, the concern is not about where to get the money. They were too far from the markets and even if they could get there, there would not have been enough to feed everyone. It is good to be prepared for an emergency, to have the kit ready for those times of disaster. Yet, there may be times when we are not well enough prepared, times when we have to meet the needs of a larger group than our immediate family. Like Jesus, we can not send them out into the wilderness to face the ravages of nature, but instead take them into our homes and trust God to provide what we need. Jesus fed four thousand men with seven loaves of bread and there were leftovers. God will also take care of you through the storm. Thanks be to God.
Cicadas It has been a long time, but I vaguely remember the constant hum of the cicadas as they emerged for their brief time on earth. These locust-like insects spend most of their lives living in the ground, but they come out in mass for about two months every seventeen years to reproduce. The number of insects is so huge that the earliest American settlers likened their appearance to the plague of locusts found in the scriptures. It is not surprising since they seem to come out of nowhere. Scientific research has revealed some of the secrets of the cicadas, though we still have much to learn.
A scientist is planning to experiment to see if he can discover how the cicadas affect the environment in which they live for such a short period of time. He is planning on covering the trees in an area so that the cicadas have no place to sit. Cicadas begin their life in the branches of young trees, laid there by the females in slits she makes in the branches. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground and they work their way into the dirt, first eating the roots of the grass and eventually stopping a foot under the surface of the earth to survive off the sap found in the trees roots. Seventeen years later, the nymphs make their way to the surface again, climb as high as they can on trees, houses, fences or any other surface. They shed their baby skin and become adults. The males begin their mating song, the loud noise we associate with the insects. The male and female do a mating dance until they copulate. The male dies immediately, the female dies when she lays her eggs. About two months later the nymphs are hatched and the cycle begins again.
The large number of insects that appear every seventeen years is a survival strategy. Apparently cicadas (and locusts) are a good source of nutrition. They are low in fat but high in protein. They are considered a delicacy, probably because they are not readily available. The newly emerged adults are the best to eat because their skin is still soft. Apparently they taste like asparagus. The animal world has a feast when the insects emerge, which is why there are so many. After the birds, animals and humans have had their fill, there are still plenty left alive to reproduce.
Considering the large amount of insects, you would think that they would have a damaging affect on the environment. However, it seems that this seventeen year cycle has some benefits. The only damage is to the branches of young trees or shrubs, which often turn brown after the female lays her eggs. This damage is actually good as it prunes the tops of the trees. The nymphs also aerate the soil and the dead insects add nutrients to the soil. If the scientist can keep the females from planting her eggs in the tree, the tree should be free of cicadas in seventeen years and he can see if the lack of these insects will have an adverse affect. The cicadas seemed like a plague to the early settlers, but we might just find that they are a necessary part of the ecosystem.
“Now John himself had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about the Jordan; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Matthew 3:4-7 (ASV)
For the next two months, the people in the regions where the cicadas are emerging will deal with the noise and inconvenience of having a billion flying bugs on every surface in their neighborhood. The idea of eating these insects is grotesque to most of us and we cringe when we think of the strange lifestyle that John had been living. Yet, there are many who are looking forward to the cicada outbreak because it is the one opportunity is seventeen years to enjoy this delicacy. Newspapers will print recipes and the entire animal world, including humans, will feast on the insects. John knew there was nutritional value to the bugs he was eating and he was not concerned about how it appeared to the world.
The most amazing thing about this outbreak is that this just shows how meticulous God was when He created the earth. No one knows why the cicadas live in the ground for seventeen years, and yet it seems to be exactly the right amount of time to have a positive impact on the earth. I can’t understand why anyone would try to eat a locust, but despite the unpleasant appearance, they are a valuable source of nutrition. We may not like the presence of the cicadas, but we should be thankful for all of God’s creation because all things have been created for our good. Thanks be to God.
Employee Stores carry merchandise that hangs on hooks. In a place like Walmart, this will include toys, pens, bras and other such items. Sales clerks learn that one way to keep the shelves looking full and organized is to keep those items pulled out to the edge of the hook. It is also a practical safety practice. Those hooks are difficult to see, and the ones on the end caps are dangerous to the people passing by. It is more noticeable to shoppers even if only one item is hanging on the end. You would think this is no big job for the employees, except that it seems to be the goal of all the children to push all the items to the back of the hook. I’ve watched children walk down an aisle and push every item in their reach. The employees must then go through those aisles and pull out each item, sometimes several times a day.
My own kids have played this game, but as a former retail employee I tend to follow them and fix the items. After all those years of working the shelves, it bothers me to see them messy. I tend to do other things around the stores in which I shop. If something is on the floor or even out of its place, I put it back. I have moved the wrong size items to the right spot on the rack, straightened shelves, folded clothes and rehung items that have fallen off the hangers. Sometimes this habit of mine makes it seem as though I’m a store employee and people ask for my help. I usually do whatever I can, but I make sure that they know that I do not work there. On a few occasions, I’ve been asked for help even when it was obvious I was not a store employee. Perhaps I look like I belong in retail. Or maybe I just look like a nice lady willing to help. I was once looking through the videos, when an elderly began to ask me questions about movies. She wanted to know if I had seen a movie, it I liked it, would I recommend it for her? She wondered if there were any I thought she might enjoy. She followed me from rack to rack, discussing price, stars and other things. Even when I was finished with my choice, she continued to chat. It was a pleasant conversation, but I needed to leave.
I don’t know what made the woman talk to me so long, but I hope it is because the love of Christ shines in my life. I found it hard to believe that someone could trust a complete stranger’s opinion, but I think the woman was more interested in some conversation than my choice in movies. We wandered around the store a bit together until I finally told her I had to go. She gave me a hug and told me to have a good day. She needed a friend and I could be one.
“Continue stedfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving; withal praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:2-6 (ASV)
Retail employees, especially in stores like Walmart, have some sort of uniform to make them easily identifiable to the customers. It would be nice if we as Christians could wear some sort of badge to identify ourselves to the world. Yet, our Christian life should be recognized not by the clothes we wear or by some mark on our bodies, but by the way we live. People should be able to see Christ shining so that they will know that we can be trusted to help them.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gave them some instructions about how to live. As we journey through life, prayer is the starting point for all we do. God is manifest through our words, prayers and thanksgiving. God has blessed us with many gifts and opportunities to use them. Yet, if we wander around as if we do not know Him, then none will be drawn by His love. This is why Paul writes of walking in wisdom, seasoning our speech with grace and being prepared to answer when people ask. The questions are not always to find out information. Sometimes people ask to just see if we are willing to listen, to love, to serve and to shine the light of Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing, saved so that we can go out and share the saving grace of Jesus with others. Do people recognize that grace in you?
Fig leaves In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God. They walked together and talked. They had a personal, intimate relationship with one another and with their Creator. They were naked and it did not matter. When the serpent deceived them and they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good an evil, things changed dramatically. The Bible tells us that their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked so they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the garden. They were afraid to be seen by God.
They were indeed physically naked since God had not given them clothing to wear and their response showed that they were ashamed of their physical nakedness. Yet, that was just a symptom of the greater problem that they faced. When their eyes were opened, they could see that their disobedient actions were disrespectful to their Creator and that they were not worthy to be in His presence. Their shame was not only about their naked bodies, but also about their fear to be in the presence of God. What would He do in response to their disobedience? He had warned them that eating the tree would mean death and they did not believe His words. No wonder they were afraid and hid from His presence.
That’s what shame does to us. We know we – the deep secrets of our souls – are exposed and we fear the recompense that will come. So, we hide. We hide behind emotion such as arrogance or pride. We hide behind blame by passing the fault to others. We hide physically by breaking relationships or becoming separated from society. We cover ourselves with clothes like the fig leaves – self-righteousness and excuses – clothes that don’t last or really cover the reason for our shame.
The truth that is hidden in our hearts and our souls is often revealed and we are exposed to the world. It is easy for our enemies to use our imperfection against us. They take our sin and put it on display in order to attack our credibility. I did a web search on the word “shame” and I came up with a number of “Hall of Shame” listings. These are places where people have taken the stupidity, arrogance or sin of others and revealed it for all to see. This is done in the hope that it will cause the recipient of such an award to go away, to stop doing their work, to slink away in shame never to be seen again. But, we in Christ know a better way to deal with our shame. We face it, repent of our sin, ask forgiveness and trust that God will be faithful to His promises.
“Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, none that wait for thee shall be put to shame: They shall be put to shame that deal treacherously without cause. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Jehovah, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindness; For they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: According to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, For thy goodness' sake, O Jehovah. Good and upright is Jehovah: Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth Unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name's sake, O Jehovah, Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. What man is he that feareth Jehovah? Him shall he instruct in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; And his seed shall inherit the land. The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear him; And he will show them his covenant. Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; For he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; For I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: Oh bring thou me out of my distresses. Consider mine affliction and my travail; And forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies, for they are many; And they hate me with cruel hatred. Oh keep my soul, and deliver me: Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for thee. Redeem Israel, O God, Out all of his troubles.” Psalm 25 (ASV)
Life in Christ does not mean that the hidden things of our hearts and souls will never be revealed. As a matter of fact, in Christ is it especially important that they are exposed and dealt with through mercy and grace. Though our sins are exposed, we will not be put to shame because we know that through Jesus Christ our imperfection is forgiven and our infirmity is healed. We do not have to go into hiding as they did in the Garden of Eden, we need only speak the truth of our hearts before God and ask Him to be gracious and pardon our sin. In this way our enemies will never be able to use our faults to bring us down, for in them we see the mercy of God and turn to Him for salvation. Thanks be to God.
Vacation We are not planning any big trips this summer. We have plenty of new things to do and visit here in San Antonio. It will be fun to take adventures around the city, to visit the historic sites and check out new shopping areas. We have season tickets for Sea World and plan to frequent the water park during the heat of the summer. There are a few towns in the area we would like to visit, like Fredericksburg and Houston. A few hours from our house is a place called “Stonehenge II” that sounds like a fun day out. It is a not quite life-size replica of the original in England. Since we’ve seen one we thought it might be fun to see the copy. We will probably go to the beach and to Mexico.
Most of these trips will be spur of the moment, with little planning. We’ll watch the weather and our schedule. When there is a free day with the right weather, we will decide to go with only a day or two notice. This is much different than when we take a major vacation. We usually take our vacations to visit family back home. Such a long trip takes planning. We have to save money, choose dates that will suit our hosts. We have to book hotel rooms for the journey, consider possible side trips along the way. If the place is far enough away, we have to book plane reservations or make other travel arrangements. The planning for this type of trip is usually begun well in advance – months at least.
We all become excited about the trip. Kids, who usually have no sense of time, begin asking immediately “Is it time to go yet?” We have to give the children some way of understanding that the trip will not happen for some time. Some parents use calendars to count down the days. Others have used a counting method, such as a jar full of marbles. One marble is removed each day and when they are all gone then it is time for the trip. This helps the children know that it is drawing near in time.
When the trip is a car journey, it is even harder. How do you explain to a child that it will take six days to get to Grandma’s house? “Are we there yet?” is a familiar cry. We usually call our hosts at some point during the trip to let them know our travel is going well and how far we are until we will arrive. It is fun to see the children’s faces when we make that final call and the grandparents say, “We will see you tomorrow!” They usually add some sort of warning to their good news, “Behave for your mom and dad this last day and I’ll have something special waiting for you.” There is a sense of authority to that command and the children respond. It is hard for a child to sit in a seat for so long. They want to run and play, so they act up. Yet, with the expectation that the end of the trip is near they are quiet and good.
The sense of nearness is different during the planning and the travel. When counting down the days, we get nearer in time as the days count off. When in the car, we get nearer in distance. We get that same sense when we compare the ministry of John the Baptist with that of Jesus Christ.
“Now when he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, The people that sat in darkness Saw a great light, And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, To them did light spring up. From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 (ASV)
John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Other versions translate this as “near.” For John, who did not know at the time when or where the Messiah would come, only that He was near, the word has a sense of time. He did not know when he spoke the words that Jesus was also near in flesh. When John was arrested, Jesus began His ministry and spoke exactly the same words, only now they had a different sort of authority. The Kingdom of God was at hand, the Messiah was near. He was so near that they could touch Him, hear Him, and see Him. They could be healed by Him and learn about God in His own words. It was like that final moment of a long trip when you pull into the driveway and see grandma and grandpa waiting at the door.
We usually think of Jesus as having stayed near to home and we tend to think of Jesus as spending much time in Jerusalem. The expectation of the people in Jesus’ day who were longing for the Messiah is that He would come out of the capital of Israel. I think even for some today who do not know the scriptures very well, it is thought that Jesus lived and did most of His ministry in that town, near the temple. However, in this passage we see that it was prophesied that Jesus would spend much of His time in another place. There in Galilee, a land of Gentiles, Jesus shared Himself, the Kingdom of God that was at hand. Jesus did not hide away in the Temple, teaching only the religious and those who were trained and educated in the ways of God. He was near to the people who needed Him most, the lost and lonely, the sick and downtrodden. He spoke to those who would listen and gave forgiveness to those who asked.
We are especially blessed because we do not have to travel anywhere to be near to the kingdom of God – in time and space. For Christ lives in our hearts and in our spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit and so He is always near. The day of Christ is always drawing closer, but it is also today, for the promises of God are not just a future hope but a present reality in Jesus. We are saved by His mercy and grace and are heirs to the Kingdom in the here and now. One day soon we will be with Him for eternity. Thanks be to God.
Housing Association One of the advantages and disadvantages of our new house is that we are living is that it is located in a housing development that has a housing association. Now, I’ve heard horror stories about these groups who will sue you out of your house if you even change the shade of white on your dormers to a slightly different hue. People have nearly lost their homes over flag poles or the wrong sort of bushes. These associations all have a list of rules to which the homeowners must comply. In some cases, these are valuable rules that help neighbors to get along and the families stay safe.
Our neighborhood is not filled with cookie cutter houses that look exactly the same. There is some consistency – same trees, brick and siding combination, similar brands on the windows and other elements. They did some landscaping as part of our sales agreement, as they do with all the houses, and yet we have the freedom to add our own trees and flowers. As each neighbor settles into the homes, they find ways to make it their own by choosing unique gardening ideas.
One of the rules we definitely must follow has to do with permanent changes to the structure of the house. We can’t add a room or expand the garage without getting permission. We can’t even add a satellite dish or basketball court without making a request. At first I thought it was odd that we had to get authorization to use our moveable basketball hoop, and yet I think I understand how it could make a difference. A homeowner on another street has not followed the rules. The basketball net is set up near the road and the kids spend the afternoon playing their game out in the street. It is difficult for cars to pass. I can see how the relationship between neighbors could be greatly affected by this inconvenience. Kids do not always pay attention to traffic and one day someone could be seriously hurt. The rule is meant to protect life and avoid neighborhood feuds.
It was strange for the early Christians because God was doing something totally new in the world. Not only was He blessing the Jews, His chosen people, with faith, He was also blessing the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit and a real knowledge of the Kingdom of God. The Jews did not know what they should do. Should believers be made to convert first to Judaism and then become a Christian? After all, the promise of God was for the sons of Abraham not for the nations. Paul and Peter both knew that the Gospel was for all who would believe. Yet, it was necessary to establish some direction for both the Jews and the Gentiles so that they could share their common faith in peace.
“And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, hearken unto me: Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up: That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old. Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath.” Acts 15:12-21 (ASV)
We know that in Christ we are no longer bound by the laws of Moses or confined to the practices of the Old Covenant. It is no longer necessary for us to be marked by circumcision to be one of God’s chosen people because God circumcises our hearts. Yet, James puts forth a number of important regulations that should be taken to heart by the Gentiles. These were things they were easily tempted to do and that are especially offensive to the Jews. The Gentile believers were called to abandon the idols and refrain from immoral sexual behavior (which was associated with the pagan temple worship). The meat they ate should be killed with a knife because strangulation left the blood and they were not to eat anything with blood which was expressly forbidden in Jewish law.
The rules were established to help the neighbors get along. It would not be easy for the Jewish believers to accept the Gentiles, but if they avoided the most offensive practices of their old life, it would show the Jews that they had a heart after God’s Word. Rules are not always bad, and should be followed particularly when they will help build relationships between people that are joined together in some way. In Christ we are joined with our brothers and sisters of every age, gender and nationality by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus for the Glory of God the Father. In the bonds of love we learn to live in a way that will not offend our neighbor so that we will be one in body, mind and spirit. Thanks be to God.
Combat Things have definitely changed about the way we wage war. We have more than a hundred thousand troops who are fighting a battle on the other side of the world, often using weapons that are delivered from great distances. Pilots drop bombs without ever seeing the people who will die from the explosion. Soldiers fire guns that can hit targets so far away that it is hard to recognize if the victim is friend or foe.
I just watched the movie trailer for the new movie “Troy.” This movie is about the great Trojan war, a story that has been colored with so many legends and myths it is difficult to know how much is really true. This is the story of the gods, the wooden horse, the face that launched a thousand ships, and great warriors like Hercules. In one scene, thousands of men are on the battlefield, lined up one side facing the other. Suddenly the soldiers rush forward and the swords begin to clang. It was hand to hand combat and the winners were left with the blood of their victims on their swords and bodies. We saw similar scenes in the “Lord of the Rings” movies as well as in other productions of stories from the ancient day.
I admit that I know little about the history of the Trojan War, but I wonder if the number of soldiers on the field were anything like what we see in the movie. Where modern warfare might have hundreds of thousands, ancient battles had only thousands, even hundreds. Unfortunately, most of the dead probably died from lack of medical attention and being trampled after being hit than from the actual wounds they sustained.
Last week I went to the Alamo and saw the IMAX movie about the great battle over Texas that has nearly as much myth and legend as the stories of Troy. Even then we can already see a difference in warfare. Santa Anna’ Mexican troops as well as the men in the Alamo had rifles and cannons that could be used from a distance. There is a scene in the movie showing Davie Crockett shooting a man from the other side of the battlefield. But they also fought head on. As the Mexicans breached the wall, the Texans pushed and hit them with blunt instruments and their hands. The Alamo eventually fell and many men lost their lives. It took 90 minutes. In today’s world, the Alamo complex could be completely destroyed in a minute with one smart bomb.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (ASV)
The weapons we use in spiritual warfare are much different than they used at Troy or at the Alamo. We do not use swords of metal or guns that shoot bullets. We do not even use our fists. We have no shields that will stop our enemy from harming our bodies. We have something greater. We have the Word of God as our weapon. In the world we learn that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. Yet, we also know that words in a time of battle do have an impact on the outcome of the war. Scottish warriors often frightened their enemies with their loud war cries. Other ancient armies used the chanting and witchcraft of their priests to create terror in the hearts of their foes. Kings gave great speeches to their troops to build them up and to dishearten the opponents. But in the end, it is the sword and the gun that killed the soldiers and won the war.
In Christ, however, our enemies are not the kind that will fall by the sword. Darkness and death can not be defeated with a gun. It is only by the Word of God that we can overcome the greatest enemies. As we preach the Gospel into the lives of those who are living in sin, they are transformed in heart and spirit by the love and mercy of Christ. The devil and the demons will only be defeated by the power of Christ, and people will only be set free by His love. It is unlikely that we will ever face a battle of the flesh or fight on a battlefield of this world. But we do fight every day against the powers of this world that are in opposition to the will of God. He does not leave us alone, however. He stands with us on the battlefield giving us all we need to fight. Thanks be to God.
Tithe With school nearly over and summer vacations looming on the horizon, many churches are beginning to deal with a yearly problem they face. During the summer months many members miss summer services because they are traveling or camping or they just don’t feel like wasting such a beautiful day inside at church. Most members forget that the cost of running a congregation continues even if they are not present. The pastor still needs to eat, the light bill needs to be paid, and worship materials are still needed. The bills do not go down when the number of worshippers goes down.
Summer is also a rather expensive time for people. Travel expenses are just a small portion of summer costs. There are additional day care costs for those children who are out of school. The electricity bills go up in the summer because of air conditioning and because there are more people in the house for longer periods of time. Food and water bills also go up. The cost of gasoline is always higher in the summer because of the demand. With all these extra costs, the first thing that gets cut is charitable giving and church offerings. I heard recently that there is a national trend this year of lower offerings because people can’t afford to even buy the gas they need to get to work, so they are cutting back in other places.
When there is a financial crisis, congregations must also look at their budget and see where they can cut while continuing to meet the needs of their community. Unfortunately, the first and easiest place to cut is stewardship money. In the good times, most churches (just like individuals) are willing to tithe to mission work, community programs and other stewardship opportunities – trusting God in the times of prosperity and sharing out of their wealth. But as soon as things begin to look bleak, congregations withhold their offerings. This shows a lack of trust that God will see the congregation through the crisis, stealing from Him the blessings they have been given to share.
It is natural to use our resources in the way we think will best meet our needs. Certainly we are to pay our bills on time, avoiding a large debt that will only be a burden in the long run for our family. However, everything we have has been given by God and He expects a portion to be given back in joyful thanksgiving. By tithing, we give God the first fruits of our labors and trust that He will take care of all our needs.
“In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might not suffer any one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of Jehovah and of the king's house, and sent to Ben-hadad king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, There is a league between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent thee silver and gold; go, break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.” 2 Chronicles 16:1-3 (ASV)
Asa was a king who was fully committed to the LORD. He did not accomplish all that he set out to do, but he tried. He worked to tear down the high places dedicated to other gods, but such worship is not easily defeated. He sought the Lord God Almighty and was blessed with great victories over his enemies. Yet, in the end he failed to trust God completely. Not only did he turn to foreign armies to help him face the king of Israel, but he used the money dedicated to God to do so.
It was this act by which Asa lost the Lord’s favor. The seer Hanani went to Asa and said, “For the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly; for from henceforth thou shalt have wars.” Asa was so angry he put the seer in prison, oppressed some of the people and then became ill. Rather than trusting in the Lord for protection from enemies, he sought the aid of another army. Instead of seeking God’s healing power, he sought medical help. He refused to seek the Lord and in the end he died. May God grant us the grace to continue to seek after Him and to give cheerfully to the work He continues to do in this world, both as individuals and congregations. It is when we try to find our own solutions to the problems that we run into trouble. Let us always seek the Lord in the midst of our troubles and continue to tithe even when we think we can't manage. He will bless us according to His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Promises Thomas Watson was a Puritan minister in the mid-seventeenth century. There is little known about this man. Even his birthdate and upbringing has been lost to history. He lived and preached in England during a time when Christianity was undergoing a battle for control between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants. Though he was not able to minister in a parish for his whole career, Thomas willingly shared the Gospel whenever he had the opportunity and wrote many books about God’s mercy and grace. He knew that God was trustworthy and that we could hold Him to His promises.
In a sermon he said, “Trade much in the promises. The promises are great supports to faith. Faith lives in a promise, as the fish lives in the water. The promises are both comforting and quickening, the very breast of the gospel; as the child by sucking the breasts gets strength, so faith by sucking the breast of a promise gets strength and revives. The promises of God are bladders (flotation devices) to keep us from sinking when we come to the waters of affliction. O! trade much in the promises; there is no condition that you can be in, but you have a promise.”
“And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of Jehovah, before the new court; and he said, O Jehovah, the God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and art not thou ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? and in thy hand is power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee. Didst not thou, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and give it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying, If evil come upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before thee, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, and thou wilt hear and save. And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom thou wouldest not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned aside from them, and destroyed them not; behold, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but out eyes are upon thee. And all Judah stood before Jehovah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” 2 Chronicles 20:5-13 (ASV)
Thomas Watson and King Jehoshaphat both knew the faithfulness of the promises of God. Even when we are in the midst of great difficulties, God has promised to be with us and to care for our every need. Judah was facing a great and mighty army that they could not defeat with their own strength. Many of the other kings who did not put all their faith in God would have turned to other nations for help. They made treaties with their neighbors, who were often also enemies, to build a bigger army to win a victory on the battlefield. This plan always backfired – either they were soundly defeated or the alliance would turn on them later and they would be destroyed.
Jehoshaphat trusted in God’s promises. Later in this passage, he went forth in faith against the enemy on the battlefield, but he did not put the strongest troops in the front. Instead he chose a group of men to walk ahead of Judah and sing praises to God. While they moved toward the battle, God sent confusion into the camps of their enemies and the men of Ammon and Moab picked up their swords against the men of Mount Seir. By the time Jehoshaphat reached the battlefield, there was nothing left but dead bodies. Judah plundered the enemy and returned with great wealth.
Our faith lives in the promises of God. As Thomas Watson said so eloquently in his sermon, there is nothing we might faith that can’t be overcome by standing in a promise given by God to His children. There are nearly eight thousand promises in the Bible given to man from God. We can rest in the knowledge that He has addressed our deepest needs and has promised to see us through. Our outcome may not be so miraculous as at the battlefield of Valley of Berach where Jehoshaphat’s army was given victory while they sang praises to God. Let us learn from Judah and send in the choir, trusting that God will be faithful and take care of us in our times of need. Thanks be to God.
Graduation Many students will graduate from college and high school in the next few weeks. These students have spent a number of years learning and maturing with the ultimate goal of going out into the world to live and work in the hopes of eventual success. Some of the students will go on to more school; others are searching for the perfect job. Some parents will become empty nesters as their children move out of the house. There are students that know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives, having known since childhood. Others are still trying to decide what type of job they would enjoy.
It is a time of great change in the lives of these students. Many will wait through summer vacation before beginning their new life, taking the next few months as a final fling of freedom. Life out in the real world is much different than academia, even in the higher levels of education where the competition can be fierce. They won’t have anyone to blame when they fail and it is less likely that anyone will bail them out when they run into trouble. It is time to stand on their own two feet. It is no wonder that many of these students would prefer to take the summer to party. Their friends will move on in different directions. Together they look back at their accomplishments and look forward in awe at the possibilities they face.
The same sort of moment happened to the disciples. After all they went through with Jesus, the day had to arrive when He would no longer be with them in flesh, when they would do the work of the Kingdom on their own. It was a daunting task that Jesus called them to do, to share forgiveness with the world – a world that was unwilling to hear the message of the Gospel proclaimed because it turned their whole understanding of God upside down. Jesus told them repeatedly that He would have to leave, but I don’t think they thought about it much until that moment when He was gone.
“The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence. They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority. But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were looking stedfastly into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” Acts 1:1-11 (ASV)
Jesus spent three years with the disciples before He was killed on the cross. Then He spent forty days with Him, giving them final instructions and proving Himself alive by many wonderful acts. Once again He promised them the power they would receive when they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us in the Gospel that Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures. Everything Jesus had taught them for three years and forty days was finally making sense. Now it was time for Jesus to go to God and sit on His right hand. He was taken into heaven, bodily raised from the earth into the clouds right before their eyes. They had seen Jesus do many miraculous things, this was just one more. However, there was something very important about that moment.
When Jesus was raised to the right hand of God, it left little room to question the very nature of this man they had known for three years. This was God in flesh, worthy of their worship and praise. This was also the moment that He left them alone, seemingly abandoning them with nothing but a promise of a helper to come. He sent them into the world to share the Kingdom of God, but would no longer be there to pick them up after they fell. It was up to them to do the work they were called to do. It was no wonder that they might stop and stare into the heavens for a moment. It would have been easy to stay right there at that spot and continue looking toward heaven for Jesus’ return.
However, Jesus did not intend for them to wallow in the past and wait for the future. Today is forty days after the resurrection, the day we remember Christ’s ascension to heaven. There are times in our own lives, such as when we graduate from school, when we can identify with the feelings they must have had at that moment when Christ was taken away. It is easy to want to gape at the clouds and hope for His return, so that things would not have to change. But they were called to live in that day, to worship Him by doing the work He had called them to do – taking the forgiveness of sins to a dying world. Thanks be to God.
Drainage Those who are familiar with the gully-washer rainstorms that hit desert regions will be aware of the drainage ditches and their importance. As you are driving alone the country roads that surround the big cities, it is easy to see where temporary creeks flow during heavy rain. They are like dry riverbeds most of the time, but when the conditions are right, they can cover a road with several feet of water is just a few minutes.
Building a city around these runoff areas has not stopped the possibility of flash flooding. Where the water ran a hundred years ago, it still runs today. So, the city planners have taken this desert phenomenon and designed a way to divert the water for the protection of the people and their property. Drainage ditches can be found all over the city. There are small ones within housing developments are generally made with cement so that the water will flow into larger ditches until the it finally flows into even larger valley like areas where the water can disperse into the ground.
The cement helps keep the water moving. It is probably used so that nothing can grow in the ditches that run through the neighborhoods. It does not take long for tall grasses and small shrubs to fill up a ditch and cause localized flooding. There are several dirt ditches around town that have needed to be re-dug because they have filled completely with plant life. It is understandable that the developers would try to find a way to keep the ditches clean, the cost of cleaning them out regularly would be staggering. However, the cement is not always a deterrent. The water that runs down our road is filled with silt which is deposited in the drainage ditches. I noticed yesterday that even with only an inch or two of silt, the ditch is filling with grasses and weeds.
It really does not take much for things to grow. I’ve seen flowers grow in piles of rocks, grass spring out in the middle of parking lots and trees hold tenuously from the side of a mountain. The world that God has made is amazing in its ability to overcome adversity. God can make a seed grow anywhere He intends and use it for good purpose. The same can be said of the seeds of faith. The love of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit can grow and flow through the most unlikely hearts.
“We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth; even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.” Colossians 1:3-14 (ASV)
It is a joy to see someone who has heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and come to believe in the saving power of His Word. The living faith that flows out of the heart of a believer can change the world. It is even more wonderful when that faith is manifest in a life that seemed dead set against believing. St. Augustine’s mother prayed for him for fourteen years before the seed took root and grew. Imagine her joy to see him saved from sin and death and then become a great advocate of the Gospel of Christ.
We can’t make the seeds grow any more than we can plant a field of grass in a concrete ditch. However, God can make them grow and thrive. Even through the heat of the day or the raging waters of a storm, the plants may wither but the roots remain and will continue to grow another day. If that ditch is left on its own, without maintenance cleaning to silt and grasses occasionally, it will fill with more dirt, plants and even trees , bearing fruit in ever increasing number. That’s how it is with faith – seeds are planted and grow according to God’s good and perfect love. Thanks be to God.
Prison Scott Everett was murdered. His father, the Reverend Walter Everett, became incredibly angry when he heard of his son’s death. It was even worse when the killer plea bargained himself into a lighter sentence. He walked away with great rage that affected his whole life. He wondered how he would ever let go of the anger, but things began to change when he heard the young man say he was sorry. On the first anniversary of his son’s death, Walter wrote to Mike. He described his anger and asked some questions. Then he wrote, “Having said all that, I want to thank you for what you said in court, and as hard as these words are for me to write, I forgive you.” He told Mike about Jesus. Mike wrote and told Walter that he had never before been forgiven and that he had prayed for the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Walter visited Mike in prison and they wrote often. When the time came for Mike to be paroled, Walter was there to testify on his behalf and he was granted an early release.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do, but it is even harder to show forgiveness in action. Even though we say the words “I forgive you” we still demand justice. Sin deserves the consequences we face and our sense of rightness insists that the entire punishment be given. It is unusual for the victim’s father to go before a parole board and ask the punishment be lessoned – especially since he was angry that the original sentence was already light. However, Walter realized that God’s justice demands a much higher response; His justice that includes mercy and forgiveness for the repentant sinner.
“But if any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all. Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the many; so that contrariwise ye should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you to confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye are obedient in all things. But to whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for what I also have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, for your sakes have I forgiven it in the presence of Christ; that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (ASV)
There was a problem in Corinth. One of the members had hurt the congregation by some serious offense. We don’t know what he did wrong, but from Paul’s letter we know that he was seriously punished for his sin. It seems as if the entire congregation took part in the discipline. I can almost see how this would appear in a modern congregation. The members would purposely not sit in the same pew. They would turn their backs on him at the coffee hour. He would be rejected from any leadership roles and his voice might be heard but the members would scoff at his ideas. The forgiveness of Christ would be preached, and all the members would agree that he is forgiven, but they would do their best to drive him out of the congregation. “Of course he’s forgiven, but we can’t have someone like that around here.”
The man had done wrong and was punished. He was truly sorry for his actions and yet the congregation continued to remind him of his faults. Paul could tell that this was putting a heavy burden of guilt on the brother and he wrote to the Corinthians to remind them of the love they had toward him. He told them that justice had been served and continuing the punishment would only give Satan room to get a foothold in the hearts of the members. Like Walter, who willingly helped his son’s killer be freed from prison, the Corinthians were called to set the prisoner free, even if his sin deserved a greater sentence. Forgiveness goes much deeper than just the words.
True forgiveness includes the actions that give comfort and helps heal the guilt and sorrow that comes from repentance. As Christians, we are called to meet out God’s justice through forgiveness and mercy. We are commanded to share the message of the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are bound by sin and death. But that message will fall on deaf ears if we do not respond with grace. Human response to sin is to first punish then offer grace. God’s justice begins with grace. Thanks be to God.
Wives tales There are hundred of old wives tales are bits of lore that are passed on by word of mouth. Many of these tales have become so acceptable that they are considered fact. The reality is that there is very little fact associated with the wives tales. They are usually not dangerous, but they are often meaningless burdens to those who practice the beliefs. We have all heard these statements from our mothers or grandmothers. “Do not cross your eyes, they will stay that way.” “If your nose itches, company is coming.” “If a knife drops it will be a man, if a fork it will be a woman.” “An acorn on the window sill will keep lightning out.” Many of the old wives tales have to do with birth and death, with luck and the future. There are even some that tell girls what to eat to have a large chest.
One of the most widely known wives tales is also one of the most confused. “Feed a cold and starve a fever” or is it “feed a fever and starve a cold.” It is likely that neither option will make a difference, although I will probably get numerous letters explaining why one way is better than the other. There are those who believe that by eating if you have a cold, your body will get the nutrients that it needs to overcome the bug and you will not get a fever. On the other hand, feeding a fever helps with strength because the fever burns so many calories. In the end, the cold or fever will most likely get better in its own time, despite the things we try to do to help.
These wives tales probably had some foundation in success. The common cold and childbirth were much riskier a century ago, without the benefits of modern medicine. Mothers and midwives did whatever they could to help their patient overcome their sickness. Some mom probably gave a child a glass of orange juice after a sneeze one day and the child did not get sick, so she thought it was the orange juice that warded off the illness. Some guy probably got out of the wrong side of a bed that was on a loft and fell to the floor below. These stories became advice and after a generation or two of repetition, they became fact.
Anything that is passed along by word of mouth can become confused in a very short period of time. History becomes legend when the details are exaggerated. Myth becomes religion when the facts are twisted and people accept it as true. We have seen in recent history how a charismatic leader can make their followers do anything. The second generation is more vulnerable than the first. By the third generation, every semblance of truth is gone.
The kings of Judah did not always follow the one true and living God. From the time of David to the time of Josiah, a great many other gods had infiltrated the Jewish faith. Even in Solomon’s day, the Jews accepted the worship of other gods. The wickedness of Judah had greatly angered the Lord and the threats of His wrath were recorded in the sacred texts. Josiah really did not know there was something wrong because God’s word had been lost to the people for many years. When he became king, Josiah decided to rebuild the temple. In the process of the rebuilding, a priest named Hilkiah found the Book of the Law. When the words were read to Josiah, he ripped his clothes in grief that Judah had gotten so far from God’s ways. He humbled himself before God and sought to understand what the words meant.
“And she said unto them, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel: Tell ye the man that sent you unto me, Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it shall not be quenched. But unto the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Jehovah, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel: As touching the words which thou hast heard, because thy heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before Jehovah, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith Jehovah. Therefore, behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.” 2 Kings 22:15-20 (ASV)
Josiah ripped down the high places and destroyed the altars. He removed the articles dedicated to other gods from the temple and burned them outside the city. He fired the priests, cleaned out the tombs and destroyed even the bones of those who had served the foreign gods. He got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household idols and every abominable thing that had brought God’s wrath on Judah. All of this work by Josiah did not stop God’s wrath from coming on to the Jews because the next king returned to the ways of Baal worship. Some things become so ingrained that they are difficult to overthrow. Josiah did not die when God’s anger came to the Jews. He died in war against the Egyptians, but he did not see the fall of Jerusalem. God kept His promise to the one who humbled himself, but those who continued to walk in the deceit of their forefathers suffered the consequences of their unbelief.
In most cases, it is not harmful to follow the advice that can be found in the old wives tales and there may even be some comfort in the practices. However, when it comes to things of faith we must be particularly careful to keep close to God’s word and ensure the truth is passed from generation to generation. The twists and lies of anti-faith can quickly become acceptable and lead many people down the wrong path. Only the humble before God, those who seek His truth through Jesus Christ, will know the fulfillment of the promise of salvation and see the restoration of the relationship between God and man. Thanks be to God.
Reprimand Yesterday afternoon, Zachary was having a bad moment. We were at a picnic and it was time to sit and listen to a few quick speeches before we ate our lunch. He came over to where I was sitting and asked where he could find one of our lawn chairs. I pointed at a chair that was just a few feet away. He brought it over and plopped very close with a grumpy face. It seems that Vicki was sitting on his chair. I didn’t even know we had specific chairs, but apparently Bruce had bought this one for Zack. It was a completely inappropriate moment for him to complain, so with a snap in my voice I threatened him into submission.
I did not enjoy that moment. There were many people around, including some of his friends. I do not think that public humiliation is a good discipline technique. I would normally have taken him aside, out of the situation where others could not hear, explain why his actions were inappropriate and ask him to cooperate. It does not always work, especially since children have to most incredible ability to misbehave at the worst moment. Unfortunately, kids like to use moments like this to rag on their friends. “Man, your mom got you good.” Adults are not much better. Even the briefest instant showing a lack of control can be used against a person and the gossip spreads quickly.
Another time we need to control our mouths is when we are dealing with our spouses in front of our children. A mother and father may not always agree about things, but it is best that they not argue when the children are listening. Unfortunately, what often happens in divorce is that the parents try to use the children as weapons in their battles, and so they tell the kids things they should never know. This type of information can ruin the relationships and only exasperate the situation.
We get mad at our kids and our spouses, but we also get mad at God. Things do not always go as we expect. We face the consequences of our disobedience and we are persecuted for our obedience. Sometimes it seems as though God is a million miles away, having abandoned us for some unknown reason. In these situations we cry out in pain, “Why me?” and we shake our fists at God in anger. We are not alone in this. Even King David, who was a man after God’s own heart, wondered why he had to suffer. It is normal in the course of human emotion and experience to have times when we blame God for our difficulties. Yet, David understood the consequences of a public proclamation of God’s guilt.
“I said, I will take heed to my ways, That I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, While the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; And my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me; While I was musing the fire burned: Then spake I with my tongue: Jehovah, make me to know mine end, And the measure of my days, what it is; Let me know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as handbreadths; And my life-time is as nothing before thee: Surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. Selah Surely every man walketh in a vain show; Surely they are disquieted in vain: He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions: Make me not the reproach of the foolish. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; Because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thy hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: Surely every man is vanity. Selah Hear my prayer, O Jehovah, and give ear unto my cry; Hold not thy peace at my tears: For I am a stranger with thee, A sojourner, as all my fathers were. Oh spare me, that I may recover strength, Before I go hence, and be no more.” Psalm 39 (ASV)
To reprimand a child in front of his friends does little to solve the situation and it tends to make things worse. The child, in response to the kidding he will get, may act out in a worse manner and rebel in ways that are even more difficult to handle. When parents reprimand one another in front of the children, they lose the integrity of their unity as one unit raising children. These experiences will not affect only one side of the equation. The children and the parents will be suffer when the relationships are broken, even if it is for a short period of time.
When a Christian rages about God in front of strangers, they not only disrespect their Lord, but they also set themselves up for suffering from their enemies. Who would want to worship a God that is so horrible, and who would respect the will of a God that seems to have so little control of the world of His believers? Yet, when David tried to stay silent, out of respect for his God, the sorrow burned within his heart. He had to speak out against the pain. We can do so, for God is indeed strong enough to handle our anger. Let us always remember to do so that will remember the greatness of God in the eyes of the world, taking our pain into the quietness of our prayers. We can seek the aid of other Christians who will share the promises of God through His Word and help us see Him again as merciful and loving. He has not gone far, no matter how things seem, we need only see His grace even in our suffering. Thanks be to God.
Intruders There was an article in today’s paper about the illegals that cross the borders in southern Texas. The story began telling of a young boy looking out his bedroom window at strange men crossing the yeard of his house. His dad asked what he was watching and the boy said, “Dad, do you know those men?” The father did not know them of course, but he knew who they were. This is an age old problem since there are so many miles of unguarded land along the Rio Grande.
Some of the ranchers who own the property on this side of the river have long known about the string of people that pass on a regular basis. Many have suffered minor inconveniences for decades but have done little to stop it from happening. They have sympathy because these travelers are often desperate for a better life. Since Texas was once Mexican territory, many of these ranchers have family ties. The people who are crossing could be distant relatives.
Unfortunately, the illegal aliens have become a real problem in the past few years. They are now very aggressive, even physically violent. They travel in large groups and use force to get what they want. They break into cabins and sheds to steal food or spend a night. They have attacked townspeople and raped women. The ranchers are constantly fixing fences and chasing after livestock because of the destruction. They have to clean up litter that is left all over the trail. They have sought help, but it seems as if there is little that can be done to stop the problems. Unfortunately, the response of the ranchers recently has been to return the violence.
The early church faced a huge problem – not all who believed the Gospel were Jews. They were foreigners, without knowledge of the ways and practices of the Hebrew faith. They weren’t circumcised; they didn’t worship at the temple. They even practiced many of the things that were abhorrent to the Jews. There were those who responded with grace, accepting the strangers into the fellowship of believers and offering them encouragement. There were others who wanted to make it very difficult for the foreigners to be part of the Church. The non-Jewish believers were troublesome at times, continuing to follow some of their old ways. The epistles of Paul – letters to the churches – were written to help congregations overcome these problems. Despite the problems, Paul knew that his ministry to the Gentiles was important to the entire church.
“But I speak to you that are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry; if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree; glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee.” Romans 11:13-21 (ASV)
I have no solution to the trouble the ranchers are facing in south Texas, but I hope that even while stopping the violence and thievery we remember mercy and compassion. Though we might not belong to a generation of immigrants, our history is filled with new people coming into our nation, leaving a wake of new ideas and old problems. Many of the ranchers themselves have come from the other side of the Rio Grande, and they understand why these people are crossing their land. They want an end to the violence and destruction, but their answer is not one that will help. Violence begets more violence but mercy overcomes all evil. The ranchers should remember their own roots and find peaceful solutions or they will end up suffering even more.
As for our faith, we need to remember our roots, to know that we are branches grafted into the root of a tree that God chose long before we were born. Our faith will bring many others to Christ one day, even and especially that chosen people. We must be careful not to hold our salvation over anyone, as if we are better than they. Let us constantly live in mercy, sharing the grace of Christ with the world. Thanks be to God.
Beaver Anyone who has ever seen the old television show “Leave it to Beaver” will certainly remember Wally’s best friend Eddie Haskell. Eddie was the kind of guy you loved to hate. He was obnoxious and scheming, yet lovable in a creepy sort of way. Eddie was the guy who would always let you down. He managed to manipulate his friends to do all the things that he didn’t want to get caught doing.
Eddie was a completely different person in front of adults. He was kind and polite. He would offer to do anything for anybody. He could appear sincere speaking words or doing things that were offensive to his character only moments before. He thought his façade was believable, that the adults really considered him a most polite young man, but he was wrong. They saw through the act and knew not the trust Eddie as far as he could be thrown. Ward and June often wondered why Wally had a friend like Eddie.
I am sure we can all identify with the attitudes of both the parents and Wally. We know people like Eddie both as friends and as thorns in our sides, yet we keep them around because we are sure there must be an innate goodness that is hidden by the rebellion. No one knows why they act the way they do, there must be some reason and we hope that some kindness and friendship will help bring out the positive behavior. Wally saw Eddie’s vulnerability and in the end their friendship did have an impact. The trouble with these folks is that the façade of politeness is destroyed by their behind the scenes antics and they have no credibility or integrity. We cannot believe the Eddie Haskells in this world when they show a moment of kindness, especially since it will be only words – the actions will never come to pass. Their offering is unacceptable because it is not from the heart.
To God, Israel was much like an Eddie Haskell. They came forth bringing sacrifices regularly, seeking forgiveness and blessings. Yet, as soon as they were out of sight of the temple they were worshipping other gods. They turned to their neighbors for help rather than to the Lord. They did not love Him with their whole hearts or live according to His will and purpose. They wore two faces – one at the temple where they were facing God and another when they thought He was not looking. He tired of these meaningless offerings. They were a waste of blood because there was no sacrifice in the heart of His people.
“What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies,- I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.” Isaiah 1:11-20 (ASV)
We may know someone like Eddie Haskell, but we must be careful that we do not overlook our own moments when we are two-faced before God. We too take offerings and sacrifices before the Lord thinking that they will be enough to overcome all that we have done to dishonor Him in this world. However, our sacrifices, whether they are rams and bulls or the types of things we give to the Lord today, are never going to be good enough.
That is why Jesus Christ was sent into this world – to pay the final debt and set us free to live in God’s blessings. All He desires of us is a humble heart, that we be honest before Him and recognize our own frailty. All that seems hidden is revealed by the light of God. He knows what we do behind the fence and in the privacy of our own rooms. Our offerings are offensive if they are only a façade to make it appear as if we are polite and kind, just as Eddie’s attitude around adults. But when we live in humble submission to God’s will and purpose, we will know the true blessings of obedience. Thanks be to God.
Maturity Today is the last day of school and both the kids managed to pass with flying colors. That means after a restful summer vacation, they will both move on to higher grades. About a month ago, the students took their annual state tests. These tests are designed to assess how well the schools are functioning and to determine the students’ progress over the years. The tests are written with the curriculum in mind, including specific questions about the lessons the children learned this year. Since the schools throughout the state are required to teach similar curriculum, it is possible to make the test appropriate for every child in a grade level. However, curriculum differs from state to state, so the questions on the Texas state test might be completely foreign to a student from another place.
Vicki and Zack only had a couple months of learning before they had to take the test. It would not have been surprising if they had failed any part of the test. The state recognizes this possibility and the students must be in the school by December for their tests to even count toward the record. The children that enter the school later are still given the test, but there is some leeway of understanding if they do fail. Both the children did just fine, even getting commendations for excellent scores on at least one of the sections. Their experience and love of learning gave them a certain maturity that made it possible for them to learn more in those two months and catch up to the other students so that they would be prepared for the test.
There are some things that should not be learned to quickly. You can’t learn algebra until you have learned the basic math concepts. You can’t learn story comprehension until you know how to read the words. There is certain order that should be maintained so that the student will learn properly and grow in knowledge. Offering challenging ideas before the basics are understood will only confuse and upset the learning process.
Paul wanted to teach the new Christians the deep things of God. There is so much to be known about the very nature of God and the story of His love for His people. Some of these concepts reach beyond the natural world into the spiritual depths, not easily understood by someone who has not even begun to understand the basic truths of faith. Certainly it is impossible to go out and teach the love and mercy of God without getting beyond the
“For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” Hebrews 5:5-6:4 (ASV)
When a child is moved in the middle of the year it is especially important that they are encouraged to catch up with the other students. It is easy to say “I don’t know how to do that” until they fall even further behind. Paul would not accept any excuses. Even though they were comfortable with what they knew and did not want to go further in their knowledge of God, Paul would not let them go. Without deeper understanding, how can Christians go on to share the Gospel of Christ with the world?
This is the problem in much of today’s church. Christians would rather not be teachers, they are happy with what little they know about the Bible, about Jesus, about the mercy and grace of God. They want to be led, taught, handed the Word on silver platters. I have even heard people say that it was not important for lay people to do Bible study – that’s the pastor’s job. They want to settle for the little learning they get on Sunday morning and let the pastors do the evangelism. They aren’t willing to get their feet dirty on the mission trail, so they keep to the basic doctrines of faith. We need to remember that the mission fields in this world are not only foreign lands like Africa or South America – our mission field might be as close as our job or neighborhood. Yet, we can’t witness what we do not know. So, Paul encourages us to get beyond the basics into the deeper things of God so that we will go out and teach the Gospel to those who need to hear of His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Time During the school year, it is very important that I get home by 3:15 in the afternoon so that I am here when the children come home. This can be difficult some days when I have a number of things to accomplish. Thursday, for example, is a very busy day for me. I have art class in the morning and then I generally go to the store. This is easy to accomplish most of the time because I purposely clean up my art supplies a little early to give myself plenty of time. One week, however, I got caught up in the painting and lost track of time. By the time I got to the store it was late. I found all my items as quickly as possible, but the register lines were long and the transactions were difficult. I only had minutes to get home and everything went wrong – long traffic lights, inconsiderate drivers.
There was a sense of urgency that whole afternoon – the need to accomplish things as quickly as possible so that I could be home with my children. Unfortunately, I did not make it in time and Zack needed to wait outside for a few minutes. It wasn’t really a problem, Zack knows to wait patiently and that I am on my way home, but he still wondered what happened when I arrived.
The immediacy of the situation can be attributed to my role as a mother. There was something I had to do – be with my children – and I knew time was of the essence. Of course, those who crossed my path had no idea why I was in a hurry, and they had more than enough time so they did not rush. It is amazing how patient you can be with a talkative cashier when you have nowhere to be, but how annoying the same cashier can be when you are late. I could hear myself grumbling under my breath and my impatience was evident when it was my turn at the register.
I’ve seen the same sort of impatience from Christians who have learned that they have a terminal disease and have little time left in this world. They suddenly realize that they can’t leave until they have ensured the salvation of all their loved ones. They speak with a sense of urgency that often manifests in desperations and impatience. They become forceful with the Gospel, hoping that if the person can not believe on their own, then a good pounding will make a difference. To them, conversion must be immediate so that they can rejoice before they go home and they will do anything to make it happen. However, the Gospel is not heard through force, but received by grace.
“Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel. And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.” Mark 1:14-20 (ASV)
There is a sense of urgency to the mission throughout the Gospel of Mark. The kingdom of God was at hand – in Jesus Christ – and He would not be there for very long. Yet, Jesus never forced faith on anyone. He was received and believed through the grace of God. Imagine what it must have been like for Peter and Andrew. This teacher came and told them to leave the life they knew for some unknown, and they immediately left. They did not even clean up their nets to follow Him. James and John did the same thing, leaving the responsibilities of this world to their aging father and the hired hands to follow Jesus.
There is the same sense of immediacy now as then, for the kingdom of God is still had hand, but we do not see our mission as urgent after two thousand years of faith. Sometimes it takes a knowledge of our own mortality to realize the how important it is for us to follow Jesus and share the Gospel. Yet, why does it take a terminal illness to make us see that we are not promised, but only gifted for this day. Today is the day to share the Gospel because the mission is as urgent now as it was in the days when Christ walked. There are too many people who have not yet heard the Gospel message and the need Jesus now. Tomorrow could be too late.
Light Now that it is so warm, we have been opening all the windows to get a cross breeze going in the house. Unfortunately, if the doors are not properly secured, they tend to slam shut. It is strange to be home alone in the middle of the day and suddenly hear a loud thump that rattles the entire house. The first reaction is generally “what did Felix knock down now?” and then I realize it is just a door.
This is a new house and we are still discovering the little things that weren’t put together quite right. A few of the towel rack and toilet paper holders have needed a screw tightened. The deadbolt on the front door needed to be reinstalled. Some of the glass domes on the light fixtures are a bit loose. We discovered this last problem the other night. Vicki was sitting in her room when the door slammed shut. The glass slipped out of the fixture and fell to the ground. Vicki ended up with a couple small cuts and shattered glass all over her floor.
I went to the home improvement store to find a replacement globe. I easily found the fixture in the lighting aisle, but I was having trouble finding just the glass domes, so I asked the salesman. He had just finished helping a woman pick new lights for her house. As I pointed out the light, she said, “That’s what we had in our house, I’m replacing them.” She has a house built by the same company as ours, but in another development. The salesman took me to the place where the domes are located, but they were all out of our size in a style Vicki would want. We decided to wait so that we could buy one she liked, we checked out and went to our car. We were parked near the lady and she asked if we found our dome. When we said “no” she offered to give us hers. She gave us her name, number and directions to her house and we made arrangements to go pick it up later in the day. I offered to pay her for the glass, but she refused.
This was a simple act of kindness, but one for which I am quite grateful. The glass would have been only ten dollars, but that is ten dollars I can use for other things. Her kindness was especially welcome in this world in which we live. I don’t know if I would ever consider giving my personal information to a complete stranger, and I probably would take whatever money the person might offer.
“And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation): giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (ASV)
Imagine what an impact you have on non-Christians when you make a simple gesture in the name of Christ Jesus. When we live in our faith, openly manifesting the love of Jesus Christ, even risking the dangers of living in this world, we impact their lives. It might only be a tiny seed, we will probably never see fruit that grows, but a simple act of kindness can introduce Jesus to the world. Wherever we are – in the home improvement store or in prison, people see Jesus when we treat them with love, compassion and mercy.
God has blessed us, first with salvation and then with everything we need to take His salvation to the world. We will face difficulties, times of trial, persecution, rejection. However, the power of God is with us and will turn everything to His good. Though we will suffer, God will bring truth out of deception, knowledge out of ignorance, life out of death, joy out of sorrow and great wealth out of our poverty. Thanks be to God.
Camp Summer vacation has started here in Texas, at least for the schools in our immediate area. Some schools around the country still have school for another week or so, but soon it will be time for those students to be free to relax and have fun. One of the many ways parents like to fill the twelve weeks is to enroll their kids in some summer camp programs. There are some exciting opportunities from art camp at the local craft store to space camp in Houston. Some of these camps are expensive and some are free. Vacation Bible School is one thing we really enjoy doing every year. Zack has done Cub Scout and golf camp in years past. Vicki is going to attend a majorette camp this summer. You can find something for just about every child, enough to even fill most of the summer if you want.
These camps usually last only a week. Since the time is so limited, the leaders want to get as much accomplished as early as possible. From our experience, however, the first day tends to be out of control as the parents, leaders and children try to figure out how everything will work. No matter how well organized or how many times it has been done before, the first hours are chaotic. It certainly is better when people know are cooperative and knowledgeable about what to do and where to go. There is always something that goes wrong, but by the second or third day everyone settles into the routine.
New things bring a certain amount of uncertainty, doubt, confusing and even fear. Some children do not want to be left at camp, yet they usually begin to enjoy it after a day or so. Even the leaders are uncertain whether they can do their job. The director is the one most upset by the chaos on the first day, because he or she has put so much work into the planning; they want everything perfect. Unfortunately, there’s always some parent who thinks they can do a better job who didn’t bother to volunteer, who manages to tell everyone how horrible it is.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like on that Pentecost after Jesus ascended to heaven. The disciples had been in Jerusalem praying for ten days. They knew something would happen, because Jesus told them to wait for the promise, but they did not know what it would be like.
“And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galilaeans? And how hear we, every man in our own language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God. And they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this? But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:1-13 (ASV)
We hear how the listeners felt about this experience. Some were perplexed, others were amazed and some just thought it was silliness due to drunkenness. Peter stood up before the people and explained that this was the fulfillment of the promise given through the prophet Joel, that the Spirit would come upon all people and they would do amazing things. Certainly, the fact that people from all over the world could hear the message of forgiveness in their own language was a most miraculous thing, especially since those men where uneducated laborers who probably only knew Aramaic fluently, enough Hebrew for worship and perhaps just enough Greek necessary for business. They barely knew the message they were giving in their own tongues! But Jesus sent the helper – the Spirit of God gave them voice to what they knew to be true in their hearts and the words to make it understandable to others.
Today we recall that first Pentecost and celebrate the birth of the Church, which is the body of Christ manifest in this world. Ever since that day in Jerusalem, Jesus has continued to give the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we too might have the voice to speak and the words so that others might be saved. In the beginning, there was some confusion. Some even thought they were drunk. Things are not much different, for there are many who consider Christians nothing more than silly storytellers. And yet, every day people hear the message that we take into the world and miraculously, some believe. The miracle is not in our ability or in our words, but in the Holy Spirit who gives faith to those who hear with a humble heart. Thanks be to God.
Memorial Today is Memorial Day in the United States. This is a day when we remember those who have perished in service to our country. In the past the celebration focused heavily on the men and women who served through the military in war. On Saturday a memorial was revealed that honors those who died in World War II. Today, especially since the tragedy of 9/11, the remembrance includes other civil servants like firemen and police. This will be an especially difficult memorial day for several hundred families, since their grief is still very fresh.
The celebration has changed over the years. At one time there were parades of veterans that walked down street to cheers of thankfulness for the freedom they risked their lives to uphold. The children used to decorate their bikes in bright streams. Every family had a flag in front of their house. During the parades, when the flag passed, everyone stood out of respect. Now, most kids do not even know what Memorial Day means except that it is a holiday from school and a time for a picnic or to go visit the beach. I think there are two reasons for this change. First of all, there have been several conflicts in the past few decades that have been unpopular with many people. To them, the deaths were in vain and so they would rather forget it even happened. Also, I think that in this age of mass media and video games, the younger generations have difficulty discerning between what is real and what is not. They have become immune to the horrors of war because it is distant and separate from their own lives.
It is good to remember those who died. All too often we forget the things that bring us to war and we repeat them with magnified affects. It is also good to see the example of those who willingly risk their own lives for the sake of others, who serve with sacrificial love for something in which they believe.
Today is also a special day in the church – the visitation. This is when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth when she was pregnant with Jesus. Elizabeth was also pregnant with John and her baby leapt for joy in her womb at the presence of the Lord. Jesus would be the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the One who would die for our sake for something much greater than any earthly reason.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Romans 8:18-25 (ASV)
On Memorial Day we remember the men and women who have given themselves for the sake of others, and through their lives we have hope for a better world. However, we do not have the assurance of peace on this earth through their deaths. We can only look to their lives to see what might be changed so that we might avoid such problems in the future and create a better world. However, sin will continue to bring suffering and more war will be necessary.
Jesus Christ gives us a hope that is real, a hope that is assured. We look forward to the day when we will have true peace not only in our hearts but in the whole world. Even the creation will live to the glory of God. This hope is not something that we can make ourselves. We can only patiently wait for it to come in God’s time and way. But it is a hope that is true for God is faithful and His promises are real. We can look toward that hope in the midst of our sufferings and know that one day we too will be sons. Thanks be to God.