Welcome to the May 2006 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2006
Normal I'm not sure I should even use the word normal, but things are much quieter today than they've been for several days. Bruce's party was last Friday and thanks to a strange Texas holiday the children had the day off. We had a household of overnight guests, most of which have returned home. The party was a huge success and we have managed to get the house put back together after having so many people here. The leftovers are nearly finished; the party platters put away; the extra linens laundered and borrowed furniture returned.
After all this excitement, I am ready to return to the monotony of our every day life. Yet, I can't say that things will be normal, at least not yet. Bruce has some time off, time well deserved after thirty years in the military. He will need to do some job hunting, but for at least a few days or weeks he is planning to rest.
As is typical at any retirement, everyone wondered if it felt any different now that Bruce was retired. How could I possibly know at that point? Things weren't normal in the house anyway with extra guests and extra work. The real test will be in a couple weeks after he's been home for awhile under foot. Of course our life will change, at least until he gets a new job. But even then things will be different because he will have a different job, so everything will be different. He'll wear different clothes, work at a different place, and follow a different schedule. We will have to get used to everything being new.
I'm not worried. We've done this a dozen times before as he has changed jobs in the Air Force and we have had to move. Yet, this time is different. There is some stress involved because there is not the same sense of security that we've had all these years. We will have to work harder at so many things patience, mercy, forgiveness and peace as we get used to the changes in our life. It is now, perhaps more than ever, that we really need to keep our hearts and our minds focused on what really matters our relationship with God because when that is strong, everything else falls into place.
"I will extol thee, O Jehovah; for thou hast raised me up, And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Jehovah my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Jehovah; And unto Jehovah I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever." Psalm 30 (ASV)
This psalm was apparently written for the dedication of the Temple. Though this was a time of joy for the people of Israel, it was also a frightening moment. The Temple gave the people a sense of stability, roots. Yet, people were still out to destroy David and the Israelites. They could not become complacent in their blessedness, for complacency is our greatest enemy. It means we take for granted our past and our God, we forget His grace and we think we are to take credit for our blessings. Things will be well, of this we can be certain. Yet, it is not by our power or our might. It is by the grace of God. We may face difficult times in the future. Our tomorrows are no longer set in stone. However, we know that God will walk with us and that He is the source of all the goodness in our life. Even in the difficult times we will sing His praises for He is worthy of our thanks. Thanks be to God.
Art During a bible study yesterday afternoon, I referenced a piece of art that is hanging in the sanctuary of our church. One of the other members of the study looked at me strangely, unsure of the picture to which I was referring. She said she had never noticed it hanging there. Most people are aware of the picture, but I imagine that if asked very few people could even relate the theme of the painting. There is a woman in the congregation who is a fantastic artist and she has created several paintings to decorate the church. Unfortunately, these beautiful paintings are often forgotten they go unnoticed by most people because they have been there for so long.
We tend to ignore the art around us. I imagine most people notice it the first time, but they rarely take the time to really see the painting. We are in such a hurry that we do not look at the details. We rush right by, commenting on our first impressions and moving on to more important things. Yet, art impacts society. Art impacts our perspective. Art impacts our faith.
There was an art critic and teacher that understood this. Hans Rookmaaker looked at art from a Christian perspective, but in the process realized that modern art was having a negative impact on the world in which he lived. He taught that art should not be critiqued just as evolving styles throughout history, but also as an evolving philosophy. He encouraged Christians to become involved in the arts, sciences and politics to help shape the direction of the culture in which they lived.
Hans Rookmaaker became a Christian in the most unusual circumstances. He was born in the Netherlands, though was the son of a politician who was posted in Dutch colonies. Eventually Hans returned home for college, became part of the Dutch Navy and was imprisoned during WWII. While living as a POW in Nuremburg, Hans began reading the Bible as a cultural and literary exercise. The more he read, the more he came to believe in the message that he was reading. He writes, "As I was reading, I gradually came to the conviction that the Bible reveals the truth to us The Bible comes to us, and it came to me, with the demand to accept the gospel as a joyful message, God as Father and hence also his son as Savior." He did not come to this realization without questions. As a matter of fact, he experienced a dogmatic struggle, a struggle he compares to the struggle of the early church. Finally he says, "I came to an insight that turned out to be called 'orthodox biblical Protestant.'" In other words, despite the fact that he came to his knowledge of the Gospel through intense personal study, his answers matched that which the church had discovered over the years.
"Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Jehovah thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the grains thereof: his name would not be cut off nor destroyed from before me." Isaiah 48:17-19 (ASV)
It was written that Hans Rookmaaker taught his students how to look at art, to critique it and to discover what it has to say about the culture and the world around them. He did not allow his students to take one brief look at the art and then move on. As a matter of fact, he was known for making his students sit for great lengths of time in front of one painting sometimes for several sittings over several days. He wanted them to see more than the surface, to see the details and to understand what it had to say about life. Through modern art, his students learned more than just about art, they learned about life and philosophy. They also learned how the world had changed around them so that they might start thinking about how they, from a Christian point of view, might change the world.
He once said, "You cannot begin as though there was nothing before you. There have been many who have struggled before you. Learn from them, be humble. You stand on the shoulders of those others, and you can maybe take their ideas a little further; that is all. Then one day, someone will go beyond you; only be sure that you take your ideas and your work deeper into the Christian way of seeing reality."
Hans once said, "Art is obvious." The gospel is also obvious. However, we allow the culture around us to twist and bend the gospel to fit into the world view. Instead, we are called to see the world through Christian eyes, to live in the peace of Christ and to be guided by the Spirit of God. Then, and only then, can we impact the world in a positive way, to the glory of God. Thanks be to God.
Safe When thieves break into a house there are a number of things they will specifically look for to steal. They have learned where people usually hide their valuables the places we think are safe are often the first places they will look. They ruffle through underwear drawers expecting to find expensive jewelry. They rummage through bookshelves hoping to find cash stashed in books. They check out the refrigerator and pantry in hopes of finding that fake can used to store extra sets of keys or other valuables. They grab the silver and electronic equipment. They can do this in a matter of minutes and be out of the house before anyone knows what is happening.
You would think having a safe would be a good security measure. After all, what good is a safe if you don't have the combination? But a safe isn't even safe. If they can carry it, they will take it expecting to find the valuable inside. They have ways of breaking in and they don't care if the safe is useless afterwards. That's why a man in Massachusetts lost his safe recently. The thieves didn't wonder about the contents, they just took the safe in the hopes that it will contain treasure.
Unfortunately, these particular thieves didn't find anything of value. Instead, they found a series of DVDs and videotapes of the homeowner with underage girls. The homeowner has been arrested for child pornography and related crimes. He must have thought that his safe was impenetrable when he went to the police to report the theft, but someone gave the DVDs and videos to the police. He thought his secret was hidden in the safe, but when it disappeared his secret was brought to light. Evil exists. People do evil things. We live in fear of what might happen, and in our world perhaps it is right to be afraid. Our fear acts as a guard, causes us to take the precautions necessary to protect our loved ones and our possessions. Imagine the fear of that man when he discovered that his secret had been stolen. It was necessary for him to find the safe before it was opened because the revelation would destroy his life.
"Jehovah is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh, Even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell. Though a host should encamp against me, My heart shall not fear: Though war should rise against me, Even then will I be confident. One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of Jehovah, And to inquire in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion: In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me; He will lift me up upon a rock. And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me. And I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah." Psalm 27:1-6 (ASV)
We might have good reason to be afraid. There are folk who are determined to steal our lives, to harm our children and to destroy the things we hold dear. Our fear does help us to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our possessions safe. Yet, we are called to live lives in fear of only one thing the Lord God Almighty. The fear we have of Him is not a fear that we will lose anything, but rather that He is greater than anything we might fear and worthy of our awe. He is our light and our salvation. Whatever threatens, we know that God is grace and mercy and love. In Him we can find peace in even the most difficult of circumstances.
When we dwell in His love, the light shines on even our darkest secrets. There may be things we would rather stay hidden, but then we will rightly live in fear of being discovered and suffering the consequences. In Christ, our hidden secrets are not only revealed, but they are forgiven and we are transformed. It is in that light we can be confident and fear God with awe and reverence. Thanks be to God.
Hug I like to listen to the local early morning news program on the radio while I am driving to work. Along with the usual stories the national and local news, sports, weather, and traffic they also include lighter moments. They talk about entertainment, health and travel. They have contests for tickets to sporting and music events. They banter with one another, sharing personal stories and opinions. They also find some of the more interesting, yet irrelevant stories of the day.
One of the stories today was about the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. They reported that the mayor had been having a bad week, so while he was on patrol with a police car, he ordered the police to stop some school busses. He needed a hug. When I heard this story, I laughed. I was certain that the mayor's actions would upset someone; after all he used his power to command the police officers to do something unorthodox. There was sure to be someone that would question the appropriateness of such an act, especially since there has been so many high profile cases involving adults taking advantage of children. With the details I heard, the report was little more than a light-hearted story about the crazy mayor of some small town.
That changed when I began reading the details of the story. The mayor was on a drive along because he's been cracking down on crime. His techniques have been called into question, however. A national television news program was following him for an upcoming show. The incident took place on a major highway at rush hour. The mayor has had a history of caring for the schools, so his concern for the kids was real. However, the motives of the stop are questionable. He probably did need a hug or two after all, he's under great scrutiny right now. However, he could have supported the kids and found comfort for his stress in ways that are safer, more timely and proper. Knowing the whole story made a difference about how I felt about the incident.
The truth the whole truth was very important to Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the simplest message every spoken, yet it is also the most complicated. The grace of God is a gift of forgiveness, mercy and love and that is simple to know. Yet, the grace of God is useless to those who do not believe they are in need of God's grace. The whole story is hard to hear, because the Gospel is worthless without the knowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Oh, there are those that preach a Gospel of love that has nothing to do with forgiveness. That gospel can be preached to everyone. But that's not the whole truth. We need to know that we are sinners in need of a Savior for the Gospel to have any real affect.
"Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered unto him, We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin. And the bondservant abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth for ever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham's seed: yet ye seek to kill me, because my word hath not free course in you. I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye also do the things which ye heard from your father. They answered and said unto him, Our father is Abraham. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I heard from God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the works of your father. They said unto him, We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." John 8:31-41 (ASV)
I'm sure the story was reported because it was humorous. At the very least it was meant to be a light hearted look at the news of the day. Yet, as we look deeper into the situation, we see that it is much more complicated than saying the mayor needed a hug. I'm not sure it is the big controversy some would like to make it out to be, but there was good reason for people to be upset.
I find it interesting that in today's passage Jesus was speaking to "the Jews that had believed him." They believed something He said, but they did not believe in Him. They did not see the need for a Savior, since they were children of Abraham. They were saved not by the grace of God but by the fortune of their birth. When they heard the message of Christ they believed, but when He gave them the whole truth they turned from Him. We need the whole truth. It is easy to share the grace of God with our neighbor, but that's not enough for them to truly experience the healing and forgiveness of Christ. We need to share the whole story, because it is the truth that will set us, and them, free. Anything less might make us laugh, but we'll never know the true joy of Christ without the whole truth.
Kitten Felix was born eight years ago sometime during the spring. His mother belonged to a preschool teacher at Zack's school. I remember the day she brought the mother and babies to school to show the children. We had already told her that we would take one of the kittens and that we wanted the male. Felix had four sisters. The kittens were nearly identical, with black fur like their mother. Though we never saw the father cat, we were told that he was rather large. The mother cat was tiny.
When we saw the litter of kittens, I was a bit concerned about our baby. He was the smallest of the batch, tiny and almost sickly looking compared to his sisters. He was definitely the runt of the litter. We took him home, loved and cared for him and he grew. He grew and grew and grew. He outgrew his mother at four months and was large enough to be neutered much earlier than normal. Even now Felix is a little larger than the average cat. We knew a person who took two of Felix's sisters and saw her cats several years later. They were not even close in size to Felix. Isn't it amazing that the runt of the litter became the strongest of all?
I was glad that we had committed to Felix before we saw him because I think we may have second guessed our desire to take him if we'd had a choice. It would have been a big mistake because we have enjoyed having him as part of our family. But I was the mother of two small children and I was concerned about bringing a sick kitten into the house. We can't judge by appearances, and yet we often do so.
"And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is before Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. Then came the word of Jehovah unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king; for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And Samuel was wroth; and he cried unto Jehovah all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a monument, and turned, and passed on, and went down to Gilgal. And Samuel came to Saul; and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of Jehovah: I have performed the commandment of Jehovah. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what Jehovah hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on. And Samuel said, Though thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel? And Jehovah anointed thee king over Israel; and Jehovah sent thee on a journey, and said, Go, and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of Jehovah, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah? And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of Jehovah, and have gone the way which Jehovah sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, he hath also rejected thee from being king." 1 Samuel 15:7-23 (ASV)
David was anointed as king of Israel because Saul was rejected by God. Saul suffered God's wrath because he was disobedient to God's command. In chapter 15, God sent Saul to attack the Amalekites and destroy everything that belonged to them. Saul went as God commanded, but when the battle was over Saul spared the strongest sheep and the king. He totally destroyed everything that was despised and weak, but he spared all that seemed good.
The ancestors of Agog, the king of the Amalekites, eventually went on to oppress the Israelites which is why God commanded his destruction. Israel would suffer the consequences of Saul's disobedience long after Saul was gone. As for the livestock this seems to us to be a wise thing to do. After all, the strongest of the herds had value for the people as food, wealth and use for sacrificial offerings. Saul did sacrifice a number of the sheep in honor of God, but it was unacceptable. To God, obedience is more important than sacrifice. He will not accept a gift if the gift was taken against His good and perfect will. There was a reason He commanded everything to be destroyed. The judgment error would cost Israel later.
The despicable part of this story is that Saul assumed that it was ok to destroy the weak and despised thing even while he was unwilling to destroy that which was strong. He put a greater value on appearances, sparing that which he deemed worthy of salvation and destroying that which he judged worthless. Since he made this judgment against the word of God, he was rejected as king. We can't see beyond the surface or make judgments based on appearances. This is why we trust in God's Word to lead us in the right ways according to His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Gilligan "Gilligan's Island" was a television show that ran from 1964 to 1967. It was about seven people who were stranded on an uncharted desert island after a terrible storm struck their three hour boat tour. The guests and crew were unusual group a skipper, the first mate, a professor, a pretty country girl, a movie star, a millionaire and his wife. Each episode consisted of some crazy attempt to get off the island which always failed. Gilligan always received the blame for the screw-up but then in the end he managed to redeem himself with some solution to the problem created by the mistake.
If you were to choose a leader on Gilligan's Island from amongst the guests and crew, Gilligan would be your last choice. The Skipper, as the captain of the boat, generally was looked upon as the leader based on his position and knowledge of the sea. The Professor was the brains behind the man, always offering some intellectual answer to the question they faced. Mr. Howell, the millionaire, was like the CEO of the island; he never lifted a finger to help but had plenty of suggestions on how to make things better for himself. The girls Ginger the movie star, Mary Ann the country girl and Mrs. Howell each had their own leadership skills and talents to offer the castaways. Gilligan was second to everyone, always the Indian to all the chiefs.
The irony of it all is that if Gilligan were given the chance to lead the group they probably would have escaped the island after the first episode. Though he appeared to be the bumbling idiot, he was actually the one person who had practical solutions to their problems. Though he was blamed for the failure of their crazy plans, it is Gilligan that would have provided the sensible plan that would have worked. However, since he was the weakest of all the castaways at least in their eyes he was never given the chance.
In yesterday's lesson we saw that Saul willingly destroyed the weak things, allowing the strong livestock to live despite God's command to destroy everything. He made a judgment call based on appearances, choosing to destroy the weak and keep the strong. This not only goes against God's specific command to Saul, but it also is in opposition to God's mercy. Today's lesson takes God's perspective to another level in the choosing of leadership.
"And Jehovah said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? fill thy horn with oil, and go: I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite; for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And Jehovah said, Take a heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee. And Samuel did that which Jehovah spake, and came to Beth-lehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice unto Jehovah: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely Jehovah's anointed is before him. But Jehovah said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Jehovah hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he is keeping the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon. And Jehovah said, Arise, anoint him; for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah." 1 Samuel 16:1-13 (ASV)
If you were to choose a leader on Gilligan's Island, who would it be? Would you choose according to the person's position, intelligence, wealth, beauty, talents or mothering instinct? You most likely would not choose Gilligan because he appeared to be second to everyone else in those virtues. He was the weakest castaway, at least in the eyes of his peers and those watching the television show. Yet, I can imagine that Gilligan is the very person that God would have chosen and anointed to lead the people. God looks beyond the surface. He does not choose according to appearances; He looks deeper.
While Gilligan was not the one with the greatest position, intelligence, wealth, beauty, talent, or instinct, he had a measure of all those virtues. It wasn't noticeable compared to the others because they were indeed greater than him in their own virtue. However, they only had the one virtue, but Gilligan had it all. While the Skipper was the leader on the sea, he had no skills on land. The Professor's intelligence was inadequate without common sense. Mr. Howell's wealth was useless. Ginger's beauty had no value on the island. Mary Ann's talents were limited in their circumstances. The only one willing to be receive Mrs. Howell's mothering was Gilligan. Yet, Gilligan had something to offer to the entire group, something worthwhile, and in the end it was always Gilligan who saved the day.
Theme Song I would love to know how many of your walked away from reading yesterday's devotional with a song on your tongue. Those to whom it happened know exactly what I mean. You read "Gilligan's Island" and could not help but sing the theme song for the rest of the day. It happened to Bruce. Then, of course, his singing left the song in my head and I often caught myself thinking about it. If it happened to you, I don't doubt that someone heard you, too. Then it got caught in their mind and they could not help but sing along.
Now, my big problem is that I can remember most of the song, but there are just some parts that won't come to me. It would be much better if I could just sing the whole thing and get it over with, but when I get stuck on a word or phrase I keep singing and hoping I'll find the right words. It can be very annoying. In today's world it is easy to solve the problem a quick search on the Internet will find some "Gilligan's Island" fan club web site that will have the lyrics and music for reference. Believe me, it's there.
We don't always understand the workings of our brain. Why do we remember some things and not others? Why does our brain get stuck on one thing but not something else? Why can we remember the entire script from a movie we saw when we were children but we can't remember what we had for lunch yesterday?
This happens to me all too often when it comes to scripture. After all these years of reading, writing and studying scripture the Word is definitely in my heart and in my head. I can relate experiences to a scripture pretty quickly having it come to mind at the moment. Yet, Im not very good at remember the 'addresses' the place in scripture where it is found. Then, when I go to look up the scripture, I have a difficult time finding it because I just can't come up with the right key word to check in my concordance. It can be very frustrating. At times I worry that I will not be able to remember the right verse or passage when I need it most like when I'm away from a Bible and I meet a friend in need or when I am asked to defend my faith.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples." John 15:1-8 (ASV)
Jesus said, "For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." We need not worry about what we will say in those circumstances for God has written His Word on our hearts and it is in our heads. We may have moments when we think we can't remember, but He will give us what we need when we need it. This does not diminish our need to continually read and study the Bible, for it is there that we meet God, hear Him and write His Word in our heads so that we will be ready with an answer. But we need not worry, for God is with us and he is faithful to give us His Word in our times of need. He is far more reliable than our brains. Thanks be to God.
Hymns We have humorously talked about the effect of music on our day. Bruce is still humming the theme from "Gilligan's Island" after reading yesterday's word. I'm sure we've all had a similar experience. A song just won't leave our head. This can be very annoying, but it can also have a positive effect on the world around us, particularly when the music we sing is uplifting. Martin Luther once said, "Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise." This is true because music is a powerful way to share a message and it is often through music that the message is best remembered.
Educators will often suggest to students that they should set their information to a tune because it makes it easier to commit lists of facts to memory. Even from a small age teacher use this technique. The alphabet song has nothing important to say, but I still find myself singing it when I'm looking things up in the dictionary. The preschoolers at our church learn songs about colors, numbers and shapes. Most of all, they learn songs about God, Jesus and the Bible.
When John Wesley was still an atheist, he was aboard a ship that encountered a fierce storm. It was so terrible that the wind split the mast broke in half. He was terrified. Aboard the ship was a group of Moravians from Germany. During the storm the Moravians showed no fear. Instead, they gathered together to sing hymns, singing so loud that they could be heard above the wind. Wesley later asked one of the Moravians, "Weren't you afraid?" The man replied, "Thank God, no." Wesley was so impressed by their faith and confidence that he gave his life over to Christ at a Moravian meeting house.
I suppose it makes sense then that music played a role in John Wesley's faith and ministry. He even set down a list of rules for singing hymns in his 1780 hymnal. First of all, he said, that we should learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please. This is a good suggestion because when we are in the midst of a storm, we want to be most familiar with the music that will bring us comfort and peace. Singing a modern rock song is not likely to offer us hope during our troubles. Next Wesley suggested that we sing the hymns as they were printed without altering or mending them at all. How often do we join a congregation and begin singing a familiar hymn only to find that there have been alterations made? Some might suggest that it is better to update the language to make it relevant, but all too often something important is lost particularly the unity we have in the music as it was written.
Wesley also suggested that we sing all. He said, "See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can." The music is meant to be shared. He wrote that we are to sing lustily and with good courage. "Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep." Even while singing with gusto, we are to sing with modesty. "Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation." The next one is hard for me. "Sing in tune." I do my best, keeping up with the pianist and the congregation without running ahead or falling behind, which is also important. Finally, Wesley said that we should sing spiritually. We are to keep our mind on God as we sing and aim at pleasing Him above all else.
"Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; his lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations." Psalm 100 (ASV)
There has been some controversy in churches over the music that should be played. Some people love the contemporary Christian music. Others do not like that style. Some people would like to see the music be more uplifting, fewer hymns and more praise songs. There are those that would like to continue using organ music while others want to have a band with guitars and drums. Of course, there is also the controversy over changing the words in the music. Many churches today are debating over whether or not to make the music gender neutral, how far to change the words to make them more relevant and whether to update the music for use in worship.
Wherever we stand on these issues, we should always remember that music is a powerful way of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Moravians onboard that ship worshipped God in the midst of their trouble. This worship not only gave them comfort, it planted a seed of faith in the heart of John Wesley. It is so easy for us to draw from our memory jingles and tunes we've heard on the television or radio, but those songs will not bring faith or hope to the world. However, we can walk daily making a joyful noise unto the Lord, perhaps even humming those songs we learned in Sunday School. You never know who might overhear and meet Christ in the midst of their own storm. Thanks be to God.
Gas Station I stopped for gas today at a gas station that stands along a major highway near our home. It is at a very busy intersection, with people coming and going at all hours. As I pumped my gas, I noticed a truck pull up beside the store and the driver a construction worker of some sort run in for a few things. Around the parking lot were a few other vehicles with people doing various things like cleaning out the trash or putting air in the tires. A few cars were getting car washes with their fill-up. People of every type were in that gas station from businessmen to construction workers to moms with their babies.
The car at the pump next to mine was a mini-van. It appeared to be a family that was on a journey young kids in the back seat, Mom and Dad in the front and a pile of luggage in the very back of the vehicle. The woman fiddled with things while the man filled the gas tank. She was cleaning out some trash from the car and cleaning the windows. She was probably stretching her legs; it can be very tiring to ride in a car for a long period of time. I happened to pick that station because I knew it was the least expensive gas in the neighborhood at the moment. That family was probably lucky to have chosen the right one for their stop.
I thought about some of the car trips we have taken in the past few years. We have traveled to Pennsylvania numerous times, a trip that required at least one overnight stay. We usually tried to put anywhere from five to six hundred miles on the car each day. A trip that long guaranteed the need for gas station stops. It seems like we never had the kind of luck to find the cheapest station. Usually we will watch gas for a few exits, hoping that we'll see something that sounds reasonable. Finally we get to the point that we need to stop either for gas or just for the rest and we find what we think is the best price. We buy gas, get some snacks or drinks, use the restroom, stretch our legs and then start off on our way again. Usually we find that gas at the very next exit is much cheaper.
It never occurred to me that the gas stations I use when traveling across country are the same gas stations that are used by the local people for their gas. There are people that stop there on a daily basis to buy their newspaper, grab a cup of coffee and a donut or stock their coolers with drinks for a hot day on the job. They know the attendants, chat with the clerks and even recognize the other regulars as they pass each other along the way. I probably ran into those people during our travels, but never thought about the fact that they were not on a long journey like us. That gas station to them was a familiar place, perhaps even a comforting place. To us, it was just a convenient and hopefully cheap place to stop.
"For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof." 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ASV)
That corner by the highway is a very busy place with local people as well as travelers getting off the highway to take a break and meet their needs. We don't realize when we are running our errands how many people are away from their familiar places and just looking for something to meet their needs. That gas station is there for the guy who gets his daily cup of coffee as well as for that person who will pass through never to be seen again.
When we initially read this passage from Paul, it almost sounds as if he's wishy washy, unwilling to commit to anything. But that's not what he's saying. Paul stands on Christ, the foundation of everything he believes. However, the people he meets are diverse. As a matter of fact, the people we meet are diverse. Some people are in a time and a place of comfort, others are on a journey. Some are happy; others are in mourning. Some are healthy and some are facing dis-ease. We meet people from different cultures, from different perspectives. They have different needs and opinions. Just like the gas station that is designed to meet the needs of both the local customers and those journeying, Paul is prepared to meet them where they are, to touch them in a way that will shine the light of Christ into their life. We are called to do the same. Thanks be to God.
Friends We lived on a farm when I was very young, but moved much closer to the city by the time I was in school. We continued to have some friends from the country, friends we visited regularly during the summer and over the holidays. One family had children the same ages as my brother, sister and I. I was particularly close to the daughter my age. Even though we lived quite a distance from one another, we remained friends into our teen years. We went to the same Junior High and High school. During the summer we had sleepovers and went camping together. We were invited to each other's birthday parties.
I had joined the Girl Scout troop that was located near her home with her, so I would go home with her on that night each week and then my mom would come pick me up when the meeting was over. That worked out well for awhile I ate at her house and we did our homework together, but things eventually changed. Though we went to the same school, we were following a different course of study and had a completely different group of friends. Her friends had interests that did not interest me at all. Our camping was not nearly as fun as it had once been and we did not feel as welcome at each other's parties.
She began losing interest in Girl Scouts and everything else that interested me. One day she invited another friend over on the night I was there to go to Girl Scouts. After I was finished with my homework, I went to find her. I located her in the basement with this other friends and they were smoking. We were just barely teenagers at the time. I was shocked because I had no idea she was interested in that type of thing. I soon learned that her interests involved much harder drugs. I did not go to her house after that day and we completely lost touch. Sadly, I heard she died shortly after we graduated from High School. Though her death was not attributed to drug use, I could only wonder if something could have been different. I even wondered if there would have been something I could have done to encourage her to lead a better life.
"And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that he was sitting at meat in his house, and many publicans and sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans, said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? And when Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:13-17 (ASV)
I'm not Jesus and I was just a naοve kid at the time of my discovery about my friend. At that time, at that age, it was best that I surround myself with friends who had the same interests as I. The other influences around here were much more powerful than anything I could say or do. Keeping that friendship might have been destructive to my own life, for it is easy to get caught up in things that aren't good for us.
That's a good reason to set down some rules for living. Certainly our parents do so to keep us from falling into the wrong crowd. God established the commandments not to control His people, but to protect them. The teachers of the Law expanded on that which God had given, not to burden the people but rather to ensure that they will live rightly. Unfortunately, their expectations became burdens because they knew nothing about grace. I could not help my teenage friend all those years ago, so it was probably best that we lost touch. In later relationships, however, I was less naοve and more informed about the dangers. I could remain in the relationship without a danger to myself. I think that I had a positive impact on those lives, if only it was seeds planted for later growth.
Weak faith and a lack of knowledge is dangerous for someone trying to change the world, so it is at times best to live according to the rules that are written to guard and protect the welfare of the people. Yet, there comes a time in our lives when grace and mercy rule above all else, when we can have a relationship with someone who is seen by our world as a 'sinner' but who needs to know God's love to be made whole. He calls us to be the physician, to take healing to the sick and forgiveness to the sinners. Thanks be to God.
Seat I walked into my bedroom this morning and Tigger was sitting on the floor. There was no rhyme or reason to why he was sitting there. I don't know how long he'd been there, what he was seeing, what made him sit there. He was just there. He was doing nothing. He wasn't even sleeping, though I don't doubt that if he had a few more minutes he might have fallen asleep. It was almost as if he had been walking and just suddenly decided that he needed to sit down, right there, right then. I looked at him and said, "Tigger, what are you doing there?" It is a question I ask him regularly, because it is very typical for him to do this.
Felix is a little more purposeful about his seating choices. As a matter of fact, it is fairly easy to find him at any time of the day. If it is the morning, he'll be in one place, on one particular chair. At another time of day he'll be in another place. Even when he's not specifically sitting on a chair, he is sitting in a place with a purpose. It is very rare for Felix to just sit down. When he's ready to rest, he'll go to his spot, wherever it is for that moment.
I think I'm a lot more like Felix than Tigger. Certainly most people are more like Felix, not willing to just stop in our footsteps to sit down no matter where we are and what we are doing. We would think a person is crazy if they just suddenly sat on the floor, or we would think they are sick. Even then most people will walk to a chair or find something to use as a seat. Yet, I wonder sometimes if we shouldn't be a little more like Tigger, willing to just stop for a moment without seeming to have a purpose. Maybe, just maybe, Tigger is doing something very important when it seems like he's doing nothing at all.
"God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof. Selah
In the hustle and bustle of our busy world it seems odd enough for someone to take even a few minutes to spend time in prayer. Imagine what it would be like if we just stopped in our tracks whenever we thought about God, giving Him that moment and listening to His voice. Of course, in our world there are appropriate times and places for us to be still it would be dangerous for us to do so while crossing a busy street or while we are driving down a superhighway.
I do hope, however, that everyone takes time every day to just stop and be still. We don't have to drop to the floor like the cat; we can find a comfortable place to sit. It would be good, though, for each of us to spend time each day to be still and know that God is God. In this way we will give praise and worship to Him even in the midst of our busy-ness, to rest in His presence and receiving the blessing of His strength and peace. Thanks be to God.
Expert I saw a movie starring Dolly Parton called "Straight Talk." Dolly played a woman seeking a receptionist job at a radio station that was caught up in the chaotic confusion of a hectic radio station. The story involves an incident of mistaken identity. When Dolly's character arrived at the studio to apply for the job, she was sent to the office of the employment manager, but she got lost along the way. The producers of the radio program were expecting a psychiatrist to test to take over a radio advice show. She was in the right place at the wrong time and the radio people thought she was the expert. She was hustled into the booth, handed headphones and put on the air. She had not time to argue, so she took the first few calls and answered the questions expecting to tell the people the truth at the next break.
She had a very real impact. The listeners loved her, the producers thought she was terrific and the office realized that she was an asset. So, when she told them the truth they said they didn't care. They gave her a fictional title and set her show. She gave real, practical advice, which is what made her so popular. She loved doing the show, but she eventually realized that it was deceptive. At her first failure her first caller that needed real, professional help she wanted to quit. Everything came together in the end and they all lived happily ever after.
There was a real life mistaken identity recently on the BBC. In response to a story about a lawsuit, the producers had booked a computer expert. A man who'd come to the television station to apply for a job was hustled on to the set and seated on the chair opposite the interviewer. He didn't know what to say and his first comments were somewhat credible. Meanwhile the expert was sitting in the green room waiting to be called, only to look at the monitor to see 'himself' on the chair. He thought it was funny at first, but then realized that the guy being interviewed could have made him look very bad. The interviewer eventually realized the mistake, the expert was brought on and the interview was finished. The expert was disappointed because he felt rushed and was unsatisfied about what he said.
Have you ever experienced a case of mistaken identity? Has someone ever come up to you and spoken to you as if you were someone else? I know it has happened to me, and I have not known what to say. I was embarrassed by the idea that perhaps I do not recognize the person or remember their name. I do what I can to get through the conversation, but my confused look usually makes the person ask if I remember. I don't want to embarrass them either, but eventually the conversation leads to the realization that they have me confused with someone else or I apologize for not remembering. Love causes us to handle the situation with grace, so that none will be hurt in the mistake.
"Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:29-32 (ASV)
It is very easy to react negatively to someone who mistakes us for someone else. When we are upset by something we experience, we respond with bitterness, wrath and anger. Yet, God calls us to respond to everything with grace. We might think that Dolly Parton's character, or that other man, were wrong in allowing the mistaken identity continue. However, we are called in Christ to deal with such difficulties with grace. In Christ we will speak with goodness, building up someone even while correcting them of their error. Thanks be to God.
Direction I grew up on the east coast. When I was young I had a pretty amazing sense of direction. I could come to an unknown corner and know by instinct which direction I had to turn to get to my destination. This was a good thing, since I held several jobs over the years that required me to travel to different locations to do my work. Some places were difficult to find, but I was generally able to find my way with little trouble.
Things were different when I moved to California. I never really understood the cause. Perhaps it was because the highway or roadway systems were different. Perhaps there were landmarks that reminded me of places back home that confused my sense of direction. I always blamed the fact that the ocean was on the wrong side. After all, I was on the west coast with the Pacific Ocean to the west, after having lived for so many years on the east coast with the Atlantic Ocean to the east. My instinct was confused and I often thought south was north and north was south. I certainly made my share of directional mistakes. As a matter of fact, I can honestly tell you that if I had to make a decision, I almost always made the wrong one.
There was an episode of "Seinfeld" where George entered into the conversation with a pronouncement. He'd realized that every decision he had ever made was the wrong choice which is why his life was so messed up. He decided that day to live completely opposite to the leanings of his instinct. He began with his lunch. Instead of his usual tuna salad, he decided to have chicken. When he saw a beautiful girl at the counter, he not only decided to approach her but he also decided to be completely open and honest with her. All this went against his better judgment, because he was at that point unemployed and living with his parents. She did not reject him; she even seemed very interested. For the rest of the show, George chose the opposite of whatever it was he wanted to do.
"For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:14-25 (ASV)
I may seem silly to think that living on the west coast would cause me to lose my sense of direction just because the ocean is on the wrong side. It is even sillier to think that George's life will change just because he decides to have the opposite of tuna salad for lunch one day. What is the opposite of tuna anyway? What is the opposite of living the life we live? Is it even possible for us to decide to make the opposite decisions for every choice we have to make? Our unspiritual nature draws us to seek after things that are not beneficial to us. We are tempted, and fall under temptation, much too easily. It is the state of our being that we are drawn in a direction that takes us away from God. Thank God through Jesus Christ that He can and will deliver us out of our bodies of death. Thanks be to God.
Lion King The touring show of the Broadway hit "The Lion King" has been in San Antonio for the past few weeks. The show was expected to be so popular that they scheduled it for a much longer stay than normal. Almost every performance has been sold out or close to sold out. Vicki and I went to see the show on Wednesday with her theater group from school. I do not think there were more than a handful of empty seats. I have heard that some people attended the show more than once, which is amazing because the tickets were quite expensive.
Another reason the show spends a long time in one place is that it takes an extraordinary amount of work to move everything from theater to theater. The show requires a convoy of trucks more than twenty to move all the scenery, costumes and puppets. It was fascinating to see how they created the animals which were life size, including the elephant and the giraffes. It would be impossible for me to describe everything in a way that would make you really see in your mind what I saw Wednesday night. I can almost describe it in person, using visuals with my body, because the human players became a part of the animal characters they were portraying. I don't know how some of the actors persevered in such contorted positions for so long. It was truly amazing.
Those who have seen the movie "The Lion King" (and which of us with children have not seen it a dozen or more times) would be familiar with much of the music and the dialogue. There were a few new songs and slight changes to the story line. They included some transitional scenes that portrayed African music and dance. It was bright and colorful and full of joy.
At the beginning of the story, some singers and the baboon Rafiki sing a song to call all the animals to the foot of pride rock to receive the infant king. The words are in an African tongue, a language that I can not understand. I have no idea what they character is actually saying as he (or she in this cast of the play) cries out to the herds. One of the most noticeable differences to me between the movie and the stage show was in that song. In the movie, there is no character actually singing the words. We hear them as we see the animals approaching Pride Rock. It is background music and without understanding the words or what is happening, it is hard to hear the joy in Rafiki's voice. Of course, as we see why the animals are gathering, we realize that he is filled with joy. On the stage, the joy is much more apparent. Rafiki and the singers dance and point. They put their whole being into the cry. They are not just announcing something important; they are part of the excitement.
"Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye may love one another."
When I watched the singers and dancers, despite the fact that I could not understand the words they were singing, I felt the joy of their song. The same songs were terrific with the movie, but I don't think I ever felt the same sort of joy when I watched the movie. Jesus says that His joy will be in us and our joy will be made full by the power of His words.
Dr. Vance Havner was a Baptist preacher who is considered to be one of the often quoted ministers of all time. Billy Graham once told him while visiting him in the hospital, "You can't go home yet. We preachers need more sermon material." Dr. Havner once said about the church, "When one recalls that we are to rejoice in the Lord always and then looks in on the average Sunday congregation, he realizes that something has happened to us since Pentecost."
Is there joy in your faith? Someone once said, "Happiness is an emotion, and joy is an attitude. Emotions come and go, but attitudes come and grow." Jesus said that when we abide in His love, we will have His joy and our joy will be made complete. Yet, we do not see that joy enough. Certainly the world does not see the joy we have, for when we walk out into the world we put on our somber faces and live in the hustle and bustle around us. Yet, we are chosen as friends to bear lasting fruit in the world, sharing the love of Christ. When we abide in His love, the joy we have overflows as a witness to the love of Christ. If there is no joy in our faith, are you truly abiding in the love of Christ? And if no joy is visible in our churches, do we truly love one another as Christ loved us? We have been chosen to be friends that bear lasting fruit, and Jesus promises that when we abide in Him, we will have His joy fully. Let us live in His love so that the world might know that joy and rejoice with us. Thanks be to God.
Seed I have a friend who is a fifth grade teacher at one of the local schools. A month or so ago she decided it would be fun for the students to grow a plant for their mothers for Mother's Day. Such an activity would provide an activity for several different subjects. Planting the seed and watching it grow would be a great science lesson, recording their discoveries would cover English and in the end the children would have a nice gift to give to their mom. She bought some packs of seeds and carefully read the instructions so that they would plant them at just the right time.
The seed packet said the flowers would take twelve to seventeen days to germinate, so she had the children plant the seeds three weeks before Mother's Day. This way there would be just enough plant visible so that it would be pretty with some paper wrapped around the milk carton in which the seed was planted and yet they would not have to keep the plants alive for very long. Most plants do not grow well in an empty milk carton with a few inches of dirt. Unfortunately, the seeds grew very quickly. My friend noticed signs of life in just two or three days. By the time they reached Mother's Day, several of the plants had withered and died.
We listen to a radio program on Saturday that focuses on gardening and landscaping issues. The show is hosted by a very informed gardener. People call in to the show and they describe their problem. The host is able to identify the problem and offer a solution. Sometimes different problems will show the same symptoms, but a few of the right questions will be able to give the host a clearer perspective of the problem. It is amazing how he can ask just the right questions to quickly identify what's happening and provide suggestions that might help.
What is even more amazing, however, is that a plant will grow without our help. Oh, we might do some things to make it better add fertilizer or nutrients to the soil, week the bed, plant in just the right place, give the plants the right amount of water. Despite all our knowledge and hard work, we can't actually make a plant grow. We might make it look prettier, fuller, or bigger. But we can't make it grow.
"And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come." Mark 4:26-29 (ASV)
As we read this passage we might think that the farmer has nothing to do from the day he plants to the day he reaps. However, a farmer will tell you something much different. It takes hard work to grow a healthy and bountiful crop. I know a many farmers spend a great deal of their time and energy worrying about things over which they have little or no control. They worry about the early rain and the late drought. They worry about the stems which poke out too soon and the ones that don't come out at all. They have far more to worry about than someone like me whose garden is a hobby and something simply to enjoy. My livelihood and my family's welfare are not dependent on a good harvest.
This passage talks about the kingdom of God. In other parables that Jesus tells the seeds are the Word of God which is cast upon the earth. We are like that farmer, planting the seed in hopes that there will be a plentiful crop. We are also like that farmer in that we work very hard to make the seed grow. We water, provide sunlight, remove weeds, add nutrients in the hopes that we will get another person to bear good fruit. Yet, the farmer can not make the plants grow any more than we can make faith grow in the heart of another. We do not know how faith grows. We do know that God is in control. Just as He gives life to the plants in the field, so too does He give life to His people. Thanks be to God.
Today's Word is a repeat from July 5, 2005
Gang They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It may appear to be so, but the reality is that things are not really any better over there than in your own back yard. However, there's something fascinating and luring about the other side that makes us desire to have it. This is most certainly when it comes to gangs and other sorts of relationships.
It is interesting, but if you ask a member why he or she became part of the gang you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks, they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. Unfortunately, they often find exactly what they are looking for in the gangs. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. Though the rules for belonging in a gang may not fit into the mould of what is acceptable in society, there are things by which each member must abide to be a part of the group. When they do, they experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang.
If only they'd realized that they could find similar blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. What freedom is there found in a life of violence and fear? What blessings can really come out of relationships that depend on disobedience to one authority to be able to give obedience to another? I suppose that is what is often said about Christianity by those who choose not to believe in the one true and living God. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs. However, we have to consider which grass is really greener?
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; But the way of the wicked shall perish." Psalm 1 (ASV)
The home life of the gang member may have been terrible. Some parents are not able to cope with the responsibilities and others that are filled with their own rebellion and anger which leads them to wrong decisions and actions. However, most kids have it much better at home, even if they don't realize it. Homes with rules are not meant to be prisons, but rules are given to guide and protect the children so that they will make it to adulthood.
God has given us a set of laws. In our daily existence, many of the Levitical laws now seem useless and inappropriate. Perhaps they are. However, God's law was given for a purpose to help and guide His people into a long and blessed life. If we look at only the top Ten Commandments, each of those will keep us walking on the greener grass even if it appears better on the other side of the fence. Take, for instance, the command to not covet our neighbor's spouse. We may think it is harmless to wish for their attention or desire their touch. However, the more we covet, the more we ignore that which God has given us. As we covet our neighbor's spouse, we grow apart from our own family and our life begins to fall apart.
The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law, where there is a freedom from authority other than ourselves. However, life is not better with that kind of freedom. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God's sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.
Happy Slapping Yesterday I repeated a writing from last summer about the lure of gangs. Many kids are drawn into that type of community because they think it will be better than the community, or family, to which they already belong. They see the freedom of individuality and rebellion and miss the fact that such a life carries with it a heavier burden. The grass seems greener until you get to the other side, but then you realize the difficulties that come with the change.
I never really wanted a cell phone. After all, we got along just fine without them for a long time. Our parents survived without them as well as every preceding generation. We were convinced while we lived in Arkansas and Bruce was dealing with a difficult situation a sick airman and his family. He was often away from the office and he was working odd hours. It not only difficult for us to get a hold of him, but it was also difficult for those at work to reach him when he was dealing with the airman.
So, we finally gave in and we purchased two phones and a service. I rarely used the phone, but Bruce found it invaluable for his work. I did like the fact that a cell phone made me available to the kids' schools, so that I could be reached no matter what I was doing if there was a problem. Several years ago we realized that it would be much easier to deal with Victoria's unusual schedule if there was some way to reach us, so she joined the cell phone craze. Now Zack wants one, and there are times when it would be helpful. However, we've decided to wait because Zack wants one for all the wrong reasons. He wants one because all his friends have one and he wants one because it is cool. Since his activities are still fairly regulated and they all take place close to home, it is not yet a necessity. It might be an exaggeration to say all his friends have cell phones, but it is not far from the truth. I see kids as young as elementary school walking around with cell phones on their ears and they are all over the high school. There are rules, of course, because cell phones are not always used properly.
One of the ways cell phone technology has been abused is that some students were using them to cheat during tests. They would text one another with answers to all the questions. A student taking the test later in the day could have all the answers stored on their cell phone. It is also a distraction to have cell phones go off in the middle of a class or to have kids texting one another instead of listening to the lecture. However, cell phones are an even greater and more dangerous nuisance. There is a game that is sweeping the world called "Happy Slapping." Young people choose a victim and beat them while filming the attack on their cell phones. The video is then sent to friends or posted on the Internet. It is meant to be a joke, to humiliate the victim. This practice has led to the deaths of several people over the years and many injuries. The technology that is in many ways very good and helpful is being misused and abused by people all over the world.
"Wherewith shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah 6:6-8 (ASV)
"Happy slapping" is not really a new crime. Ever since it was possible, people have committed violence against others while videotaping the event. However, it has become so convenient. For a criminal a decade or two ago, a videotaped crime would have to be carefully planned because it would take extra work to set up the filming equipment. Now kids can decide at the spur of the moment to harm someone and have the video all over the world in a matter of minutes.
In ancient times, sacrifice was an important part of the ritualistic aspects of the people's faith. Through the physical act of slaughtering an animal or offering the first fruits of their labor, the people saw the redemption of their sins. It was not a bad thing. Sacrifice served a very important purpose in that day. However, good things can be misused and abused. For some, the ritual of sacrifice was nothing more than a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. They could sin against their fellow man, offer a sacrifice and feel as though they are still right with God. In today's scriptures, we see that God does not require or even desire sacrifice. He desires justice, loving kindness and a humble heart. Thanks be to God.
Absence Today is the last day of school for my kids. They are taking their final exams, cleaning out their lockers and wishing their friends a wonderful summer. It is especially difficult for Vicki this year because her best friend is graduating. That means her friend will be going off to college and they will not see each other as much as they would like. They will get together over the summer but today is the last time they will see each other daily at school and eat lunch together.
This is a difficult time of year for many because young people are graduating and beginning a new phase of their lives. Mothers and fathers have to recognize that their children are growing up and setting out on their own. Whether the young person will go off to college or go find a job, it is necessary for them to become independent so that they can live up to their potential and do what they are gifted to do in this world. They will never accomplish great things if they do not go out and try. Of course, us mothers would rather have them stay close. It is not necessarily because we want to control their life or keep them from accomplishment. We will miss them. Vicki feels much the same way about her friend. We have to learn to let go so that those we love can be all they are meant to be.
Imagine how hard it is when someone gets a new job that requires a move to a new town. They have to leave behind old friends and a place they love to go forward into something new. Take the President, for example. For a brief period of time, the President is required to live in the White House. The Presidents can visit home, take vacations to places they love, but to be able to do the job they have to move away from everything they love.
Today is Ascension Day, the day we recall Jesus' ascension into heaven. How hard it must have been for Him to leave the disciples, to leave this world that He loved, to abandon the people whom he'd spent three years and forty days training to continue His ministry. Yet, the only way He could continue God's work was to go to be at His right hand. The only way the disciples would ever really become apostles and the believers would ever become ministers was for Him to leave them and give them a helpmate. The only way to send the Holy Spirit was to leave earth. The only way for Christ to rule was to go to the throne that knows no time or place, in heaven where He can rule in glory.
"Jehovah reigneth; he is clothed with majesty; Jehovah is clothed with strength; he hath girded himself therewith: The world also is established, that it cannot be moved. Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Jehovah, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves. Above the voices of many waters, The mighty breakers of the sea, Jehovah on high is mighty. Thy testimonies are very sure: Holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, for evermore." Psalm 93 (ASV)
Sometimes it is necessary to go away to complete the tasks to which we have been called. Jesus' work on this earth was complete. He had taught the apostles and disciples everything they needed to know. Yet, the knowledge He gave was not going to be enough. He had to give them something greater the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Jesus' way of being with all His disciples in every time and every place. The Spirit is God's way of being present with His Church. Jesus would never have been able to do that. If He stayed, Jesus would have been limited by the same limits we face time and space. The Holy Spirit can be with each of us today no matter where we are just as He has been with every Christian throughout history.
It was probably a sad time. Luke tells us in the book of Acts that the disciples stood staring at the sky when Jesus was taken away from them. Two men dressed in white came and told them to go back to Jerusalem, that Jesus would return someday just as they saw Him leave. There was joy because in seeing Jesus ascend into heaven they saw Him as He went to sit at the right hand of His Father and take His rightful place on the throne of glory. Yet, it had to be a sad time too, because they were left alone; they would no longer see their friend daily, eat with Him or enjoy His company. Ascension Day comes at a good time for us to be reminded that sometimes we have to let go for the ones we love to fully accomplish what God intends. Jesus had to go, the disciples had to let go and move on. We do the same, singing His praise for He is the LORD. Thanks be to God.
Report card Things are much different than they were when I was in school. In those days teachers kept a record of the scores of our tests and the other things they used to determine our grades and we could probably figure out our grade, but there was never a running total accessible for us to know our grade at any moment. If there was a problem like a huge drop in our grade, the teacher sent a memo home to our parents. Otherwise, we really did not know where we stood in the class.
In some ways that was probably better than the system they use today. My kids' grades are all posted on the Internet. The teachers are required to use a certain program for keeping the grades. I have been able access their accounts throughout the year, sometimes knowing even before they do that they have done very well, or very poorly, on a particular test. It has not always been a good thing. Take, for instance, when the kids miss a day. If the class had a test, the test was inputted into their account but there was no score until they made up the test. If I checked their grade on that day, the score would have dropped significantly because the test would be recorded as a zero. The computer does not know that the student was absent, so if there is no number it reads it as a failure.
It is also very easy for the data to be inputted wrong. As a matter of fact, one of Vicki's teachers made a mistake when he recorded her final exam score. He did the same thing with all the other students. Phones were ringing all over the city as the kids called one another to see if they had the same problem. In this case it was a good thing the students were able to go to the teacher the next morning to show him the error. He fixed it within hours. For some students, the mistake was the difference between an "A" and a "B." When I was in school, we could not access our records and since we did not see our final report cards until a week or so after school, there was no way to fight for the right grade.
There have been times when my kids wished I did not have access. They didn't want me to see those poor scores. They didn't want me to see when they were getting lazy or having trouble, because they didn't want to hear my lectures about hard work and the importance of doing homework. However, I've been glad to have their grades accessible because I know that they can get caught up in other things and they can get lazy about the work they need to do, so I am glad to be able to see it and know when I have to limit the distractions like TV and videogames.
In the second case it was good for the kids to be able to access their grades. They could easily ask the teacher to fix a mistake and get the grade they deserved. The new system is especially difficult for those teachers that are computer illiterate. It was possible for a teacher to make a mistake in their old fashioned grade books, but it was much easier to catch when determining the final grade. Now they do not have to work the numbers for themselves they need only input their data and the computer does the rest. There is far more room for error.
"Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment. For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. Now if we put the horses' bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also." James 3:1-3 (ASV)
Is any of this really important? Does it really matter if a student has an "A" in theater class or a "B"? Unfortunately, it does matter when it comes to the future of these kids. The difference in one grade could mean the difference between being accepted at a college or not, or it could mean the difference in being able to receive scholarship money to help them afford school. Perhaps it should not matter, but it does. These new systems make it harder for them in many ways, particularly when the teacher is not careful to input the grades properly. Mothers, like me, push too hard based on improper information. It is not just the mothers, however. Some kids check their scores and keep track of their grades on a daily basis, pushing themselves too hard for a certain grade while losing out on some of the other important experiences of youth.
It is in many ways sad that it has come to this, but we can see in this lesson how important it is for teachers to be the best they can be in all aspects of their job. It is even truer for those who teach the Word of God, for even the slightest error could send a student following a destructive path. That's why teachers are judged more harshly. We all make mistakes, but if we call ourselves teachers, we must watch ourselves so that we do not cause another to stumble.
Memorials Today was Memorial Day, a day set aside by many Americans to honor those who gave up their lives in the service of their country. For many it was a day to visit the graves of fallen soldiers, to put flowers or flags as signs of remembrance and to remember the stories of those who have died for the sake of our nation. I did a little research about the origins of Memorial Day and the one thing about everyone can agree is that it was started at some point around the time of the Civil War. It was originally called Decoration Day, perhaps because of the southern women who decorated the graves of their loved ones. Many different towns claim to have originated the traditions with parades and other patriotic events.
I'm not so sure that people really understand any more what Memorial Day signifies. Most towns do not even have a parade anymore. Some organizations hold special ceremonies at cemeteries and youth groups like the Boy and Girls Scouts do projects to honor the veterans. It is in many ways a very sad day, because it is a day of remembrance for the dead. Yet, in some ways, particularly for Christians, even remembrances of death have a certain joy.
Today was also the day we remember Jiri Tranovsky, a hymnwriter from Slovakia. He was also a preacher and a teacher, who was trained at the University of Wittenberg. He is known as the "Luther of the Slavs," perhaps because of his Lutheran training, but also because he highly valued the music of the church. One of his hymns, "Make Songs of Joy" is filled with a great deal of joy and hope. It is the kind of song that we as Christians can, and should, sing on a day like today as we remember those who willingly sacrificed their lives for others.
Here are the words of the hymn: "Make songs of joy to Christ, our head; He lives again who once was dead! Our life was purchased by his loos; He died our death upon the cross. O death, where is your deadly sting? Assumed by our triumphant King! And where your victory, O grave, When one like Christ has come to save? Behold, the tyrants, one and all, Before our mighty Savior fall! For this be praised the Son who rose, The Father, and the Holy Ghost!"
It is very easy to make celebrations like our Memorial Day about the great sacrifices they made for the right side of the question. It becomes a question of national victory rather than anything about the person who is being remembered. Yet, I know there are many who look upon that attitude with a question in their heart because many of those who died were not doing so for the sake of justice or righteousness.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace." James 3:13-18 (ASV)
Jiri Tranovsky wrote a hymn that spoke the most important thing for us to remember the great gift of God's grace found in Jesus Christ. We fight wars in this world and there is no doubt that war will continue until the end of time. Sometimes those who start the wars and those who fight the wars do so following the wrong sort of wisdom. They seek after glory for themselves rather than for justice and peace. Others die for the sake of goodness and live even as soldiers according to the humility of a heart that loves and follows God. As we recall those who have willingly given themselves for the sake of something greater than themselves, we can praise God for those who did so with the wisdom that comes from heaven, those who have done so with the wisdom that is pure, peaceloving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
It might seem odd to talk about peace on a day when many are remembered for war. However, God's peace is found even in the midst of war when there are believers praising God for His greatest victory. Thanks be to God.
Whatever It is typical for teenage girls to overuse the word "Whatever." Vicki does it to me, usually when she knows she can't win an argument or she has been caught in an error. It is her way of dismissing the situation. It is very easy to let go of something when using a phrase or word like "whatever." It puts closure on the situation and lets her move on to something new. Of course, it drives me insane because it makes me think she is dismissing me or putting little value on what I have to say. This use of the word "whatever" is obviously a problem for other adults. I went to a Christian book store the other day looking for a gift when I found a pin that was shaped like the word. It was hooked to a card that quoted the perfect scripture quotation in response to that flippant answer.
"Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved. I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you." Philippians 4:1-9 (ASV)
We all have our favorite phrases or words that we use. Some of them are generational. Think about the words or phrases that you used when you were a kid and remember how your own parents hated when you said them. There are others that are popular today. Generally the word usage makes little sense to those listening, at least until we understand the words in concept. I don't think it is the use of the word "whatever" that bothers me, because I recognize my own verbal errors. What bothers me most is that it is used in a way that dismisses the importance of the situation or the person to whom it was said. When Vicki says, "Whatever," she is telling me that the conversation is over and my opinion does not matter.
Perhaps this was what was happening with Euodia and Syntyche. They were having some sort of problem, some argument or confrontation, probably about the work of the Church. Paul wrote to encourage them to deal with their problems in an honorable manner. When we live in the hope and peace of Christ, even when we disagree with another, we live with one another with patience and justice.
So, when Vicki responds with "whatever" I answer her with this scripture. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable, whatever is honorable, think about these things. It makes both of us stop and think about the situation so that we can respond to one another with love and mercy and grace. When we stop to think in terms that God knows and has taught us, we look at each other and the fight with a whole new vision. It generally means that we set aside our petty differences and praise God together, as it should be. Thanks be to God.
Communication We live in an amazing time, when we can communicate with people near and far very quickly. With the telephone it is possible to talk to friends who are on the other side of the world. The Internet makes it possible to get the latest news from every country. High powered telescopes and other technological advances even make it possible for us to communicate with the far reaches of the universe. What would you do if you could not communicate at all? Even though we joke about our reliance on those modern marvels of communication, there is a sense of something missing in our lives. We don't know what it is like to receive a letter in the mail from a friend. We call our neighbors on the phone rather than knocking on their door to talk with them face to face.
We have all this modern technology, yet some of the best communication has nothing even to do with words. There is something very special about a hug from a friend when we are sad. So much is said between a husband and wife as they sit on a couch holding hands. Friends playing spy games can say so much with body language and silence. Facial expressions give away happy secrets and tears speak volumes. You can't communicate in these ways from the far sides of the earth.
"And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord." Luke 1:39-45 (ASV)
Today is the day when we remember this visit of Mary to her relative Elizabeth. On that occasion there was a great deal of communication happening that did not need words. Being in the presence of Mary gave Elizabeth great joy because she knew that Mary was the most blessed woman. Even John, growing in the womb of Elizabeth, jumped for joy at the presence of the Christ. There is no explaining such a miraculous event, particularly in our world where mechanical communication is so important. Would Elizabeth have been so happy to hear this message over the phone? Would the baby in her womb leap for joy when the email arrived in Elizabeth's account on the Internet?
In the story of Mary and Elizabeth we see several different things a woman too old and a child nearly too young to have a baby meet to share their joy. One child will be the last prophet of the old covenant and the other the first born and bearer of the new covenant. Mary went to Elizabeth's house to escape the persecution and Elizabeth offered to her a place to rest. Even more important in this story we see the fellowship of two women who have come together to support one another in their difficulties. It could not have been easy for either woman to bear her child. Emotionally, physically, even spiritually they faced questions, doubts and fears. Yet, together they could bear witness to the joy of their situation and praise God together for His amazing grace. In this story we see the sweet fellowship of two women and we are reminded of how wonderful it can be. There is communication that can't be found on the telephone or Internet. I pray we will find the time to be with others, to have the kind of fellowship that does not need words. For in that fellowship we will find and even greater power. Thanks be to God.