Welcome to the September 2003 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.
A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2003
September 1, 2003
Labor Today is going to be a lazy day for us. It is a national holiday for Americans, a day called "Labor Day." Funny that we would have a day about laboring, on which we will do whatever we can to avoid labor! We use the word labor for the act of physical work but it is also an economic term that means to do some sort of service for an economic return. We spend a great many hours of our week going to work to earn a paycheck so that we can live in this world. It takes money to pay the rent, buy food and clothes and do all the things we want to do.
I have recently considered getting a job myself. Just the other day I saw sign in the window of some of my favorite stores. The sign said "flexible schedule and I wondered to myself if I could work a part time job around my busy schedule. Could I do all that I've committed to do and still earn a few dollars to make life a little better for our family? The very next day, Vicki fell at school and hurt her leg. I spent most of the day taking her to doctors and comforting her. While I know most employers are sympathetic to family needs, I remembered why I decided to be a stay at home mom. I labor in a different, but necessary way. The money I could earn would not pay for food or our home, but would be for the extras, the 'nice-essities' we would like to have.
I realized that I was worrying about money more than I should. Isn't that something we all do, however? There is a commercial that shows a man living the life we all hope for - a wonderful house, membership at the golf course and other things. The man says, "How can I afford all this? I'm in debt up to my ears!" We shop for the perfect dress or toy, and we pay too much when we find it. We search for days or even weeks for the right house or car, willing to put more money than we have to have the best. Then we worry about how we will pay, working too hard to keep up a life that does not really make us happy.
"Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew 6:25-34 (ASV)
On this Labor Day, while we relax and enjoy a day of rest, let's take some time to consider the reasons for our labors. Are we worrying about things that do not matter, working to have things we do not need? Are we more concerned with our homes, clothes and food than we are our relationship with God? We can't make things better for ourselves, not really. Oh, we can find the bigger home, the nicer car, the prettier dress. But we can't buy happiness or success. We can't purchase the things that make our lives more complete. God's grace is a free gift, and it is only in faith that we'll really be content. When we focus on the things of God, everything else falls into place. We have peace that we can't find while laboring too hard for things that will pass away.
Labor Day began in 1894 as a day to remember those who labor in our society. God also honors those who work, so we should not stop working for the things we need in this world. We simply need to remember that our life is not dependent on those things. Only God can give us what we really need and He does so with love and mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Girlfriends Relationships between teenage girls have long been a source of amusement for the writers of movies and sitcoms. A typical plot line has the most popular girl in school befriending one of the least popular. The motive is never good. The popular girl is a snotty little brat who is having fun in the most destructive way. Her purpose is to hurt the feelings of the girl she has befriended and humiliate her. Or, the less popular girl might have something she wants – a cute brother, a relationship with a teacher who is failing the girl, or something else. Perhaps she thinks it will make her more popular. Most of the time, the scheme backfires and the popular girl is the one who is humiliated as the most popular boy decides to date the victim. In the movie “Carrie” the joke ended in a horrible disaster as Carrie let her powers loose at the prom and people died in the violence.
I don’t know how often this type of situation happens in real life. Certainly the prom scene is not a real experience. However, what would you do if you were in a similar situation? What if someone came to you and begged for your friendship, claiming something that is not true? Suppose you have promised this person something based on their words, but later find out they lied. Do you go back on your word or do you hold up your end of the bargain even though you would not have made the vow if you had known the truth?
That’s what happened to Joshua and the Israelites. They had just completed their annihilation of Jericho, moving further into the Promised Land, gaining ground and strength as promised by God. The other nations heard about the power of this God and were afraid that He would destroy them to keep His promise that they would have the land for their own. This was a time when small kingdoms dotted the land. They had little power to stand against such a mighty force. As Joshua neared Gibeon, the people of that nation decided to protect themselves so that they would not suffer the same fate as those in Jericho. They packed their donkeys with worn out bags and moldy food so that it would appear as though they had been on the road for a long time. They went to Joshua and claimed to be from a far off land. They said they had heard the stories of God and they wanted to submit to the Israelites and have a treaty. Joshua asked where they were from, concerned that they might be from a neighboring kingdom. They swore they were from a distant country. Without consulting the Lord, Joshua and the leaders swore an oath to the Gibeonites in the name of God.
“And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors, and that they dwelt among them. And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by Jehovah, the God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes. But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by Jehovah, the God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them. This we will do to them, and let them live; lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them. And the princes said unto them, Let them live: so they became hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation, as the princes had spoken unto them.” Joshua 9:16-21 (ASV)
The Gibeonites were spared their lives because they deceived Joshua and the Israelites. If we were in a similar situation we might consider it right and good to go back on our vow because it was based on a lie. We can put the blame on the one who lies because they sinned first. Yet, Joshua knew the importance of integrity. He had made a vow in the name of the Lord. How would it have looked to the nations if God’s people could go back on their word? The Israelites still took the land, the people of Gibeon submitted to the authority of the conquerors. God made everything work out well, His purpose was served without blood being spilled.
When we are in a similar situation, when someone tries to befriend us with lies, we can remember this story about Joshua and the Israelites, considering the role they played in their problem. They did not consult the Lord when making the promise. They vowed in God’s name, something that should be avoided since we do not know all the circumstances. We can follow the example of Joshua whose integrity was more important than winning the war, keeping his promise even when the situation seemed to make it void. Most of all, we can see that God’s purpose always comes through, even when human actions seem to stand in the way. Thanks be to God.
Outage I had trouble getting it all together this morning. I had a few things to accomplish, but I put them off with other activities. Instead of writing this devotion, I wrote a letter or two. Instead of working on the weekly devotional I post on Wednesday, I chatted with a friend. I took a few minutes to relax with a computer game, something I usually do to prepare my mind to focus on my writing. None of these activities were bad; they just weren’t what I should have been doing this morning. With lunch plans and a trip to the grocery store, I really did not have the time. And then, just as I got ready to write, the electricity was cut off.
This was not a surprise. The housing management has been advertising this outage for several days. They are doing some maintenance on the system, and warned us that it would happen. I knew I had to write and post this, then turn off the computer before it happened. But I forgot. I wasn’t prepared for what I knew was coming. Now I am late with my work and I risked damage to my computer. Obviously everything is fine, I’m up and running again and rushing to accomplish my work for the day.
I don’t know about you, but I am a procrastinator. If I am not ready to do something, I just can’t get myself to do it. I find other things to keep me occupied; I’m never motionless. I’ll even do the dishes or the laundry to avoid something on the computer if I can’t get motivated. It’s not that I need to be constantly working. I just put off things too long. Sometimes when I get around to it, it is too late. The electricity was not off for very long, but it could have been much worse. What if it were out for the whole day? I would not be able to accomplish anything. But if I were prepared, doing what I should have been doing, I would not be so stressed.
Have you been caught suddenly, off guard when you should have been prepared? Does dinner time creep up too fast, the kids come home too early? Do you put off completing a project, only to find that you do not have the time the next day to finish? Anything could happen tomorrow – bad weather, sickness, even death. We often have warnings – the weathermen predict storms, doctors recommend treatment. We don’t know the time or the place, but we do know we are going to die. We also know that one day our Lord shall return. Are we ready?
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Mark 13:33-37 (ASV)
When the time comes for the Master to return, He hopes to find each of His servants doing what He has commanded them to do. What is it we keep putting off for tomorrow the things of the kingdom while we do other things today? Praying for a sick friend? Sharing the Gospel with our neighbor? Speaking the words of love and peace, reconciling relationships? We don’t have forever; there will be a time when it is too late. We are called to be prepared for our Master’s return, to be joyfully keeping His house until the moment He comes. Are we watching? Ready? We do not know the time but we know that we only have today. God is calling you to use all you have wisely, including the time because suddenly one day things will be different. Thanks be to God.
Governor The recall and governor’s race in California has certainly been interesting to watch. Because it is not a normal election, anyone with enough money and signatures could have their name put on the ballot. By the time registration had closed, nearly two hundred people threw their hat into the race. Though there are a number of politicians, many of the people have never had any experience in politics. Some of the candidates are a little bizarre. Among those trying for a place were an unemployed man who was doing it for the job, a woman selling underwear on her campaign website and a high school kid who couldn’t win an election for the student council even though he tried numerous times. Other prominent candidates include the child star Gary Coleman, porn star Mary Carey and magazine publisher Larry Flint. The few that are taken seriously include a businessman, a financial advisor, a columnist and author, a senator and the lieutenant governor. But even with all these candidates, there are many who consider the most likely winner will be Arnold Scharzenegger.
An actor for governor? It certainly will not be the first time that an actor crossed over into politics. There are still many who wonder about Ronald Reagan as governor and then president. Several comedies have taken advantage of this by using the absurdity for a laugh. One movie I saw had a family come out of a bomb shelter during Reagan’s term after decades of hiding away. As they got caught up on the news they were surprised by the name of the president. “Ronald Reagan? Isn’t he an actor?”
Yet, such unusual candidate is not a modern phenomenon. David was nothing more than an shepherd and musician when he became king. As we look back at the story of David, we think of him as a strong, powerful man, specially chosen by God to do His work. Yet, imagine how it must have been for those who watched it happen. David’s father and the prophet Samuel expected one of his stronger, warrior sons to be the chosen one. Goliath laughed that the Israelites would send such a child to fight him. Saul never would have guessed that the wimpy young man playing a harp in his tent would be his greatest enemy.
“Now the Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him. And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord now command thy servants, that are before thee, to seek out a man who is a skilful player on the harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me. Then answered one of the young men, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Beth-lehemite, that is skilful in playing, and a mighty man of valor, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person; and Jehovah is with him. Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, who is with the sheep. And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul. And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armorbearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favor in my sight. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took the harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” 1 Samuel 16:14-23 (ASV)
Yes, we live in unusual times. We do not know what will happen in a few months when the election is finally held in California. In the next few weeks as the candidates make their platforms known and as they debate one another, we will better see who might be qualified to win. For most of us, it is simply a fascination with the strange things that happen in California, but for those who live there this is serious business. Most of the candidates will fall away; they will be separated by their lack of money, busy with other things or perhaps even the fact that they joined the fray as a joke. Whatever happens, we can’t assume that a person’s past occupation makes them unqualified to serve in such a position. David was nothing more than shepherd and a musician, but our Lord Jesus Christ came through his royal lineage. Thanks be to God.
Felix Felix is an indoor cat, not by his own choice, but by ours. There are simply too many dangers outside – fleas, cars, angry cats with claws and people who might want him for themselves. Unfortunately, Felix sits in the windows and watches the other animals outside and longs to join them. He wants to go chase the birds, play with the other kitties, eat grass and soak up the sun on the patio. So, over the years he has sought ways to escape. In England, he learned to open the door, making it necessary for us to keep the door locked at all times. He figured out how to push the screenless windows open wide enough to fit out. He even jumped out the second story window to have a run around the neighborhood.
Here in Arkansas he tries to slip unseen under our feet while we come into the house. He is especially prepared when we are carrying groceries or have our hands full of other things. We have learned to enter carefully so that he won’t get out. With each new scheme of his, we find new ways to keep him inside. He has tried the door handles, pushing the screen out of the windows and doors. He has tried to bribe us with love and affection. His schemes will not work over our plans to keep him safe. At times he manages to escape, but he is brought home quickly.
At times I wonder if we shouldn’t just let him escape so that he can see how harsh it is out there in the world. I don’t because I know it could lead to something horrible. He has no claws, so a fight with another cat might be deadly. What if he got lost? Hit by a car? We would be devastated to lose our friend. He could end up with ticks and fleas and bring them into the house. We play his games with him, but ultimately we will always win because we know it is in his best interest to stay indoors where it is safe.
We are much like Felix when it comes to our relationship with our Father in heaven. We try to get things to go our own way, try to direct the future to be as we intend. We stand in the way of His plans, block His work and do exactly the opposite of His desires. We even think that we can manipulate God to do our will, believing that when things do work out as we would like that we changed God’s mind. But God has a plan and it will come to pass no matter what we do to stand in the way.
“Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name whereby she shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.
God promised that the people would be restored to Him through a descendent His royal and priestly line. Throughout the history of His people, many tried to defeat God’s chosen people. They tried to overcome the royal house of David and destroy the priesthood He created to minister to Him. No matter what they did, there was no way that they would stop His plan. He gave them quite a challenge. “If you can stop the sun from shining and the moon from its course, then you can also break the promises I made to David and Levi.” I don’t know of any human intervention that could possibly keep the earth from passing through the seasons year after year.
I don’t know that it is proper to say that God plays our games with us, but He does at times allow us to go our own way. He lets us escape His grasp for a moment as we do our own thing. But He always finds us and brings us home. He does know what is best for us; He has His plan for our lives. Through Jeremiah, He promised that He would send a Savior. Jesus was that Savior, and He came exactly as God intended – through the line of David and Levi even though they often failed. In the past two thousand years, the number of those saved by His mercy and grace is beyond our ability to measure. He is truly faithful to His promises even when we fail. Thanks be to God.
Forgiver Corrie Ten Boom is known around the world as a forgiver. She had spent years in a German concentration camp and when it was over she felt that she had forgiven all those who had embarrassed and degraded her over those years. In those camps, the women were unable to take a shower without leering eyes on their naked bodies. The guards never left them alone. The humiliation was great, but she felt she had even forgiven those creeps.
One day Corrie was preaching about forgiveness in Munich, Germany. A man came to speak to her after the sermon and she immediately recognized him as one of those who had humiliated her all those years ago. She suddenly realized that she had not truly forgiven that man. She could not greet him with love or mercy. She could not even shake his hand. She was so ashamed of herself, unable to do what she had preached for so long. The man said to her, “It is wonderful that Jesus forgives us all our sins, just as you say.” She prayed, “Lord, forgive me, I cannot forgive.” She knew as she prayed that she was forgiven, and she was able to forgive.
Our experiences are probably not as terrible as Corrie Ten Boom’s, but we all know people who have hurt us over the years. It is very easy to say the words, “I forgive,” but what happens when we see them again? Can we face them with grace and mercy? Can we even say hello and shake their hands? Can we work or fellowship with them? It is easy to say the words, but very hard to actually act out the forgiveness we give. It is true for those whose faith is weak and for those whose faith is strong. It is impossible for us all without the love and forgiveness of God.
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in lovingkindness. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19 (ASV)
This is the most incredible promise of the Lord our God. He will forgive and not remember our sin. He will have mercy and compassion on His people. He will get rid of the very things that keep us from a relationship with Him. That’s what unforgiveness does – it builds walls between people that can’t be overcome. Corrie’s lack of forgiveness for the guard made it impossible for her to even speak to him. It is even more difficult when the relationship is with someone close to us. Families have been divided, friendships broken and workplaces destroyed because people are unable to forgive one another.
Corrie was ashamed because she thought she had gotten over the humiliation and anger. Yet, as she looked in the face of the one who had done so much harm, she realized that she still hurt. The only way she could forgive him was to realize that she too was a sinner in need of forgiveness. When she prayed in faith that God does pardon those He loves, she knew it was true. Only then could she forgive. She could forgive because she was forgiven.
That’s how it is for all of us. When we face those whom have done us harm, and we cannot even shake their hand, we can pray the same prayer as she did. “Lord, forgive me, I cannot forgive.” He will, for He is faithful to His promises. Our iniquities were trampled under the foot of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross fulfilled this promise. We are forgiven. Sometimes we need a reminder, especially when we cannot forgive another. But when we remember that all our sin has been taken away, that we have been forgiven, we are given the strength to reach out and shake the hands of those we thought we would never forgive. Thanks be to God.
Reservation Zack is beginning a project for class about the Navajo Indians. The focus for Social Studies this year will be American History. They always begin the study as far in history as they are able. For the United States, the first people of this land are the Native Americans. So, each child has been assigned one group to research. They will present their findings in an oral report with some sort of visual aid. So far, we have found a great deal of information on the Internet as well as in books in the library. He won’t have any trouble finding things to discuss. It might be difficult to choose just enough for a few minute talk.
One of the pages we found is an introduction to the Navajo culture. The author describes the very basic aspects of the culture – location, language, religion, family, government and rituals. Native culture is best understood by experience, especially since they do not put their stories into writing. To the Native American, the oral tradition is very important. Each generation of people becomes part of the culture by experiencing it through the ceremonies. Unfortunately, as other people came to live on the land it became difficult to continue their way of life. Societal pressure, unjust practice and modern influence have changed the way the younger generations are living. They cannot find a way to live in their world while still living in America. Many of the old ways are being lost because the young are choosing to set them aside for other things.
As Christians, we have the same problem with the world. The effects of the world around us make it difficult to live as we are called to live in Christ. Though we are born into and live in this world, we are saved into something new and very different.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17 (ASV)
Though there are great differences between the Navajo beliefs and our Christian understanding of faith, we can certainly see through the changing face of Native American culture how the world can draw people away from their faith. The young people on today’s reservations desire the same things other kids desire. They want modern conveniences. They do not want to be separated from other people by their ancient ways that are strange to outsiders. They don’t look at their traditions as being important or vital to their existence as people in the United States.
The same is true of many Christians in today’s world. The draw of this world is strong. There is little that we can truly call bad, most of the temptations in our world are good and wonderful things. We lose our way when those things become more important than our relationship with God, when those things turn us away from loving our Creator. John reminds us that the things of this world are going to pass away, but the things of God are eternal. It is difficult to live in this world while not being of it. May God always be at the heart of all we do, our eyes focused on Jesus, so that the world will not draw us away from the things that truly matter. Thanks be to God.
Simple pleasures A bunny rabbit lives in our neighborhood. We do not know exactly where he sleeps, but we often see him hopping around eating the grass in our yard. When we first moved on to the base, we wondered if we would see any animals, but I never count on it. We live in a typical housing area; there are plenty of trees and green grass. There is a lake a few blocks away and forest all around. The base is home to deer, turtles, snakes and several different varmints. Yet, I did not expect to see so many animals in our neighborhood. We have more types of birds than I can count and squirrels in the trees.
We discovered the rabbit some time after moving into this house, but we knew something was outside. Sometimes it was a neighbor’s cat, but one night we saw the rabbit. Felix was quite upset with something outside the window. When I peeked, I saw that it was the rabbit, eating the birdseed that had fallen out of the feeder during the day. We did not see him much in those early days. There were too many cats wandering loose. Several neighbors moved this summer, the cat population is down, and the rabbit is around all the time.
The other day, Zack got all excited and called me to see something. I walked over to find that the bunny was in the yard again. Even after all this time, seeing that rabbit is still a simple blessing that gives Zack such joy. To me, it seemed quite silly to get excited, but I can understand how he feels. Sometimes it is the smallest things that give me the greatest pleasure, things that others might see as ridiculous. When we lived in England, a trip to the mailbox when there was a special letter or package was the highlight of my week. An unexpected phone call from an old friend always brings a smile. A patch of wildflowers at the side of the road can brighten my day and a rainbow in the sky makes me remember the promises of God.
“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)
What are the simple pleasures that bring joy to your life? The greatest blessings are those in which we see the hand of God working for our sake. It is good, right and true that our blessedness is founded on the cross of Jesus Christ, His mercy and grace. Yet, in the shadow of the cross, it is easy to miss out on the simplest pleasures that bring joy to our hearts. God is active in our world today, continually creating and recreating the world for His glory. In the flowers, our relationships and even that little bunny, God manifests His love for us in tangible ways we can see and experience with joy. Sometimes the crosses of life hang over us, threatening our peace and hope. Yet, when we look for God in even the simplest of pleasures and sing for joy with thanksgiving and praise, the crosses we bear become light because He carries them with us. Thanks be to God.
Today’s WORD is repeated from September 8, 2002.
Complete One of the things I miss most about living in England is visiting all the ancient buildings – the castles and cathedrals. It was fascinating to walk around and see the stones that were placed there a thousand or so years ago. Whenever we knelt to pray or participated in a service, in every hallway or garden we wandered, I thought about the men and women who had been there before. Our visit to Westminster Abbey was one of the most inspiring.
We were taking a tour through the building, visiting the tombs of kings and queens and people from every class of society. There were authors, artists, political leaders and nobility buried under the floor of the cathedral and lay in vaults that stood in chapels. We joined a service of communion that was held while we were visiting. As I knelt before the altar, receiving the body and blood of my Lord, I thought about the many others that had also shared in the blessing over the centuries. It was a humbling to find myself in the company of so many saints and sinners, kings and commoners, and even the craftsmen who had lovingly carved every stone and built the walls.
One of the most fascinating things about those cathedrals is the fact that they are never really complete. It often took decades for the buildings to rise from the ground, every brick and stone hand hewn and fitted by gifted craftsmen. By the time the original plans were complete, the earliest walls already needed repair or a new ruler wanted something to be different. During our adventures, we noticed that every cathedral or castle had some sort of scaffolding where repairs were being made. It was understandable; the buildings were ancient and could not last forever without some sort of maintenance.
I imagine it seemed to those who built the buildings over the years that they would never see the end. We recently transformed our own church building, a process that took several years. There were times when the progress was slow and impossible to see. We could only trust that one day we would see the completion of our new sanctuary and know that God had His hand in the project all along.
“Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain; and he shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace, unto it. Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that Jehovah of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for these seven shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel; these are the eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” Zechariah 4:7-10 (ASV)
Zechariah was writing to the nation of Israel after they had returned to Judah from being exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BC. He wrote to encourage the people to be obedient to the LORD and to rebuild the temple. Though things seemed to move very slowly, Zechariah assured them that the building would be finished and God would be glorified. God moves in the small things, just as He does in the big things. We are being built as temples for the Living God. He is carving the stones and laying them on the foundation that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening, but God is still with us bringing transformation to our lives. These words of Zechariah bring us comfort and peace, because we are promised completion of everything God has spoken, and it will come by His hand. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.” God is with us, building our buildings and transforming our lives for His glory. Thanks be to God.
Development The other day we saw a commercial for the Disney movie “Sleeping Beauty” which is being re-released on video very soon. When Vicki saw it she said, “Wow, that is an old Disney movie isn’t it?” The newer movies are so technologically advanced that the older ones seem so simple. Computer graphics has made it possible to give more depth to the pictures. The characters are no longer flat on the screen; the viewer can be made to feel as if they are in the middle of the action. It is amazing to think that the movie “Sleeping Beauty” was ahead of its time. Over the years the developers and artists have come up with ways to make their product even better.
The same is true of athletes. When we watch clips from Olympics that were held decades ago, we can see the athletes were quite talented, but they could not even compete with today’s stars. Ice skaters were progressive and bold with jumps and spins in the past, but now they are even more so. At one time it was enough to do a single axle, now it is necessary to do triples to get similar scores. Gymnasts have literally raised the bar and so much more is expected of them in today’s competitions. Every year world records are broken in swimming and running as the athletes push themselves harder. Racecar drivers have developed machines that are amazing; boats can go faster today than they were ever able to go.
In many ways the old and the new are bound together. Disney still desires that people be entertained, athletes still compete to win. Yet, there are such great differences between the old and the new it is hard to see how they relate. If Peggy Fleming and Olga Korbet were sixteen again, they would find it difficult to compete with today’s stars. I wonder if they would even find common ground on the philosophies of competition and preparation. Even in things like politics and patriotism, there is little to bind us to those who lived in the past. America is different than it was for the founding fathers. Even their documents have changed over time as amendments have been added and our perspective has changed.
Time passes, things develop and change. They become better as the people and technology is pushed to the limit. There is little that holds the old with the new, little they have in common. I suppose in some ways the same can be said about Christianity. Over the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth, the Church has developed and changed. There are new doctrines, different denominations, modern practices and music in worship. Yet, Christianity is much different than anything else in this world. The love and mercy of Jesus Christ reaches over time and space, binding us together in a way it is impossible to do with anything else.
“Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (ASV)
One of the things I most loved about visiting the ancient cathedrals and churches of Europe was the very fact that our faith in Jesus Christ is timeless in places with such a long history. I loved to kneel at the altar rail and take communion where over the centuries thousands of other Christians had also knelt. Even today in our modern church, I can imagine that the congregation of saints is there right with me at that very moment. We have a great cloud of witnesses that passed before, but our faith is bound together by the Holy Spirit no matter when or where we believed. We all have a common foundation, the cross of Jesus Christ. He accepted the unacceptable so that we would be one with Him throughout the ages, all hoping with the same hope and believing with the same faith.
The surface of the Church might change over time, and there are aspects of our religion that don’t hold together over time. One thing is sure, Jesus Christ is the Savior of all. In Him we are bound together for all time for His glory and honor forever. Thanks be to God.
End In a movie I watched recently, the main character had a strange practice. Whenever she was shopping for books, she read the last page or so. If she liked the ending, she bought the book. This seems like a silly way to purchase a book, particularly if it is a mystery. How much fun can it be if you know the ending before you begin? At the other extreme, the characters on the TV show “MASH” ran into a problem when a book they were sharing was missing the final pages. They could not figure out the solution to the mystery without them.
The end is important. It is where we are headed, whether it is a book, a race or a puzzle. The end of a book finishes the story, sums up the information and brings the characters to the place the author intends. I have a hard time not finishing a book even if I think it is terrible. We are more interested in the end of a race than the beginning or the middle, because it is at the end we find out who wins. Puzzles, especially mazes, have a goal to reach.
I don’t do mazes the way you are supposed to do them. I don’t start at the beginning, I start at the end. It seems as though they are much easier to solve when I do them backwards. I suppose it is because the artist who designed the puzzle was careful to make crossroads and y’s in the paths so that the person solving the puzzle will have decisions to make. Such decisions are not in the way when going from the end to the beginning, thus making the puzzle much easier to solve.
It is a good thing that my life doesn’t depend on doing things the way I should with a maze. Yet, there is something on which our eternal life depends, and that is finding the way to God. However, God does not give us this journey as if it is a maze, with lots of crossroads and y’s to confuse our path. He actually begins us on the journey from the end point and points us toward the beginning. We don’t have to work hard to find Jesus. He is the end point, the way to eternal life, but He is also where we begin.
That was the problem with believers of Jesus’ day. They were trying to find God, through the law and self-righteousness. Unfortunately, when they came to a decision moment, it was difficult to know if they were going the right way. It was as if they were going around and around in a maze, unable to find the end. When they did see Jesus, they did not know He was their goal, so they rejected Him and kept roaming around in their quest to know God. On the cross, Jesus finished the work of finding God and He became the place where we start. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples knew this and went out into the world continuing the work of Jesus in the world. When they healed, the Jews asked by what power or in what name did they do it.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved. Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.” Acts 4:8-12 (ASV)
It really does not matter if we read the last page of the book or begin the maze at the end. It is fun to make it to the end of the race and win the prize, but our life is not necessarily made better by such a thing. How we come to understand our relationship with God does matter, though. When we try hard to find God, to work toward some sort of salvation, we run into roadblocks and make all the wrong decisions. We can’t do it on our own. No matter how hard we try, we do it wrong. For the Jews in those early days of the church, they were trying so hard to find God that they missed Him and even sent Him to the cross. Peter answers their question, “what power or in what name is this man healed?” He said only through Jesus can we be saved. Through Jesus Christ, God turned the entire puzzle around. He made the end the beginning and walks with us on our journey. Thanks be to God.
Private Beetle Bailey has been a private for as long as the comic strip has been in publication. Of course, the comic would not be quite so funny if Beetle Bailey were any different. Yet, we see in the ongoing story a truth of life in the working world – if you can’t be trusted to do the things you are given to do, you won’t be given a promotion. In the military and in other jobs, a promotion means greater responsibility. If a person is unable to complete the lesser tasks, they will never move on to greater things. Beetle Bailey has spent decades falling asleep on the job, avoiding every task and conning others to do his work. He is not trustworthy, and has remained a private for all those years.
Beetle Bailey is just a comic strip, and would not be nearly as funny if he were any different. In the real world, Beetle Bailey would not have even kept his job for that long. As a retail manager, I carefully watched the employees. Those who proved themselves trustworthy with the little things were the first to be considered for promotions. In fast food, a new employee always begins with a mop, then they move into food prep, cashier and eventually they might even be considered for a supervisory or management position. The best employees are the ones who can be trusted with little; they find themselves in charge of much.
The problem is not always the problem that Sarge has had with Beetle Bailey. He was just lazy. Sometimes the employees are incapable of the task, greedy or even dishonest. Those employees are willing to lie, steal and cheat. I had workers who punched in early, but waited until the minute they were scheduled to start to get to work. This may not seem like a very big deal, but by the end of the week it meant several extra dollars and by the end of the year it came out to hundreds of dollars of paid wages for no work. Other employees felt that it is ok to eat a piece of candy or some french fries. I’ve seen people damage merchandise to get it for a discounted price. It doesn’t pay to work this way. Eventually the employee’s habits will be found and they will either remain stagnant in their position or they will be fired.
“He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16:10-13 (ASV)
This scripture has proven itself true in the real world. Beetle Bailey has remained a private for decades because he is not a trustworthy soldier. In my retail experience, I knew it was best to choose those who had been trustworthy with the little things for the promotions and special tasks around the store. What Luke writes in this passage is about even more important things – spiritual and eternal riches. If someone is not trustworthy and honorable with the things of this world, how can they possibly handle the things of God? Jesus knows those of His children who can be trusted with the work of the kingdom, He knows the hearts of those who will serve Him well. There are many who take advantage of the power and position they’ve been given to benefit their own lives. God knows those who have been faithful, and they will be blessed with so much more. Thanks be to God.
Thank you On an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry was given tickets to a big game in town. The team was in the finals of the national championship and the owner of the season tickets was unable to attend the games. Jerry and his friends had a great time attending the game and hoped perhaps they might get tickets to the next one also. The next day, George asked Jerry if he had thanked the guy for the tickets. When Jerry said “No” George got all upset that they’d never get the tickets to the next game. Apparently Jerry had broken protocol for such a gift by not thanking the caller the next day. A few days later they still had not heard from the guy, Jerry finally gave in and called to thank him. The guy was so happy to hear the thank you, he gave Jerry the next set of tickets.
Unfortunately, Jerry’s attitude about thank you notes is the same as many people today. “Why bother?” “What good do they do?” “I simply do not have time to write a note to say thank you.” Yet, thank you notes do much more than just show appreciation for the gift. They are a message of encouragement for the giver, and also that the gift arrived intact. I have tried to teach the children to send a word of thanks when someone has done something special for them. Sometimes we fail, but the kids are learning to make it a habit. After she hurt her foot, Vicki got a get-well card from my sister. Vicki immediately wrote her a letter to thank her. My sister was surprised; “I never got a thank you note for a card before.”
Thankfulness is an important attribute, not only giving thanks for the things people do for us, but also thanking God for our great many blessings. This is one thing Christians are good about, although our thanksgiving tends to be quiet, through prayer. I know that I often thank God silently during the day, but the words rarely leave my mouth. I am not less thankful; I have always thought it was something between myself and my God, so why speak it out loud? Yet, Paul shows us in his letters the joy of thanking God in the presence of those we thank for their touch on our lives. He repeatedly says “Thanks be to God” and “I thank God.”
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election, how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5 (ASV)
Today’s Word, dear readers, is a word of thanks. As Paul writes, I always give thanks to God for you, praying for you each day. I thank Him for your prayers, letters of encouragement and continued support for this ministry. I thank God for your faith, for the Gospel you have heard and known by the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives and for the impact you have had on those who cross your path each day. I give thanks to God for each one of you, for by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ I see His love and mercy in your lives.
We have lost the great art of sending thank you notes. Many have the same attitude as Jerry in that episode of Seinfeld. They do not feel that thanks are necessary. Even Christians who live lives of thankfulness to God forget to make their thankfulness known to the world. In our praise of God’s wonderful grace in those that touch us day by day, we show the world what a great and merciful God is our Lord. Who can you thank God for today? Write them a note and tell them how much their witness has done in your life. Thank be to God.
Identity My husband’s rank in the Air Force gives us a special sticker on our car. The sticker helps identify the occupants of the car when parking or entering the base. Anyone who is familiar with the policies on base can recognize us from this sticker. The other day I was parking the car in the Walmart parking lot when a man in a truck close by saw the sticker. As I got out of the car, he hollered over, “You are way too young to be a chief’s wife.” Bruce is a few years older than I, but I am just barely old enough to be a chief’s wife. Of course, the comment was quite a compliment; perhaps I look younger than my chronological age.
It was interesting to be identified so quickly and easily by a small sticker on my car. There is so much more to me than just that one thing. The man could probably have guessed that I am also a mother, since my kids were in the car. If we had talked for a few minutes, he might have discovered other things about me. My friends and family know more intimate details; you all know many aspects of my life. Yet, there are aspects of all our lives that are hidden or mysterious, things we simply do not know about other people. You and I cannot read each other’s hearts; we cannot truly know our identity as seen with God’s eyes.
Peter, James, John and the other disciples lived with Jesus for three years. They saw so many characteristics of his personality that you can only see when living in close quarters with someone. They could identify Jesus as a teacher, a prophet, a brother and a friend. At some moments, they were able to confess faith in a way that was beyond the normal ability of men.
“And Jesus went forth, and his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi: and on the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am? And they told him, saying, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but others, One of the prophets. And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.” Mark 8:27-29 (ASV)
Even with this awesome confession of faith, Peter still did not really recognize the true identity and purpose of Jesus Christ. Minutes after this conversation, Mark told Jesus he would never allow Jesus to die. He did not really understand Jesus, or know what it was He had to do. Jesus rebuked him and told him that death was a necessary part of His ministry. He could not complete His work without dying on the cross. Peter knew by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was not just a teacher, prophet, brother or friend. He knew that Jesus was not Elijah, John or any of the other identities that the people wanted to give Jesus. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ.
Jesus asks the same question of everyone. “Who do you say that I am?” Many people who are not Christians believe in Jesus. They believe Jesus was a prophet, teacher, or great man of God. They identify Jesus with goodness and purity. But they do not believe in the cross. To them, the cross is just a foolish part of the Christian faith. They say, just like Peter, “Don’t be ridiculous, death is not part of God’s plan.” But Peter did confess Jesus as the Christ, he simply did not understand until after the crucifixion and resurrection what that really meant.
As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty vision, and we look at Jesus today through the cross. We, by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, identify Jesus as much more than just a prophet, teacher and great man of God. We know He is the crucified Christ, the One whose death brings life to the world. Who do you say Jesus is? The answer to that question comes only by faith and means the difference between life and death. Many good people believe in Jesus, every major religion has a statement of ‘faith’ about the man Jesus Christ who walked the earth two thousand years ago. But they do not believe in the Jesus who saves. Jesus is much more than we see on the surface, His identity is much deeper than we see with our eyes. Jesus is Lord. We know this by Spirit. Thanks be to God.
Fundraiser We have been trying to establish a parent’s organization at Vicki’s dance school this year. After the dancers and baton twirlers went to the Liberty Bowl last year, we realized the value of having an organization to help with the funding for all our special projects. It can get quite expensive buying costumes, shoes, paying competition fees and travel expenses. So, this year we are working earlier and harder to build some capitol the girls can use.
I decided to take on one of the projects. We sold these cute little bead pens, key chains and frames. Now that the order forms have been turned in, it is my task to organize the order and send it out to the company. Several of the parents have been late turning in their forms, so I did only rough estimates last week and set to the work seriously today. I made several mistakes last week, so when I sat down today I discovered a number of inconsistencies with the order. It took several hours to go through all the numbers, to find my errors and to make sure everything lined up. When dealing with accounting work like this, it is important to do checks and balances in every way possible, to ensure that every dollar is where it belongs. By adding the numbers across and down, and by recounting the orders on the forms, I finally came to a final number that matches in every way.
Everyone who has done a similar project knows how difficult this can be. The order forms are often messy and confusing. Some sellers do not carefully read the instructions and bring problems with their orders. There are always parents who do not abide by the deadline, making the processing of all the orders even more difficult. In the end, everything will work out fine and the girls will earn some good money toward their activities. This has been a very small project, but it has been big enough for me to wonder if I will ever volunteer for another project like it.
There was a time today when my records were a mess, none of the numbers lined up. I carefully studied the numbers until I found my mistakes and then everything fell in place. Isn’t that the way it is with our understanding of scripture? There are times when we sit and read the Bible and think to ourselves, “Everything just doesn’t line up. What is wrong with this picture?” When we face those who disagree, particularly those who are not believers, it is hard to deal with the inconsistencies that seem to be part of the words found in the Bible. Through time and study, the Holy Spirit works out the problems in our beliefs, He corrects our mistakes and He shows us how it all fits together.
When everything is in its place, the Bible lines up perfectly – no inconsistencies, no mistakes. Unfortunately, our understanding is flawed. Even a tiny mistake can mean things will not be right as a whole. We hear so many differing ideas about God and Jesus, about faith and religious terminology. Some of those ideas lead to conflicting outcomes. Which is right? Which is true?
“And he said unto them, O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:25-27 (ASV)
The disciples in this story had been with Jesus, learned from Him for some time. Yet, they did not understand how it all fit together. The crucifixion of Jesus did not fit into the bottom line. The witness of the women that Jesus had risen confused them. They could not make the puzzle fit together because there was something wrong with some of the pieces. Jesus explained the scriptures to them and corrected their errors. When He revealed Himself to them later that evening in the breaking of bread, the men wondered how they could every have doubted.
I had to work hard to make everything work on the fundraising forms. The parents and the company are counting on me to do the processing well so that there will be no mistakes in the order. When it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ, a misunderstanding about the scriptures can mean the difference between salvation and death. A great many people have rejected Jesus as their Lord and Savior because they do not see how it all fits together. They are confused by the seemingly inconsistent messages of the scriptures. The Bible is not faulty, our understanding of it that is. God does not leave us alone and confused. He corrects our error and shows us the truth so that we might know Him fully and be saved. Thanks be to God.
Healing A few months ago a dear friend of the family called to talk. She was a close friend of my mother, a woman I called aunt though there was no blood relationship. It was such a pleasure to hear from her, we shared memories of Mom and comforted one another in our pain. Unfortunately, she also had some bad news. She was very sick. We talked about faith, about hope and about love. I promised to keep in touch and to pray. I did as I promised, but a few weeks ago I realized that it had been some time since I had written; so I sent her a letter. It was too late. Her son called me when he received it to let me know she had died. I wrote in hope that she was still there, in faith that the prayers of those who loved her were making a difference.
I felt bad that my contact with her family was not words of comfort, guilty that it had been too long since my last letter. I wondered if there were more I could do. It would be so easy to get lost in these feelings and even get lost in doubt and uncertainty. There are so many who believe that healing is dependent on faith. When someone remains sick or dies, the healers justify the lack of answer from God by blaming the one who is sick. In a chat room recently, I heard someone tell another, “You do not receive because you do not ask.” At other times, I’ve heard it said that healing did not come because they did not believe, that they doubted God. Others blame the person because they are not good enough or faithful enough. Since many of the stories of miracles in the scriptures include Jesus’ words “Your faith has healed you” it is common among many to teach that faith is a necessary part of the healing. Yet, it was not always that way.
“After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wouldest thou be made whole? The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.” John 5:1-9a (ASV)
In this story, the man did not know Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus for healing, but complained that no one would help him. He whined a bit about his problem – he was alone and unable to get into the healing waters of the pool. I suppose he was hoping that Jesus might carry him into the waters to be healed when it was time, but he had no faith that Jesus could change his life. Jesus simply said, “Get up and walk.” The man was healed immediately. Even when questioned later, the man still had no idea about Jesus’ identity.
The good and wonderful things that God does in this world are not dependent on our faith, or else we would never see the goodness of God. We are all fallible; we all fail to keep our eyes on God. We all face moments of doubt and guilt, not knowing what to do. Yet, God calls us to pray and to have faith. He knows what He is doing. The last conversation I had with my dear friend was wonderful. We were encouraged by each other’s faith and uplifted by the hope of God’s promise for all who believe. Perhaps she was not healed in flesh before she died, but she received an even greater healing when our Father took her into His arms for eternity.
Yes, it is easy to wonder if we did everything right. Did we pray enough, write enough, and have enough faith? That’s our human disposition. Faith is an important part of our relationship with Christ and should never be discounted, but God is able to move beyond our faith. It is good that God does not always answer our wants and desires, He knows far more about what we need. He touches our lives in ways we do not even realize or understand. Thanks be to God.
Boss I once had a boss that was not very good at her job. I am sure just about everyone can say the same thing about at least one employer over their lifetime of working. I was working in the home fashions department of a major company and she was the department manager. I had previously had retail management experience, but at that time of my life I had no desire for a full time job, especially a position that would require so many hours. When I applied for the job, I interviewed with this woman and clearly stated that I just wanted a part time job that would pay a few dollars and give me something to do a few days a week. She hired me immediately, glad to have someone on her staff with experience.
It did not take very long before I realized that she was a poor manager. She also realized quickly that I was an excellent employee. Instead of taking advantage of my willingness to do my best for the sake of the department, she became paranoid that I was vying for her job. She did whatever she could to make me want to quit. She changed schedules last minute and refused time off even after she had promised it. She gave me tasks that weren’t in my job description, such as the stock boy’s job of moving heavy boxes and other things that I was not physically capable of doing. I did eventually leave that job for a number of reasons, some directly related to her treatment of her employees.
Of course, this is a very one-sided portrayal of this relationship. Perhaps I did things that made it seem as though I was after her job. However, I was not the only victim of her inability to manage. She had an extremely high turnover rate. Employees did not last very long in the department, either transferring to another or leaving the company altogether. Her poor management skills got her fired shortly after I left. I know that not all horrible boss stories come out so well. Some people work for years under a supervisor who does not take care of his or her employees. It is stressful to work in such an environment, and it is probably the main reason people leave jobs that they love.
There is some sort of hierarchy in every aspect of our lives, both secular and religious. There is always a ‘boss’ of some sort, someone who is in charge. In the family we have parents and children. In a school we have principals, teachers and students. In the government we have the president, cabinet, and many layers of staff down to the most seemingly insignificant employee. In the church there is always some sort of leadership, no matter what we call them. The best associations or institutions are those in which the one who is in charge takes good care of those for which he or she has been given responsibility. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, even among God’s people. The kings, priests and prophets did not always care for the people, often leaving them lost and confused in this world. In the Old Testament God often rebuked those to whom He had given power, and Jesus’ most intense moments of anger were against the leaders of the Jews who had so harmed His children.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, even to the shepherds, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe unto the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill the fatlings; but ye feed not the sheep. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought back that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have ye ruled over them. And they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food to all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my sheep were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and there was none that did search or seek after them.” Ezekiel 34:1-6 (ASV)
Though these words were specifically written for the leaders of Israel, they certainly are true of leaders in many situations. Horrible bosses send employees fleeing for other jobs. Bad political leaders ruin their nations. Uncaring parents leave kids to fend for themselves, often on the streets. But no matter how bad it is in all those other institutions, to me it is most heartbreaking when it happens in the church.
In today’s world, a great many Christians are hopping from church to church looking for a place they can call home. It is not always the fault of the leadership. Many people are searching for something that doesn’t exist in this world – the perfect church. However, I know too many people who have completely rejected the idea of such a fellowship, choosing instead to worship alone in their homes with televangelists or who have created home churches with a few friends because they have been so harmed by leaders who cared not for Jesus’ sheep but for themselves.
When the leaders in a church are like those shepherds in Ezekiel, Christians decide they can do it better on their own. “I don’t need to go to church, I can worship God anywhere, anytime.” While it is true that we can and should worship God everywhere, it is also the greatest lie Satan has whispered into the ears of Christians throughout the ages. He takes advantage of those who are suffering at the hands of a poor shepherd and leads them away from fellowship with other Christians, leaving them vulnerable to attack. There are far too many Christians wandering alone in the world.
We aren’t all called to be pastors, but we are all called to care for those over whom God has called us to rule. Whether our vocation is secular or religious, whether we are president or the mother of a brand new baby, let us all take good care of those for whom we are given responsibility. Let us all work to ensure that none of our brothers and sisters in Christ are wandering aimlessly in the mountains, vulnerable to attack from the enemy of our souls.
Habits The kids have been back in school for nearly a month now. For the most part we are settled back into the old routine. The kids are used to the early bedtimes and rising. They have established a pattern of getting ready in the morning so that they won’t miss their bus. They do their homework as soon as they get home from school. It hasn’t been easy. Zack would rather play outside in the afternoon. They both enjoy some of the television programs that play after they are supposed to be in bed. Vicki would like to sleep much later in the day. But the old habits are coming back.
It is not so easy for others. Just last week I talked to a teacher that was still having trouble getting organized. The media specialist can’t get the machines to work properly. Some of the children are still being tested and placed in special classes. Many of the children are not able to get back into the swing of things, missing their bus and not completing their homework. What was habit just a few months ago has been lost.
This is one of the reasons many educators argue for year round school. The theory is that if vacations are spread out over the year, the children and teachers do not lose the good habits they establish during the school year. I know that our teachers spent a good part of the first few weeks reviewing the lessons from the previous year, information that they children forgot over the three-month summer vacation. Good habits seem to get lost so very easily.
“Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue; whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in that world by lust.
Peter tells us that God has given us everything good we need to live the life of faith and our calling in this world. But in this passage he reminds us to live daily in the grace of God so that we will not lose the good habits we gain as we grow in faith. The virtues of faith – goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love – are given by God and made stronger through diligence. If these are not manifested in our life, if we are idle and unfruitful, then we have forgotten the great and wonderful thing our Lord Jesus Christ has done by cleansing us of our sin. We will question our salvation and wonder if we are really saved. But when we diligently live in the faith we have been given, His light will shine in our lives and we will never doubt that we have received the promise of life in the eternal kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.
Book I saw a book in the bookstore several months ago that looked really good. It was a historical novel about Christianity in England, based in Glastonbury. I have been fascinated by the legends and myths of that part of England, particularly the stories of Jesus having lived among the people there and the tales of the Holy Grail taken there by Joseph of Arimathea. I really wanted this book, but it was a bit expensive and I did not buy it that day. I thought perhaps I might be able to get it online cheaper. I could, but with a vacation pending I decided that it would be faster, and not that much more expensive, to get it in the store. Unfortunately, when I went back the book was no longer on the shelf. My quest for this book led me to several different online bookstores. None could fill my order; even the used copies were gone. Finally, after several months of searching, I finally found a copy.
Now, this quest for this one particular book was rather silly, since I have a houseful of books that I can read. It was the book that got away, the one I had to have. The other books will be here tomorrow when I want to read them, but that one might never be available again if I didn’t find it soon.
Fishermen understand the quest for the one that got away. Many will tell you about their favorite lake and the legendary fish that lives there. Rumors of some monster sized bass or catfish that has managed to steal the bait and escape capture for years exist around each fisher’s paradise. Women understand the quest for the perfect dress, visiting store after store looking for the one ideal gown for an event. Collectors know the joy of stopping at every yard sale in a five-mile radius searching for the perfect item for their collection. Each one will set everything aside as they go off to fulfill their quest.
We have often heard stories of people who were introduced to the faith of their fathers but for some reason rebelled against the message of Jesus. John Bunyan and St. Augustine are just two examples of men who had heard the Gospel, but thought that there was something better on the other side of the fence. They went looking for fulfillment in other ways. Jesus did not give up on them, constantly working to draw them into the faith that would save them from themselves. Eventually the prayers of a mother were fulfilled and the words of strangers filled their hearts until they were drawn back into the fold of Christ.
“For the Son of man came to save that which was lost. How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:11-14 (ASV)
Do you know someone who has wandered away from the faith? Are you being lured away by the ways of this world? Do not despair; Jesus does not let His sheep go far. He searches to the very ends of the earth for all those He loves, to bring them back into His kingdom, even if it means leaving behind the rest while He looks. The ninety-nine are not left desolate and alone, He cares for them too. But He is willing to go out of His way so that none will be lost.
We all have something we are willing to go out of our way to find – a book, a fish, a dress or a collectable – but Jesus goes after the souls of His people. He sometimes works in the most unusual ways – like the women who were singing praise not knowing that John Bunyan heard their words. Sometimes He works through you and I, quickening our hearts to prayer for a friend or sending us to a specific time and place where He can touch someone through our lives. Is there someone in your life who has strayed, for whom you long to know the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ? Rest assured, Jesus will search until He brings them back into His kingdom. And listen, He may just be using you to help Him to bring them home. Thanks be to God.
Faulty On an episode of “Friends,” Monica and Ross’s grandmother passed away. They were at a gathering of people following the funeral, when Monica and her mother began to talk. Monica’s mother said, “You have no idea what it is like to live with a woman who can’t find anything positive to say.” Monica was dumbfounded because she had always lived with that from her own mother. The suggestions are not always harsh, “You should wear your hair up.” “When are you going to get married?” “I guess I will never be a grandmother.” Most of the time these thoughts are valuable, they would make things easier or better. But Monica was a grown woman and had made her own choices. She was upset because her mother would not accept as she was, but was constantly trying to change her.
With people like that, however, it does not do much good to make the changes. Nothing is every good enough. A new hairdo will be wrong, a new job will be foolish, a move to another city will be a violation of family unity. The fiancé is never good enough and there is always a better choice no matter what decision is made. Monica’s mother had no idea she was treating her daughter the same way, she only saw it in her own mother. Though Monica is not yet a mother on the show, she is much the same way. Everything in her apartment must be perfect, every item in its place. If anyone tries to help out, she finds something wrong with his or her kindness – they don’t know how clean the right way.
For some people, nothing is good enough. Those who want everything to be according to their own will and purpose do not look at anything beyond their own understanding. This was certainly true of those who were acquainted with John the Baptist and Jesus two thousand years ago. They were looking for a Messiah, one who would save them from their troubles in this world. They were expecting a military leader, an earthly king, who would repel the Romans and make them a strong, independent nation. In the days preceding the life of Jesus, many came in the name of God preaching the coming kingdom of heaven. Many even died for their faith. None were the Messiah. It would seem that when the real one came, those who knew the prophecy would have recognized Him without a doubt. But even with their knowledge and their faith they found nothing good about either John the Baptist or Jesus.
“And all the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him. Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children that sit in the marketplace, and call one to another; who say, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not weep. For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a demon. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! And wisdom is justified of all her children.” Luke 7:29-35 (ASV)
For some people, nothing is good enough. For the Pharisees, John the Baptist was too bizarre to be a man of God. He did nothing as was expected of the son of a priest. He wore strange clothes, ate weird food and spoke like no one had yet spoken about God. Jesus wasn’t good enough either. He ate and drank like the rest of them, but He was seen as a drunkard because he kept the wrong kind of friends and spoke even stranger things about the Kingdom of God. Each of them was sent for a specific purpose – John to point toward Jesus and His coming, Jesus to be the Savior. They had different roles. It would not have mattered if John was more normal in his actions, they still would have found fault with his message. The same is true of Jesus. If He had done exactly as they expected, He still would not have been recognized as the Messiah, for He did not come to be the earthly king they wanted Him to be. He came to save so much more than the Jewish nation, He came to save the world from death and the grave. Thanks be to God.
Hurricane Thursday was a tough day for a lot of folk. Hurricane Isabel came ashore and brought with her dangerous winds and excessive rain. Pounding waves and storm surges that took out many homes, boats, businesses and everything else in the path of the hurricane. Electricity was out for millions; some are still waiting for service to be restored. Several dozen people died from storm related injuries. As the floodwaters recede, all those in the wake of the storm must try to rebuild and restore their lives.
Most of the people who were in the most dangerous areas evacuated to safer land, but no matter how bad a situation becomes, there is always some that must continue to work through it. The firemen, police, health care professionals, reporters, utility repairmen and servicemen have jobs that are particularly needed during such a disaster. The television showed reporters fighting the winds near their hotels as the storm was at its peak. Though it is almost ridiculous the lengths they will go to so that they will get the story, we realize that there are some that have no choice in the matter. Emergency workers go out in that mess to save lives, to guard property and to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
One amazing story of commitment came out of Arlington Cemetery. There is one particular tomb that is guarded day and night by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. It is called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and has four graves that hold the remains of soldiers who died in war but were unidentifiable. A guard is always present at the tomb, guarding not just the bones of those soldiers but also the memory of all those who died in battle throughout the history of our country. For the first time in more than seventy years, the soldiers on duty were given the option to leave their post to wait out the storm indoors. They refused. Guarding the tomb is a great honor. Once chosen, they will do whatever is necessary to stay on duty because they respect the lives of those who died and cherish the tomb in which they are held. The guards are part of a team that take turns each hour. While at the tomb they wore protective gear and in between their shifts, they warmed up and rested.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:10-18 (ASV)
At this point, though there is still a great deal of clean up for those who were affected by the storm, Isabel is history. There will be those who will study the storm and its affects, trying to discover ways to better predict and prepare for the possibilities. Things seemed to go very well this time. The evacuation was prompt and calmly executed. Firefighters commented about how they were in the right place at the right time. Though the storm was unpredictable, many things were done as well as they could be. There is always something to learn.
There are those who think life as a Christian is all peaches and cream, no one with faith should ever be confronted by a storm. Unfortunately, that is not true. As a matter of fact, the more deeply committed we are to serving the Lord Jesus, the more likely we will face the attempts by Satan to turn us away. We might fight battles in our flesh, like those men who stood guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but we are fighting an even harder battle in spirit. The closer we get to God, the deeper our faith becomes, the more Satan will fight. The most important thing is to realize that we are fighting a battle, not in flesh but in spirit. We have to be prepared. The storms of life will be as unpredictable as Isabel, but we can rest in the fact that God is with us and has given us all we need to stand through them. He is our armor and His Word is our shield. Thanks be to God.
Eclectic I once met a woman who claimed her faith was eclectic. She told me that she could not find any religion that really fit what she believed, so she picked the bits and pieces of all the religions and put them together into a personal religion that was her very own. She was mostly pagan, but there aspects of the Christian religion that she liked. So, she mixed them all together and was happy. Her foundational belief is that faith is private, between her and her god – everyone approaches the divine in his or her own way.
During our conversation, she told me that she believes in Jesus. She even quoted some scriptures to justify her understanding. Her ideas about Jesus were incomplete, not even close to what we believe as Christians. Her Jesus was a great and wonderful teacher and friend, but would never have been able to save the world. It didn’t matter to her, of course, because she did not realize her need to be saved. She told me that she loves to be with Christians, unless they tried to change her point of view. She did not understand the Christian preoccupation with sin and salvation. Her faith served a much different purpose.
This particular woman was rather extreme with her ideas about faith, but she is not much different than many Christians. Though we do not have idols in temples as they did thousands of years ago, we still have things we idolize and put ahead of God. Some live their lives for their relationships with family or friends. Others put all their energy into their work. For some the idols are more dangerous – alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality and other risky behavior. When we believe in Jesus, we will be transformed by the love and mercy of God. Our old ways, those idols we won’t let go, simply do not work alongside a life in Christ. We can’t worship both. God wants our whole beings.
“Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?” 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 (ASV)
What an odd statement – the Lord God is jealous. But it is filled with a very important truth. He desires our entire beings – our hearts, minds and souls. The Corinthians thought they could keep doing the things they did before they knew about Jesus. They thought they could keep fellowshipping in the old pagan ways while worshipping the Lord. They wanted it all. The same is true of the woman with the eclectic faith. Her ideas might be meeting some need in her mind and her flesh, but she is not worshipping the One True and Living God. She has picked and chosen the things that make her feel good, the things that sound right to her mind. She thinks it is ok to mix religions and gods because it is all about meeting her personal needs. We may not be as extreme as the Corinthians or the woman, going into a temple with people of other religions, but we still focus too much of our time on the old things. We continue to work for all the wrong things, to put relationships ahead of God, to focus our attention away from God. Everything that is greater than God in our lives is an idol, even our own thoughts, needs and faith. May God have mercy and transform us to worship only Him. Thanks be to God.
Aroma I heard a story about a woman whose husband decided that he wanted a younger wife. She was deeply hurt by the divorce and his subsequent remarriage. The newlyweds were given the family home, so she had to move out. She asked for a few final days alone in the house to pack her things. On the final evening, she finished her work and prepared a splendid dinner of shrimp and wine. When she was done eating, she took several curtain rods, pulled off the ends and filled the tube with the shrimp shells. She returned the curtain rods to their places and left. Her ex-husband and his new wife moved in and began their new life together. Several days later, an aroma began to fill the home and they could not find its source. The new wife scrubbed down the house, desperately trying to remove the horrible stench. Finally, they could not take it anymore, so they moved – taking with them the curtain rods.
I burned the hot dogs the other day. I stepped out of the room for just long enough for the water to evaporate. Bruce got them off the stove before they got too bad. Each hot dog was blackened on one side, but they were fine to eat. Unfortunately, the smoke left a terrible odor in the kitchen. I could have sprayed with a scented air freshener, but they usually just cover up the smell. Instead, I lit a candle in the kitchen. It is amazing how a burning candle removes odors. The candle I used does not have a strong scent; the smoky smell was not just covered up. Somehow the candle took it away.
Bad smells linger, and we often can’t find the source. There are whole lines of products designed to cover or remove odors from our homes, cars and bodies. Even good smells are horrible for some people – over applied perfume or cologne can be harmful to someone with allergies and cut flowers can bring back painful memories of a loved one lost to death.
Did you know that God has a nose? He does not have a literal nose because He does not have a physical body like you or I, but He does experience the pleasures and the discomfort of our senses. The scriptures tell us that He smells the prayers of the saints, they are like sweet incense to Him. He is also repelled by the smell of sin and death, just like we are repelled by the scent of decaying shrimp and burnt hotdogs. But God does not use an air freshner. He does not cover up the smell with something sweet. He removes it through the love and mercy of God.
“But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place. For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, corrupting the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (ASV)
As we grow in faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ, we carry with us this aroma of hope, peace, joy, love and mercy. It is the sweetest smell in the world to those who are saved. But those who are dying can only smell death. To them, the sweet savor of Christ is like the woman with too much perfume or the flowers that remind them of a mortuary. The smell brings only pain, frustration, doubt or fear. We can try all we want to cover up the smell, to do what we think is pleasing to the Lord God Almighty, but our sin is like those shrimp shells, hidden in the curtain rods of that ex-husband’s life. They only way the smell will be removed is by taking away the source of the odor. God smells the sin in our life and it brings Him sorrow. But in Christ Jesus, He removes the smell and makes us sweet as a rose. Thanks be to God.
Election It is hard to believe, but the political process is well under way for those who are running for president of the United States. Even with the exciting California gubernatorial election only weeks ago, the news and talk shows are focusing heavily on the men and women who have decided to run for the most powerful office in our land. Every candidate is trying to get as much media time as they can so that when the primaries begin they will have enough recognition so that they might stand a chance against the others. There are already polls showing the expected winner if the election were held today, even though it is not for another thirteen months.
It amazes me that the reporters are already trying to predict the outcome of the next presidential election. Their decisions are often based on the poll reports, which we have all seen can be very fickle. A year is a long time and a million things can happen between now and then to change the outcome. You would think they would have learned from those times when they made predictions on Election Day that did not come true. They all want to be first to declare a winner, and will even treat their expected winner as if they have already become president.
However, no matter what happens for the next year, we know that the new president will not actually become the new president until they take the vow on January 20, 2005. Though it is not a religious ceremony, the inauguration is a moment when we the people receive the winner and the winner receives us as his responsibility. This even happens with the new rulers in other types of governments. In a monarchy, the first-born son may be promised the crown and throne, but he will not be king until the coronation ceremony takes place. Even dictators do some sort of ceremony to make his or her rule legitimate.
Jesus was born king. He was always the Christ, even before the creation of the World. He was sent as the Messiah, born of Mary and worshipped from the beginning of His earthbound life by those few who recognized Him from the beginning. Yet, He also needed to go through a ceremony of anointing, a moment when God blessed Him with the power and authority to do the work He was sent to do.
“And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased. And straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; And he was with the wild beasts; And the angels ministered unto him.” Mark 1:9-13 (ASV)
We can talk about the election until we are blue in the face, and we can guess from our current knowledge who might become our new president, but we will not know for sure until that moment when he or she takes the oath of office and we the people witness and accept him as our leader. Even the election does not ensure his position because anything can happen in the two months between election and inauguration.
Jesus was indeed the Messiah King from before time began, but His ministry did not begin until that moment in the River Jordan with John the Baptist. It was then He was anointed and given the power and authority of His position in God’s kingdom. From that time until today the world was changed by His love and mercy. We often wonder why Jesus needed to be baptized since He was perfect and without sin. That was His moment of inauguration, a ceremony defining the moment when He accepted that which had been ordained and the world witnessed the legitimatising of His ministry to this world. Thanks be to God.
Golf Zack has been taking golf lessons for the past few months. He loves it and is getting very good through the classes and practice. He has only one more test to pass on his evaluation. When he passes that test, he is able to move to the next level. Last week, however, his coach told us that he can move to the next level immediately even though he still has to pass that test. The lower level is not doing him any good at this point, it is only holding back his growth. Zack starts the new class today. He came to me this morning and said he didn’t feel like going to golf this afternoon. I could see the fear in his eyes. He told me he’d rather wait until he passed his test, but I would not let him use that excuse. Even though continuing to attend in the lower level would be a waste of his time, he is comfortable there and knows what to expect.
Fear comes when we have no idea what is going to happen. When we face a wild animal or a dangerous criminal, we are afraid of the violence they might do to our bodies. When we face a terrible storm, we are afraid of the destruction that can be caused by the lightning or wind. In our relationships, we are afraid of rejection or humiliation. For some people, the fears are more specific. There is a name for every type of phobia, and these fears can rule our lives. People afraid of close places will never ride an elevator. People afraid of flying will not get on an airplane. There are those who are so afraid that they will not even leave their homes, choosing instead a life hidden away from the world.
There is a healthy kind of fear, the kind that gives an adrenaline rush of power and energy to help a person fight the danger or run away. Certain fears will help you stay away from unhealthy behavior, but even these fears are not good if they control your life. Take, for example, the fear of getting AIDS. This fear might keep a person from promiscuous sexual relations. This is good. It is bad when the fear of getting the disease goes so far that the person is unwilling to be in the same room with a victim of the dreaded ailment.
For a Christian, there is no need of fear. As a matter of fact, fear is the exact opposite of faith. When we fear, even those good fears, we do not trust God our Father to take care of us. In Christ, we do not need fear to avoid dangerous situations because we have the love of God to keep us from them. Fear comes from a lack of knowledge, but so does faith. We do not know what tomorrow holds for us, we can either be afraid or we can have faith. In faith, we simply know God is with us and will get us through whatever we will face.
“Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee.” Jeremiah 1:17-19 (ASV)
Zack has nothing to fear. His coach will be there for him today just like he has been there each week. He’ll learn new things and grow better at golf. We will face hard and frightening situations in our lives – dangerous conditions surround us in these troubled times. Yet, with faith in God we have nothing to fear for we do know something. We know that He is with us and that we are saved. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we would have eternal life today. Whatever happens tomorrow matters little because in faith we will always have what God has promised. Thanks be to God.
Wheat Vicki and Zack go to school in the city of Little Rock. Though it is quite a distance for them to travel each day, it has been worthwhile. Both schools have some excellent programs that provide the children with a wide range of experiences. The Middle School and Elementary School are located in the same city block and share some common property, including a garden. The garden includes many different kinds of plants and a few animals and is designed to help the children get hands on experience in growing their food. They get to eat what they grow and share in the satisfaction of producing something wonderful. It is the hope of the program that the children will gain a respect for the earth and those who work in it and that they will be more willing to try new foods and eat a healthier diet.
Heifer International supports several areas of the garden and there are paid staff members who take care of it in between visits from the children. Each grade level has specific things they learn. One year they plant beans, another year they learn about different kinds of soil. Some of the children learn to take care of the rabbits. The fourth graders ‘own’ the chickens and help to sell the eggs they produce, which is then used to buy feed for the chickens. The fifth graders are in charge of the worms that produce compost for the garden.
In the fall of fourth grade, the students plant wheat. It grows until early summer and is harvested by the caretakers. Yesterday, Zack’s fifth grade class visited the garden and saw the wheat they had cared for last year. They gathered around a tarp that had been laid on the ground. There was a chair in the middle. Each student was given a bundle of wheat stalks and they were invited by pairs to thresh their wheat. They went into the center of the tarp while the other children held up the edges so that nothing would fall on the ground. They beat the bundles on the chair and bits of the wheat fell to the ground. When the children were finished, there was a pile of little bits and pieces on the tarp. After they had a chance to try a bit of grain, the pile was put into a bin. Then the children helped separate the seed from the chaff. They held handfuls of the stuff in front of a fan and slowly dropped it to a tray. The fan blew away the soft, useless chaff and the heavy seeds fell onto the tray. When they were finished, they had a tray full of good seed, which they will grind and bake into a bread they can eat. They had a good time, saw how much work goes into producing the food we eat and enjoyed the fruit of their labor.
“So she gleaned in the field until even; and she beat out that which she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up, and went into the city; and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth and gave to her that which she had left after she was sufficed.” Ruth 2:17-18 (ASV)
Most city and suburban kids as well as those who live in the country, never get such wonderful hands on experience on a farm. Modern farmers do not really know because they use big machinery to do the work that was once done by hand. When we read about the men and women of the Bible like Ruth, we find it difficult to identify with how hard it was for her. Yesterday twenty-six children beat hundreds of stalks of wheat and got barely enough to make one very small loaf of bread. Ruth did all that work, besides gathering the stalks and grinding the grain until she had plenty for herself and her mother-in-law. This was an incredible feat for one woman and she did it all out of love for Naomi.
Yesterday as I watched the children thresh the wheat they had grown, I understood the scriptures about wheat much better. I saw that the chaff is a very light outer-covering that is very easily blown away. I’ve seen sheaves of wheat, but I never realized how little is useful on each stalk. It seems like so much waste, so much that must be burned away. However, each stalk came from just one seed, and when it was over every stalk had produced dozens of new seeds. I have such a great respect for those who over the years have produced the food we eat because a great deal of work goes into what seems like so little. Naomi ate well because Ruth loved her. Finally, I saw that it is impossible to work in the garden and not see the grace of God, for every thing that comes from the earth is given by Him. Thanks be to God.
Sea Turtle Barbara Taylor Bradford tells the story of a time at the beach when she saw a sea turtle. The turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, and then they return to the sea. This mother had come ashore in the evening, but she went in the wrong direction after she laid her eggs. Instead of being in the cool ocean, Barbara found the turtle on the hot dunes dying. She soaked the turtle with water and gave it some food to eat, then called a park ranger for help. The park ranger came with a truck, turned the turtle upside down and dragged her through the sand to the ocean. It must have been a harrowing experience for the turtle, sand in her mouth and eyes and frightened about what would happen. She had no control. But when the waves of the ocean began to pour over her body, she revived and swam away. As Barbara watched the turtle go away she thought about the terrible ride to the sea. She realized that sometimes it is hard for us to know whether we are being saved or killed by the hands that turn our lives upside down.
Do you ever feel like that sea turtle? Have you ever felt like you are being dragged through the sand on your back to some unknown fate? The Israelites certainly knew what that was like. The wilderness experience after Egypt left the people wondering if they would ever stop wandering around the desert. There were other times when Israel turned from the LORD and He allowed her enemies to conquer and subdue His people so that they would turn to Him in hearts and minds and remember the blessings of His love. These times were never pleasant. They must have felt just like that turtle. God was never far from His people, even when they were in exile away from their homes in Jerusalem. Even as they were being dragged through the muck of war, God’s promises gave them hope.
“I heard, and my body trembled, My lips quivered at the voice; Rottenness entereth into my bones, and I tremble in my place; Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble, For the coming up of the people that invadeth us. For though the fig-tree shall not flourish, Neither shall fruit be in the vines; The labor of the olive shall fail, And the fields shall yield no food; The flock shall be cut off from the fold, And there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength; And he maketh my feet like hinds' feet, And will make me to walk upon my high places.” Habakkuk 3:16-18 (ASV)
We do not always know why we are going through rough times. God uses all experiences to help us to grow, to draw us closer to His heart and to remake us into the people He has created us to be. Sometimes we have taken a wrong turn, gone toward the dune rather than the ocean. Sometimes God knows it is the best time for a lesson we need to learn. Sometimes we simply run into situations that are beyond our control. No matter how we come to those times of trouble, we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us through it all.
How do you face challenging times? The thing that struck me about Barbara’s account of the sea turtle is that she never fought the ranger as he did those horrible things to her. She let him turn her over, tie her feet and drag her through the sand. She was exhausted, nearly dead, so perhaps she had nothing left with which to fight. But isn’t that how it is for us? We usually have to end up at the end of our rope before we will give it up to God. We try to solve our problems, turn to all the wrong sources for help. It is only when we have nowhere left to go that we turn to the Lord our God. When we do, we find He was right there with His mercy and love to save us from the things that threaten to kill us. Thanks be to God.
Marketers Advertisers make their living at trying to get people to desire the things they are hired to sell. There are all types of marketers. Some produce television or radio commercials; others do print advertisements. Grocery and hardware stores hire people who stand around demonstrating the merchandise or giving out samples to try. Siding companies and charities use telemarketers to sell their products to people over the telephone. All these methods are designed to get vulnerable people to part with their hard earned money. Marketing is not in itself a bad business because it does help consumers become aware of the products available to buy.
However, there are some whose schemes are underhanded and shifty. Throughout history there have always been con artists who have hunted down the weak to take advantage of them. It is no different today, though now the con artists are on the computer and they are hacking their way into our lives. The other day I received an email that said someone had ordered flowers using my email account. The mail informed me that if it was a mistake, I should go to a website where I could fix the problem. I was asked to insert my screen name and password. The website looked very official. The logos of the flower company were all over, the page was well done. It looked real. Yet, I knew it was an attempt by some hacker to get into my account. I am sure that same email was mailed to hundreds, perhaps thousands of other members. I knew not to give out my password, but there are those who are easily deceived by the scheme.
“Why standest thou afar off, O Jehovah? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? In the pride of the wicked the poor is hotly pursued; Let them be taken in the devices that they have conceived. For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, And the covetous renounceth, yea, contemneth Jehovah. The wicked, in the pride of his countenance, saith, He will not require it. All his thoughts are, There is no God. His ways are firm at all times; Thy judgments are far above out of his sight: As for all his adversaries, he puffeth at them. He saith in his heart, I shall not be moved; To all generations I shall not be in adversity. His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression: Under his tongue is mischief and iniquity. He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages; In the secret places doth he murder the innocent; His eyes are privily set against the helpless. He lurketh in secret as a lion in his covert; He lieth in wait to catch the poor: He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him in his net. He croucheth, he boweth down, And the helpless fall by his strong ones. He saith in his heart, God hath forgotten; He hideth his face; he will never see it.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Just like the hackers of today, there were always those who sought the weak and the helpless to gain the things of this world for themselves. They have no regard for the Lord or for His mercy. They only seek to better themselves at any cost to their victims. In those times when we are deceived, we wonder where God is hiding. He is not far, He does see the things the wicked do and He helps those who turn to Him in their days of trouble. He is the King and Judge and He will see justice is done. Thanks be to God.
Twins Modern researchers have discovered the great value of using twins medical and biological studies. Since identical twins are exactly the same, medicine and procedures can be tested to see if they truly make a difference. Since there are fewer variables between the subjects, the researchers can be more certain of the outcome of their research.
There was once a doctor who was fascinated by the study of twins. Even in university he wrote a paper about using twins for research. He was a well-bred man, often described as refined and intelligent. He became a doctor and was active in several civic organizations. He was quite popular and successful. Unfortunately, he was also a rabid racist, a German war criminal who participated in Auschwitz. As a matter of fact, Dr. Josef Mengele was known as “the angel of death.” He sent four hundred thousand Jews and Gypsies to their death in the gas chambers and he conducted horrific experiments on the prisoners. He welcomed every delivery of prisoners even when he was not on duty to ensure that all sets of twins were given for his research. He ensured that his ‘patients’ were treated better than others – they had a special dorm and enough rations to keep them healthy – but he never considered them human and did whatever he wanted to their bodies.
I doubt that Josef Mengele was the first to consider using twins for research, but it was a wonderful idea that was used in a most horrible way. The gifts and wisdom of God were abused for all the wrong reasons and many suffered under his hand. In those days it seemed as though he was greatly blessed. Ultimately, though, his life proved to be worthless. After the war he escaped to South America where he lived until 1979 when he died of a stroke. The papers from his research have never been found and what little we know about the findings from his studies is absolutely useless medically and scientifically. He is remembered only for the horror he brought to the world, for the waste and for his evil attitudes.
“My son, if thou wilt receive my words, And lay up my commandments with thee; So as to incline thine ear unto wisdom, And apply thy heart to understanding; Yea, if thou cry after discernment, And lift up thy voice for understanding; If thou seek her as silver, And search for her as for hid treasures: Then shalt thou understand the fear of Jehovah, And find the knowledge of God. For Jehovah giveth wisdom; Out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding: He layeth up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to them that walk in integrity; That he may guard the paths of justice, And preserve the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness and justice, And equity, yea, every good path.” Proverbs 2:1-9 (ASV)
Dr. Josef Mengele sought wisdom, knowledge and understanding, but he did not look to God. He took an evil path for the sake of his desires, built up treasures that were worthless. He destroyed lives because he did not fear the Lord’s justice and in the end he paid the price for his wrong path.
As we look around the world, we wonder how so much evil can be so well received. How can the wicked be so blessed, popular and gifted? For a season it may seem that way, but if we do not seek the Lord’s wisdom, we never really find knowledge or understanding. Instead, we end up dead and our lives are meaningless. God calls us to listen, to hear His words and to obey His commands. When we seek Him and His wisdom, we walk a path of righteousness and justice and our ultimate end is eternal life with Christ. Thanks be to God.
Cinderella There exist legends, myths and fables all over the world that tell similar stories. They have different characters that fit the culture of the people who hear the words. The Native American Indians have their own version of a Cinderella story, one that is not only a story of patience but also of honesty.
The story tells of a great warrior who lived on the Atlantic Ocean whose greatest gift was his ability to become invisible. His name was Strong Wind and all the maidens sought after him, but he refused to marry any who were dishonest. Strong Wind’s sister and he tested each maiden that came to marry him. The sister took the maidens to the shore when Strong Wind was due to come home in the evening. As he approached, his sister asked the maiden if she saw him. They all said yes, but when asked to describe something about his appearance, they could only guess. They were always wrong and he knew they were lying.
At this time there lived a chief with three daughters. Their mother had died long ago and the two older sisters were jealous of the youngest. They treated her cruelly, burning her face and putting her into rags for clothes. They told their father she did it herself. She did not complain, but patiently did her work with a gentle heart. The two older sisters sought Strong Wind but where found in their lies. The chief’s youngest daughter determined to find Strong Wind for herself. She tried to fix her ragged clothes and her face and then set off for the shore. She was ridiculed by her sisters and the others along the way, but Strong Wind’s sister had mercy and took her to seek her brother. When it was time for Strong Wind to come home, his sister asked, “Do you see him?” The girl said, “No.” Once again the sister asked if the girl could see her brother and this time she said, “Yes.” When Strong Wind’s sister asked her to describe him, she said, “His sled is drawn by a rainbow and his bow is the Milky Way.” Since she had been honest with the first answer, he made himself visible to her. They took the girl home, healed her wounds and cleaned her face and body. She was clothed in fine clothes and many rich ornaments. The fate of the two sisters was not so great. Since they had lied and had treated their sister with such cruelty, Strong Wind turned them into Aspen trees. Whenever he came to them, their leaves trembled and they knew of his anger.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them. For if the word spoken through angels proved stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” Hebrews 2:1-4 (ASV)
We are just like the maidens who could not see Strong Wind. We can’t see God, but we try to think we can get there on our own. We do good works, we say the right things, we go to the right places and claim our self-righteousness is enough to be the one who can see God. For the Jews, righteousness by obedience to the Law of Moses was the way to see God. Those who did not keep His commandments were not worthy of His grace. Unfortunately, there are none who are worthy, because we are unable to keep His law.
For this reason, Jesus came to bridge the divide between God and His people. Through Christ we can see God, be healed, cleansed and robed with the finest garment He has to give – His righteousness. We need to recognize our inability to see Him and honestly say that we have eyes that are blinded to the truth. With that confession, repentance, our eyes are open and we can see Him as He is. If we continue in our old ways, claiming a righteousness that is not in Christ but through the Law, we will never know the salvation Christ gives through His Gospel. The young sister humbled herself before Strong Wind and he gave her the world. When we do the same before God, we are given eternal life and a place in His kingdom forever by His grace. Thanks be to God.