THE ROCKERY

I have spent most of my professional life as a pastor, seminary professor, counselor and writer. Through my own experiences with heartache and grief, through many years of attending to others in their times of hardship and pain, through immersive study of the Word of God, and through a drinking-in of the devotional and wisdom-filled writings of other spiritual wayfarers, I have learned what it takes to not only live, but to grow, when it feels as though you’ve been planted between a rock and a hard place. Those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior know that He is the Rock of Ages and we are held safe through all the storms of life in the places He has cleft for us for:

“Earth’s fairest flowers grow not on sunny plain,

But where some vast upheaval rent in twain,

The smiling land . . .

After the whirlwinds devastating blast,

After the molten fire and ashen pall,

God’s still small voice breathes healing over all.

From riven rocks and fern-clad chasms deep,

Flow living waters as from hearts that weep,

There in the afterglow soft dews distill,

And angels tend God’s plants when night falls still,

And the Beloved passing by that way,

Will gather lilies at the break of day.” — J.H.D.

Here are some meditations on time, hope, faith, courage, the wonders of creation, knowing and following Christ as Savior and living in the life you build. More devotional messages can be found at http://www.the-rockery.com.

 IN TIME

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

IMG_3874Time. From time to time. For the time-being. Time-honored, timeless, timely, time-sharing, time-worn. Time heals all wounds. Time wounds all heels. Time is always a circus packing up and moving away. Living is entirely too time-consuming. Time and tide wait for no man. Time immemorial. Time expired. On time. In time. Time-out. Time, what a concept and how fascinated by it and fixated on it we are!

We try to make time, spend time, and cheat time but time marches on.

My little pocket paperback dictionary has a thirty-line definition under the word “time.” But, in all those words offered in explanation, there is no real definition of time for there is no attempt to define time outside of time — time as a created sphere within which God’s plan of redemption is actualized. Time from an eternal perspective. Time from God’s point of view. Does any human being really know what time is in this sense? And as the song goes, does anybody really know what time it is?

And yet, if you’ve happened to come upon these words at the start of a new year, much of the world is upon the time when folks reflect upon the time – the year – that is past and look forward to the time – the year – that is to come. A new year of promise and challenge. What will we make of it?

How are you now spending your time? It’s an enlightening exercise to consider what percentage of your days are used up in sleeping, working, watching TV, eating, traveling, lounging about, dressing, being ill, engaging in determinedly spiritual pursuits . . . Each one of us probably has a unique way of looking at time. For someone coping with a debilitating illness, each minute may pass like an hour. And another, nearing the end of his life, may feel as though he has too much time on his hands. He’s had enough of time. For another healthy, often over-committed individual who’s always rarin’ to go, each hour may pass like a minute – there never seems to be enough time.

Life comes to us in seasons, in spans, in stretches, in seconds and in spells. Life comes to us in moments, months and millennia. We may be at a juncture, in an interval and everything can change in an instant. Isaac Watts reminds us in the great hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, that: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.” He also reminds us that God has been our help in ages past and is our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

To live within real reality, to embrace the seasons of our lives, we need to understand time. We must begin to see time from God’s perspective if only on our very elementary level.

The author of our passage from Ecclesiastes offers us, in the verses before us, a majestic ode to time and he concludes with a way of dealing with and in time. He tells us that every human activity has its own appointed time but that time also creates a problem. If human beings were merely creatures within a limited span of time, they would not concern themselves with the further dimensions of eternity. But it is God who has placed “eternity in our hearts,” while keeping us from the full knowledge of what will be in the future.

Made for eternity but limited just now to time, that is our predicament and the suggestions for dealing with this enigma are the focus of this entry.

In Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1 through 15, we read:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.” (NIV)

In chapter 12, verses 13 and 14, the author concludes:

“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.” (NIV)

So, again, does anybody really know what time it is? Does any human being really have a grasp on the nature of time?

It’s been calculated that if you could put the entire history of humankind in a fifty-year span, this is how it would read:

For the first 45 years, nothing all that significant happened. Five years ago, humans began to have some form of primitive writing and communication. Two years ago, Christianity came into being. Five months ago, the printing press was invented. Twenty days ago, Ben Franklin made the connection between lightning and electricity. Nineteen days ago, the telephone was invented. Eighteen days ago, the airplane appeared. Ten days ago, radio. Five days ago, television. Five minutes ago: jet airplanes.

We hear quite often that time seems to be speeding up. More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote a very influential book entitled Future Shock.

Toffler argued that society was undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a super-industrial society. This accelerated rate of technological and social advances was leaving people disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”: they were “future shocked.” He coined a new phrase for the problem: folks, he said, were on “information overload.”

Today, you can pick up a magazine most any day and you’ll find some article on time management, sleep disorders related to stress, or products you can use to de-stress and relax. Five years ago, I typed into the search line, “no time, stress” and came up with 8,900,000 items. I did that again just now and came up with 611,000,000! Among those entries, I found everything from books to consultants to relaxation sayings to an e-zine article entitled, “How to Get Stress Relief by Constantly Pleasing Other People.”

It seems we’re running, running, running. But where to and what from? What are we doing with our time?

The author of Ecclesiastes, who may well have been King Solomon, son of David, writing around 900 B.C., considered the same questions.

His book starts with the words “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” What good is all the work, he wonders. There is nothing new under the sun, no remembrance of men of old.

And this man had done everything, seen everything. He’d studied. He’d acquired. He’d amassed. He’d taken on great projects, built houses, cultivated vineyards, planted gardens, set out parks and constructed reservoirs. He’d denied himself nothing. But, all of it, all of his activity had left him empty. He saw all of it as meaningless, a chasing after the wind, because he knew he couldn’t take any of it with him and he couldn’t redeem the time.

In the 2011 release, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, a future is envisioned wherein time is literally money, and aging stops at 25. The only way to stay alive is to earn, steal, or inherit more time. The plot plays on a craving many seem to share. Art Historian Bernard Berenson, who lived 94 years — from 1865 to 1959 — once said, “I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all of their wasted hours.”

But even if we could earn, steal, borrow or inherit more hours, it would make no difference, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, because our fates would still be the same. The fate of the fool will overtake the wise as well. Like the fool, the wise man too must die. And so, he despairs: what is the point of it all? Why bother?

Finally he hits upon it: only those activities undertaken for the sake of God are truly worthwhile. For “to the one who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness but to the sinner, He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth just to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” Thus writes Solomon.

If there is no purpose, no meaning to existence beyond the limited span of an individual’s years, he decides, all the effort is for naught.

But, when one sees the hand of God at work in ordaining the times and seasons, when one sees an everlastingness and a reason for and value in every season, everything one does takes on a new dimension.

Each one is born. Each one will die. In between, God has ordained that certain things will happen according to His plan. There will be times of planting and harvest, times of destruction and times of healing. There will be times of sorrow, times of joy, times of searching, times of moving ahead, times of yielding. There will be times for keeping and times for throwing away, times for silence, times for speaking up. There will be love and hate, war and peace.

Why? Why go through all of these things? So that we will learn to fear God, to obey Him, so that we will learn through our labors to turn to the Lord, to seek Him, to seek our purpose in serving Him. He has placed eternity in our hearts. Deep within, we know there is more beyond the few years of existence we are given on this plane. We can’t fathom what God has done from beginning to end. We don’t have to fathom what He’s done. We need only to ensure that our eternity is safe, that we have accepted His provision of salvation, and that – while we have time, while we are in time — we are working to please Him.

And, if we begin to look at our lives from an eternal perspective, we will be able to take greater pleasure in all that life brings us – the times of trial as well as the times of ease. We will be able to have peace in all circumstances because we know the Lord is in control, He means us well and He uses all things to benefit those who love Him. He is working in all time, outside of time and at all times. And He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Consider, for a moment, what endures and what does not endure for it is in the everlasting that we should invest.

The Bible tells us that riches do not endure (Proverbs 27:24). Youth, though so many of us try so desperately to hold onto it, does not endure.

In 1Corinthians 13, we’re told that what does endure is faith, hope and love. John, chapter 6, assures us that spiritual food, which the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – gives us, endures. What else endures? Truthful lips (Pr. 12:19), God’s righteousness (Ps. 112:9 and 2Cor. 9:9) and all of our labor done for the sake of the Lord (1Cor. 15). Matthew, chapter 6, assures us that treasures, laid up in heaven, endure. And where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. We too will endure.

We are here – in time – for a reason. Richard Kroner once noted that “history has its beginning in God, it has its center in Christ, and its end in the final consummation of the last judgment.”

God has established time. In that time, we are to live and work and play, to seek some answers, to come to some conclusions. We are born by the grace of God. We are redeemed – our time is redeemed, our eternity is redeemed – by accepting the gift of the new life in Christ. We are then to use our time – leading up to the end times – seeking to please our God. We learn of His will for our lives through scripture, through prayer, through pursuing truth in fellowship with other believers, through service to others, through committing our work – all that we do – to our Lord and Savior, living lives that are pleasing in His sight. Whatever we’re doing, whatever work He has given us to do, we do it all as unto the Lord.

Time is “the arena of humanity’s decision on our way to eternal destiny.” We make choices within the arena of time – every thought, word and deed has repercussions in the eternal moral order.

God has ordained a time and a season for everything. He has set eternity in our hearts so that we will seek Him, use the time well and know peace and satisfaction – a taste of eternity in established time.

When your life comes to an end, what stories will it tell? Will your life reflect God-honoring priorities? Do you need to make adjustments in the way you use your time?

When your life comes to an end, will you have to say, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2: 11a)? OR will you be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2Timothy 4-7a)?

In the days ahead, I pray you will devote yourself to those pursuits that honor God and minister to your fellow human beings. May the Lord teach you to number your days aright (Psalm 90:12) and remind you that each day is “the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24a). Our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15) and we can “trust in Him at all times . . . for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). God is the God of our days and God is the God of all time whether we are in time or out of time. Remember God is the God of eternity and He has placed that eternity in the hearts of His people.

PRAYER

Great and Eternal God, Your love for us never ends. You remain constant and faithful through all the seasons of our lives – from birth to death, in times of weeping and in times of laughter, in times of mourning and in times of joy, in times of war and in times of peace, in the silence and in the clatter and the clutter of busy lives. Lord, you have set eternity in my heart and so I commit my ways to You and pray that Your Holy Spirit will indeed guide me into all truth. May You sanctify me and preserve me.

Lord, as I look toward the days ahead, I pray that you will grant me strength during times of trial and wisdom at all times. Lord, as the cliché goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life so I turn afresh to seeking You, Your wisdom, Your will, Your strength. May I give serious consideration to the ways in which I use the time that you have given to me. Fill me with awe because of the challenges I face but fill me also with confidence because of the power that is mine because I belong to You. May the days ahead find me engaged in those pursuits that honor You and further Your kingdom. Grow me Lord in miraculous ways that I may love You and serve You all my days through Jesus Christ my Lord, I pray. Amen

OSCILLATING MASCARAS AND FISH FINDING WATCHES

Matthew 25:14-30

I used to be a mall rat. I’m not one anymore. Now — only when absolutely necessary – do I drag myself to one of the mega shopping meccas. Then I run in, get what I need and run out. However . . .

Some time ago – as I was running out — something caught my eye that stopped me in my tracks. It was a display for a new product: oscillating mascara.

Oscillating mascara? Yep. Lancome and some other cosmetic lines are now marketing battery-powered mascara. Jean-Louis Gueret, creator of mascara brushes for Lancome, said he came up with the idea for oscillation after watching makeup artists at work. While applying mascara, their hands move in a zigzag pattern. So to best emulate the movement, Gueret explained, he came up with a flexible, polymer-based mascara brush that vibrates along its longitude at 7,000 micro-oscillations a second. To launch the battery-powered movement, one presses lightly on an area of the mascara’s outer tube that turns on a three-centimeter motor.

Gueret said that, as the mascara brush vibrates against eyelashes, they become “organized” and evenly coated with a mascara formula that also extends, curls, shapes and makes lashes seem thicker.

Well, I just stood there in the aisle . . . riveted and then I burst into great gales of laughter. But now I feel like crying. There, in front of me, was a perfect example of being acted upon vs. acting. Now, you can take a stick, put it up to your eye and voila!  — perfectly organized eyelashes.

Segue. I have some pretty distinct memories of fishing with my Dad. And whether it was dropping a line from a pier or from a rowboat in the middle of the lake, it’s my recollection that a good bit of the enjoyment of fishing was in using our human senses to find the fish. The big question, the big mystery: where were the fish biting?

Today, all of the guesswork and sense work has been taken out of the equation because now recreational fisherman can purchase a fish finder akin to those used by the huge commercial operations. The device is worn on your wrist and doubles as a working wristwatch. The instrument’s sonar sensor reads to a depth of 120 feet and operates in a wide 75-foot remote radius, transmitting real-time views of fish to the 1 1/4″ LCD display. Come on! Talk about shooting fish in a barrel! Where’s the fairness in that? Where’s the fun in that?

The more I look around today, the more I see a good bit of our culture heading toward Wall-E-ism. A key plot point in this animated movie (released in 2008) centered on the creator’s vision of what would become of humankind after 700 years of having everything done for them. The picture wasn’t pretty: human beings as useless baby blobs being acted upon, not acting. Wall-E warns us of the dangers of rampant consumerism and presages what can happen to the Earth when human beings abandon their responsibility for stewardship.

Now, working off of this intro, I’d like to ask you some questions: Will you settle for being acted upon or will you act? Are you using, will you use, your God-given talents or will you bury them? Will you be a good steward of what the Lord has given to you or will you abandon that responsibility?

To get a grasp on how important the stewardship of our talents might be, let’s look to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. There we read:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

I’ve researched the modern equivalent of the biblical talent and have come up with a range of estimates. In one place, I read that one talent was a worker’s average income for anywhere from three to 38 years worth of work. So, if we come somewhere in between and say 15 years, five talents would be the income for 75 years of labor, two talents the income for thirty years of labor. In another place, the author calculated today’s value by drawing from the talent as used in military pay. During the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece, a talent was the amount of silver needed to pay the crew of a trireme (a warship powered by 170 plus oarsmen) for one month. Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma for every day of service; 6,000 drachma made a talent. Based on this fact, assuming a crew of roughly 200 rowers paid at the basic pay rate of a junior enlisted member of the US armed forces, a talent would be worth nearly $300,000.

Bottom line here: the talent was an enormous sum of money.

But, for our purposes today, let us think of the talent as not just a measure of finances but a measure of the amount of gifts, resources and abilities that God has given to each one of us. So what happened here? In our story, all three individuals were given good gifts. All three were given good talents and resources. Not one of these servants earned the resources or talents that they were given. We need to understand that all of the talents were pure gifts from the giver of gifts: God. Not one talent was earned nor deserved.

The one who had received the five talents put them to use, went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. This individual was industrious with what had been entrusted to him and he doubled what he had. In the same way, the one who had the two talents put those talents to use and he doubled what he had.

Notice that the “five talent” person and the “two talent” person did not get into psychological games about who had the most talents. They didn’t get into games about “I am superior because God gave me five talents” or “I am half as good because God gave me two talents.” There were no “comparison games” being played here.

Both individuals realized that the one who had given them resources expected them to use those resources for His glory. That was simple and clear. They had to turn in an account of how they had used the gifts that the giver of gifts — God — had entrusted to them.

Now, in our story, the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the talent he’d been given. Remember this talent wasn’t anything to sniff at; this was an enormous waste!

We, too, have been given resources, gifts and abilities and we are to use them to please our God – we’re not to bury our talents.

Every one of us has received clusters of gifts, clusters of resources. Each and every unique one of us. But, we can bury those treasures – as did the third person in this parable – we can bury those treasures.

But, like the three in our parable, we will also face the moment of settling accounts. We, too, will need to face the giver of gifts to explain how we used what He gave us. And you see the joy here of those who put their talents to good use. They were happy and God was happy with them.

How precious to hear the words from our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We hear this phrase on judgment day in the Book of Revelation and also in the words of the Apostle Paul. We want those words said about us on our judgment day.

This is not a “works righteousness” kind of thing. We know that salvation is a pure gift and that we cannot earn our way into heaven by our works. Rather, the sign that our salvation is freely given is that we do the works that God wants us to do out of thanksgiving and not to earn anything from God. Salvation is always a free gift, undeserved, unearned.

Knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, however, we “do” the works that God wants us to do, not to earn salvation but because God has filled our hearts with love and our actions with compassion.

Now the one who buried his talents actually blamed God for his own inaction. We may respond in the same way. If we don’t use the gifts/resources/talents that God has given to us, rather than blame ourselves, we may end up blaming God or evil or evil circumstances for the fact that we did not use our God-given gifts.

But note the way the giver of gifts responded to the one who had buried his talents, “You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.” This individual tried to blame God but it didn’t work. God saw through his “blame-game.” So the talent was taken from him and given to the one with the ten talents — the one who would put the talent to good use.

Each one of us has been given gifts. Your gifts are the sum total of all the resources that God has given to you.  Your gifts or talents are not just your genetic abilities and natural aptitudes, although these are part of your gifts.  Many of your most precious gifts are qualities and resources that have been developed in you over time.

And one thing we know is that God wants us to use these gifts, these God-given gifts for His service and, as you use those gifts, the Lord showers you with blessings.

Mary Schramm has written a book entitled, Gifts of Grace.  She suggests that there are five steps in ascertaining and using your gifts, and I would like to walk through those steps with you.

The first step is to discover your gifts, and you always discover your gifts in relationship. You rarely or never discover your gifts in isolation. You discover your gifts through your parents, teachers, coaches, instructors, friends, fellow Christians and others. Other people help you to discover your gifts.

The second step is to accept the gifts that God has given to you. This is the art of maturity, learning to accept the gifts that God has given to you and not given to you. A key thermometer is how jealous and envious you are of other people and their gifts. If you are jealous and envious of other people’s giftedness or feel inferior, chances are you have not really accepted your own blend of gifts that God has given to you. One of the primary keys of life is to accept and use the gifts that God has uniquely given to you, your unique blend of talents, aptitudes, abilities, life experiences, the sum total of all your resources.

The third step is to enjoy your God-given gifts, to take pleasure in them, to appreciate what God can do through your life.

The fourth step is to mature or develop those gifts. Like all gifts, they need to be put to work, to be exercised, developed. Nothing in this world becomes stronger without hard work and investment of time, self and energy. Just to rely on native talent and avoid the hard work of developing a gift will lead you nowhere, but will cheapen your gift and you as a person.

And the fifth step involves all of the steps, and this is to surrender all of your gifts to God.  If you don’t, you’ll either bury your gifts or you will use your gifts for your own benefit…to glorify yourself or to satisfy yourself. Either you give your gifts to the service of Christ and His mission in this world, or you don’t. And, if you don’t, you will always fall short of happiness.

Many people ask, “What is God’s will for my life?”  Very simply, you do God’s will in your life when you discover, surrender, and use your gifts to honor Him and bless the world around you.  It’s not that difficult.  That’s stewardship, the management of the life that God has given to you. You have been blessed to be a blessing.

Will you settle for being acted upon or will you act? Are you using, will you use, your God-given talents or will you bury them? Are you being a good steward of what the Lord has given to you or have you abandoned your responsibility? If you have buried what you’ve been given, ask yourself: is it because you’ve become stuck in a pattern of blaming others for your circumstances? Well, it’s high time you dug down deep to draw up that talent. Claim the abundant life the Lord has for you. If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, you’ll keep getting the same results. Make today different. Resolve TODAY to be a more faithful steward of all that the Lord has bestowed upon you.

And:

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; may the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe, according to the working of His great might which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

WHERE WILL YOU FIND JESUS TODAY?

Matthew 24:44

Not wanting to miss anything not to be missed while we were visiting the Sunshine State, I picked up a copy of Oddball Florida: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places. There, on page 101, I found the following story:

“Jesus” on the wall in Bradenton, Florida

“A few years back, maintenance workers at the Palma Sola Presbyterian Church [in Bradenton] got a surprise while doing a routine pressure washing of the building’s brick exterior; they found themselves face-to-face with Jesus . . . The beard, the halo, the spooky stare . . . there was no mistaking it. That was Jesus. But what to do about it? Was it a miracle? Or had the church perhaps forgotten they’d painted over a mural that was now bleeding through its cream-colored exterior? Word got around, and hundreds of folks started dropping by to see the mysterious but familiar face. Most were convinced it was a message from God. Soon, the church realized it had a problem. Jesus only showed up when the wall was wet, and the church caretaker was getting tired of dragging out the hose every time a carload of pilgrims showed up. So, one day, the church installed a sprinkler system to spray the eastern wall twice a day, and the miracle became almost routine.”

Folks have claimed to see the likeness of Jesus in a fireplace brick, in paint on a wall, in a piece of sheet metal, in the dirt on a truck’s tailgate, in a tortilla, in a pierogi, on a fish bone, on a shrimp tail, in a dental x-ray, in a couch pattern, in an overspill of hot chocolate on a mug and on a water-stained piece of plaster in a bathroom. This last one, called “Shower Jesus,” sold on eBay for $1,999.99.

Now, we have no photographs of the genuine Jesus: the images we have in our minds are there primarily from the imaginings of artists through the centuries. But I admit I am fascinated by folks’ fascination with finding Jesus and looking for signs of His continuing presence in our lives.

Jesus told us to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” And, though He was referring to the endtimes, Jesus is forever coming unexpectedly into our everyday lives. He is always surprising us: through a circumstance, a place, through a telephone call, through a “chance” encounter with another person, through a conversation with a family member or friend.

If we take a moment to consider, if we are alert, eyes open, senses sensitive to His presence in our lives, we can see Jesus there in that situation, in that conversation, in that experience. We Christians are to live with the expectation and alertness that God’s kingdom, God’s possibilities, God’s opportunities are forever before us and around us, breaking into our lives. Where will you find Jesus today?

HOPE

Hope. Look online and you’ll find 2,300,000,000 references to the word “hope.” Quotes about hope abound.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” From Samuel Johnson, we have this: “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope.” And from Martin Luther King Jr., we have this: “We must accept finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope. Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”

But then we come across the novel writer Snoopy, of Charlie Brown comic strip fame. He opens a story with: “It was a dark and stormy night …” Snoopy always starts his stories in this way. Lucy looks at what Snoopy has written and goes into a tirade, berating Snoopy for such a silly beginning. Doesn’t Snoopy know that any good story starts with the words, “Once upon a time”?

The last frame of the comic strip has Snoopy starting his story again. Now he is ready. He types, “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.” Do you feel like Snoopy sometimes? No matter how you begin your story you somehow revert to “a dark and stormy night.” If you feel that way today you’re not alone. Many of us are struggling in one way or another to overcome the dark side of our existence.

We hear again and again that the Advent season leading to Christmas should be a time of joy, anticipation and hope. But, the very fact that it is supposed to be such an upbeat time only compounds the problem. Some of us don’t like the short days and the long nights: too much darkness, not enough light. Others of us are living from paycheck to paycheck and feeling the pressures of our American society, compelling us to spend extravagantly (even beyond our means) on our families and friends at Christmas. And, if/when we yield to those pressures, we know we’ll be worrying after December the 25th how we’re going to meet our bills and pay down our credit card balances. Still others of us are worried about our health or about the health of someone in our family or circle of friends; and, of course, the passing of loved ones is usually felt most keenly in this season.

If we are struggling with loneliness, a lack of direction, a feeling that we are cast adrift without much hope, where can we turn to find the way through our own dark and stormy nights?

The Apostle Paul provides us with a clue when he states: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” According to Paul, the expressed purpose of the scriptures is to instruct us, to keep us steadfast and to give us hope.

The Bible tells us and life bears out that our God is a God of overflowing goodness and kindness who takes care of His people and never abandons those He has called to enter into relationship with Him. That is the source of biblical hope. If God is good and never changes his attitude nor forsakes us, then whatever difficulties may arise can be seen in the context of God’s love, sovereignty and eternal care. God works all things for the good of those who love Him . . . even dark and stormy nights and days of great uncertainty.

Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for God to appear. Perhaps this day, you’re waiting for God to appear in medical test results, waiting for God in the provision of resources, waiting for God as you’re faced with a big decision. Waiting for God to appear. He is with you and, if you are not only waiting but truly seeking Him, you will find Him and you will find the answer you need, the answer that will be of the greatest benefit to you. Just keep in mind that God is a God of surprises and the answer may well be one you’re not anticipating (remember Salvation came wrapped in swaddling clothes and was placed in a manger).

In this Advent season – as we read the promises from the Old Testament, such as those found in Isaiah 9, and see those promises fulfilled in Jesus, as recorded in Luke 2 (see The Rutter for these passages) — we can be certain that, in the same way, God’s Word has a promise to suit our personal need and God is true to His Word. He will not fail you. Make this scriptural hope your own. Believe in hope and live in hope. Paul’s words in Romans 15:13 constitute a blessing and it’s the one that perhaps we might all memorize so that we may encourage one another: “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen?

THE LAUNCH

Hebrews 2:1-3a

Discovery leaves the launch for the 39th and final time. February 24, 2011. Photo by NASA.
Discovery leaves the launch for the 39th and final time. February 24, 2011. Photo by NASA.

Discovery, the world’s most traveled spaceship, was recently launched into orbit for the 39th and final time, heading toward the International Space Station on a journey that marked the beginning of the end of the shuttle era. Two missions would follow, first by Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.

With a crowd of many thousands, I watched the lift-off from Titusville’s Space View Park. The launch pad was in my direct line of sight across the water and it was a thrill to hear the rocket engine blasts, to see the golden glow, and to feel the thundering rumble. The vehicle reached orbit within 15 minutes of launch. It was in the naked-eye sight of those below for only 8 ½ seconds. The six astronauts on board returned 11 days later and now Discovery will find a new home at the Smithsonian.

An estimated 40,000 guests gathered at Kennedy Space Center to witness this history-making moment. Discovery frenzy took over not only the launch site but neighboring towns as well.

Roads leading to the space center were jammed with cars parked two and three deep and folks snagged prime viewing spots well before dawn. My husband and I counted license plates from 33 states and two Canadian provinces. Businesses  joined in the excitement, their signs offering words of encouragement. An Ace Hardware store sign read, “Discovery: Thx for Memories” and a Cocoa Beach church sign proclaimed: “The heavens await Discovery.”

On this day, there were some folks in the crowd who were concerned not only that Discovery make its way to the heavens but that those gathered for the launch might make it to heaven as well. Almost immediately after I set foot on the park grounds, I was handed a postcard. One side bore photographs of the shuttles, the other these words:

“Did you know approximately 150,000 people die every day? The Bible explains why each one of us will die. We have all broken God’s uncompromising laws, the Ten Commandments. Have you ever told a lie? Stolen anything? Looked with lust? Used God’s name as a swear word? Then you have already broken 4 of the Ten Commandments, 6 more to go!

God is holy and cannot let law breakers (sinners) into heaven. On Judgment Day you will be found guilty, separated from God in hell. But God has done a wonderful act in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He paid the penalty for our law breaking (sins). On the cross 2000 years ago Christ died for us. He rose from the dead and defeated sin and death! The Bible says if you will turn away from your sins (repent) and put your trust in Jesus Christ as Lord alone for your Salvation, God will forgive you and grant you the gift of eternal life! Do this today, for you may not have tomorrow! (Hebrews 2:3). Read your Bible, obey it and pray everyday!”

Talk about a launch! If you’ve never invited Christ into your life, why not do that today? And, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, today would be a good day to recommit your life to Him! Amen?

ZIPLINING

Proverbs 3:5-6

Ziplining at Forever Florida. Photo by Donna Hailson
Ziplining at Forever Florida. Photo by Donna Hailson

One afternoon, I participated in a “Zipline EcoSafari” at the Forever Florida Park in St. Cloud. To get us up where we needed to be, about a dozen of us climbed a five-story tower to the first ziplines. I was surprised and quite disappointed to find myself filling with trepidation as I considered what I was about to do.

After all, when I was little girl, I used to jump off the garage roof with an open umbrella in hand hoping to float off like Mary Poppins. It was also very important to me in those years to make a climb each day to the highest branches of the pines in the grove on our property.

As an adult, I’ve trained on and crewed on hot air balloons. I’ve flown in a range of aircraft from commercial prop and jet planes to helicopters to military refuelers. I love being aloft.

But…here I was heart pumping away. I’m certain apprehension was all over my face. My lanyards were hooked on the line. I took the initial step into the air and was propelled across to the second tower in the series. I was so relying on myself and so focused on getting safely from point a to point b that I missed hearing some key directives. I didn’t turn my lanyards so I could come in straight and, instead, spun around backwards and had to rely on my guide to catch me on the other tower. I took little pleasure in the journey and missed seeing the beauty of the Pine Flatwoods and forested wetlands around me.

We can approach all of life like this: allowing our fears to distract us and becoming so self-focused we can’t hear the guidance of the One who can bring us safely along the journey. When we do live like this, we miss out on the glories — the bounty — the Lord has set all around us.

I am happy to report that by the time I reached the third tower, I was flying straight and reveling in the experience.  I was delighted to finally hear my guide say, “Good job!” when I landed and I pray I’ll take the lessons of the day to heart so I can fly straighter today and revel in the experience.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

SHAKEN OUT

Matthew 5:13-16

Unfinished portrait of William Wilberforce by Thomas Lawrence (1828). National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Unfinished portrait of William Wilberforce by Thomas Lawrence (1828). National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

For its inspirational power, I would commend to you the film Amazing Grace, which chronicles the life of William Wilberforce and his heroic campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire in the early 1800s. Wilberforce’s deeply-held Christian convictions moved him to work for the transformation of the society in which he lived and he was used of God in astonishing ways.

He was not only instrumental in ending the slave trade; he also worked with the reformer, Hannah More, in creating the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday. The goal was to provide all children with regular education in reading, personal hygiene, and religion.

He was one of the founders of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which inspired the creation of such societies all over the world. And he also worked to encourage Christian missionaries to go to India.

In 1797 Wilberforce published A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of this Country Contrasted with Real Christianity. Under the shorter title, A Practical View of Christianity, the book is still in print today and is continuing to have a powerful impact.

Amazon.com describes it as being “concerned with convincing those who call themselves Christians to pursue the real nature and principles of the religion which they profess. Christianity is not a mere morality, to be held in private. Christianity is revelation from God, bringing new rights and correspondent duties. It is an entire way of life that requires diligence and study and that should affect every aspect of the Christian’s public and private life.”

William Wilberforce was one human being who truly lived as the salt of the earth. Near the close of the film, when Wilberforce is shown standing before Parliament finally achieving victory over the slave trade, Lord Fox (played by Michael Gambon), stands to speak in response. His opening words, sadly, still ring true today, “When people think of great men, rarely do they think of peaceful men.”

Lord Fox went on to say that a Napoleon comes to mind when we speak of greatness but Napoleon was ruthless and surrounding all he did were his personal ambitions and the horrors of the wars he waged. Ultimately, he suffered complete and utter defeat; he was conquered. Wilberforce, on the other hand, having completed his selfless quest for justice, would go home to his family, lay his head on his pillow, and go to sleep knowing he had truly changed the world for the better.

Wilberforce is a true hero. Do we aspire to such greatness? Do we work to instill in our children, in our grandchildren, do we encourage in our friends, in our fellow Christians such an aspiration to greatness? Do we expect of ourselves and our fellow Christians a saltiness that preserves the good and brings a refreshing flavor to all of life?

Let us pray that our Heavenly Father will give us the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre. Let us pray that He will enable us to aspire to greatness and that He will open our hearts in joy to His call to holiness. May He free us from the fear of failure and shake us all out into the world.

Photo by Donna Hailson

SOLDIERS OF HAIRS

Genesis 1:24

My husband Gene and I have been reading a book by Alexandra Horowitz entitled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. Each chapter has moved us toward greater and greater appreciation of the abilities of our two Old English Sheepdogs Mac and Molly. We believe the better we understand them the better we’ll be at communicating with them.

In a section on canine olfactory prowess, the author notes, “The tissue of the inside of the nose is entirely blanketed with tiny receptor sites, each with soldiers of hairs to help catch molecules of certain shapes and pin them down. Human noses have about six million of these sensory receptor sites; sheepdog noses, over two hundred million; beagle noses, over three hundred million.”

Horowitz continues: “We might notice that our coffee has been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water: two Olympic-sized pools full.”

What a magnificent God we serve, a God who has created such extraordinary creatures, a God who has created an astonishing realm of breathtaking beauty and glorious intricacies! May we celebrate this day this world of whom He has made us stewards and widen our eyes to its amazing wonders!

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:24, NIV).

FAITH UNDER PRESSURE

James 1:2-4, 12

In James, chapter 1, verses 2 to 4 and 12, we read: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.”

Some time back I officiated at a memorial service for Norma, a member of the church staff I led. For most of her life, Norma was a single Mom who worked full-time jobs and raised four kids on her own. For the last eight years of her life, Norma fought against an ovarian cancer that eventually moved to her bowel and chest cavity, ravaging much of her body. Her testimony of courage, perseverance, positivity, joy in the face of the most serious of trials and her deep, powerful, abiding, unwavering faith under pressure left a powerful impression on me and on others who were privileged to know her. You never heard her complain; you never heard one word of self-pity. Even on her most trying days, when she was in great pain, her thoughts were for others and what she could do for them.

In her last days — as she began her leave-taking from this earth — she had no fear and she was ready to go home to the Lord. For the service celebrating her life, the sanctuary was filled to the brim with folks who loved her, admired her and learned from her.

I contrast her testimony of faith with another person I know who has had genuine troubles in her life – some medical but many troubles of her own making– and she takes every opportunity to complain to anyone who will listen, railing on and on about every ill in her life, choosing to feel sorry for herself, choosing to be miserable, choosing not to change. If she continues on as she’s going – alienating everyone and leaving destruction in her wake — she will come to the end of her life and she will be completely alone.

When troubles come, and they will, what is left to us is the choosing. What will we do when we encounter troubles, trials, tests and temptations?

Victor Frankl, who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote a magnificent book about his experience entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning. In that book he shares, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of all human freedoms, the freedom to choose. Every person can choose how they will face the troubles of life. We have the power to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.” He concludes, “If anyone has a why to live–they can endure any how!”

I have officiated at a number of weddings over the years and there comes a moment in each service when the man and woman vow to love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death would take one or the other home to the Lord. We seem to know that every marriage, at some point, will have troubles, trials, tests, and temptations. What folks do when they utter their marriage vows is to make a commitment not to deny the reality of troubles, but to outlast the problems that troubles can bring into a relationship.

The same is true in all of our relationships. James is saying that true faith in God not only abides in trouble but is actually strengthened by it. If we trust God in the shadows, God will bring us light.

So one point to make today is that in this life we must face the fact of trouble. Open a Bible and you’ll see that many of God’s servants–from Noah to Moses, to Amos, to Jeremiah, to Daniel, and even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ– experienced moments of trouble and trials in their journey to do and live out the will of God in their lives.

The Christian faith gives us the power and perspective not to focus on the trouble, but to focus on how best to overcome the reality of trouble.

Troubles are part of our growing up and maturing.

51P1QMSMHYL._SL500_SS500_In the book A View from the Zoo, Gary Richmond tells about the birth of a giraffe: “The first things to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Within seconds, he rolls to an upright position with his legs tucked under his body. From this position he considers the world for the first time and shakes off the last vestiges of the birthing fluid from his eyes and ears.

“The mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a quick look. Then she positions herself directly over her calf. She waits for about a minute, and then she does what would seem to be the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long, pendulous leg outward and kicks her baby, so that it is sent sprawling head over heels.

“When it doesn’t get up, the process is repeated over and over again. The struggle to rise is momentous. As the baby calf grows tired, the mother kicks it again to stimulate its efforts. Finally, the calf stands for the first time on its wobbly legs. Then the mother giraffe does the most remarkable thing. She kicks it off its feet again. Why? She wants it to remember how it got up. In the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as possible in order to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild hunting dogs all enjoy young giraffes, and they’d get them, too, if their mothers didn’t teach their calves to get up quickly and get with it…”

Now, humans are not to train their children in quite the same way – we’re not to kick our children or throw them as, I was saddened to read last week, one couple did with their toddler. But we can relate to the need to not do everything for our children; parents need to let their children face their own challenges. Before our daughter acquired the ability to walk she had to crawl, and then she began the process of getting up and falling down, getting up and falling down, getting up until she learned to keep her balance. We encouraged her through all the falling downs and getting ups. She’s grown now with her own children and she and her husband are now training their own little ones in the process of getting up when you’ve fallen down.

The Christian life is not all bright sunshine. It is not hope without a struggle. On the other hand, it is not a struggle without hope. The Christian journey is hope in the midst of the struggles–and strength resulting because of the struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Muscles never develop and grow unless they push against a great force that will force the muscles to grow and become stronger.”

You can spend your life counting your troubles, replaying over and over who hurt you, and how miserable you are OR you can allow troubles to do a good work in you producing a strong character, spiritual maturity and a well-developed faith. You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and begin remaking yourself today.  It’s your choice. Choose well.

LIVING IN WHAT YOU’VE BUILT

Matthew 7:21-29

Effecting a rescue (Dujiangyan). Photo by miniwiki.
Effecting a rescue (Dujiangyan). Photo by miniwiki.

I was struck a few years back by heartbreaking photos out of China of grieving parents standing near collapsed schools in which thousands of children died in an earthquake. Examinations of those schools by engineers and other experts revealed faulty construction and cheap materials. Parents blamed official corruption and negligence for failing to ensure that the buildings were safe.

In a New York Times article, an education official in Sichuan province — Lin Quiang — related what he saw after the earthquake. He was one of the first to reach Beichuan, one of the worst hit areas, and there, he saw the destroyed Beichuan Middle School, where hundreds of children died. Yet about 1,000 yards away, Mr. Lin also saw a Hope Project school, which had been built in connection with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Donors for the Hope Project had strictly overseen construction — and, as a result, the building was largely undamaged.

“Its construction quality was ensured under the donors’ supervision,” Mr. Lin said. “But most of the collapsed schools had no such supervisory mechanism.”

He added: “If we hadn’t left loopholes for corruption, the collapsed buildings could have been as solid as the primary school.”

Wise builders. Foolish builders.

It is significant that Jesus ended the Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. Throughout the long day Jesus had been preaching to the vast multitude. They listened to him with amazement and awe. But Jesus warned them that listening was not enough. It is never enough simply to listen to the words of Jesus, even though we may listen with reverent approval. If His words are to have any genuine effect in our lives we must not only hear them but act upon them. They must be lived out everyday.

To drive the point home, Jesus told the compelling story of two builders who each built a home. On a nice day, standing inside these homes, going from room to room, one might notice little difference between them. Even from the outside one might say they were virtually indistinguishable from each other. But, said Jesus, the difference would be found in the foundations, one built upon the rock and the other upon sand.

And with no further explanation, the people understood the meaning of that parable: that our lives are like houses. If we build upon a good foundation, when the storms of life come, when we are shaken, our lives will remain intact. If, on the other hand, we build on a poor foundation, when the storms of life inevitably come, when our world is shaken, our lives will be shattered into ruins. Why? Because the foundation is worthless. We all intuitively know the need for good foundations for anything to last.

And what is the good foundation according to this story? It is those who hear and do the teachings of Jesus, those who hear and put into practice the spiritual and moral values that Jesus has been describing in chapters five through seven of the Gospel of Matthew.

We need to understand that we are all involved in building, and that the house we build is being built according to a code. Let me ask you: what code are you using to build your spiritual home?

Now, there are all kinds of building codes in the world. You ask someone in construction or architecture and they will tell you that building codes are a complex and confusing body of regulations. Building code regulations are written, rewritten and interpreted by thousands of builders, manufacturers, architects, engineers, fire marshals and inspectors. To complicate matters, there is no common language, no uniform building code in the United States that acts as a common guide. Some communities develop a unique code while others don’t have a building code at all.

In the community that we call the church, we have a common language, a uniform building code and it’s called the Bible. And I would suggest that if you are going to build a home that you start in the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew and read to the end of the seventh. If you are going to build a home, Jesus said, you must build upon something solid. There are no words more solid on which to base your life than these words from the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon has been called the Christian Magna Carta, the Christian Manifesto, the Design for Life, and the Rules for Christian Living. It contains the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Golden Rule. It deals with murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and worry. It gives instructions on prayer, giving to the poor, fasting, judging others, and saving money.

Just listen to these guidelines from the Sermon on the Mount that have echoed through the ages:

Blessed are the poor in Spirit (in contrast to the spiritually proud and self-sufficient) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are the salt of the earth (preserving the good and bringing flavor to life).

You are the light of the world. Let your shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No.”

If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

When you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing

Bless our Father in heaven and pray deliverance from the evil one.

Remember that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

You cannot serve God and Money.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.

Do not judge or you too will be judged. For the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Do not throw your pearls before swine.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

Do to others what you would have them do to you.

Enter the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. By their fruit you will recognize them.

Is it any wonder that when Jesus finished saying these things that Matthew says, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching?”

So, it is no coincidence when Jesus wraps up His sermon by saying there were those who were wise and they built their house upon the rock and there were those who were foolish for they built their house upon the sand. Build well.

James 1:16-27

So . . . today’s message is about words but, when I sat to prepare this, the words just wouldn’t come. To prime the pump this day, I started googling for quotes about words. Some that I located were very powerful:

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

From Voltaire, writing two and a half centuries ago, we have two quotes right on target for our age of spin doctors and encroachments on free speech. The first: “One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.” And the second: “I do not agree with a word that you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I also appreciate the warning from Wendell Johnson who reminds us that: “Always and never are two words we should always remember never to use.”

Now a word can be something said: an utterance, a remark, a comment as in “May I say a word about that?” A word can be a command, a direction, an order as in: “he gave the word to retreat.”

A word can be a conveyor of news: “Any word on your promotion?”

A word can be a rumor as in: “Word has it they’re divorcing.” A word can be a favorable comment as in: “She put in a good word for me.”

We can have words as in hostile and angry remarks made back and forth. We can have no words to describe a situation or we can describe that same situation in a word. We can also summarize a situation in so many words. We may know a person who is a person of few words. We may take that person at his word because he is a person of his word.

We can be wordy or wordless and we can hear news by word of mouth or via wordplay – repartee. I’m re-reading these words that I’ve put on the page in the process of word processing. I’m hoping to convey some words of wisdom but what most concerns me is making certain that the words I use are faithful to THE Word — the Scriptures, the Bible. Now I know that the only way that will happen is if I am leading first with my ears, if I am listening first to God. We are creating our histories today. It matters today and it will matter tomorrow how we respond to God’s Word today. The Word insists that we receive God’s Word by doing it.

Hearing the Word is absolutely essential but if our hearing does not lead to doing, if our study does not result in obedience, if our attendance in worship does not lead to a righteous life, then the Word of God has been mistreated and we are deceiving ourselves about the reality of our relationship with God.

The test of true worship is not what we do in an hour of worship each Sunday; it’s what we do outside the walls of a church building the rest of the week. After all is said and done, may it not be said of us – as it relates to the Word — that more is said than done.

A FRESH START

Artwork found on a wall lining a street in Alexandria, Egyt shortly after the revolution of 2011.
Artwork found on a wall lining a street in Alexandria, Egypt shortly after the revolution of 2011.

As I sit to write this morning, I’ve been reflecting back on the revolution in Egypt and praying over the future of the country.

When the nation was moving through many days of turmoil, Anthony Shadid noted in the New York Times: “The beginning was as stunning a moment as the Arab world has witnessed, written in the smallest acts of citizenship and the grandest gestures of defiance. From the first day, Tahrir Square represented a model of people seizing the initiative from a hapless government, be it cleaning the streets or running their own security. The very acts seemed an antidote to decades of autocracy, stagnation and festering resentment over their own powerlessness. ‘We’ve discovered ourselves,’ said one of the organizers, Wael Khalil.

Shadid added: “Egypt’s revolution earned many names in 18 days: Revolution of the Youth, of the People, of Anger, of Freedom, of the Hungry, and most poetically, the Revolution of Light.”

The last description especially struck a chord with me. As one who calls Jesus Christ Savior and Lord, as one who came out of darkness into the light, as a hapless one in whom the Lord has exercised His cleansing power, as one who now has eternal security, I know what it means to go through a personal revolution, an inner remaking. Let us pray that the Lord will bring this kind of revolution to Egypt. And let us pray that we may be used of Him in our everyday encounters to fill vacuums with the eternal hope found only in and through Jesus Christ.

FRUGALITY FATIGUE

“You’re addicted to thrills? What an empty life! The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied” (Proverbs 21:17, The Message).

The term “Frugal Fatigue” aka “Frugality Fatigue” has been around now for at least a couple of years and, as identified by the website Word Spy, refers to: “Mental exhaustion caused by constant frugality during hard economic times.”

Christopher Muther, in a Boston Globe article elaborated on the “phenomenon” in late 2009: “[I]t seems that after a year of watching our wallets, bank accounts, and 401(k) plans with the tenacity of a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, some are throwing up their hands, taking out their credit cards, and wading back into pre-recession habits . . . the idea that we’re getting worn down and stressed out by constantly watching our budgets – may as well be an officially diagnosed psychiatric disorder.”

Indeed, “’the idea of frugal fatigue is certainly plausible,’ says Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona. ‘Anything that is perceived as a burden and stressor that persists over an extended period of time is very likely to cause detrimental effects on physical and emotional well-being.’ Cilona says symptoms of frugal fatigue can be as extreme as anxiety, fear, and even colds, flu, and depression.”

On MSN Money, Donna Freedman noted the release of a new study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling which trumpets that: “a majority of Americans have frugal fatigue.” Some 66% of folks surveyed by the NFCC are feeling the strain of having to watch their dollars.

“Wait,” Freedman writes, “Americans are unhappy that they can no longer spend like sailors on shore leave? There’s news. Now ‘frugal fatigue’ is all the rage on personal-finance blogs, newspapers, radio and television. This heavy rotation worries me. Giving the phenomenon a catchy name can trivialize it, i.e., make it trendy.”

She continues: “Make no mistake: Frugal fatigue is real, especially for people who’ve never before had to rein in their spending. Just like any other compulsive behavior, living beyond our means can be a lot of fun — for a while, anyway. In the long run it can ruin you. But you miss the trappings of any addiction once it’s gone, even if you know your life will be better overall. Just as an alcoholic might fantasize about stopping off for a cold one, you may find yourself cruising your favorite shopping websites. With luck, you’ll both call your sponsors. But the temptation will still be there tomorrow.”

Addictions to thrills, the constant pursuit of pleasure, the reality of temptations…there really is nothing new under the sun. The proven methods for addressing these troubling behaviors are still found in the ever-current Word of God. A lot more prayer and a lot less shopping would do us all a heap of good.

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1Timothy 6:9).

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13).