Consider the Lilies

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.                                                                                                         Luke 12:27

As many of my readers know, I am fascinated by Physics. I almost flunked Physics. I am also terrible at math, and such high-level concepts make my brain ache, but I am fascinated by the many things I do not understand. Maybe it’s like a moth to the flame. Who knows why the moth is attracted to the flame that might just kill him – but the moth is just drawn to it. Actually, there probably IS a reason that a moth is drawn to the light, but I have never been inquisitive enough to look into that. Someday, dear reader, I will check that out and share it with you.

But today, I just want to talk about Physics, and the way that the world works. I am dumbfounded by those who deny the existence of a majestic and awesome Creator. Did that Creator use evolutionary principles and techniques? Sure, why not? Did the Creator plan the minutest details of life and the preservation of it? Uh, yes.

Physicists and astronomers tell us that there was a Big Bang some 14 billion years ago that brought life into existence. Further, they say, the universe created from that Big Bang continues to expand at an increasing rate. That “First Cause” (as Thomas Aquinas would call the Creator) was God. The same God, who set in motion this incredible, beyond words universe, which includes this insignificant planet Earth, revolving in one of a myriad of solar systems, is the creator of you and me.

While the planet we occupy is less than a speck in the entire universe, the inhabitants of that earth are of immeasurable valuable. God intricately planned it all, and the best minds of the world have no idea of the depth of wonder that God is still revealing.

Jesus said “Consider the lilies of the field” in his sermon on the mount. In effect he was saying, even the humblest little flower was put together with such intricacy and care, that man’s best efforts to outshine that humble flower are useless.

We don’t have to be scientists to see that we, and the earth we live on, are the incredible masterpieces of a God who loves us.

Just WOW, right?

Prayer: We are just in awe of your creation, and the attention to details we cannot imagine! Amen

“End Times”

But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

 “The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

 “The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.                                                                                                                                          Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

There has always been speculation in the Christian community about the “second coming”, when Jesus will return to earth, and prophecies will be fulfilled. There are many people who speculate on when those “end times” will be, and they point to events that certainly indicate (they believe) that the end times are near. Of course, through the centuries, there have been many events that people could point to as “inevitable signs” of the imminent fulfillment of those “end time” prophecies.

Interestingly, Jesus did not seem to put much focus on that event. He said that no one knew, except the Father, when those end times would come. He typically told people, and gave stories about, “occupying well” until that end time does come.

I find it a bit disturbing that people are so intent on looking for that great “end time” event when Jesus will come again. Didn’t Jesus essentially say, “Don’t worry about an event that you cannot know, keep serving and loving people right now where you are”. In the prayer he taught his disciples, Jesus instructed us by saying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

I understand that to mean that we are to not simply wait until the earth is fulfilled (or destroyed, based upon your interpretation), but we are to work to bring “heaven to earth”. That is, we are to endeavor, through our transformed lives and relationships, to demonstrate what that future Kingdom can look like here on earth.

We will never be able to make the earth “heaven”. We are all quite clear on that! But didn’t Jesus challenge us to try, in our own little way, to make the earth a little better place for those we share the planet with?

So, rather than spending time waiting and speculating on an event whose time we will never know, isn’t it better to ask, “How can I make this present time better for those around me?”

Prayer: Lord, you have given us opportunities to bring Kingdom principles to earth. Help us to focus on what is right before us, Amen

The Power of Words

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.                                                                                                 Proverbs 16:24

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.                                              Proverbs 17:22

There is, of course, great wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Even though it was written perhaps 2500 years ago (or so), it contains wisdom that is timeless. In today’s blog, I am looking at the power of words. As the book says, words have the power to lift up a spirit or to crush a spirit. From the same mouth can come blessings or curses.

I note that the passage from Proverbs 16:24 indicates that words are like a honeycomb. Later in the book of Proverbs, it alludes to the fact that a “broken spirit dries up the bones”. While this language is meant to be figurative, I really think that there was an allusion to literal physical health. Depression feels like it goes all the way to the bone. We also know that the health of our very blood manufacturing process takes place in the bone marrow. That marrow in the bones is like…a honeycomb.

So, just maybe, those kind words can “get into our bones”- deep into our soul, and heal us. Maybe it is not such a stretch to say that words can be healing and health-giving. Proverbs tells us that words are health to the body, and that a joyful heart is good medicine.

I’m going with words can literally be healing to one another. The more we use those words of encouragement, the healthier we all are.

Prayer: Lord, you have literally given us the power to heal with our words. Help us to use them wisely, Amen

Labor Day

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.                                                       Proverbs 14:23


From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward.                                                                                                                                                              Proverbs 12:14

Today is Labor Day here in the United States. In many countries, it is celebrated on May1 as Labor Day (or Labour Day), and may also be known as International Workers Day or a similar name. For my friends in Ecuador, I understand it is celebrated on April 30th.  Whatever you call the day, I hope you can celebrate it as honoring the value of work. I am deliberately disregarding the political overtones that some ascribe to “May Day”, recognizing that workers should be celebrated, no matter the political attachment given to the day.

There are some who have interpreted that work is a curse resulting from the “Fall in the Garden of Eden”. Let me assure you that I am not of such a mind. Indeed, I believe that work is a gift from God. Even before that “great fall” in the garden, Adam had been assigned the work of naming the Creation, as well as tending the garden and its obvious beauty and plenty.

My good friend Pastor Mike Slaughter spoke about work in his Sunday message stating that work should be “honoring to God”; “a blessing to others”; and should “bring joy to the laborer”. This is true. Our labors are an expression of our gifts and talents which we use in the service of others. All work is noble and worthy, and it should be honored.

So, I don’t know how you will celebrate today, but you should be reminded that your labor is worthy.

Celebrate it!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of work, which gives us value and meaning as we serve your creation, Amen

Missy

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.                                                                                   Philippians 2:1-4

Her name is Missy. That is the nurse who took care of my niece over 35 years ago when my niece had cancer. Thank God, my niece not only survived, but was able to have two wonderful kids, both of whom are now in the medical field themselves.

Missy has remained a family friend of my sister and her family for all these years. Missy is one of those unsung medical practitioners who goes above and beyond to care for their patients. Granted, not all nurses and physicians can stay connected with the patients that they care for. That is simply not possible. However, this story illustrates that our medical professionals are in the business because they are deeply dedicated and caring people.

In this day of overwhelming stress and unreasonable demands on medical professionals, there are a myriad of untold stories of how those professionals have changed the lives of their patients. Not only with medical care, but with emotional and spiritual care, which nurtures not only the body but the soul as well.

So to you Missy, and all those other unsung heroes out there, thank you. Currently, you are overwhelmed with COVID cases. You are caring for people who may not appreciate the sacrifices you have made, or the dedication you have demonstrated. Rest assured that God knows, literally, what you do and have done, and whether or not others know, please be reminded that you have impacted our world for the better.

Thank You.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for those who care for us in ways that we cannot fully appreciate sometimes, Amen

A City Upon a Hill…

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven    Matthew 5:14-16

Reading this passage from the incomparable Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, I was reminded again of the concept about the “city on the hill” which would be a light for others to follow. An example of freedom and right living that could serve as an example to the rest of the world- a new order of freedom which could fulfill these words that Jesus spoke.

John Winthrop in 1630 gave a lecture titled “A Model of Christian Charity” in which he used the phrase “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”. He meant that this new Puritan experiment of coming to America would serve as a model to the rest of the world. He warned that such a model could be for good or bad. The eyes of the world were on them, and they could determine if this experiment would result in a shining light or as a dire warning to others.

Through the years many speakers, politicians and leaders have alluded to that phrase, stating that America is that light on the hill- a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

I hope so.

This statement has also been tied to the concept of America’s civil religion, which is a whole other topic, but I am thinking of it in the context that Jesus gave in Matthew 5. He said that we should “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

There have been some spectacular examples of America being that light on the hill to a weary and broken world. Our involvement in World War I as American strength helped to end the butchery of that war which engulfed Europe and much of the world. Again in World War II where America intervened and helped end brutal, oppressive dictatorships and genocide. The Marshall Plan which helped stave off starvation in a ravaged Europe. Medical intervention in Africa and other areas of the world during the AIDS crisis under George W. Bush in 2003 which saved millions of lives.

These are just a few large examples which come to mind quickly-there are many others. In fact, I encourage my readers to fill in the others that come to mind. It is probably healthy these days to call to mind those many examples of American leadership and generosity.

Every day, American generosity around the world is saving lives. However, Winthrop’s words were a warning too. Not everyone sees America as the shining light of freedom and generosity, because there have been too many examples of injustice and oppression in our own land.

I do believe that America is a wonderful country full of generous, hard-working people, who have been given the gift of unique government by our founders. I trust that we can be, in many ways, that light shining on the hill. However we need to remember the end of the passage- that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Prayer: Father we have been given great gifts in our country, help us to use those gifts wisely and generously for your glory, Amen.

Behind the Smile

“All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul.”

Robin Williams

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

Robin Williams

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”-                   Erma Bombeck

A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.     Proverbs 15:13

I think these quotes from the late Robin Williams are very telling about the soul that lurked underneath the façade we saw. Robin Williams was a genius. The fastest wit I ever saw was Robin Williams riffing on talk shows, or in his monologues. His mind went faster than we could listen to him. You would just try to hang on for the ride to keep up with the delicious humor that came from him.

Yet he also had a deep and sensitive soul. Some of his greatest work was in playing characters who were deeply touched by the suffering of others. It reaffirms my belief that the greatest actors are the comedians, because their humor often comes out of great pain. We now know that Robin Williams hid his pain until he finally couldn’t.

Often, we see only the veneer of people- the face that they desperately want us to see. To be really understood and accepted is the greatest gift we can get. To those who are in emotional pain, I hope and trust that you will reach out to get that understanding.

Prayer: Lord, you have made us marvelously complex creatures. Help us to share those parts of us that are hurting with those who want to help, Amen

Contentment

 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life

Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

            This passage is one of my very favorite ones in scripture. Paul, writing from a Roman jail, is telling people how to be content, and is thanking people for their support and generosity. He is telling people to earnestly rejoice, even while he is in the midst of trouble.

            There is a formula here for contentment. If we rejoice, recognizing that God is near, we will be better able to turn to Him in prayer, especially at those very rattled times. We are to give our petitions to God with thanksgiving. That is, recognizing that we have done what we are supposed to do, and having put it into God’s hands, we are to be thankful that He will then take care of things. How will He take care of things? Well, that is not our problem- that is His concern. Since He loves us, we are to be assured that He will deal with it in our ultimate best interest. Paul then says that the peace of God will then guard our hearts.

            In order to maintain this peace, we then need to think on good, pure and lovely things, uplifting things. Paul is outlining here the most basic of psychological principles- what we dwell on, we become. The part of our spirit that is fed is the part that grows. So, we are to feed the positive, uplifting ideas and surroundings, not the negative, deadly things the world has to offer.

            Paul concludes, if we put these things into practice, the God of peace will be with us. If we let the peace of God guard our hearts, the God of peace will dwell there!

Prayer: Father, thanks for your plan of taking care of us in the times of trouble. Help us to remember that you love us more than we understand, and that you desire us to have you, the God of peace, dwell with us, amen.

Tell Me Your Story

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.                                                                                                                               Psalm 139:13-16 (The Message)

As I was watching the news this morning about the devastating hurricane which hit Louisiana the other day, I saw some heartbreaking interviews. One man, who had just lost his home, was in tears, but bravely said, “We’ll come back, we always do”.

I thought back many years to the devastating tornado in Xenia, Ohio. It was, in fact April 3, 1974. That was a day named the “Day of the Killer Tornadoes”. That day, tornadoes of high magnitude ravaged the Midwestern part of the United States. Many cities were greatly damaged. Few were hit as hard as Xenia, where 33 people died, and over 1300 were injured.

I was working then at the State Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, which is just west of Xenia. We were called on to help deliver some emergency counseling services to survivors of the recent trauma. Many of the victims were in shock, and we wondered what we could do as counselors to help these people. It became apparent that what we could do was listen to their stories. That was about all we could do, but it was helpful. People just needed to express what they had just been through. We had no good answers, no magic solutions for people who had just been through a trauma we could not ourselves understand. We could just listen.

Everyone can benefit from just being encouraged to tell their story. Indeed, we all have a story. No matter the experiences we have had, no matter how dramatic or mundane that story might be, it is important. That is the message that we deliver- “Your story is important!

We as human beings are developing a life story. None of us should take the value of that story for granted.

Prayer: Lord, help us to make our story valuable to you and other people, Amen

Peter’s Journey

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”

He said “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.”

 Jesus said “Feed my sheep…”                                                                                                                     John 21:17

The apostle Peter must have suffered a tremendous amount of guilt after he, unfortunately, fulfilled the prophecy that Jesus laid out to him at the Last Supper.

Jesus had told Peter that he would be a betrayer when the times got hard, but Peter in his pride and arrogance protested. Alas, as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed at that courtyard after Jesus had been arrested.

Peter was devastated and was in need of personal healing from Jesus. He may have known that he was forgiven by Jesus’ death, or maybe not. Such a truth is so overwhelming and earth changing, the disciples perhaps had only a glimmer of this truth at that point. But Peter needed a personal touch from Jesus.

So, at the end of Jesus’ stay on earth, Jesus had some unfinished business with Peter. Jesus took him aside and reminded him of his threefold denial of Jesus with a threefold question of Peter: “Do you truly love me?”

Peter must have known that Jesus was reliving that denial scene at the time of the arrest, and he was troubled that Jesus really would question his love. “Surely you know that I love you Jesus” Peter said, “You know all things!” Jesus, in his profound wisdom, knew that Peter needed to own his past sins in a very clear way to know the impact of them. Peter needed to learn about remorse, not just forgiveness. Remorse is contrition driven by seeing the pain of the one offended, not mainly for the remediation of the pain of the offender. Jesus, when the lesson was sufficiently understood by Peter, offered not just forgiveness, but meaningful restoration.  “Feed my sheep” Jesus said.

So often our guilt separates us from true fellowship with Jesus. Jesus will have none of it, and instead offers us a place of meaning and dignity. He is that kind of Redeemer!

Prayer: Father, thank you for giving us the Son who not only teaches us forgiveness, but also restoration and dignity. What an amazing gift and plan!  Amen.