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        Seeds For Thinking articles for the year   2008




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 Scripture: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such there is no law." (Galations 5:22-23, NKJV)
   
    Trees! Joyce Kilmer acclaimed the beauty of trees in the poem, Trees, concluding:
        “Poems are made by fools like me,
        But only God can make a tree.”


    And He did, according to the creation story in Genesis 1:12, and gave mankind “every tree whose fruit yields seed” to be food. (Genesis 1:29)
    The gift of fruit and seed as food remains vital to sustain “every beast of the earth, every bird of the air, and everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life.” (Genesis 1:30)  Further, the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) Living beings, yes, but also spiritual beings, with a soul that “thirsts for God, for the living God.”  (Psalm 42:2)
    It has also been said that nature abhors a vacuum. Any empty space will be filled by something, even in the vastness of outer space, given the opportunity. Jesus gave the example of a person cleansed of evil spirits, “swept clean and put in order,” as it were. The unclean spirit reenters his former home, bringing with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; “and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
    It seems crucial, therefore, that the soul not be left empty, no matter how tidy a soul keeper one might be. There is a battle going on for that soul space, a wrestling match  not  against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. “ (Ephesians 6:12)   Paul goes on to recommend a means of protection against the wiles of the devil - the whole armor of God - but especially praying in the Spirit. (vs. 18)
     Instead, some maintain that  living a “moral” life, that is, observing principles of  conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong - the basic moral values of a community - would  of itself entitle one to the heavenly reward. In other words, good works will lead to salvation. Paul, however, speaking of the gift of God’s grace, declares that salvation does not come through works, but by faith.
    To better understand this relationship, think back to the image of a fruitful tree. Let’s choose an apple tree, just for illustration. Now imagine someone admiring a big, juicy, red apple on that tree. “Isn’t it marvelous!, they exclaim. “What a beautiful tree is growing out of that apple.”  “Ridiculous,” you would assert. “”Apples grow on trees; trees don’t grow from apples.” And you would be correct.
    Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the ‘tree’ that produces the fruits of the Spirit. The good tree produces food to sustain everything in which there is life. The Spirit produces    good fruit, and good works. (See James 2:14 - 20) 
    If you desire fruit, plant a tree, especially a “Spiritual” tree! 
January 6, 2008

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Scripture: (Jesus) answered and said to (the scribes and Pharisees), “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:3, NKJV)

    Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, stated that “man is a political animal. Politics,  according to  my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is defined as “of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government.” 
    That may well be, but humans are, in my opinion, partisan beings, defined as “a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person; especially - one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance.”
    Aristotle also noted that "Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regard to their mode of life." 
    Think on these things for a moment, hopefully with Bible in hand, and open to the 15th chapter of Matthew. The scribes and Pharisees were “offended” by Jesus’ teachings, and even His healings. Jesus responded by quoting Isaiah, saying, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Therefore, I think that the latter quote from Aristotle is applicable: “These people” were not only attempting to mold or “create” God according to the traditions of the elders, but were also teaching and  exhibiting “blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance” to those traditions which defined their way of life.
    “These people” were honoring God with their mouth, their lips no doubt reciting the Commandments word for word and letter for letter, but had annulled the very purpose of God’s Commandment by their “Gift to God” of money that should have been used to support their parents. (Matthew 15:3-6)
    Some of the harshest words that Jesus spoke were not directed to sinners nor those suffering various afflictions “because they had sinned” (according to tradition,) but to those teaching as doctrines (of God) the commandments of men. Turn now to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, and read verses 37 through 54. As in Matthew 15, Jesus’ discourse is prompted by concerns that He had not followed the traditions of ritual washing before dinner. (Matthew 15:2; Luke 11:37)
    It is all too easy for us to fall into the partisan trap of denigrating the scribes, or interpreters of the law, and the Pharisees, but in fact, they did much to preserve and promote the worship of the LORD in a very critical period between the Testaments. Like many causes, however, the outward conventions attained primary significance; they were literally re-creating God according to their current mode of life.
    Jesus is holding up a ‘mirror’ for us to examine our “blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance” to tradition and custom of our own time and place. These scriptures are a call for all people, Pharisee or Christian, to evaluate our relationship with God, and to assure that we are molding our lives in God’s image, and not creating God in our image.
    Think about it!
January 13, 2008

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Scripture: Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17, NKJV)

    A loaf of bread and a radio seem to have little in common, yet they share a one-time relationship that changed the way we live.
    In the opening days of the Twentieth century, bread was commonly a home made product and required a treasured skill. The bread dough would be kneaded on a piece of wood - a breadboard - used especially for that purpose, as well as for a cutting board. Pre-sliced bread was not yet available, nor were radios.
    The early radio pioneers and experimenters found a perfect object in the kitchen on which to assemble their circuitry, and often purloined the breadboard. The term “breadboarding” today refers to a reusable solderless device used to build a prototype of an electronic circuit and for experimenting with circuit designs. If you wish to buy something on which to slice bread, you need to ask for a cutting board.
    Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the bread slicer, which he started working on in 1912. At first, Rohwedder came up with the idea of a device that held the slices together with hat pins (not a success). In 1928, he designed a machine that sliced and wrapped the bread to prevent the sliced bread from going stale.
Pre-sliced bread was popularized by Wonder Bread in 1930.
    Radio broadcasting was coming into full flower by the 1930’s, and with it the advent of paid commercial announcements, including baking companies and their sliced bread. Breadboards disappeared from the home kitchen, but the name seems forever linked to electronics experimentation. If you don’t believe me, just do an internet search on “breadboard.” Still, bread and radios thus share that inseparable relationship.
    Surprisingly, I have met people who would relegate the Old Testament writings to the dust bin of history, as useless as a bread board in the modern kitchen, superseded by the “newest thing since sliced bread,” so to speak - aka The New Testament. 
    Think about it this way:  We did not do away with bread, just changed the way we bake it and slice it. It remains much the same product it has always been.
    Nor have we done away with the basics of God’s Word. The Old Testament stands today as the foundation on which all else is built. The New Testament writings are filled with quotations from the Law and the Prophets. It behooves us, therefore, to embrace the connections, for all point to God’s will.
    It may not matter in the end if we remember or even know that radios were once made on breadboards, but we dare not forget that the New Testament testifies to the fulfillment of  the Old Testament, and they are inseparable.
January 20, 2008

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Scripture: “that (the king) may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes . . .” (from Deuteronomy 17:19, NKJV)
    Many students from the electronics school that I attended in Detroit, Michigan, ate at a small restaurant across the street. We depended on the clock on the wall behind the check-out counter to get us back to class on time. One day, however, there was a light colored blank spot where the clock had been. When we mentioned the missing clock, the waitress whispered, “Don’t ask,” and moved on.
    Later, when the owner was back in the kitchen, she returned and explained that he had rented that clock as a service from a company that maintained the correct time on it. Deciding to save a few bucks, he went out and bought his own electric clock. He plugged it in, stood back to admire it, and saw it spew out a burst of smelly smoke!
    It turns out that parts of downtown Detroit were still using direct current (the DC  of AC/DC power you may have heard of). While some devices would work on either standard, the new clock was AC only, with ruinous results.
    Just across the river, in Canada, the electrical system had a different twist. The voltage was correct, and it was alternating current (AC ) but like many other countries in the British empire, they used a different rate of alternation, 50  cycles rather than the USA frequency of 60 cycles (hertz). One of our classmates proudly bought a new piece of test equipment, took it home to Canada, and plugged it in only to experience much the same result as happened to the clock - smoke! The power transormer was not designed to operate on 50 cycle power.
    It is obviously vitally important that electrical devices and electronic gadgets be plugged into the appropriate power source. 
    I have come to the conclusion that the same malady brought about the downfall of Israel and Judah. Not an electrical problem, of course, but  the same concept - they “plugged into” the wrong power source.
    The Law of  The Administration of the King is covered in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. David counseled his son, Solomon, “And keep the charge of the LORD  your God: to walk in his ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His Judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. (1 Kings 2:3)
    The LORD God was to be the “Power” source for Israel. Unfortunately, like the examples above, the kings and the people suffered the consequences when they ceased to  “observe all the words of this law and these statutes . . .” and saw their nation go up in the smoke of conquest as a result.
    One of the most common uses of electrical power is for illumination - to produce light. To produce Spiritual light, the “Light of the World,” or, as Peter phrased it, “ . . . His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” we must plug our lives into God’s power source. (1 Peter 2:9)
January 27, 2008

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Scripture: Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8, NKJV)

    Sly as a fox. Strong as an ox. As courageous as a lion. Poor as a church mouse. Hmmm . . .  Most of us could more readily be compared to another diminutive mammal - a pack rat:  1 : A “bushy-tailed rodent (Neotoma cinerea) of the Rocky Mountain area that has well-developed cheek pouches and hoards food and miscellaneous objects 2 : one who collects or hoards especially unneeded items.” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. ) Ah, yes, the 2nd definition.
    I’ve read several articles recently in various newspapers, magazines, and even Reader’s Digest®  about the practice of collecting and hoarding things, often items of little or even of no value. Efforts to help someone clean out a stash of trash is met with strong, emotional resistance on the part of the “pack rat.”
    And that seems to be the clue to the ‘pack rat’ syndrome: it is not so much the value of the item itself that is cherished, but the emotional bond to the acquisition of the item. Memories of what one was doing at the time, how it was acquired, the people that were involved all form an emotional ‘snapshot’ that has deep meaning for the individual experiencing it.
    To anyone else it is trash, no more and no less. Stuff to be cleaned up, hauled out, thrown away. The throw-it-out crew can work with impunity because they have a different perspective on the entire situation. It is not their emotions, their memories that are dumped.
    We are emotional people. Without it, we would be unfeeling robots, emotionless zombies, or automatons going through the mechanics of life.
    It is not surprising, therefore, that a generation without emotional ties to reminiscences of the role that Joseph played in saving the nation during a period of great crisis came to view the Israelites as foreign trash, just waiting for a clean-up crew.
    It is likely that a number of the former slaves who left Egypt during the Exodus were not even Israelites, but people who were simply taking the opportunity to escape an unpleasant situation. They had no emotional attachment to the legacy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor a bond to the LORD God. The Laws and Commandments Moses’ imposed upon them made no more sense than the “trash stash” of a pack rat.
    If we follow the history of the Israelites as they occupied the Promised Land, the first generation served the Lord emotionally, remembering the great things God had done for them, like the crossing of the Jordan and the fall of Jericho. The next generation lacked that emotional involvement.
    It is therefore not surprising that the generation that follows us desires a different form of worship, if they are moved to worship at all. Perhaps our generation has emotional ties to the old hymns. I can close my eyes and envision the stalwarts that sang them and so moved us with their devotion to Christ. However, even the mid twentieth century is ancient history to Generation X and Y, children of the “Boomers.”
    One person cannot force their emotional bonds onto another, but we can pray that people come to know the LORD Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and experience the love and joy of that special relationship.
February 3, 2008

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Scripture:  “. . . you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; . . . ” (Deuteronomy 17:15a, NKJV)

“Take me to your leader.”
    To comply with this request, whether from alien or ambassador, one needs to know something about the one who rules. Consider that :
        "Big fleas have smaller fleas
        Upon their backs to bite 'em,
        The smaller fleas have smaller still,
        And so ad infinitum" 1
    Since most of us are probably well down in the list of the “ad infinitum,”   let’s go all the way to the top, the ultimate leader “Big Flea.” To do that, we have to think about “cracy,” from (Greek) kratos, meaning strength, or power. Before you panic, “cracy” is an old friend often found on the end of words like democracy and aristocracy.  The type of leader you will find as the “Big Flea” depends very much on the basis for the government that is empowered.
    For example, democracy simply means government by the people, “the people rule,” usually involving periodically held free elections.
      An aristocracy is government by the ‘best’ individuals or by a small privileged class. There are several methods of determining who or what constitutes this privileged class, also called an oligarchy, ("organization by the 'best' and the 'brightest”) or a plutocracy (the rule or power through wealth or by the wealthy.)
        The mono cracy or monarchy is the form of government most encountered by readers of the Bible: undivided rule or absolute sovereignty by a single person. Both Old Testament and New Testament kingdoms were often governed by a hereditary chief of state with life tenure and powers varying from nominal to absolute. Think of King David passing the reigns of power to his son, Solomon, or the Herod family of the New Testament era. Localized titles for the monarch include the pharaoh of Egypt and the emperor of Rome.
     We also see examples of an individual seizing power and constituting an autocracy, a form of government in which the political power is held by a single self appointed ruler. Today it is usually seen as synonymous with despot, tyrant and/or dictator, an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution.
    It was intended by God that Israel would be a theocracy, a government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. Note that God did not mandate a monarchial form of rule for Israel, but recognized that the people might at some time seek to become like the neighboring nations and form a monarchy. Both Saul and David, the first Israeli kings were anointed by Samuel, thus receiving God’s blessing.
    Unfortunately, many of the leaders, the rulers, “did evil in the eyes of the LORD” by establishing a hereditary linage with autocratic powers, ignoring the tenets of Deuteronomy 17:15. God did not abandon Israel, but, without divine guidance, the kings led Israel away from God into the abomination of desolation.
 1 ad infinitum - : without end or limit
February 10.2008

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Scripture: They would say to him, “Then say ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right.
 (Judges 12:6, NKJV)

    You probably haven’t noticed, but you have an accent. If, however, you should travel any distance, you will reach a place where people’s speech sounds - well, different from yours. In some cases, the difference might be called a ‘shibboleth,’ from the test to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites in Judges 12:6. Ephraimite soldiers were trying to sneak through the Gileadite battle line. Any soldier who could not distinguish the ‘sh’ sound and pronounced it ‘sibboleth,’ was killed. “There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.”  (See Judges 12:1-6)
    A similar test was reportedly used during World War II, by United States soldiers in the Pacific theater on the premise that Japanese people often pronounce the letter L as R. (Their language has no representative sounds (phonemes) so both L and R sound the same to them)  A shibboleth such as "lollapalooza" would be used by the sentry, who, if the first two syllables come back as ‘rorra,’ would "open fire without waiting to hear the remainder."
    I find another reference to accents that “regionalize” a person in the Bible in Matthew, chapter 26. Peter denies that he was with Jesus, but one of the bystanders comments, “Surely you are also one of them, for your speech betrays you.” (Mt. 26:73)
    Today, in the English language, a shibboleth has a wider meaning, referring to any "in-crowd" word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders.
    The study of speech patterns is called ‘linguistics,” recognizing meaningful units of speech as phonemes, morphemes, words, or sentences. Some speech differences are localisms, words that are pronounced differently in specific locations. Someone who pronounces “Lancaster” as “Lan-caster” is likely not from the central Ohio city of “Lank-es-ter.” If you pronounce Ohio’s west central city of Bellefontaine with the French sounding flair of “Bella-fon-tane,” the natives will know that you are from out of town. They call their city, simply, “Bell - fountain.”
    If you say, “y’all,” chances are that you are from certain southern states. We speak of accents peculiar to Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Boston. Generally, the way that we say certain sounds reflects where we learned to speak.
    Speech habits can also be utilized as a shibboleth to distinguish one’s spiritual community. Those who claim to follow Jesus should be led by the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. (Galations 5:25)  Speech peppered with profanity or bawdy and lascivious words may not immediately bring about the fate of the soldiers in the examples, but will surely be a factor at the final judgment. Paul affirms that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galations 5:21b)
February 17, 2008

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    We value our independence, even from a very early age. Ask any two-year old; they don’t call that period of one’s life the ‘terrible twos’ without reason. “Me!”  “Mine!”
And, or course, the inevitable “NO!!” And yet, for all of our self-assertiveness, we tend to make, or to seek, authority figures. Actually, there are two facets to ‘authority.’  One is the ruling, controlling, lordship authority, as expressed by Jesus when His disciples disputed as to whom among them would be the greatest. We also seek out an authority, a knowledgeable, learned person to provide answers to questions and doubts that limit our own authority.
    Here is how it works: We exercise our authority (rank) over another. They  may question, “Where does it say so?” We, of course, hold the option of responding, “I say so!” Which may raise the equally valid point, “And who are you?” You can see where this is heading. Been down that road?
    However, if we can point to an authority figure, a guru, or especially a group of authorities (Council of  . . . ; Department of . . .; etc.) we have undercut their rebellion. They must first disprove that authority before they can damage our own authority.
    I think that most of us have been on both sides of that issue. There are times when we must be a controlling authority, the ‘boss,’ especially as a parent or in a job as a supervisor at work. We also may be called upon as a knowledgeable and trustworthy person to provide answers, to become the authoritative source, the expert.
    The danger exists that either form of authority may degenerate into pompous arrogance. Jesus gave the example of a servant who was entrusted to have authority over the master’s household during his absence. If the servant - as in this example - should abuse both the privilege and the persons under his authority, he will be held accountable upon the master’s return. (Luke 12:42-48)
    One of the best examples that I have heard of the term “expert” is this:
First, break the word into two parts - ‘x’ and ‘spurt.’ As we know,  in algebra, ‘x’ stands for an unknown quantity. From plumbing, a ‘spurt’ is an ordinary drip under pressure. 
    In humbleness, then, pray for guidance and wisdom to be a benefactor, the good and faithful servant. Though we be one who governs, may we be as one who serves.
        Impress upon your heart these words of Jesus to His disciples: “Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” (Luke 22:27b)
           “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37)
February 24, 2008

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Scripture:   “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars closed upon me for ever; yet hast Thou brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”    Jonah 2:6, KJV
    Jonah was a goner. Down, down, down he sank, down through the seaweed, down to the moorings of the mountains. Down to The Deep, literally, the abyss. Let’s turn our attention from Jonah for the moment and explore ‘The Deep,’ the moorings of the mountains. (We already know God is taking care of Jonah.)
    Many ancient civilizations looked upon the earth, seas and the heavens above quite differently than our modern cosmology.  We have the advantage of centuries of science and exploration to shape our view of the universe around us. The Bible seems to us to be using figurative language when it speaks of ‘The Deep’ in Jonah, Psalms, or Genesis. Just another way of expressing the thought of God’s domain from ocean depths to starry heaven. However, they had something entirely different in mind when they looked upon the oceans, land and sky. Some cultures thought that the dry land floated upon the ocean , ‘The Deep’ - thus, if you went deep enough, you would reach the roots, the moorings, the underside of the mountains. Jonah feels he is headed to that watery underworld beneath the mountains.
    The creation story in Genesis begins with darkness upon the face of the deep. God created the firmament,  and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament (Gen 1:7)  and called the firmament heaven. Dry land did not appear until the third day of creation. The sun, moon, and stars were created and set in place in the already existing firmament on the fourth day. Think about this for a moment: waters above and waters beneath the firmament. We can see the waters in the seas and oceans beneath the firmament, no question there. But, tell me this: where does rain come from? To their mind, there had to be a reservoir of water above the vast space called the firmament, or heavens.
    The earth was flooded in the days of Noah when the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of heaven were opened. (Gen. 7:11, NIV)  Waters under the firmament and waters above the firmament!
    The waters are mentioned several times in the Book of Job, especially in chapter 38, where  God questions Job.  God speaks of laying the foundations of the earth, and shutting in the sea with doors (38:8) when it burst forth as if it had issued out of the womb.
    The Psalmist in Psalm 42 expresses the suffering he endured away from God and the temple as if “all your waves and billows have gone over me.” Notable is the use of “deep calls unto deep” in vs. 7. 
    Jonah is not just drowning in the sea. Note Jonah 2:4, where he laments that he has been banished from God’s sight, confined to that nebulous netherworld of isolation from the Lord God. It is not death that Jonah fears, but separation from God.
    Think upon these things when trouble and sorrows wash over you, even  isolation as of The Deep. What God did for the Psalmist and for Jonah, God can do for all those who call upon Him.
March 2, 2008

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Scripture: Jesus said, “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner,’” (Luke 18:13, NKJV)
       
    Prayer is one of the essentials in our relationship with God, yet it is undoubtedly one of the most discussed and dissected topics in relation to religious beliefs. In that regard, I have an interesting word for you - protocol. You may have heard the word used in news reports concerning diplomatic agreements between governments. In essence, it is a code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence. We probably most often think of protocol when we consult “Miss Manners” to resolve some question, though we may not call it that. Rather, we want to know the proper way to do things, the correct etiquette.
     I see three ways to apply the term “protocol” in relation to prayer which I think of by the acronym PEA.  - First, our Posture, the physical aspects, etc.; secondly, the Elements or format of the communication itself. And, we seldom come to God without an Attitude, bringing the baggage of our travails.
    One of the first images that comes to mind at the mention of the word “prayer” is quite likely that of posture - that is, how we compose the body while in prayer.
    Kneeling is perhaps the most thought of posture in Christian prayer, or sitting with heads bowed, and perhaps the hands placed palms together in front of the face. 1 Chronicles 17:16-27 records a praise prayer of David as he sat before the Lord. Moses worshiped by bowing his head to the earth, in Exodus 34:8, probably much like we see with the Islamic convention of kneeling with the head touching the floor while facing the city of Mecca. The term ‘worship’ as used in many references in the Bible, as in Acts 10:25 where  Cornelius fell down at Peter’s feet and ‘worshiped’ him, describes this posture.
    Paul desired that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8) Many ancients would pray while standing, arms outstretched to the heavens.  Nehemiah records a worship service in Chapter 9 where the people were standing (9:5)
    Jesus told the parable about the Pharisee standing while praying a defiant, arrogant prayer. The much despised Publican (tax collector) also stands but with head bowed. (vs. 13) and prays for mercy. (Luke 18:9 -14)  Make note that it is not the posture but the attitude of the pray-er that brings justification. It is a prayer of humility and repentance.
    Paul exhorts the Philippians to bow before the Lord - indeed, every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth should do so - and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11) Again, it is not the matter of posture that is the more important concern, but rather that one come with an attitude of reverence. We should come with a forgiving spirit, purity of heart, faith in Jesus’ Name, and an attitude of seeking God’s will.
    The act of confession is one of the elements of prayer. Other aspects include adoration, supplication, intercession, praise and thanksgiving, as in the Model Prayer (The Our Father.)
    “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV
March 9, 2008

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Scripture: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteousness man avails much.” (James 5:16)

    ‘Fervent’ is a familiar word, one that I readily recall in association with this short passage from James’ epistle. I took time to look up fervent in my ever present dictionary, and  “Wow!!”
    I expected that ‘fervent’ would be an expression of intense emotion,  - think fever, perhaps -  but very HOT and even GLOWING? And why not, since our English word derives from a Latin word meaning “to boil.” Definition: “With zeal, eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something : FERVOR synonyms see PASSION.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
 Perhaps that is the reason that so many prayers just seem to lie there, flapping about like a boated flounder. Effective prayers have fervor. The ineffective, flopping prayer is more like the ‘works’ as expressed in Revelation, being neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. (Revelation 3:16)
     Lukewarm prayers? Well, I thought about that. And I thought of the old maxim, “Familiarity brings contempt:” that is, lack of respect or reverence for something.
    We Christians have a model prayer, one that we perhaps more often than not  recite with a lack of fervor because of familiarity. We call it The Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father.” What we intend and what we actually accomplish may differ by a broad range on the ‘fervor’ scale, being neither hot nor cold.
    The model prayer was initially given as part of a teaching moment, to be a guide  or pattern for prayer. It is akin to describing an automobile as a conveyance having an engine, wheels, and a drive train to connect them; a steering mechanism, and accommodation for a driver. If that fulfills your requirements for an automobile, then look no further. And if the Model Prayer satisfies your prayer expectations, then at least pray fervently. But what did Jesus “drive”? Perhaps we should examine other examples of prayer by Jesus to truly see effective prayer in action.
    We do not have the words that He used, but only that He continued “all night” in prayer prior to selecting the Twelve who would make up the nucleus of the full-time disciples, whom He named “Apostles.”(Luke 66:12-13) An all night prayer most certainly would be characterized by zeal, eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something, indeed, with  PASSION.
    The second prayer that comes to mind, not in significance but in timeline, is indeed the prayer that we associate with PASSION: again, an extended time of prayer in the garden at Gethsemane, as recorded in Luke 22:39-46.
    Spend some time in meditation and prayer over these passages. Note that Jesus twice advises the disciples (Us) to “Pray that you do not enter into temptation; rise, and pray.” Does that sound familiar? “Lead us not into temptation.” - also part of the Model Prayer. “Thy will be done.” Not my will, but Thy will. Passionately, fervently, with zeal and eagerness. Earnestly, so that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
     So should we pray.
March 16, 2008

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Scripture: For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. (1 Peter 2:21, NKJV)

    My wife made a lot of our clothing while our children were growing up. The beginning of a new garment started with a trip to a sewing supply store. There, the first stop was usually at shelves filled with large books containing a seemingly endless array of sewing projects. She and the girls browsed through the dresses, skirts and blouses, but there were even shirts and jackets for my son and I.
    Once the choice of the style and design was made, the next step was crucial to the successful completion of the entire project. Each illustration had an identification number that corresponded to a packet in a large file of patterns. A sewer thus buys a set of instructions and a guide to duplicate the chosen garment, and in the correct size to fit the individual who will wear it.
    Of course, it is possible to draw out the design, scale out all of the necessary measurements, then cut and try until a suitable garment is formed. But that is not necessary; someone, somewhere, has spent the time and expended the effort to provide that example for the sewer to follow. They have made a ‘prototype,’ literally “first form.” A good pattern is well worth the cost. The completed garment should resemble the illustration in the style and design book.
     Choosing a way of life, a style of living, is much like entering a sewing center. There are many options to choose from, including a life that is commendable to God.   We could, of course, try to work out our own pattern for salvation, through much trial and error, struggling and suffering, counting on good works and a moral life. Or we could choose a pattern from the “Big Book of Life.”
    Basically, we have two designs, two patterns to follow: that of Adam and Eve, or that of Christ.  Keep in mind, however, that sin entered through Adam and Eve, while Christ is the prototype of the God-like lifestyle. The Greek word Peter used is translated as ‘example’ in  most English versions but literally meant a model or pattern to be used for writing or drawing. Therefore, let’s think about Jesus’ example in terms of a pattern.
    The Christ-pattern is superior not only to Adam, but, as the writer of Hebrews proclaimed, superior to Moses, superior to the Aaronic priesthood, and superior to the prophets by virtue of His divinity. “We do not have a High Priest (pattern) who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)   
    Christ did all of the work for us. He suffered for us. Peter writes in Chapter 1, vs. 13, “Therefore gird up the loins  of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (To gird up means to put on a belt.) In other words, accept the pattern that Jesus has given you, sized especially for you, and so strive to craft your life to resemble the Master Pattern.
March 23, 2008

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Scripture: The Parable of the Loaves and Fishes
 - Mark 6:32-44 -  But he said to (the disciples), “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38a, NKJV) 

    Traditionally, we get all dressed up to go visit God. We put on our Sunday best, force a smile, and traipse off to the weekly worship service. We don’t want anybody to see us as we are early on Monday morning.
    Traditionally, we approach God with the same rationale for prayer visits as well. We say to ourselves, “Oh, I can’t pray right now, because my attitude is a mess. I’m angry, or hurting, down to the last nerve, and the world is trampling on that one. I’ll visit God when I’ve got everything all cleaned up.”
    Well, Hey! God does see us as we are early on Monday morning. He hears our muttering (?) as we creep along during the drive-time traffic. He is all-knowing, all seeing, remember? We may fool the world, but we can’t fool God. That is not a new thought. Read again the passage from Genesis where Adam and Eve hid first their nakedness, and then themselves, from God after they had sinned in the Garden.
    When you think about it, we may dress up the outside when we go to Sunday meeting, but isn’t that really more to meet social conventions and expectations than to impress a God who sees the inside of us every day of the week?
.     Quite likely, we all have someone who may come in at whatever time, even when we are grubby and sweaty, the place is a mess, and that last nerve just got the full treatment. But that person knows us as we truly are, right? Maybe not, but it helps to have someone who understands, a friend in times of need, a soul mate with whom to share those joys and sorrows. If God truly is our Father, Jesus a Son and/or Brother, then we are talking Family here.
     So let’s take a new look at the Parable of the Loaves and Fishes.
    The disciples came to Jesus with essentially empty hands and an equally empty purse. “Bring what you have,” Jesus tells them. It wasn’t much, certainly, but it was sufficient for the need. THAT is the true miracle!  Whatever the occasion, bring what you have.
     One of the best ways to handle an irate caller on the telephone, or that red-faced overwrought person leaning over your desk, is to listen patiently while they vent their spleen. Truly nothing can be gained by trying to argue or get a word in edgewise. It is amazing how it changes things to just get it out of the system, though. Then you can talk; perhaps even appeal to reason. So what makes you think that God is any different? He will listen. He will not interrupt until you are ready to hold a meaningful conversation.
    Think again about the true message of the feeding of the multitudes: Jesus took what they had, what they brought, such as it was, and the people were fed and satisfied.
    It is no less true when we come to God in prayer. Bring what we have, just as we are. Angry? Stewing and boiling? Come to Jesus, get it out of the system, and make room for the miracle of healing.  Sorrowful, joyful, troubled or exultant - that is the time, the right time, for a little talk with Jesus. However, the best time is the time spent listening, pondering, meditating until the ‘feeding’ comes. An open door of the heart and mind with full access accorded to Jesus is what prayer is all about.
March 30, 2008


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Scripture: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:26, NKJV)
    Belief is a marvelous thing! We are encouraged throughout the Bible to believe in God, to have faith in salvation through Jesus Christ, and to build our hope on eternal promises. But we believe in a lot of other things as well, earthly things, touchable things. Things that are plainly seen that can point us toward the unseen.
    We may have an automobile, a very hands-on example. We can touch it, clean it, maintain it and operate it. We believe that it will start and run, and convey us to a chosen destination.
    We believe in electricity. Although we can not see it going through the connecting wires, we can see the results when we flip the switch or push the button. Lights come on, motors hum,  heat is produced.
    We believe in these and many other things. Generally, we trust that they will perform as promised. However, James points out that belief is not enough without some action on the part of the believer.  Action makes things happen, both in the world and in the heart.
    The Epistle by James is not just a message of  passive platitudes about belief but a plan of action that pricks us to our hearts. He speaks of testings and temptations that come from the strong pull of worldliness. Most of all, the Epistle by James is a check list of attitudes for believers as we set out on our Christian pilgrimage through life. Just as any check list does little to change the state of things, though we may believe deeply, James reminds us - three times in chapter 2 - that belief without action is a dead faith.
    Our belief, our faith in an automobile gets us nowhere unless we take action. Faith without turning the key and energizing the engine leaves us sitting in the driveway. Likewise, staring at the switch, though in faith believing that the power is waiting, leaves us in dark, cold silence.
    James is not denigrating faith or belief; rather, he is advocating that we turn on the switch and accomplish something. Make note of all the active words in this Epistle.
Yes, we are counseled to perform acts of charity, to give clothing and food to the naked and destitute (James 2:15-16) and to “visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” (1:27) “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is a sin. (James 4:17). But the believer is called to be spiritually fruitful as well. Moffat uses active words in 3:18 to advise peacemakers to sow in peace and reap righteousness.
    We should shun earthly wisdom that is unspiritual, devilish, and filled with jealously, rivalry and disorder; “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”(James 1:21, NKJV)
    Prayer is another form of pro-active belief, yet James notes that “you ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (4:3) Rather, pray for the suffering;  be cheerful and sing psalms. Confess your trespasses and pray for one another. (5:16)
    James wrote an essential tune-up manual and checklist. Read it often.
April 6, 2008

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Scripture:  Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had a respect for people.” (Luke 18:2, NRS)

    Jesus is teaching about perseverance in prayer in this parable, which is a very important lesson. (Luke 18:1-8) One of the key points, the fulcrum on which the importance of continual, ernest prayer rests in the parable, is the unjust judge. Note that it is neither God nor justice that motivates the judge; he has neither regard nor respect for anyone.
    The words ‘regard’ and ‘respect’ intrigue me. Like many English language words, they are loaded with double meanings. Let’s look at a few Biblical examples.
    Proverbs 28:21 states that it is not good to have respect for persons, yet we are counseled in Hebrews 13:9 to respect parents. James states that we do not show the faith of the Lord if we have respect for persons. (James 2:1, KJV) We are constantly reminded of the positive value of self respect. So what is it: is respect a desired virtue or not?
    Both ‘respect’ and ‘regard’ are multiple definition words. We need to go beyond the word itself to resolve this dilemma, and consider the context in which it is used. Sometimes another word would better express the true sense of the statement. For example, the Commandment, “Honor your father and mother” implies that parents are entitled to great respect and to any expression of such recognition. Esteem implies greater warmth of feeling accompanying a high valuation. We have a God-given mandate to give them our love, affection, and devotion, even as we are to respect our Heavenly Father. Likewise, parents are to cultivate a familial bond with their children, and with each other.
    On the other hand, deference may best express the negative sense, as - affected or ingratiating regard shown in a situation. The concern of both the passage in Proverbs and the rejoinder in James is the act of giving preferential attention to the wealthy or well-connected to the detriment of persons of lesser status, power or ability. In a matter of law, justice should prevail without regard or deference to rank or social standing. A person is a person! In that aspect, the judge was showing appropriate behavior, but his lack of respect for God brings into doubt his true motivation and loyalty to God’s Laws as a guiding principle in forming his rulings.
    I recently received an eloquent story, entitled “The Deacon and the Drifter,” that fully expresses the issue of deference raised by James. The Drifter, a homeless man, dirty and smelling of the street, wandered into a large, staid and very ‘appropriate’ church during the course of the worship service. He was neither greeted nor offered a seat, so he wandered to the front of the sanctuary, and sat down in the isle. People sat as in shock.
    Finally, an elderly, stately Deacon arose, and hobbled down the isle, leaning on his cane. Ah! People wondered what the Deacon would say to the Drifter to send him out of their midst and on his way. Laying aside his cane, the Deacon eased down beside the Drifter, providing a living example of the royal law according to the Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” as expressed in James 2:8.
    Suppose - just suppose - that on that Great Judgment Day, we would be judged by the criteria of Matthew 25:31-46 : “How have you treated the least of these, my brethren?
April 13, 2008


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1Scripture:  And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor."
      Naomi said to her, "Go ahead, my daughter."  So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. (Ruth, 2:2-3, NIV)

    The practice of gathering leftover grain or other produce after a harvest probably dates back to the beginnings of agriculture. It not only makes good sense to not waste anything, but every grain, every fruit is a valuable resource in times of scarcity. The Levitical Laws given to the    Israelites took the concept of gleaning one step further, however:
 "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges (corners -  NKJV) of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10, NIV)
    Widows typically had no one to provide for them, and were beneficiaries of the laws reserving gleaning for the needy. (See Deuteronomy 24:17-22 for more laws that support widows, the fatherless, and strangers.) Note that the laws were pro-active: the landowners were to purposely leave grain uncut in the corners of the field, olives in the trees, and grapes on the vines. The LORD wants His people to be concerned for the welfare of even the least of His flock. Further, the institution of gleaning was to remind the Israelites of a time when they were the least of the citizens of Egypt.
    There is a well-known painting by Jean-François Millet (1857) of women gleaning the fields at the online reference, Wikipedia. The article notes that  “There is no touch of the Biblical sense of community and compassion in Millet's contrast of the embodiments of grinding poverty in the foreground and the rich harvest in the sunlit distance beyond. The implicit irony was unsettling.” 1
    The practice of gleaning the fields is not lost in antiquity, however. Organizations like The America's Second Harvest Network, a network of more than 200 member food banks and food-rescue organizations secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually. 2 
    Recycling is another form of gleaning, gathering what would otherwise be trash and wasted resources for reprocessing. Even the often derided practice of “dumpster diving” and scrounging the curbsides ahead of the trash pickup is a form of gleaning, of some benefiting from that set ‘aside’ by those who neither want or need it.
     Even the word ‘glean’ has been recycled. It may refer to extracting information from various sources, or used as a substitute for  synonyms like obtain, get, take, draw, derive, extract, cull, garner, gather; learn, or find out.
    Commit this little saying to memory:

        “Use it up, wear it out;
        Make it do, or do without.”


    If you choose to not practice the art of gleaning, then endeavor to support those who tend and keep this garden earth. (Genesis 2:15)

1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gleaners)
2 (www.secondharvest.org/)
April 20, 2008

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Scripture:  “Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV)

    We are not inclined to wait on anything in this 21st Century Anno Domini, not even The LORD. This is an ‘instant’ generation: we want it NOW! We gobble fast food, use Instant Messaging (IM) and engage in multi-tasking to get it all, and the sooner the better. The word ‘wait’ has been relegated to the duties of one who serves, as in, “My name is Sue; I’ll be your Wait Person.” And the service had better be prompt, meaning as soon as possible.
    That sounds so full of energy and activity that one begins to wonder why there are so many “couch potatoes,’ those who sit, and sit, and sit - with a game or TV controller in one hand and snackies in the other. Well, they probably come as close as any others to possessing those qualities , those ‘P’ words, usually associated with the waiting game: patience, persistence, and perseverance.
    The Couch Potato certainly has an aura of “remaining stationary in readiness or expectation,” as defined in my dictionary. The ‘gamer’ may “look forward expectantly, ‘just waiting to see his rival lose;’  or hold back expectantly ‘waiting for a chance to strike.’” Anyone who persists for hours on end is, well, persistent, and certainly displays perseverance or steadfastness as well.  But - Ahhh!  - the third ‘P’ word - patience: Is that virtue evident?  Note that patience bears a totally different meaning than the ceaseless striving associated with the other two; that is:  “Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint  2  : manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain 3 : not hasty or impetuous 4 : steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.” 1
    Let us look backward to a time when patience was more desired and sought for as a ‘virtue’ - that quality of moral excellence, a commendable quality or trait, or conformity to a standard of right. 
    Paul tells Timothy that patience is to be pursued (no doubt persistently, with perseverance. See how these words each lend their specialized meaning?) Patience keeps good company (pun intended) with righteousness, godliness, faith, love and gentleness. These are Virtues (strengths) that the Christian should seek to “fight the good fight of faith  ”  and to “lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:11b - 12a)
    Jesus said that patience is necessary for the seed that falls on good ground to bear fruit:  “. . . those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Parable of the sower; Luke 8:15) Note that in that same parable, the cares, riches, and pleasures of life are compared to thorns, and “bring no fruit to maturity.”
    We speak of being “saved by grace,” that is:
 a. “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification;
 b : a virtue coming from God;
 c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace.”
    Patience is necessary to inherit God’s promises, to oppose evil, and while waiting for Christ’s return. Patience is necessary to obtain that renewed strength, those ‘eagles wings’ of Isaiah 40:31.
April 27, 2008
1Merriam -Webster Dictionary

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Scripture: This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5, NKJV)

    Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. . . . You know what nothing is - the absence of everything - but how do you measure how much of ‘nothing’ you might have? Well, you can set an example of ‘something’ and use that as the standard.
    This is all leading to some concepts about good and evil in our world, about the Light of God and the darkness of sin. So stick with me a while longer until I set the stage.
    Let’s say that you have a pitcher that holds one quart of juice. You can measure how much juice is in the pitcher by several different standards, either by weight or volume, such as ounces, cups, liters or fractions thereof, even by teaspoons. That works while you are measuring the liquid contents. When the pitcher is empty, though, how do you measure ‘more empty’? If you have two empty pitchers, is one more empty than the other?
    Empty is empty; nothing is nothing. Mathematicians may play with negative numbers but I don’t think we can claim to have, say, 3 units of ‘no-juice’.     Think about the concepts of ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ for a while, not just in terms of juice, marbles, or maybe cookies, but in some other properties of our physical world that we can somehow measure or quantatize. Things like heat and light.
    We measure heat all of the time. Standard values are assigned to the temperature scale, and we also characterize temperature by terms like cold, warm, or hot. Here is where we have to do some head-boning: we do not actually measure ‘cold’. Note that what we commonly refer to as ‘zero’ on the temperature scale is the freezing point of water, not the total absence of heat. Rather, scientists call the total absence of heat  ‘absolute zero’. There is no measure for anything colder than that. But any amount of ‘heat’ is a measure of something.
    Likewise, we can measure the physical quantities and qualities of light. Darkness   has no value of its own. Total darkness is merely the total absence of light.
    Now let us tackle the concept of ‘evil’. Folks say that there is a lot of it in the world, and question how that can be so if there is truly a loving, caring God. Just as we know darkness when we see it, and cold when we feel it, we know evil when we encounter it. If we follow the concepts outlined above, that darkness is the absence, the ‘nothingness’ of light, and cold is the absence, the ‘nothingness’ of heat, then we might also say that evil is the absence, the ‘nothingness’ of God.
    All good things come from God, things that have values, qualities, quantities. Things like love, joy and peace, as well as light, heat, and even juice and cookies.
    The opposites - hate, sadness, and strife - exist not because God created them,  but because they are so empty of God. Hear what John has to say: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.” (2:16)
    To become warmer, move closer to the source of heat. To see better, move closer to the light source. To be less prone to evil thoughts, ways, and deeds, endeavor to fellow John’s advice, (vs. 7) to “walk in the light as He is in the light . . . the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
May 4, 2008

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Scripture: And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" which is, being interpreted, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, KJV)

    How many words do you know in the Aramaic language? Probably, not many, but possibly more than you think that you do.  The phrase that Jesus used in His cry from the cross, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani,? is Aramaic. The Gospel of Matthew reads “Eli, Eli . . . “ but both versions are translated as meaning “My God, My God . . ..”
    It is generally accepted that Jesus was born a Jew, and grew up in a Jewish family in Judea. For over a half-millennium, the colloquial language for Palestinian Jews was Judeo-Aramaic, stemming from the Babylonian captivity and invading Assyrian empire. Many names, places and common words that you read about in the days of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection come from the conversational language of the times, which was Aramaic.
    There are several Aramaic words with translations recorded in John’s Gospel. For example, in chapter 1:35-42  there is Rabbi (Teacher), Messiah (Anointed), and Cephas (Rock).
    When Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, Jesus looked at Simon and said, ‘”You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which when translated, is Peter).’ Cephas is Aramic; Peter is Greek for rock. (John 1:42) Paul used the Aramaic name for Simon Peter when writing to the Galations: “Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days;” (Galations 1:18)
    The names “Bartholomew,” “Barabbas,” “Bartimaeus,” Barsabbas,” and Barnabas” have Aramaic roots, as does the name Jesus gave James and John: Boanerges - “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17)
    The crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem “cried, saying, ‘Hosanna’ - meaning "help" or "save, I pray." (Mark 11:9)
    Jesus took His disciples to a garden containing an (olive) oil press or vat, called Gethsemane.
    After Pilate had questioned Jesus in his chambers,  “he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew (colloquial Aramaic), Gabbatha.”(John 19:13) 
    Golgotha. is another Aramaic word that you have heard often: “And carrying his cross by himself, he went out to the so-called Place of the Skull, which is called in 'Aramaic' Golgotha. (John 19:17.) The name 'Calvary' is taken from the Latin Vulgate translation, Calvaria.
    An Aramaic word describes the land bought by Judas Iscariot that became the place of his death: “And this became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that field was called, in their own dialect, Akeldama, that is Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:19)
    These words must have been included in the scriptural texts because they represent actual words that Jesus spoke, linking all who read them to the times, places and events in the life of Jesus, the Anointed One,  The Messiah, The Christ.
May 11, 2008

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 Scripture: Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. ”But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:21-22, NKJV

    I’ve never tried to catch a monkey. I’ve not had a reason to try, really. Still, it would be interesting to try a very simple method that I’ve heard about, should the opportunity present itself.
    First, obtain a jar with a narrow neck that is just large enough so that a monkey can slip its hand into the jar. Then bury the jar in the ground with just the neck sticking out, or secure it so it can’t be moved. Then put some fruit in the jar to entice the monkey. Supposedly, the monkey finds the fruit, which is in the bottom of the jar, reaches in and grasps the treat, but is unable to withdraw the fist while holding on to the fruit. Trapped!
    “Simple,” you say. “The monkey will just let go of the fruit and pull its hand out.” But that’s the beauty of this trap: the monkey neither wants to let go of the fruit, nor realizes that it is held captive by it. Silly monkey!
     We are counseled, (and probably have counseled) to “Let go, and let God.” It’s hard, very hard in practice. It’s just not in our common nature to let go of things, including problems that God could handle for us. We refuse to change our habits, even if our well-being is at stake. Something has to grab us, and shake us, until reality sets in.   
        Jesus reminds us that we have to give up some things in order to gain other things, more important things, like eternal life. He also counseled,”If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  Since we are prone to never let go of one thing until we have a firm grip on something else (which may be good advice for daredevil wing walkers) we cling to what we have, rather than let go and  step out in faith for the heavenly walk.
    Jesus gave several examples of “hand in the jar” mentality, including the  passage in Matthew 19, and the Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:16-21. “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Eat, drink, and be merry,” said the rich man.
    Luke also records examples of those who let go of what they had, giving generously to the early church. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, however, ‘closed their fists’ on the treasure they grasped, and held on to part of it. As Peter explained, the money was theirs to do with as they wanted; the problem was not that they kept part of it, but that they claimed that they had given everything, thus lying to God. Trapped! (Acts 4:32 - 5:11)
    We are often trapped by an unwillingness to let go of the goodies. The lure of the world’s pleasures and treasures is greater than the knowledge that freedom lies  only in the treasures of heaven. Let go, and let God!
    This week, think about what you would be willing to give up to assure eternal life.
May 18, 2008

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Scripture:  “You do not want to leave  too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words to eternal life.” John 6:67-68, NKJV (John 6:60;  66, 68-69)

    A slogan adopted by some school athletic teams proclaims that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A challenge entices some people into putting every morsel of heart and soul into the effort to persevere, even though success is questionable and the outcome in doubt.  Discipline has its own reward. For some people, anyway.
    For others, when the going gets tough, their pathway leads away from the challenges and hard times,  as in this passage in John’s Gospel, even if the reward is eternal life. “This is a hard saying,” they complained. (John 6:60)  And so many of His disciples went back and walked with him no more. (vs. 66)
    I thought of these words, written by Thomas Paine at the beginning of the American Revolution:
    “These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
    Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”—Published on 23 December 1776
    David, the king-annointed of Israel, also endured some very tough times, hiding in the wilderness while the current reigning king, Saul, sought to kill him. (1 Samuel 23:14) David refused to kill King Saul when an easy opportunity was presented, though some urged him to seek that method of ending the hardship. Saul was yet the Lord’s anointed; the matter would be decided by the Lord’s hand, not David’s.  (Samuel 24:10)
    It is easy to join a cause amid glitz and glamour, to be part of the popular throng, merrily enjoying the “summer sunshine.” So it is in life in the earthly realm, and many will not view the glorious triumph to be worth the hard conflict. A life that is viewed as pressed down and boxed in can be very unpleasant. Like Paul, we pray for relief from our “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)
    While there are valid reasons to fly the coop, such as abusive relationships, or undesirable situations, we need to think carefully before joining the “green pasture” crowd - those souls continually searching for something better, always searching, but never finding.
    Yet, as Thomas Paine observed, what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness that gives everything its value. Following Jesus the Savior is not always easy, as many who followed Him discovered. Let us, though, not go away from Him, for, as Peter observed Jesus has the words of eternal life.
May 25, 2008





Scripture:  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)

    God has created many marvelous things in His universe, not the least of which are the birds. Jesus pointed out that God provides for them, (Luke 12:24) and used the example of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings as an example of His concern for Jerusalem. (Matthew 23:37)
    Watching a bird in flight is impressive, inspiring many to dream of flying, the ability to soar or hover above our terrestrial constraints. The wonders of migration have been expressed in contemplation, such as the poem, “To A Waterfowl,’by William Cullen Bryant:
Whither, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
    The words stir my soul, reading it again over these many years. The author alludes to a “Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast--”
    The birds of the wild, denizens of the vast reaches of sky, are mostly beyond my reach, but the domestic birds that inhabit my barn are no less awesome, and provide a close at hand insight into God’s excellence.
     A bird’s egg contains not only the elements of life, coded to create a new individual of the species, but also molded into an ovoid that must be the envy of the packaging industry. The hens in our laying flock produce one a day, for months and months.
    Consider the bantam hen that just hatched out fourteen chicks. She spent at least two weeks laying that clutch of eggs, then incubated them for an additional twenty-one days before she saw the results of her vigil. Nor do her labors end when the hatching is completed. She does indeed gather her chicks under her wings, a dozen cheepers plus two, and protects them with a ferocity that belies her bantam size.  She leads them to food and water, sending out a special mamma hen cluck that calls the wayward straggler to the source of protection and nourishment.
    I commend her highly for her steadfastness, and would recommend “my beloved brethren” to look upon the birds of the field and farm, and to endeavor to be as diligent in their service to the Lord as these winged wonders are to their chicks.
    ‘Steadfast’ has its roots in the old English words for ‘standing firm.’ It is another word that seems to have lost its emphasis in the list of desirable virtues for life in the 21st century when ‘commitment’ appears to be linked with ‘convenience’ and few value the tenants of responsibility. 
    Let us be faithful, committed, devoted, dedicated, dependable, reliable, and, yes, unwavering in the work of the Lord, heeding the call to come under His wings, even as exemplified in a small way by that hen and her chicks.
    By way of benediction, may I offer these words by Peter: “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things (the end of the world) be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:14)
June 1, 2008

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Scripture:  John 1:1  - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (NKJV)

    The beginning, a very good place to start (in the words of a popular movie song) is exactly where John chose to start his gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. There are concepts at work here that boggle our earthly minds, pushing past the boundaries of space, time, and existence with which we are constrained. Eternity - God, with no beginning, no ending; all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing - always! The Word was also there at the very beginning; the Word is there today, and will be there forever. The Word, John said, is the Christ, sent to all peoples, to be the Light of the World.
    We look around us, and we see things- rocks, trees, houses, animals, people - but we don’t see God. Is it because God is not there? What do we look for? God is often pictured as an old man with a long beard (an ancient version of us?) possessing many years of experience and wisdom. We perhaps look for God as a blinding light, a cloud, a thunderclap, an unusual phenomena like a burning bush that is not destroyed. Sometimes, we say, we feel God’s presence, in special moments of worship, meditation, or even crisis. “God is only a prayer away!” Away? Away where? Heaven? Something else we can’t see, touch, hear, smell - our earthly senses are not adequate to orient us to the heavenly realm. We look, but we do not see; we touch, but we do not feel; we listen, but we do not hear, and so God remains invisible to us, distant, aloof in His heaven.
We look to the skies for heaven. We contemplate the boundaries; how long , how wide, how many people/souls it can hold. Will there be room for me and my friends?
 We try to squeeze God into a people-sized man, and deposit him on a throne, from which he rules. Perhaps we see God as through a stained glass church window, filled with light and color, brilliant and wondrous, but without form or substance.
    John affirms that not only light, but also life comes from God. Life is God; God is life. If we have life, therefore, we have God. Were you looking there, inside yourself? We look at plants and animals, and say that they are alive; they move, they breathe, they reproduce. We look at rocks, and say that they have no life; do we look deeply enough? Even rocks are made up of millions of atoms; atoms, electrons, protons, tiny particles that physicists tell us continually move. Is that not life? What keeps them going? Is the smallest possible bit of ‘something’ in the vast reaches of all that exists part of God, or something that He created, and flung out to the boundaries of space, abandoned forever?     
If God is in all, and all is God, how then can we split them asunder? Our knowledge of God is so inadequate to the task.
    Reach out; touch yourself. God is there. Touch, look, smell, listen! God is there, everywhere. Do you hear it? Do you feel it?  Rejoice! God is in us, the life-giving force within every cell, every atom of our being. Oh! What a joy is ours when we acknowledge His presence in us.
    Rejoice, and be glad in it!
June 8, 2008

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Scripture:  Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon earth, the people will learn righteousness. Isaiah 26:8-9, NIV

     Driving a vehicle over streets and roads ravaged by the forces of weather, thumping in and out of potholes, likely brings to mind the word “alignment.” We use the word in regard to the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts (as of a mechanical or electronic device) or groups or forces in relation to each other. (Merriam-Webster)
    Wheels that do not track correctly make the vehicle difficult to steer properly, and cause undo wear and tear on the tires. Automobiles are not the only thing that require alignment, though.
    Electronic equipment, such as radios and television transmitters, must be properly aligned to pass the desired signals through the unit.
    Marching groups hear the command “Get in line!” until it is ingrained deep into their awareness that they are to maintain an arrangement in relation to one another.
    Telescopes must not only be aligned on the object of interest, they must also be brought into focus for clarity. Surveyors bring boundaries and levels into alignment. Or perhaps you would choose to think in terms of the compass needle, coming into alignment with the earth’s magnetic field, pointing the way to the desired location and destination. Therefore, I think that I would not be amiss to suggest that alignment with God is a very desirable thing. 
    The concept of alignment with God can be found under varying terms in the Bible. For example, Fellowship with God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, also implies a relationship among members of God’s household and the household of faith. (1 John 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1)
    As beloved children, we are to Imitate God (Ephesians 5:1); Christ suffered, leaving us an example to imitate. (1 Peter 2:21)  We are to be imitators of those who inherit the promises of God. (Hebrews 6:12)
    The Christian is to conform to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29) and not conform to this age, (Romans 12:2)  or to your former ignorant passions. (1 Peter 1:14)
    We are to walk with God, humbly and blameless. (Micah 6:8; Genesis 17:1) The LORD is with you when you are with him (2 Chronicles 15:2)
    Perhaps the ultimate expression of alignment is found in Love, but not as in “I like God.” No, not even in terms of wanting or desiring,  but LOVE: Thus;
    “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” ( Mark 12:30; Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
    Paul counseled, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9. See also 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 - the Love Chapter)
    Get into alignment with God; have fellowship with Him, imitate the Son, Jesus. Walk the Walk.  Let LOVE  be the magnet pulling you into alignment with the Eternal!
June 15, 2008

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Scripture: Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4, Scofield Reference Bible)

    I did it again this year. There are days when I wonder why I persist, knowing the obstacles that lie ahead, but something stirs deep inside of me, a primal urge perhaps, that calls for the observance of an ancient ritual.
        I plant a garden.
     Perhaps a remnant of Eden surfaces in some of us, aided by the warmth of the spring sunshine, a landscape of budding and blooming vegetation, and especially the smell of freshly turned soil.  The earth from which all mankind was fashioned beacons the gardner and farmer to once again dress and keep the field and orchard.
    The act of planting begins in faith that small, inanimate objects contain life, an unseen essence brought forth when the seed is placed in the soil from which it came.  The work of faith is to place that seed where it will be moistened and warmed, completing the cycle as God intended.
    How eagerly the planter scans the barren soil, watching for that first resurrection of shoot and leaf. The ability to recognize the true plant shape from that of weeds that also respond to the stimulus of warmth and water comes with experience. Like the tares in the wheat, the emergent plants often look alike. 1
    And the weeds will come!
    All of gardening must be motivated by a love of labor, from planting to harvest, through heat and cold, drought and drenching downpours, even assault by animal and vegetative scourges. Without that love, that willingness to persevere, it is better to never plant that first seed.    One must have hope that there will be growth, that the seedling will develop the characteristics of the plant shown on the seed envelope, and produce the crop for which the labor has been expended. Nothing other than God’s own schedule will hasten the process - neither prayer, fasting, nor ritual. Patiently wait  . . . on the LORD!
    There is a saying that “You are closer to God in a garden than any place else on earth.” Perhaps. Certainly, a believer’s life can be summarized in similar terms, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
    Paul and the brethren had sowed the seeds of the Gospel in the Thessalonian church. Now, writing from Corinth, they remember “without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”
    The Scofield Bible defines this passage as the “tenses”2 of the believer’s life.
    The work of faith is to turn to God from idols that predominated in their society.
    The labor of love is to serve the living and true God.
    The patience of hope is to wait for his Son from heaven.
    The same sequence is given in Titus 2:11-13, stating that the grace of God that brings salvation is available to everyone. The Christian should “get the weeds out” of their lives, live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, and look  for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Are you sowing the “seed” of Jesus Christ and the grace of salvation?  Do so, in faith, love, and hope.
1 - Tares; bearded darnel, a poisonous grass. Mt. 13:24-40.
2 Tenses -Set of forms taken by a verb to indicate the time (and sometimes also the continuance or completeness) of the action in relation to the time of the utterance. (Oxford American Dictionary)
June 22, 2008

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Scripture:  How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. (Hosea 11:8, NKJV)

    Hosea chapter 11, verses 1 thru 12, graphically depicts the suffering love of God for His people. He is a gracious Father, tenderly teaching his little child to walk (vv. 3,4); a lamenting husband, agonizing over the waywardness of His faithless wife (v. 8); the loving Savior (vv. 9-11), not giving up on His people.
    Never give up! Possibly one of the best examples that I have seen illustrating that concept is a drawing of a long legged wading bird, attempting to swallow a frog. The bird looks truly perplexed, for the frog, though enveloped in the bird’s long, slender bill, is reaching out and has a firm grip around the bird’s throat. The bird is unable to swallow, and the frog is determined to never give up.
    You may speculate about the outcome of this scenario, but consider the times that we are like the bird, prevented from carrying out our desires by the stern will and determination of another. Sometimes, though, we are like the frog, clinging determinedly to that last ray of hope.
    Our freedom to have our way with another person ends where their freedom begins. Many times the closer we are to that other person, the more difficult and frustrating their obduracy becomes.  A friend, a child, a spouse that is intractable, unrepentant, and unshakably stubborn  in the pursuit of a lifestyle that endangers body and soul gnaws at the very core of our being.
    When do we give up, and let go? If we are the frog, do we relax our grip, and become swallowed up? Do we release the object of our desire, freeing them to a fate of their making?
    All relationships should begin with love, as befits the Heavenly Father of us all. There is no better example than that of John 3:16, giving of One for the salvation of others.
    “Love is patient (suffers long); love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. I does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NRS)
    The Bible uses the word ‘koinonia’ to express communion - a special fellowship or close relationship that exists between believers and God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Is this not also an appropriate objective for family and community social relationships?
    Within those fellowships there should be procedures for instruction and guidance at all levels, to nourish and supply the needs of body, mind and soul. The capacity to be at times either the giver or the recipient should be promulgated and cherished.  Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians has much to offer in this regard, especially the advice to be “imitators of God as dear children.” (Ephesians 5:1) 
    As ‘children,’ therefore, we should be in an obedient relationship within the Family of God. As much as is in us, we  should not provoke the children to wrath - all of God’s children - nor grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30)
    Parent, child, master, servant - frog and bird; indeed, we play many roles. If we live by no other rule, let it be the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    And be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within that relationship.
June 29, 2008


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Scripture:      "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "  Mt. 6:21, NIV.

    Treasures on earth -  we surround ourselves with them.  More than any generation that preceded us, we live in an abundance of ’stuff.’ Not just necessities, not just labor-saving, but entertainment and luxuries. The age of collectibles - not just keepsakes, but ‘treasures’ to be held for their value. Trading cards, Beanie Babies,   coins, dolls, tractors - you name it, somebody collects it.
         We have time to fill, and we fill it on the run. We can’t bear to sit still, and we can’t stand silence. I don’t mean total silence, but even natural sounds that our forebears heard is intolerable! Gotta have music, gotta have TV.  Joggers and bicyclers gotta have their i-Phone®.  The first sound you hear in many cars is the sound system coming to life.
             Think about how vastly different our lives are from what our ancestors experienced as the 20th century began.
    The phonograph was invented in 1877, and radio broadcasting began in the 1920’s. Electrical power first came to the rural areas in the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s. Television came to central Ohio in 1949.  
    I once attended a meeting in 1970 where noted inventor Buckminister Fuller spoke; he commented that the “Baby Boomers” were the first generation to grow up with television.
    “Boomers”  experienced a childhood unlike any other generation that preceded them; seldom has the desire for instant gratification been accompanied with the means and communal attitude to make it possible, and acceptable! Seldom throughout history has there been such a widespread turning from the traditions of society.
    Like most social changes, it is difficult to see what the ultimate outcome will be, especially since we are in the middle of them. We can look back to the Bible, and see cause and effect worked out over the centuries. Jesus had a tremendous impact on the world to follow His time; the passing from the old to the new order was not without tribulation. 
    Still, the way people lived changed little. Housing, transportation, farming, the ‘stuff’ of passage through this life varied more from location to location than thru the passage of years. Until the Industrial Revolution. And the Twentieth Century!
    Think about it! Would Jesus or John the Baptizer have been the same if they couldn’t bear to be without their ‘boomer-boxes’? And would Elijah have heard God’s ‘still, small voice’ over the racket?
July 6, 2008


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Scripture: And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10, NKJV)

    Flawless. Perfect. Without blemish. Not many of us qualify for any of those criteria! Imagine not ever having a ‘bad hair day,’ nor any  other personal shortcoming for which a plethora of grooming aids are sold. Perfection!
    Appearances can be deceiving, to be sure, but surely such a person would also be without flaw in manners, intellect, and attitude. Blameless and pure, even in the deep, dark recesses of private thought. No, few could measure up to such strict standards, however much we might wish we could. We are daily made aware of our shortcomings in some area, by one standard or another. We are, after all, human. We judge, and are judged, by other humans, prone to flaws of the mind, soul, and body.
    How would you feel if you had to associate with a flawless, perfect person day in and day out? I think most of us would have a hard time coping with a constant reminder of our shortcoming and imperfections. Think, then, how such a perfect person must feel. There is probably no feeling like being ‘out of place’ in a society or situation where you are obviously different from everyone else around you.  We want  to be like one of the accepted crowd, even if we have to pretend sometimes to be things we know we are not. No, it is not easy being different. The Sesame Street  character, Kermit the Frog, sings,   “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Everyone, not just children, should listen to the words of that song. We know from life experience that there is prejudice, hatred, envy, malice, and pride that disrupts relationships, and it works both ways. The ‘haves’ gloat over the ‘have-nots.’ The ‘have-nots’ try to pull the ‘haves’ down to their level, or push them even lower, if possible. We so badly want to be perfect, and if that isn’t possible, to at least be better than someone. Our pride is at stake; we need all the self-esteem we can get!
    However, there is also the “pull-up” reaction. People with feelings of inadequacy often attach themselves to someone who seems to embody all the qualities they wish they had. They experience their dream life vicariously through someone else’s life.
    Look carefully at the life of Jesus in the Bible. If we wonder why different people reacted quite differently towards Him, why some reviled Him, and eventually crucified Him, awhile others accepted Him as the Perfect Son of God, examine the world around you!
    As we ponder our own imperfections, consider also that no earthly being other than Christ is perfect. We should neither feel superior, nor inferior to others; We can justly compare to no one except Christ Jesus. As He loved, so must we love.
    Adopt Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, “Love, The Better Way.”
July 13, 2008  (reprint of Nov. 29, 1998)

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 Scripture:    "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you  free!"  John 8:32. 

    Truth -
1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or a standard.
5. Reality; actuality. 
    (American Heritage Dictionary)

    Sometimes discovering the truth can be a difficult and arduous task. Having served on a jury, I can attest to the fact that you know someone is not telling the truth where testimony conflicts; the problem is to determine what is truth and what is not.
    Truth is at the heart of witness for God and Christ. In fact, truth is at work in the very heart of this computer that I am using! Every bit of information the computer handles is checked by a ‘truth table’ to determine the correct operation to follow. However, the outcome still depends upon accurate information coming in to the computer. If I give it bad information, I may get a bad (un-truthful) result - GIGO - garbage in, garbage out!
    The Bible is Gods Truth Table. Jesus affirmed that; He came to fulfill the ancient scriptural laws, yet many protested that He was corrupting the laws. He was condemned to death for blasphemy, telling an un-truth about God. We rightly hold that Jesus was telling the truth, and the religious authorities were not. Yet we must face the fact that the authorities decision was right, based on the logic of what they understood and believed. 
    That is not to excuse them; we must be very careful on this point. If our information or understanding is faulty, we can make a correct choice based on that information, and still be wrong. 
    Let’s say that you know you have two coins in your pocket. You believe that one is a nickel, and one is a quarter. Your correct logic, based upon that belief, would total thirty cents.
    If you reach into your pocket and pull out a penny, you know that what you believed is not true.  Your logic that your two coins totaled thirty cents was correct, based upon what you believed at that time. Faced with the truth, you must re-evaluate your logic.
    What, then, is the other coin? Now, do you have six cents, or twenty-six?
    Getting all the facts is necessary before making decisions.
    Cherished traditions and beliefs can lead us to faulty assumptions. The world is full of unscrupulous or ill informed people who will lead us astray if we are not careful about the truth. Get to know that facts. Search for the truth. Ignorance will make you a slave to false assumptions.
    Know the truth, and the truth shall set you  free!
July 20, 2008 (Based on 10/12/97)

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30Scripture:  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

    They stand motionless and silent now, awesome even in immobility. Once, these haulking beasts ruled their world, the epitome of power and speed. Nothing else could compare with them. Now, although they stand mute and motionless in museums, we still approach them in awe, dwarfed by their magnitude, and intrigued by their complexity. Yet, in their heart lies a simple principle that is evident in all their successors, large and small, just as it enabled every manifestation in their heyday.
    The vital function of all engines is not the production of tremendous power within, as with the steam locomotive, but in the mechanism that controls and applies that power to the right place, at the right time.
    In the steam engine, whatever its size, ordinary water, ordinary like you and me, is heated past the boiling point into steam. A rather tiny valve opens to admit the steam into a cylinder, pressing against a piston connected to the driving wheels. It is that control valve that keeps the cycle going - power-push, exhaust; power-push, exhaust.
    One Biblical theme, argued even today, concerns faith and works. Which comes first? Is one more important than the other? James argued that although faith is important, faith that produces no works is dead, as dead as a monstrous steam locomotive sitting in a museum, with no fire within it. 
    James never saw a steam engine of any kind, yet he knew that a Christian on fire for the Lord is filled with tremendous power. However, God is not only power; God is also control! When we give our lives over to Him, He operates that “little valve” into the right position, at the right time, so that we release that tremendous power into God’s mighty ‘Church Engine.’
    Uncontrolled power can be a dangerous thing, leading to destruction. Following the Christian way of life not only gives us control over our lives to keep us from destroying ourselves, but also results in good works for the Lord’s Kingdom.
July 27, 2008

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31Scripture:   “Teacher,” he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What is written in the Law?” (Jesus) replied. “How do you read it?
Luke 10:25 - 26, NIV

    We all know that rocket science is a very complex subject, requiring lots of mathematics and ‘smarts.’ Of something simple we say, “It doesn’t take rocket science.” Jesus often ran afoul of those who wanted to make following the Lord’s Way  far too complex for people to follow.
    Speaking of the Pharisees, He said, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.”(Mt. 23:4 )  They had lost the true essence of a Godly life, and immersed themselves in the display of externals. The “proper” dress, food, mannerisms and speech became more important than  justice, mercy and faith. (Mt. 23:23)
     Yes, they were searching for the kingdom, but that they were looking at the wrong things, never understanding the truth. In Mt. 13:14, He quotes Isaiah 6:9,10 “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. (New Revised Standard) It is indeed true that some people make mountains out of molehills, or rocket science out of simple intentions.
    When you condense “rocket science” to the basic intentions, it comes down to this: propel the rocket so that it will be at the place you want at the time you want. In other words, Hit the Target!  Now couldn’t you say the same thing about pitching baseball, shooting (Kentucky windage) or driving to church? The objective is to “hit the target.” If you are distracted by things that are not the target, you will likely miss it. That is true of anything we try to do in life.
    I’ve found, especially through teaching, that many people either don’t seem to have, or fail to develop, the ability to find the main point, the common denominator, the essential facts. “Can’t find the forest for the trees,” we sometimes say. All too often people get caught up in the minutiae, the trivia of life or religion, and never find the core beliefs that matter.
    The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes, came to the conclusion that there is no profit - nothing to be gained - from “toiling for the wind,” as he put it. “Do not be over righteous, and do not be over-wise,” he counsels.
    The Preacher tried it all, and nothing really brought satisfaction. “Vanity of vanities,” he said. Vanity - excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements; the quality of being empty or futile. It is noteworthy that our word vanity comes from the Latin word for empty.
    He finally sums up life as this: “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone.” (Ecc.12:13 )
    Many people read the Bible, and miss that basic, central target of life and the essence of God’s kingdom:
    The greatest commandment is this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    “You have answered correctly,”  Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Lk.10:28)
August 3, 2008

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32Scripture:  "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."  (John 8:32, NKJV)

    I was a prisoner - no doubt about it! I was no longer at liberty to open the door, and walk away. I sat in my small space, waiting. Waiting for someone to come and release me. I could look out my window, and see people coming and going, walking around, not knowing or caring about the fact that I was a prisoner, and they were free.
    Freedom! We champion that people should live free; freedom of religion, expression, and thought are part of our national and religious heritage. No, I was not a prisoner under law, nor under social customs. So why didn’t I just open the door of my pickup truck,  and step out into the parking lot of the supermarket, as I had done so many times previously? No, it was not for fear that I sat there, waiting for my wife to return from the pharmacy with medication from my hip replacement two days earlier. I was a prisoner of faith!
    I believed what the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists had told me.  It was not their intent to scare me, or restrict me from doing things that I might enjoy. I had no doubt that they knew what could happen to a newly implanted hip if I didn’t follow certain guidelines. Because I had faith that they intended only good for me, I trusted in their advice as to what I could and could not do. So I was a ‘prisoner’ by choice, because of that faith. “Strange”, I thought. “I am a prisoner, and yet I am free! I will be free from possible great pain and damage to my leg, because my faith keeps me from doing that which I should not do.”
    Some concepts taught in the Bible are difficult to understand fully. “How can faith set us free?” we ask. “Why has the Lord allowed this hardship, this pain, to happen to me? Why me??? Am I being punished?”
    As I sat thinking, it occurred to me that a great truth was revealed to me through this experience, which I now share with you.  We are all prisoners of something, every one of us. If we are open to the Lord, our faith will set us free. Our prison may be many things, including fear, ignorance, pride, hatred . . . you get the idea.  As a prisoner, we make no attempt to ‘open the door’ and walk away from the restraints that keep us from God, from our friends, our family. That is what repentance is all about. . .  to turn and walk away from our prison, to walk toward the Lord, knowing that He will forgive us and support us, just as my walker supports me and keeps me from danger as I finally open that door, and  step out.

NOTE: This “Seeds” article was written in July, 1998, just after I had hip replacement surgery.  I have heard stories of other people who experienced serious problems with their joint replacement. Thankfully, my surgery was very successful, and remains so ten years later. I no longer need either a cane or a walker. However, to the end of my days, I will look to the LORD for support, and He will never fail.
    I find that the message has truths that bear repeating. 
August 10, 2008

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33Scripture:   God said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.” Genesis 2:17a, KJV

    Boy! Did Paul ever get it right when he said, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I can not carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do - this is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18b-19, NIV.)   
    We’ve all been there, in one form or another. Most of us suffer more from sins of omission than commission. That is, many things we should do - and could do - we never get around to doing. Like sending cards, making calls, sharing a good word with someone who needs it. We think too late about what we should have done or said in awkward situations.  We are at our worst where we have a decision to make, perhaps hastily, but a choice, never-the-less. When opportunity strikes, we blink, and the moment is gone - forever!
    Oh! What a gift the Giver has given us! The gift of choice, the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves. Read the first two or three chapters of Genesis. First, God created everything, and then turned the earthly creation over to the man and woman He created “in his own  image.” Whom would you tell, “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth? “ Genesis 1:28b.   Who among your acquaintances would you totally trust to manage all of your affairs? You would probably come up with a very short list, because you value your freedom to make decisions. God gave you that right, and you are not about to relinquish it - TO ANYONE!    And yet, I have observed, people dislike being placed in the position of having to make decisions. What do you say when someone asks your opinion on something, like an article of clothing, or a new hairdo? Especially where it really doesn’t matter to you, and you remark, “It’s OK.”  Betcha’ that’s the wrong answer! Or where you are trapped into  responding that you think that new ‘do looks “Great!”  and you quickly learn that “It’s positively the worst haircut I’ve ever had. I hate it!”  It won’t help matters any to agree that, “You’re right. It is awful.”   No, no, No!
    What to eat, what to wear, what’s IN and what’s OUT - decisions, decisions.  Whom to please, and whom to snub. WE NEED HELP!
    Oh! Yes, what would Jesus do? Unnh, yeah, what would He do??? You know, faced with my decision, right now.
    “How much dominion do I have, Lord? I mean, I’ve got a choice, right?”
 
      And so the serpent (Satan). . . said to the woman, Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the   garden? (Genesis 3:1b).

    Decision, decisions!!!

August 17, 2008

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34Scripture:   Does not wisdom call out. (Proverbs 8:1)

    Wisdom! Solomon was not the only one who sought wisdom. Peoples through the ages have sought it. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, wisdom is:
  “Understanding of what is true, right, or lasting; insight.”
Common sense; good judgment.
The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge.
Wise teachings of the ancient sages.”

    Is wisdom missing from our world today? Probably no more so than in Solomon’s day. We can see daily evidence where the world is filled with actions that are in no way related to common sense, or good judgment. Basic instinct - covetousness, malice, hatred, anger - seem to guide many that we find newsworthy by their rebellion against the codes and laws of society. Violence, killings, robberies - surely these people know that these things are not acceptable behavior.  Reading the Bible, or other ancient literature, plainly shows that people mistreating people is not unique to our day. Just about every antisocial behavior found today was found “back then.” We have just evolved ways to more effectively reach larger outrages!
    Road rage, children killing teachers and schoolmates, bombing churches are all actions of troubled souls that runs counter to what most of us would  consider as proper behavior. Do they not know? Do they not understand? Who has failed? How do we change things for the better?    For each headline grabbing crime, there is a hue and cry for action. Ban guns, outlaw that, pass a law. Yet the crimes are already against the established laws and standards. For example, a group of girls assaulted their sixth grade teacher because she would not let them watch the Jerry Springer show, which is notorious for fighting among the participants.
            Whom should we hold responsible? The students? Mr. Springer? The TV stations and networks? The sponsors? Viewers, who tune in and boost ratings?
    With Solomon of old, we need to say, “You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, gain understanding.”
   
NOTE:  This article was first published May 31, 1998.  Has anything changed?
August 24, 2008

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35Scripture: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’ grace in its various forms.  (1 Peter 4:10)

    We owe the LORD everything for our being - life, form, everything! Among the gifts is the ability to love, to think, to wonder, to praise, and to worship. We also have the ability to not use those gifts. What a risk He took in us!
    In a sense, God has filled our “toolbox” with good tools, and we so often misuse them. A good mechanic prides himself on using the correct tool - properly. No wrenches used as hammers; no screwdrivers as pry bars. Probably nothing makes the average spouse as edgy as a husband heading for the washing machine with an armload of dirty clothes, or a wife heading for his toolbox.
    We know the proper way to use earthly things. Jesus tried to teach us how to use heavenly things  like faith, hope, and love.   Every contact we have with the Lord and His creation contains a lesson, if we open ourselves to look for it.
    There are lessons in all situations, if we but look for them. It takes a lot to get our attention sometimes, though. For example, the Lord had been prodding Saul, like a driver prodding an ox with a goad  (a sharp  pointed stick - (See Acts 9:5 or 26:14.) Saul ignored the prodding until the personal encounter on the road to Damascus that blinded him. Once God finally had his attention, He gave him special gifts of  ministry and witness to all people. As Paul, he could boldly affirm to King Agrippa that he had been obedient to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19.)
    One of my personal ‘goads’ was a very painful and arthritic hip. Surgical replacement was recommended. It all sounded like a painful and daunting experience. I was, in a sense, between a rock and a hard place - whether to endure the continued pain of doing nothing or to accept the pain of undergoing surgery.
    My initial goal was to simply survive hip replacement surgery. To my amazement, God  used that opportunity to open many things to me. Yes, the after-surgery pain was there, but prayers and gifts from friends and family brought such a sense of love and peace that I feel compelled to share not only the experience, but also the message that God often uses such times of trial and tribulation to “fill our toolbox” with good tools, heavenly things  like faith, hope, and love.
    Should we, then, pray for trials and tribulations? No, I think not. Rather, pray that God will enable us both by giving us good gifts, and the opportunity to serve Him with those gifts. Pray for insight that we may find those gifts even in the midst of pain and suffering.     
    If these thoughts are not thoughts to feed your soul,  please recycle them for that case when God says to you, “Here, open your toolbox; one of my children needs what you have.”
    Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. (1 Peter 4:1)
    There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
August 31, 2008

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36Scripture: If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians, 8:23, NKJV)

I am an angel.
    No, not the heavenly kind. I qualify only in the literal sense of the Greek word (angelos)  meaning simply a messenger,  one who is sent. I am reminded daily of my earthly limitations, and am very aware that any attempt through my own efforts to rise above the surface that supports me would result in a dismal failure. A winged being I am not! Rather, I am as one who bears a message or does an errand, more in the sense of Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, who “spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, ‘I am with you, says the Lord’” (Haggai 1:13)  That is a message we all can bear, the Good News that we all can share as a messenger for the Good News Company (The Church).
    I found a song that expresses well the concept of serving as a messenger for the Lord, entitled    Someone Must Tell the Glad Story. 1  
Someone must tell the glad story,
The blessèd old story so true,
Of love and of wonderful glory,
O say will that someone be you?

Someone must tell of a Savior,
To others across the deep blue,
Now waiting His love and His favor,
O say will that someone be you?

Someone must tell of the blessing
That comes with each morning so new,
The goodness of Jesus confessing,
O say will that someone be you?

Someone must tell of salvation,
Someone must to Jesus be true,
And carry; to each waiting nation
The story that always is new.

    The refrain repeats the invitation:
“To tell the glad story of grace and of glory,
O say will that someone be you?”

      Paul also wrote, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . “
(Eph. 3:11-13, NKJV)
    If you feel that you are neither a Haggai nor belong to Paul’s list of workers, then become a “Titus,” a messenger. You, too, can be an angel (angelos)!
1 http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/o/someonem.htm
Words: W. S. Poole.  Music: Adam Geibel (1855-1933)
September 7, 2008

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37Scripture:  John 1:1  - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    The beginning, a very good place to start (in the words of a popular movie song) is exactly where John chose to start his gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. There are concepts at work here that boggle our earthly minds, pushing past the boundaries of space, time, and existence with which we are constrained. Eternity - God, with no beginning, no ending; all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing - always!
    The Word was also there at the very beginning; the Word is there today, and will be there forever. The Word, John said, is the Christ, sent to all peoples, to be the Light of the World.
    We look around us, and we see things- rocks, trees, houses, animals, people - but we don’t see God. Is it because God is not there? What do we look for? God is often pictured as an old man with a long beard (an ancient version of us?) possessing many years of experience and wisdom.         We perhaps look for God as a blinding light, a cloud, a thunderclap, an unusual phenomena like a burning bush that is not destroyed. Sometimes, we say, we feel God’s presence, in special moments of worship, meditation, or even crisis. “God is only a prayer away!” Away? Away where? Heaven? Something else we can’t see, touch, hear, smell - our earthly senses are not adequate to orient us to the heavenly realm.
    We look, but we do not see; we touch, but we do not feel; we listen, but we do not hear, and so God remains invisible to us, distant, aloof in His heaven.
    We look to the skies for heaven. We contemplate the boundaries:  how long , how wide, how many people/souls it can hold. Will there be room for me and my friends? We squeeze God into a people-sized man, and deposit him on a throne, from which he rules.
    Perhaps we see God as through a stained glass church window, filled with light and color, brilliant and wondrous, but without form or substance.
    John affirms that not only light, but also life comes from God. Life is God; God is life. If we have life, therefore, we have God. Were you looking there, inside yourself?
    We look at plants and animals, and say that they are alive; they move, they breathe, they reproduce. We look at rocks, and say that they have no life; do we look deeply enough? Even rocks are made up of millions of atoms. Atoms, electrons, protons, tiny particles that physicists tell us continually move. Is that not life? What keeps them going? Is the smallest possible bit of ‘something’ in the vast reaches of all that exists part of God, or something that He created, and flung out to the boundaries of space, abandoned forever?
    If God is in all, and all is God, how then can we split them asunder? Our knowledge of God is so inadequate to the task.
    Reach out; touch yourself. God is there. Touch, look, smell, listen! God is there, everywhere. Do you hear it? Do you feel it?  Rejoice!
    God is in us, the life-giving force within every cell, every atom of our being. Oh! What a joy is ours when we acknowledge His presence in us.
    Rejoice, and be glad in it!
September 14, 2008

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38Scripture: "Moreover if you brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother."Matthew 18:15, NKJV

    Relationships matter! Consider the Ten Commandments: As expressed in Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verses 6 through 21, the Commandments warn of the disastrous results of negative relationships. Coveting and greed may  lead to stealing and even murder. Although we are admonished by the words “shall not”  - you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, for example - words alone are not enough to keep bad relationships from happening.   
    While important, “shall nots” leave untold the broad range of positive relationships with God and neighbor.
    Think about the many times you have seen the warning “Do Not Operate the Equipment (Thou Shall Not) Before Reading the Instructions.”  
Suppose that you elect do do neither, that is, to not read the instructions or operate the equipment. While that may be better than forging ahead blindly, nothing is accomplished. You have thereby missed the positive aspects of having the equipment AND THE INSTRUCTIONS!
    Life is too important to waste it doing nothing. So - What to do? And, How?
    Begin by accentuating the positive. Jesus compressed the Law and the Prophets into these two commandments: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  . . .  and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
    Love implies a desire to maintain the best of relationships, whether with God or neighbor. Paul stressed these positive relationships in his letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 13) He wrote that Love suffers long and is kind. Love bears all things,  and endures all things. Love does not behave rudely and does not harbor evil thoughts toward God, neighbor or brother.
    When someone wrongs us, there is a great urge to tell someone else, “Do you know what s/he did to me? What a jerk!”
    That is exactly what Jesus addresses in this teaching in Matthew 18:15-20. If a brother or sister in the church offends you, go to this person and talk about the problem. Don’t involve other people, if possible. Then, if that doesn’t work, take at least two others, and try again to resolve the broken relationship. Since Jesus is talking about members of the church here, involve the church  as a last resort.
As you ponder these instructions, ask yourself:     Note the scripture passages that Matthew included in chapter 18 prior to verse 15. Jesus said, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child (sitting in their midst) is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (vs. 4)  Also, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (vs. 7)
    The purpose of this teaching is restoration of the relationship. The parable of the lost sheep illustrates concern for the one that goes astray, even so the will of the Father in heaven that not one should perish. We are to be so concerned about the breach in the relationship, that we are willing to do whatever is possible to restore it.
    In the words of Paul, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, NKJV)
September 21, 2008

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39Scripture: Paul wrote, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” NIV
    We all know the meaning of the word “charitable” . . . sort of. Kind and generous in giving help to those in need. (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Even my 1927 dictionary agrees. Both dictionaries also agree that our modern word charity comes from the Old French word charite; the French got it from the Latin word caritas, meaning dearness, love, or loving. Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians affirms this meaning in the King James Version: Charity is used wherever the word is translated love in other versions.
    Interesting! In the original Greek, the word is agape, one of four words the Greeks used that we translate “love.” But “A-hah! The first definition given for charity is Christian love! Love for one’s fellow-men.
    So why do the newer Bible translations say love instead of charity, as used in the King James text? Possibly because we have moved way down in the list of meanings to emphasize giving rather than supplying in love.
    Suppose two people put ten dollar bills in the offering plate at church. One is a person whose income is well above the typical average. The other is a widow on a pension, shall we say about $600 a month for all her expenses. She does so because she has a love for the work of the church. The other gives because everyone is expected to put something in the collection plate. Jesus used much this same example in Luke 21:1-4 (The Widow's mites). The people gave gifts out of their wealth.
    The Bible does not condemn wealth in and of itself. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. The striving, the hoarding, the conniving to obtain and keep it. The love of power having money can bring. The rich farmer was not condemned for building barns to hold his harvest. Rather, it was the self-centered joy of wallowing in his own excess. Charity did not enter into his plans for the use of God’s Charity!
    Think about it! God didn’t just give us the gift of His Son. He personifies charity - He so LOVED the world . . .
September 28, 2008


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40Scripture: Paul wrote, “The body is a unit, though is is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” 1 Cor. 12:12, NIV   

    A doctor who had served his community for many years as a general practitioner was glad when his son decided to also become a doctor. As the son was nearing the completion of med school, he announced that he had decided to specialize, rather than go into general family practice like his father.
    “And what are you going to specialize in?,” asked the father.
    “The nose,” responded the son.
    “Hummp,” snorted the father. “Which nostril?”
    We live in an age of specialization.  That’s not bad in itself; we need to become as good and knowledgeable as we can in what we do to earn our daily bread. But far too many people specialize to the extent that they ignore much of their God-given potential. Worse, they even compartmentalize God.
    For example, they have their ‘work’ compartment, their ‘relaxation and recreation’ compartment, and their ‘Sunday Go-To-Meeting’ compartment. 
    We are complex beings, as God created us, capable of many things. We are to become complete in Him, in His likeness. We can not   disown part of our body, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:15. Yes, Paul was making an allusion to the Church. This is my point: we can apply that same information to all that we do, because it is a basic truth. We should not say, “My job is not my church; Jesus is not part of my work.” Nor can we leave God out of our choices for entertainment, our hobbies, or relaxation.  Saturday Sinners, and Sunday Saints we ain’t!
    On the other hand, I have seen some people who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. Keep in mind that the two people who walked by the man beaten and left to die along the highway were “religious” people. The Samaritan was the person who said, “This, too, is part of me.” He had compassion on the man, and took time from his tasks, whatever they were, and brought that need into his life.
    All that we do should be acceptable to God. Everyday! No walls, no compartments, no specialization. No saying, “That’s a religious thing, a worship thing. I’ll take care of that on Sunday.”
October 5, 2008

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41Scripture:  "But I say to you who hear; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."  (Luke 6:27-28, NKJV)

    Unconventional thinking - There are many occasions when the most logical response is the worst possible choice to make. For example, a beginning automobile driver will usually turn the wrong way if the car starts to skid - making the skid worse! An experienced driver will turn the wheels in the direction of the skid, stabilizing the car’s movement. I have read that airplane pilots have to practice the correct maneuver to escape a spin or stall, as the typical response is the reverse of what is really necessary to prevent making the situation worse.
    What would you do if you were a lifeguard, and the drowning swimmer that you were trying to rescue grabbed you with a  “death hug?” Try to fight him off? Use some magic escape trick? According to my  instructor for a lifesaving course I took at camp one year, the proper procedure is “sink and think!” If you are in control of the situation, you are not afraid to go under water. The last thing a drowning person wants is to go under water. So, although you are in danger of the panicky person pulling both of you under, you will usually gain release by submerging rather than fighting to stay on the surface.
    Jesus uses the same advice in many of His teachings. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." (Luke 6:27-28, NIV) Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Ridiculous! Did Jesus practice what He said? Most certainly! Jesus associated with those who were “untouchable” in society - the leper, the tax-collector, the sinners, the Samaritans, even the Roman subjugators. He healed them, he accepted their pleas for forgiveness. He cleansed them of their sins. Even from the cross, He forgave those who crucified Him.
    The doctor does not associate only with healthy people to avoid the unpleasantness of sickness, but actually seeks out the people who most need the physician.
    If the Christian is to have any impact upon the world, it is necessary to emulate the doctors - and Jesus - rather than the World’s Way!
October 12, 2008

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42Scripture:   Luke wrote, “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know of the certainty of the things that you have been taught. Luke 1:3,4, NIV.
   
    Having exhausted my most recently acquired supply of reading material, I turned to my back-up supply, those books which I have acquired when the opportunity presented itself, much as a squirrel stores away treats for a future day. I probably purchased this particular book from the  Hartford Library while at the Fair, and its time had finally come. It is an old book, printed before publishers thought that readers would be interested in how recently it had been issued. The pages are becoming somewhat yellowed and rather brittle.  The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, lived and wrote in the early part of the 19th century, so the customs and way of life that he describes are quite different from everyday life in the 21st century. Ahh! But the people he presents in his word-picture Twice Told Tales  share all the traits of humankind from centuries past, and, I suspect, centuries to come.
     We have an unsatiable desire to hear, to see, to know what is happening to others like us. We dream, we imagine, and when we run out of reality, we delve into the world of pretend and make believe.
    Most books, like my current volume from the mind and hand of Hawthorne, will be returned to the shelf, or perhaps to a box that will be passed on for another reader and another day.
    Most of us, though, have in our possession a book that goes even further back into the millenniums. We read it, or listen to it being read to us, over and over. If perchance we should wear it out from repeated and constant use, we will likely purchase another with the same content. The Bible is probably one of the most re-read books in history! It is a unique book, transcending time, and though originally written in Hebrew and  Greek, appeals to us when translated into our own tongue because we are creatures united through the common bond of human communication.
    Hawthorne comments in his stories how fashion so changed even in his time that clothing from a few years previous marked the wearer as old fashioned. Except to play the role of someone from the past, we would not risk the stares and jibes of our fellow 21st centurians by donning Pilgrim attire, nor that of 1st century church-goers.
    However, the words of Jesus, as told by Matthew, and Paul’s epistles will be as familiar in churches around the world today  as they were back in the days when followers of Jesus, the Christ, were first called Christians.
October 19, 2008

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43Scripture:  And what of ourselves? With all these witnesses to faith around us like a cloud, we must throw off every encumbrance, every sin to which we cling, and run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish. (Hebrews 12:1-2a, NEB)

    Paul often alluded to soldiers or athletes in his writings, subjects that most of his readers were well acquainted with. He talked about his “finishing the race” as his ow time ran out before he was put to death by the Romans.
    Many sports require teamwork, each member of the team working effectively as one unit. The relay race is unique in that although it requires teamwork, each person performs individually. The most critical moment comes as each hands the baton to the next runner. If either the hand-off or the receive is faulty, the team may lose the race.
    We face a similar critical moment in our belief in God. One generation may fail to pass the “baton” of faith to the next generation, or they may fail to receive it. In a sense, the preceding generation bears a double portion of the responsibility, for they must prepare the receiving generation to be ready and willing to carry on the race. Much depends on how we run our own portion of the race. We must run willingly, eagerly, faithfully. We must truly “practice what we preach.” We can not be hypocritical, nor slack off on our portion of the run, and expect the other members of the team to make up the difference. Nor can we brow-beat or bully the next team member into whole-hearted acceptance of the race.
We must also provide encouragement and enlightenment to those for whom the baton is waiting. They are watching us. Pray that what they see will inspire them into taking up the baton in their own turn.
October 26, 2008

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44Scripture: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)
    Quote of the week - “God will supply our needs, not our greeds.”
    Oh, how hard it is to resist temptation! Especially when we are tempted by something which appeals to our “greeds.” One of the most used sales come-ons is the “loss leader,” - an item offered below cost. Hopefully, once you are  in the store, you will buy something else - at the regular price. And, of course, “For a limited time you will also receive . . .  - at no extra cost!” We just can not resist a bargain, or the something-for-nothing offer, can we? Successful advertising is build on convincing people that having a certain item is a must. The price of any collectible is dependent on the supply of the item, and how badly a collector “must have” it. Think back on many of the ‘craze’s like Pet Rocks, Cabbage Patch Kids, or Beanie Babies.
    I have not tried it, but I recall reading about a way to trap monkeys. The idea was to put something that a monkey would like in a jar with a narrow opening. When the monkey stuck his hand into the jar and grasped the object, he could not get his hand out of the jar, unless he released the object, which he was unwilling to do.
    Now, isn’t that the way temptation traps us? We don’t want to give up our “greeds.” While greed is often just pure “having,” especially money, desire for social status pulls us into owning clothing, cars, homes, etc. purely for the show. We don’t want to be a nerd, a geek, a square, do we?
    Sad, but true, we can still find many of the kind of people Paul cautions Timothy about. Pray that we do not succumb to those “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain
(1 Timothy 6:5b, NIV)
November 9, 2008


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45Scripture:  Paul wrote to the Galations: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension's, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
(Galations 5:19-21, NIV)

    Sounds like a current news report, doesn’t it? Human nature has not changed much during all of record history.  We could probably add a few things that Paul didn’t include in his list, but I doubt that we could add anything that didn’t exist in his day.
    If all that we knew about the world outside our home was what we saw on television, heard on the radio, or read in the newspaper, we would certainly have a distorted view of reality. It seems at times like the world is falling apart. We wonder, “Are there any decent people left?”
    Elijah found himself in this situation. The Word of the LORD came to Elijah as he was hiding in the desert at Horeb, asking “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-19) Elijah explains the he is the only one left that is zealous for the Lord. The Lord tells Elijah to go back to work; he is not the only one left! There are still good people in the world. God is still in command.
    Yes, the news is often filled with stories of “immorality, discord, factions . . . and the like.” Perhaps we should look on the bright side; It is news because it deviates from the norm. If it comes to the point that the crimes, failings, and sins of humanity are no longer filling our news reports, let us pray that it is not because sin had become so common that it is no longer newsworthy, but rather that Satan and those aligned with him in sin are abolished forever.
    Although the happenings of this present world are discouraging, we, like Elijah, need to join with those who are faithful and zealous for the Lord. There’s work to do!
November 16, 2008

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46Scripture: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew 7:15)

    One of the moral tales told in years past dresses the wolf character in Grandmother’s clothing. Generations of children listened in rapt attention, hoping Little Red Riding Hood would see the truth and escape the ferocious wolf. In another tale, a clever, practical pig outsmarts the wolf. The purpose of many of the “Fairy Tales” or Mother Goose rhymes was to teach moral lessons, as well as to entertain.
    Foxes and coyotes also come across as the villains in many stories. One of the evil characters that leads Pinocchio astray is the fox. The coyote probably never will catch the Roadrunner, but we watch and laugh, never-the-less. We like to see goodness and truth win out over evil.
    Part of the lure of the moral tales is that the “victim” is often portrayed as naive, not recognizing the evil force that is about to engulf them, and thus easily led astray. The crisis is resolved when someone or something comes to their rescue. The message is clear - it is important to be able to recognize the evil in this world, and to choose alternatives that avoid being drawn into the trap.
    Jesus knew that false prophets would try to take advantage of His followers by pretending to be honest, helpful leaders. This is where discernment comes into play.
    Remember the serpent - Adam and Eve had been told not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They could have just said, “No!” Instead, they were led to rationalize that nothing bad would really happen. Adult-parent-God “is just trying to keep you from enjoying something good.” Discernment is the ability not only to recognize or comprehend mentally the danger that lies in the path, but to also have adequate moral reasons to refute the tempter.
We must put on the gospel armor to “quench the flaming darts of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16)
    The best preparation for life we can give our children is for them to see us willingly choose God, and not the “wolf.”
November 23, 2008

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47Scripture:     Jesus said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weighter matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23 NRS)

    I’m sure we have all heard of the person who “goes by the book.” What we mean is a person who treats every infraction of the rules to the full extent; unyielding, inflexible. For example, the rules against drugs in schools could result in, say, a girl giving a friend an aspirin,  and both of them get suspended for “dealing drugs.”
    We may question if the infraction merits suspension. Indeed, applying rules and laws justly is one of the toughest decisions we have to make in our communal lives.
    We are advised to make not only laws and rules, but to develop ‘ideals.’  We are advised by Biblical writers to “seek perfection.” The point I am raising is that we may at times make an ideal into an idol. That is, we become so consumed in pursuing an ideal to extremes that reason and justice are lost. 
    As Christians, Jesus is our ideal, our pattern for life. We are to ask, “What would Jesus do?”  That is not always a clear-cut choice. For example, we set up “churchy” rules to guide dress, manners, forms of showing reverence, etc. Consider this: so did the Pharisees. Read Matthew chapter 23, and you see Jesus sharply criticizing the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees” for setting up ideals that made them appear to be righteous; that is, they were doing all the things that showed physically that they belonged to, and practiced the ideals of, their religious society.  In truth,  their ideals had become their idols. They prided themselves on an ostentatious show of religious observance, but neglected God’s ideal.
    What is God’s ideal? The First Commandment - Love God. And “Like unto it”  - Love your neighbor as yourself.
    The Pharisees had taken the commandments to extremes. Their prohibition against work on the Sabbath precluded healing. It was a direct whack to their ideals when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. They set aside money for the Temple, and used that as an excuse to not help their aged parents - It is ‘Corbin’ and we can’t touch it except for God’s use. What is “God’s use?”
    Jesus said that God is more concerned with mercy and justice, derived out of love for God and concern for God’s people, than with the ideal appearance one could assume to show how religious they are. What does true religion look like?
    Note that Jesus does not condemn tithing dill, mint and cummin. (vs. 23)  but makes this ideal secondary to love of God and neighbors.
November 30, 2008 (repeat of older article November 2000 news)


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48Scripture: James wrote, “. . . no one can tame the tongue. . . . With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” James 3:8a-9, NRS

Words! Simple things; we use them all the time. They are our link to the world outside of ourselves. Through words, we explain our needs, our feelings, and our emotions. We eagerly await a child’s first words, for that is one of the primary signs of humanity - the ability to speak sounds that have purpose and meaning.
We can show acceptance of certain situations by making jokes about them. Consider the following, which builds upon the anticipation and eagerness which sometimes arises with a child’s “firsts:”

        Father (coming home from work) - “How did things go with you today?”
        Mother - “Oh! We’ve had a terrible day. Baby cut his first tooth today, and took his first steps.”
        Father - That sounds wonderful! What’s so terrible about that?”
        Mother - Then he fell down, broke out the tooth, and said his first words.”

What do we say when something unpleasant happens? That can say an awful lot about us. I have known people who could pretty well suppress “bad” words, until something unexpected happened, like a sudden, painful blow to a sensitive spot on the anatomy, and the true nature of the person’s vocabulary flowed out. I have worked with a man (well known) on TV whose every other word seemed to be a swear word, but when the “ON AIR” light came on, his speech was pure and as undefiled as a Sunday School teacher. Why? What value did he gain from his everyday speech?
Jesus and James both left us words of advice concerning the use of words. Matthew records (15:1-12) that Jesus angered the Pharisees when he stated that the lips often spoke words of seeming praise to God, but their hearts were impure.
James is noted for his commentary on the tongue, a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Read James 3rd chapter; it’s short, and to the point!
Some of the world’s best advice can be summed up in the saying, “Engage mind before throwing mouth into gear.”
Better yet, keep the heart and soul pure and clean, and you won’t have to worry about words. We may be able to fool people -some of the time - but God knows what is growing deep in our souls - all of the time!
December 7, 2008 (repeat)

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49Scripture:     O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all. . . . Living things, both great and small. (Psalms 4:24a; 25b. NKJV)

    The little farm which my wife and I call home is for the birds. Understand that I say that in a positive sense, not in the derogatory meaning sometimes used to call something trivial or worthless.1  Rather, it is simply a recognition of the numerous species of avian fowl that reside thereupon.
    I was thinking about the differences between the wild birds which flock to our feeders and the chickens and domestic poultry we raise. Consider first the wild bird: they typically build a nest to contain both the eggs and the young, which remain in the nest until they are able to fly. Until they fledge, the immature bird is not able to feed themselves, but must depend upon the parents bringing the food to them, even to the point of stuffing it in their mouths.
    Domestic poultry, on the other hand, literally “hit the ground running.” They are able to walk around soon after hatching, and quickly leave the nest to follow the mother. True, they depend upon her for protection, warmth, and parental guidance, but they pick up their own food. Nobody has to stuff it down their throats.
    That means that we can even hatch out chickens in an incubator, and simply provide food, water and warmth for the hatchlings, bypassing the hen entirely. But note that we are adapting to the needs of the bird, not trying to change the bird to a totally different lifestyle. This has important implications.
    Suppose that we endeavored to feed those domestic chicks by expecting them to sit, openmouthed, waiting for us to stuff something in their beaks. Even if we brought in a bunch of robins, which naturally use that technique, it would not work out - it would be a disaster for both adult and chick. Nor could we put a nest of young robins under a hen and expect them to be properly fed. Sometimes it just doesn’t work to mess with nature.
    It seems to me that a metaphor exists here in relation to the different attributes of the human species. Just as the differences in birds noted above results in adults that fulfill a niche in the natural order of things, it would seem to be vitally important to take into account that all people are not alike, nor should they be.
    It is therefore important, I think, to consider that God made us all, perhaps with each being a little bit different, but deserving of the acknowledgment that all are worthy.  Great and small; God made ‘em all!

1“Strictly  . . . for the birds:”
This phrase is of American origin and, while still in use there, has never been commonly used elsewhere. It is US Army slang and originated towards the end of WWII.
Before the advent of cars, one could see and smell the emissions of horse-drawn wagons in New York. Since there was no way of controlling these emissions, the horse droppings - or the undigested oats in them - served to nourish a large population of English sparrows.
http://www.joe-ks.com/phrases/phrasesF.htm
December 14, 2008

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50Scripture:  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. (Matthew 2:1, NKJV)

    Herod, the king of Judea when Jesus was born, was a rather complex person. According to the Biblical account written by Matthew, he was a sly and murderous monarch who slaughtered all of the male infants in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, born “King of the Jews.”
    Herod was certainly capable of such an act. History records that he slew three of his own sons, a wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other people whom he thought threatened his authority.
            Known as Herod the Great, he ruled from 37 to 4 BC.  He was a crafty politician, capable in statecraft, and a loyal ally of Rome, and reigned 37 years.
    He was also a master builder, organizer, and developer. Some of his projects are still visible today. The Mediterranean seaport of Caesarea served as the Roman provincial capitol for Palestine during the New Testament era. Parts of the harbor breakwater contain some of the earliest examples of hydraulic concrete known. Water  was supplied to Caesarea by an aqueduct system, parts of which are still standing.
    In addition to palaces and fortresses, which include Massada and the Herodium, he rebuilt the temple area in Jerusalem. That project took almost fifty years to complete. Jesus’ disciples marveled at the magnificent buildings of the temple area. (Matthew 24:1-2)   One retaining wall, known as the Western Wall, remains today. Perhaps you have seen videos in the news of Jews standing facing the wall, their heads bobbing as they pray. Prayers on slips of paper are stuck into cracks between the massive stones.  The National Geographic, issue of December, 2008, Vol. 214, No. 6, has a picture of this scene, as well as an account of events of Herod’s life and the discovery of his tomb at the Herodium.
    The Jewish people resented Herod in spite of his attempts to win their favor. Herod also built temples to pagan gods. He was of Idumean ancestry, and one of his ten wives was a Samaritan. His wives bore him at least 15 children.
    Herod the Great was not, however, the king who had John the Baptist beheaded. That was another member of the Herodian dynasty, Herod Antipas. (See Matthew 14:3-12) His sons Herod Archelaus and Herod Philip are also mentioned in the New Testament accounts. Another son, Aristobulus, is not mentioned in the scriptures but his sons (Herod’s grandson and great-grandson)  bore the name Agrippa.
    Herod Agrippa killed James the brother of John, and had Peter thrown into prison. (Acts 12)  When the people acclaimed Herod Agrippa as a god, an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to the Lord.  He was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:23)
    Herod Agrippa II is the king of Acts  chapters 25  and 26  who, with Festus, heard Paul’s defense in Caesarea.
    The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes extensively about King Herod the Great, beginning in Chapter X, Book I, concluding with his death in Chapter XXXIII. Herod suffered much pain and distress, described as distemper and melancholy. and many physical afflictions. Josephus describes the elaborate funeral: Herod’s body was carried in pomp two hundred furlongs (eight miles) to Herodium, where he was buried.
    Matthew writes that when Herod died, Joseph returned to Israel from Egypt with the young child and His mother, where they had been living, and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, in the region of Galilee. (Mt. 2:19-23)
December 21, 2008

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51Scripture: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. (Psalm 90:1-2, NKJV)

Someone once asked God, “How long is a million years to you?”
    To which God replied, “A million years is like a minute.”
    Again the man asked, “God, how much is a million dollars to you?”
    God said, “A million dollars is like a penny.”
    The man thought awhile, and asked, “Would you give me a penny?”
    God responded, “In a minute.”

     Many people celebrate each turnover of our calendar, the New Year, with parties, revelry, and resolutions to “start clean.” New Year, new life, another chance. Remember all of the trepidation about the millennium (thousand years) as we moved into the uncharted territory of the year 2000?  The world didn’t implode, life didn’t end. The dire predictions were way off the mark. Ah, but a millennium is a thousand times better than a new year - it is a thousand New Years, all wrapped up in one! For a time,  news reports focusing on the turnover of the the millennium seemed to dominate the news.
    People get all caught up in the fervor associated with our earthly ‘marks’ on the continuum of time. One group committed mass suicide because “It was the end of the millennium.” We need to ask, “Whose millennium?”
    New Year’s day is not God’s time-marker, nor is any numbered year, by what ever calendar.  (It is not even the calendar used by all of earth’s peoples.)     We have become so accustomed to our clocks and calendars that we get frustrated when God doesn’t conform to our standards. We demand to know when the events foretold in prophecy will occur! When will Christ return? When is the end of the age?     
    God uses heavenly time, not earthly time. His time is forever, no beginning, no ending. Read the Book of Revelation. Jesus, the Holy One, proclaims, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”  (Rev. 22:13, NKJV)
        Yes, prophesied events will  happen, but not by our calendar! What is really important for us, Jesus said, is to be ready at all times. We know not the hour or the day.  Let God’s Spirit, not ‘our’ calendar,  be our guide.
December 28, 2008  (Modified from January News 1998) 


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