You don’t have to pay for me

As the ushers passed the offering plate, a young child being taken to church for the first time watched the proceedings with intense interest. As the ushers approached her pew, the little girl said to her father, “Remember, Dad, you don’t have to pay for me. I’m under five.”

I’m at that age now when I look for discounts. I may not like standing in line behind someone with a fistful of coupons, but I seldom go to the store without checking to see if I have any. Who doesn’t like a bargain? I don’t want to think of myself as cheap, but I don’t mind being frugal.

While I don’t equate cheap with frugal, there is one thing that bothers me – church on the cheap. There are some chilling words in the last book of the Old Testament. Through His prophet Malachi, God had a case against His own people: “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: ‘A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where is the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for My name!’” Later in the book, God also had stern words for the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” God wasn’t satisfied with cheap.

We know our God is generous and gracious, bountiful in His blessings. We also know that the proper response to His goodness to us is not simply measured by an offering plate. We have too long associated stewardship with our financial resources alone. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) isn’t wringing His hands over what we give. He knows there is much more at stake.

Does my life reflect a grateful, joyful stewardship? Am I looking for spiritual discounts or going deeper in my walk with Him? Malachi’s narrative is a bridge to the New Testament. The prophet Elijah in the person of John the Baptist would come to prepare the way for the Lamb of God. God was preparing to invade a broken, dark world with the light of Christ. He has given so much. How will we respond to His overture of love?

From the creation of the first humans, God offered a partnership to those He entrusted with His world. He has made us trustees of our time, talent, and treasure. There is great joy in faithful stewardship!

Present

I remember roll call in school. I had to wait a while since my last name started with a “W”. Not that I’m complaining or have issues, but why couldn’t they start with the “Z’s” just once? There was a time when I fervently hoped the teacher wouldn’t read out my whole name. I had classmates that would snicker if she read my middle name, Oliver. As I grew up, I realized that name was something to be cherished, not regretted.

You had to answer when your name was called. The correct response was “present.” I sometimes wondered why “here” or just a hand-raise wouldn’t have worked.

Being present hopefully referred to more than just a physical location. Perhaps our teachers wanted to know if we were ready for a day of learning, or she just wanted to check off the list. Perhaps she was wishing that certain students weren’t present.

There are a lot of clichés that refer to being present in life:

  • Bloom where you’re planted.
  • Seize the day (Carpe Diem)
  • Be where your feet are
  • The only easy day was yesterday

The apostle Paul wrote that he had learned to be content (Philippians 4:11). Jesus encouraged us to live one day at a time (Matthew 6:34). There is a reason why the last commandment in Exodus 20 forbids coveting. It was intended to liberate us from wanting something we didn’t or couldn’t have. The grass may look greener on the other side, but is it? Art Linkletter once asked one of his young guests what that saying meant. The boy answered, “The grass is greener because that guy uses better fertilizer than you.”

Be present today. Live in your moment. Appreciate your life. Count your blessings.

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

Let’s be honest. We would rather not deal with some of the things Jesus said. We prefer to dwell on more palatable words like love, grace, and mercy. The stories of miracles and expressions of compassion stir our souls. But Jesus was anything but safe in His words or deeds. Why else would His enemies be so intent on His extermination? Do we, His followers, understand that following Him is risky, even dangerous?

F.F. Bruce was a professor and author noted for books and biblical commentaries like New Testament History, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? And Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. He also penned the book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, in which he explored seventy of the sayings of Christ that challenge the idea that we can only think of the Lord as gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

In the preface of his book, Bruce wrote: “His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but His sayings are often hard because they run counter to well-entrenched presuppositions and traditional assumptions about life and human relations. It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination – an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify.”

We have introduced a theme for this season in our church life – “Going Deeper.” To go deeper is not just an attempt to gather more information or to be busier with religious activity. At some point as we take responsibility for our own spiritual transformation, we have to take the Gospel seriously. We must center our lives on our relationship with the One who promised abundant living (John 10:10) but also asked us to pick up our cross to follow Him (Luke 9:23).

Don’t know where to start?

  • Reading, studying, praying Scripture – begin in the Psalms or the Gospel of John
  • Invest time in reading helpful books –Practicing the Presence by Brother Lawrence; The Common Made Holy by Neil T. Anderson & Robert Saucy; The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
  • Investigate the Daily Examen, a powerful way to develop a life of prayer

Jesus never promised an easy road, but He did promise to walk alongside each step.

Contentment

From the Orlando Business Journal: “David and Jackie Siegel, the king and queen of Orlando-based Westgate Resorts, are both well past ready to see the completion of their massive Isleworth home, Versailles — but there’s still a ways to go.

The 90,000-square-foot Versailles mansion has been under construction for more than a decade and has its own celebrity status, thanks to the 2012 documentary, ‘The Queen of Versailles.’ But one thing the house doesn’t have yet is tenants, as construction has been off and on for years.”

It seems the house isn’t big enough with 30 bathrooms, 15 bedrooms, 11 kitchens, 6 pools, 2 movie theaters, 8000-square foot master suite, spa, bowling alley, indoor skating rink, underground parking for 30 cars, and a stadium tennis court seating 200 spectators. “I think I may want a bigger house with a couple more guest houses and a bigger closet,” said Jackie Siegel. The Versailles home is slated to be finished before the end of the year after almost 15 years of construction.

Good luck Siegels. We all hope you will be able to manage. I don’t know anything about these people, but at first glance I’m a bit nauseated.

Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (4:11).

Being content is never about having enough or more than we need. Being content is a state of soul, living in a deepening trust in our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. I hope the Siegels find contentment. Something tells me it won’t be found in a bigger mansion.

 

Flat Earth Society

“Modern Flat Earth societies consist of individuals who believe that the Earth is flat rather than an oblate spheroid. Such groups date from the middle of the 20th century; some adherents are serious and some are not. Those who are serious are often motivated by pseudoscience or religious literalism.” (Wikipedia)

Some people claim the Bible posits a flat earth. Ancients believed in a three-tiered creation. The heavens formed the canopy over the earth as a solid firmament. Some believed the stars were windows into heaven. The earth was not regarded as a globe, but as finite and flat. There are many stories of mariners who were terrified they might sail over the edge of the world. The underworld was just that, the mysterious place of shadows.

Most recently, some claimed that the total eclipse proves that the world is flat. The Flat-Earthers questioned why they were told not to look at the eclipse directly. What was being hidden? They also questioned how an object could cast a shadow smaller than itself.

Yes, and there was a time when humanity was convinced that the sun revolved around the earth, that the earth was the center of the universe. The human mind is an amazing creation, but sometimes it isn’t engaged as designed!

The psalmist wrote: “When I look at the night sky and see the work of Your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them?” (Psalm 8); and “The heavens proclaim the glory of God, the skies display His craftsmanship” (Psalm 19).

Creation of the universe is astounding, but the greatest miracle is the gift of life and relationship we humans enjoy. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reads: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Conspiracies aside, we were created by a gracious and generous God to experience and explore His love. Let’s go deeper into that love!

Coke what?

Trying to take my mind off the misery of devastating weather …

  • Coke has a learning problem. Perhaps they have a short memory. Remember what a hit New Coke was? Now they are messing with Coke Zero.
  • Then there was the guy who robbed the convenient store wearing his motorcycle helmet. He must have forgotten the nameplate with his name on it just above the visor.
  • At church one Sunday, we lost power and the sanctuary was very uncomfortable. A couple of our guys had a bright idea. They brought in electric fans to cool the room. Think about it.
  • When an attempted robbery at a Lowes Home Improvement store went awry, Milton J. Hodges fled across the street and jumped a fence … right into the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort & Spa. As the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, “As one of the only folks wearing clothing,” Hodges was easily spotted by police. You think.
  • A 12-year-old boy adamantly denied having stolen an iPhone when questioned by police at his home. And then the iPhone rang in his closet. Whoops!
  • In July, he turned 104. This November, she will be 93. They have been married for 75 years. It’s a first for this Washington state couple: Two hurricanes slamming two different parts of the United States bearing their names, Harvey and Irma Schluter.

This has been a tough stretch for people in the Islands, Mexico, Texas, Florida, and other places. Lives have been lost. Families shattered. The economic impact will be felt for years. We see the worst in people who descend to scams and looting, but we also see the best in people who come to the aid of others. Irma is starting to fade but still brings damage and difficulty. Let’s keep praying for those who felt nature’s wrath and those still in the path of high winds and rising waters. First Responders, as always, are doing what they do best. God bless each one.

Lost in all the coverage of the storms is the sad reality that we observe another anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. We may have moved on or have become distracted, but for thousands of people this day will always be a nightmare. We must never forget.

 

A Season of Storms

The Sea of Galilee was known for sudden, ferocious storms. The people who plied those waters understood the risk as they cast their nets or traveled from shore to shore. In Mark 4, Jesus accompanied the disciples as they left the crowds behind, heading for the other side of the lake. “But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat and it began to fill with water” (v.37). Panic ensued. Too be caught out in the open could have been a death sentence. The disciples, several of them seasoned fishermen, flipped from panic to fearful exasperation when they saw Jesus still asleep in the stern. “Teacher, don’t You care that we’re going to drown?”

We know how the story ends. Jesus calmed the storm and alarmed the disciples. “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey Him” (v. 41).

Chris Cadenhead made this observation: “The key to understanding this story may lie in the fact that Jesus was even in the boat with them at all. That means He put Himself in the path of the same storm that threatened them.”

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God is not some distant observer. When Jesus entered the world, He came to experience life with His creatures. He felt pain, knew fatigue, got angry, grieved, wept, and suffered. Storms are nothing new to Him.

There are times when He silences the storm, but there is never a time when He isn’t in the boat with us. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We need to cling to that when it would be easy to panic or get discouraged.

Harvey has left a trail of devastation. Irma brings terrible destructive power. Jose is not far behind. Who knows what is coming next? More than ever, we need to seek the presence and peace of the Lord of the storm.