Monday, August 3, 2015

Lessons From Xoy

Luke 10
Last month, nine members of our congregation traveled to the village of Xoy, Yucatan, Mexico. Xoy is a village of 800 inhabitants deep in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. The folks there have a proud Mayan heritage. We went to Xoy to work with our brothers and sisters of the Divine Savior Reformed Presbyterian Church on the installation of a batch water treatment plant, and the education of their community as to how to use the purified water. We had previously entered into covenants with both Living Waters for the World and with the Divine Savior church that we would support the plant in Xoy with our prayers, our finances, and whatever technical expertise we could provide. God blessed both the installation and education portions of the work, and the mission, therefore, was felt to be a huge success. At the end of our week there, we celebrated with many from the village and some folks from surrounding villages by worshipping together and sharing the purified water from the plant.

Needless to say, all of us who made the trip were richly blessed from our participation. As I look back on the experience, I think the thing that I will remember most is the laughter of the children who came every afternoon for the skits, crafts, songs, and games. The lessons, however, that will stay with me are the same ones from Luke 10. In verses 27 and 28, Jesus confirms to the Levite that he has correctly identified the commandments of the law for eternal life – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. What I found in the members of that small Presbyterian church was a joy that welled up from deep within them; a joy that was irrepressible and easily overcame cultural differences, language differences, and especially socioeconomic differences; a joy that seemed to come from a conscious choice each morning to follow Jesus by living out His commandments to love God and everyone else.

Another lesson for me was that I need to pray for the enlightenment to recognize when I should stop plodding along as a “Martha”, and spend more time as a “Mary”, as Jesus points out in verses 41 and 42. Sometimes our love for Jesus (and others) requires only that we be present. A third lesson follows this second one close behind. In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus to the elders in the church at Ephesus stating, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Sometimes for me, giving is much easier than receiving. Along with my prayers to become more of a “Mary”, I also need to pray for the humility to become a better “receiver”, for it is in being a gracious receiver that we allow others to give.

Yes, maybe we were able to help the villagers in Xoy with purified water for their bodies, but I want to thank the members of Iglesia el Divino Salvador for being such good examples of the One who is Living Water for our souls. Gracias!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Malchus and the Terrible Earache

Malchus lived in Jerusalem.  He was a servant in the temple.  His boss was Caiaphas, the high priest.  We really don't know much about Malchus.  In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke don't even mention his name, so we're left to our imagination.  I imagine that Malchus did many of the same things that our temple servant, Michael does – clean up the sanctuary after worship, set up and take down tables for family dinners, change light bulbs, and clean bathrooms.  I expect that Malchus liked his job and was on a first name basis with the rabbis, priests, and scribes who frequented the temple.

It was Passover, 33 AD.  The Feast of the Passover was a festive time in Jerusalem.  Jews had come from all around to celebrate God's deliverance from Pharaoh and Egypt.  Itinerant rabbis from everywhere were rolling in to give lectures on the scriptures.  Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth turned rabbi had also come.  He had ridden into town on the back of a donkey while a large crowd yelled "Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"  As soon as he got into town, he closed down the farmers' market in the temple and began to speak in parables about a Kingdom that is not of this world, a Kingdom ruled by his Father.  He was calling Himself the Son of God and the Son of Man.  He not only knew the scriptures, but knew how to interpret them and make them come to life.  None of these things made the Sadducees and Pharisees any too happy, and so they plotted with Caiaphas to have Jesus killed.  They made a deal with one of his disciples to give him up on the night following the Passover meal.

That's where Malchus comes in.  He was doing his chores in the temple when he overheard the plans to arrest Jesus.  He sent a text message to some of his relatives about what was going down, and they decided to follow the crowd to Gethsemane that night.  It was dark with the only light coming from a few torches.  Malchus was standing on the outside of the crowd when Judas kissed Jesus to give him up.  The crowd seized Jesus, and the next thing Malchus felt was a burning pain in his right ear.  Peter had sliced his ear off with a sword.  Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, and then kneeled and put his hand over the side of Malchus' head that was now gushing blood.  The bleeding stopped and Malchus' ear was restored.  I suspect that it was meant for Peter to have poor aim, since if he had been a few inches to the left he would have cleaved Malchus' head and that restoration would have been much more dramatic.  So dramatic in fact, that I doubt that any of the crowd would have hung around to arrest Jesus.

That's about all we know about Malchus, except that one of his relatives who was in the garden recognized Peter later that night and caused him to deny Jesus the third time.  I suspect that Malchus followed the proceedings on Friday to the court of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  Pilate tried his best to release Jesus, but the crowd would have none of that.  When asked who should be released from prison, as was customary during the Passover, the crowd yelled "Give us Barabbas."  Barabbas was a revolutionary like Jesus, but one who revolted against the Roman rule and not the Jewish elders.  I have to believe that Malchus was standing in the back of that crowd too, but was quietly saying "Give me Jesus!"

My prayer for each of us at FPC is that on this upcoming Good Friday we, along with the Church universal, will stand, and with one voice proclaim, "Give us Jesus!" and then will go out and show that we mean it by our actions.

Hear! Hear!

A Labor of Love

To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."  To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  Genesis 3:16-17

My job requires me to do pre-employment  physical examinations for local employers (pre-placement exams if you know about the Americans with Disabilities Act).  A few days ago, I was looking over an applicant's exam form when my eye caught his occupation – "laborer".  It caused me to pause and think - you know, truth be known, we are all laborers.  Whether we clean septic tanks, oversee multibillion dollar organizations, or chase protons around the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, "through painful toil, we eat food from the ground."

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a laborer.  He made furniture for the people of Nazareth.  For at least 15 years Jesus labored as a furniture maker himself, before setting out as an itinerant rabbi.  Jesus' first disciples were also laborers.  Most of them were fisherman, drawing their livelihoods, not from the cursed ground, but from the Sea of Galilee.

Because of Eve, childbirth also generally follows a course of painful labor.  The process of natural human childbirth is hard work, and not without its share of discomfort.  Most moms, however, quickly forget the pain and hard work (at least within a few years).

Even dying can require labor.  I've had the opportunity to be present at the deaths of several patients and family members.  The final hours of the natural dying process with the changes in respiration and circulation often represent the final labor of the dying person.  This is no more evident than in the crucifixion death of Jesus, where His body labored to end the pain.

So, labor is always with us – at birth, during life, and often at death.  We are indeed all laborers.  Advent, however, is when we celebrate the labor of a teenage girl in a stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  We thank you Mary for your labor of love.

May the peace of that Baby in a manger, the fruit of Mary's labor, be with you this Christmas.  Rest from your own labor.  Celebrate Emmanuel!


 "This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."  Hebrews 8:10-12  NIV

God says in the New Covenant through Jesus that He will remember our sins no more.  You know, that strikes me as somewhat of a miracle.  Here we have our God who knows everything about us ...past, present, and future...saying that, if we but accept His New Covenant in Jesus, He'll not only forgive us but will totally wipe our slates clean and FORGET all of our sins.

September 21st is World Alzheimer's Day.  My Dad died from this terrible disease, and God has allowed me to care for several others with various forms of dementia, most commonly Alzheimer's. I've seen first hand the heartbreak it brings to families.  Nancy Reagan was right.  It truly is "the long goodbye."  I had the opportunity a few years ago to speak to a group of residents at one of our local nursing homes.  The words seem to be appropriate this week as we pray for a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, and for peace among those who care for their loved ones.

"I have been amazed for some time now by the miracle of the human brain.  Each of us uses only a small portion of the available nerve cells in our brains.  Our brains control the involuntary aspects of our lives, like breathing and blood circulation, as well as the voluntary aspects of our lives, like our senses, our thought processes, and our memories.  Our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch keep us in tune with what's going on around us, and they also provide the input for what goes in to
our memory banks.

As we age, we sometimes lose what scientists call our short-term memories, like where we park our car in the Walmart parking lot, what we may have eaten at our last meal, or the name of someone right after he introduces himself.  Scientists have found that situations to which our senses are subjected repeatedly, or those which may have more of a lasting impact even after a single exposure, tend to go into our long-term memory banks.  Sometimes we affectionately refer to these deeper, long-term memories as being locked away in our hearts.  My short-term memory is certainly not what it was 20 years ago.  The good news is that we still keep wonderful memories locked away in our hearts – our deep, long-term memory banks.

Who can forget all the wonderful sensations that our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands have brought to us over the years.  Who can ever forget seeing a mountain or an ocean for the first time?  Who can forget the face of your wife or husband on your wedding day?  Do you remember seeing your children immediately after their births?

Can you remember falling asleep as you hear the rain falling on the roof or outside an open window?  Can you remember the voice of your mother or father calling you to supper?  Do you remember the silence of a snowfall?  Do you still hear the giggling of your brothers and sisters as you all tried to go to sleep on Christmas Eve night?  Can you remember the words of one or more of your school teachers or Sunday school teachers?

Do you remember the smells in your grandmother's kitchen on Sunday at noon when everybody gathered for dinner?  Who can forget the smell of freshly cut grass, or a fragrant rose, or the air after a spring rain? Do you remember the smell of wood smoke or coal smoke in a fireplace on a cold winter night?

Can you remember the taste of hand-cranked, homemade ice cream?  How about the taste of warm, homemade bread right out of your mother's oven?  Who can forget the taste of grandmother's fried chicken, or watermelon in the back yard, or cotton candy at the county fair?

Do you remember the touch of your mother's hand when you were ill, or your father's strong hand on your shoulder when you were learning to ride a bicycle?  Can you feel the warmth of a handmade quilt on a cold January evening?  Can you still feel falling snowflakes on your tongue or a warm bath after a hard day's work?  Will you ever forget the touch of your husband or wife as you walked hand in hand at the end of the day?  Can you still feel the cold, wet nose of your dog as he tried to snuggle under your arm?  Do you remember feeling the waters of your baptism?

You see, I believe that God wants us to keep these memories so that we'll know a little about heaven before we get there.  That's why He makes sure that we store them in the deepest, most secure areas of our brains.  He is especially kind in allowing us to continue to see in our mind's eye the faces of the dear ones with whom we have shared these memories so that when we see them again in heaven we will not forget them or the pleasant memories associated with them.

God also uses our senses to produce memories that remind us of His presence in our lives.  In September 1996 our daughter Jennie was involved in a serious automobile accident.  I can still hear the voice on the other end of the telephone as clearly as it was on that morning at 2:00 am, "Do you have a daughter named Jennie?  She has been involved in a serious automobile accident."  I can remember the voice of my wife as she prayed aloud in the car on the way to the scene.  I can remember the flashing lights of the emergency equipment, ambulances, and helicopter.  I can remember the smell of the diesel fuel from the vehicles.  Most of all, I remember the voice of my daughter after she was extricated from the small truck in which two of her friends and she had been riding, "Daddy, I'm sorry," she said.  I held her hand for a few seconds and then I knew that God was going to take care of her.  After two major surgeries and a lot of rehabilitation, fractures of Jennie's pelvis, hip, leg and forearm began to heal.  She now leads a normal life as a mother of three great kids.

I think that God allows me to hold on to the memories of this accident as a daily reminder of His presence and power in my life.  He seems to know which images I need to store in long-term memory and which are OK left in short-term memory where they may get lost.

So is it really important to remember what we had for breakfast this morning or what we had for dinner last evening?  I think not.  The memories that are really important are locked away in our hearts – our long-term memory banks.  The next time that you can't remember where you put your glasses or your sweater, remember that our God is also forgetful.  Through His Son Jesus, He is able to forget all of our sins."


"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  Proverbs 3:5

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything here on the site, and I suspect that some of you had hoped that maybe I had moved on.  Not so.  I'm back.  Actually, I took a week off from work last month.  My wife and one of my daughters decided that I needed to go on a Western Caribbean cruise.  Ordinarily, if I take a week off, I generally like to finish up some projects at home or go to a warm beach somewhere with internet access.  I like to dabble in writing code for Linux and to play with AutoCad and Adobe software. 

Well, cruise ships generally have internet access, but it's expensive for any significant band width.  So, I was left with sitting on the deck watching the Gulf of Mexico go by, long talks with my wife (not so bad), and reading.  Now, I have never been one who reads for pleasure, unlike the rest of my family.  But during this one week, I read four books - more than I had read in one summer since the summer reading contests at the Hopkins County Library when I was at Pride Avenue Elementary school.  I read A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Jesus Wants to Save Christians and Love Wins by Rob Bell, and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.  I can honestly say that I would recommend all four. Of course, you need a curious but open mind to appreciate any of them, especially the Stephen Hawking book about cosmology for dummies.

Love Wins has created quite a stir on the Christian blog sites since even before it was released.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book because Bell openly and scripturally discusses many of the topics that a lot of us more conservative folks have been hesitant to bring out of the closet.  More than anything, the book focuses on a God who cannot be put in a box, who loves us more than we can imagine, and who will stop at nothing to have a loving relationship with everyone who has ever lived and who will ever live in the future.

Love Wins, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Crazy Love are all about the ministry of Jesus and His commandments to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors (friends and enemies) as ourselves.  Often times, nonChristians seem to do a better job of loving neighbors than we who are believers.  The books are also about the Kingdom of God being here and now.

As I reflected on the message of each book, I decided that the lesson of the week for me was "trust" - trust in a God whose very nature is love and who was there at the beginning of time, no matter what exactly happened next; and trust in His son, Jesus, who taught us how to live and to care for one another.  Oh yeah, He also took on the sins of all those who came before Him and those of us who have come since.  He was put to death by "religious" people like us, whom He loved dearly.  He walked out of the tomb, having reconciled all people back into the relationship that God had intended, and lives with us still through His Holy Spirit.

I also learned to trust that a 17 story floating hotel will neither roll over nor sink, that (2) 23,000 horsepower propulsion systems are enough if one breaks down, that there are no Somali pirates near the Cayman Islands, and that the nice fellow from Mumbai who serves the scrambled eggs does not have Norwalk virus.

ps.  Speaking of God's love, you may want to check out this post by David Ewart, "What Does God Do with a Dead Terrorist?" 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."  Matthew 11:25 NIV

“Kids Say the Darndest Things” was an important segment of the Art Linkletter House Party on radio and television from 1945 until 1970.  Bill Cosby hosted a TV show by the same name from 1998 until 2000.  Both men exploited the innocence and lack of inhibition of 4 to 7 year old children to coax some really funny comments.  My wife taught preschool for several years.  She used to keep a journal of funny comments, although she never had to encourage any of them.  During the final program for parents at the end of the school year she would share some of those comments.  One that I’ve never forgotten was when Lillie Ann invited A.J. to go to McDonald’s for lunch because her dad had “catched him a job.”

I’ve heard that grandchildren are the reward for not killing your own kids.  We now have eight rewards and I love them all.  A couple of years ago I was sitting in the stands during one of Jack’s first T-ball practices.  He fouled off one pitch straight up in the air. When it came down it struck him on the top of his batting helmet.  His only comment was, “Hmmm. I guess that’s why they make you wear these hats.”  Not long after that he was in church participating in the Junior Sermon.  The youth leader asked the group, “What do you have to do to get into Heaven?”  Jack raised his hand and when called upon stated, “Well, of course, first you have to die.”  As you can imagine, all the “concrete-thinking” adults in the worship service that day thought that was pretty funny…but wasn’t that just what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."  We must die to our old self-centered ways and be reborn of water and the Spirit.

Earlier this year Ella and her mom were getting ready for bed and talking about what they needed to pray for.  After going through an extensive list, Jennie suggested that they should pray to have Jesus live in their hearts.  Ella responded, “Mom, if Jesus were to live in my heart, He would stick out all over.”  Jennie assured her that “sticking out all over” is exactly what Jesus wants to do.  After all, didn’t He say “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if I stick out all over (actually, if you love one another).”  John 13:35 NIV

Kids do say the darndest things, but listen carefully.  What sounds like a “concrete thought” may end up carrying an abstract message.  Remember the words of Jesus, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Anyone want to teach the preschool Sunday School class this summer?

Springtime in Kentucky

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.  1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV

“What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding;
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming.
That's how it is with God's love;
Once you've experienced it, you want to sing, "It's fresh like spring";
You want to pass it on.”  Kurt Kaiser, 1969

Don’t you love the beauty of the Kentucky springtime?  It’s almost as if God has taken the drab canvas of winter and splattered it with a million colors.  First the crocus, forsythia, and pear trees; then the redbuds, jonquils, and dogwoods; and now the azaleas, tulips, irises, roses, and hundreds of other flowers.

My wife loves to play in the dirt, especially when it comes to caring for flowers and shrubs.  Over the years she has learned which plants need more shade and which ones need more sun; which ones need more water and which ones don’t need soaking; which ones need more acid soil and which ones do better when the pH is higher; and on and on.  She has also learned which ones need pruning or dividing in order to live and grow.

The new growth and colors in the spring remind me of the rebirth that we Christians should pray for daily.  Each day we need the Holy Spirit to trim away more of our self-centeredness in order for us to become more Christ-centered.  This is the process of Sanctification of which Peter spoke – dying a bit more each day to self in order to be reborn more Christlike.  It’s the process of maturing as a Christian.  Through our practices of prayer, study, worship, and Christian action the Holy Spirit is able to prune, shape, and mold us into the image of Jesus.  Of course, we’ll never get there in this life, but we’re called to walk the path.

This process of pruning to become more Christlike is obviously not pain free, but necessary if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.  So as we enjoy the beautiful Kentucky springtime, let it remind us that we too are to be reborn, not only each spring, but each and every day a little more in the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Pass it on.

A Taste of Easter

Have the long winter and the cold March rains put a damper on your Lenten excitement?  If so, try a dose of this little tune about Mary's first Easter morning written by Gloria Gaither and performed by Sandi Patty and Louisville's own Larnelle Harris.  The video is from a Gaither Homecoming at the Kennedy Center in 1999.  If you're still not excited about Easter after you listen to this, you'd better check your pulse.  The late Vestal and Howard Goodman seemed to enjoy it.