Friday, May 31, 2013

The Lurking Cookie Monster

It was a story of local interest with the outcome that touched hearts everywhere. A terrible mistake was made which could have devastated a group of Girl Scouts.  There was no intentional harm; it was an honest mistake. 

Everyone loves the time of year in which Girl Scout Cookies are sold. A lot of us get into friendly arguments annually over which kind of the cookies are best. This year was no different. It appears the Thin Mints and the Samoas are the favorites of most. You can see the girls with tables loaded with cookies for sale at the mall, the grocery store, and even the flea markets.

The thing that was different this year was in the ordering of cookies for one particular Girl Scout group. The adult leader in charge of the order had intended to order 500 boxes, but mistakenly ordered 500 cases.  If you are not familiar with the proceedings of paying for the cookies, the supplier gives the group a designated time in which to sell and pay for the cookies, and if that deadline isn't met, a collection agency gets involved.

Frantic mothers were helping the girls sell all the cookies as the June 3 due date on the bill approached, but was no chance. Even the girls that won the contest of selling the most cookies from year to year couldn't sell enough to make up the difference. The bill collector was ready to start knocking on the door. 

The news around town today was about an anonymous cookie buyer who wrote a huge check to buy all the remaining inventory of the cookies. At the cost of over $2,000 this unknown person picked up the tab and relieved the worries of the group. The cookies were then donated to a local food bank.

There are lots of good people in our world, and today a group of local Girl Scouts are praising the actions of one who wants nor expects praise......the person that bailed them out.  All is well and the girls, along with an entire community has learned what it means to be a good neighbor.

Do you have a neighbor in trouble?  Have you recently known of a problem situation needing help and thought, "I don't want to get involved."  And exactly who is my neighbor?

Jesus answered the same question when it was asked by "an expert in the law."  That answer is given to us, too, in Luke 10:30-35.  Read that story today and then pledge to be a neighbor to someone this weekend.  It will make a difference for your neighbor and even a larger difference in you. 


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being a Blessing and Receiving a Blessing

I read a story today about a medical missionary that was working in an African clinic in the 1030's. He worked primarily with patients suffering from leprosy.  I confess to not knowing very much about the disease, other than to say I have seen pictures of leprosy sufferers, and know the disease to be extremely painful, resulting in the deformity of the body. Fingers and toes were usually the first to go, and there were some with deformed faces and limbs.

In Bible times leprosy was a dreaded disease and those infected were sent to colonies of other lepers, where they simply awaited death. We also know if someone without the disease came close to a leper, the leper was required to give a warning so contact would be avoided. 

In the story I was reading, the missionary told of the morning moments when they would conduct a brief worship service with the lepers. They would sing a few hymns, read some scripture, then close with a time of prayer which sometimes involved even the lepers leading the prayers. 

The victims of the disease grew to love the words of one song and it was the song they sang daily after their prayer time. It was the song they chose because it added some "pep" to their spirits as they departed from each day's worship.  The missionary further explained there were some whose disease had attacked their throats and vocal chords to the point their singing was "tuneless," but they insisted on singing the song every day. 

Here are some of the words.
"I've reached the land of corn and wine, with all its riches freely mine;   
 Here shines undimmed one blissful day, For all my night has passed away.

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land, As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea, Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore, My Heav’n, my home forever more!"

It happened for this medical missionary just like it usually happens to everyone.  They entered a place which inhabited by the hurting, suffering and dying, in an attempt to show them God's love through the dedication of caring Christians.  Instead, the missionaries received the greater blessing. In spite of the disease, in spite of all the hurting, these people knew and experienced the presence of God and knew their real home was in heaven. 

In Psalms 137, mention is made of those in Babylonian captivity who were in no mood to sing praises until their captors (that's right, their captors) begged them, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Praise God for the opportunity to be a blessing to others.  Praise God when others become a blessing to us.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Everything in a Frenzy

Follow this scenario.  You get a call from City Hall.  The mayor is coming to your house to give you an award for having the most beautiful yard in town. Spring rains have helped in keeping things green. Colorful flowers are blooming. The yard man has just finished his weekly trim on the grass and shrubs.  Everything looks beautiful but that phone call has put you into a sudden frenzy. 

Your mind is racing about things that need to be done before the mayor's arrival.  Perhaps the front porch needs swept. The garbage cans are still out by the curb. Your car in the driveway hasn't been washed in a couple of weeks. There is so much to do so you get the rest of the family to join your frenzy by delegating tasks that must be done before the special guest gets there. Suddenly your house is a bee hive of activity because you want everything to be perfect. 

Then you think of the sweat pants and tank top you are wearing. You can't have your picture taken on the award-winning lawn in clothes like that. And your hair! Sure you ran a brush through it this morning but when a dignitary like the mayor comes to your house, you want to look at least as nice as your lawn. 

All this thinking is climaxed by your wondering if you should serve refreshments.  Is there something you can "throw together" fast enough to pass for dignitary entertainment?

This reminds me of a story Jesus told about visiting in the home of sisters named Mary and Martha.  Look at Luke 10:38-42. Make no mistake about it. If you knew Jesus was coming to see you at your home, wouldn't there be some work to be done before his arrival?

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Are there things that put us in a frenzy and cause us to miss important opportunities?  Mary was a hostess that welcomed Jesus into her home and "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said." Martha, likewise was a hostess that was so distracted with the preparations for the Lord's visit, she spent the time Jesus was in her presence "worried and upset."

What things are priority in your life that prevent you from spending quality time with the Lord? We choose what is better when we invite Jesus into our lives, our homes, our schools and our businesses, when we make him the priority. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summertime is Here

Welcome to Summer! Now that school is winding down and the public pools are opening and the temperatures are rising, everyone knows summer is finally here. It's a time of enjoying outdoor activities which cannot take place in the cold months of winter. Vacation time is among the thoughts of planning for the family. Everyone seems to be smiling more!

Today I was thinking of the usual things that happen in summer, especially for the local church. With more traveling and more activities happening, lots of churches are entering the time which happens every year called, "The Summer Slump."  This can usually be seen with smaller crowds in attendance, lower numbers in Bible classes, and even a noticeable decline in the collection plates.

It is not my intent to dwell on the negatives of summer, rather to see if we can become strengthened spiritually through a more concentrated effort to be the people of God. Nothing I am going to suggest is centralized on summer. If its focus is on anything, it's on the reminders that being Christian is more than what we experience in the worship assembly, it's who we are every minute of every day. 

Here are some thing I would like to suggest to help us individually and as a body of believers to overcome the negatives of summer slump, winter slump, or anytime slump!

1. The personal commitment of every member to continue with the effort of growing and maturing as a disciple of Jesus. Pledge yourself to become closer to the likeness of Jesus in your speech, you actions, and especially in supporting the activities of the local church. 

2. Grow in times of personal prayer, personal Bible study, and examine the things in your life which need to be strengthened or even changed.  If we are going to wear the name of Jesus Christ, then we should always desire to be an active part of his spiritual family. 

3. Establish in your life the personal task of sharing Jesus with someone who doesn't know him. We are still under the commands of the Great Commission, and every one of us can become instrumental in leading someone to the Savior who is everything to us. 

4. As a local church, summertime is a wonderful time for our leaders to cultivate and develop the talents and gifts of our members. It is amazing how many will become more active, more energetic, and more determined to be useful of the Kingdom. They need the encouragement of leadership, and the chance to be using their gifts and becoming an instrument of God. 

I have started the list with these four suggestions. Perhaps you can think of others for your local church which will not only build it to be stronger in the faith, but will help everyone to "let our light shine before men that they may see our good works, and give glory to the Father in heaven. "


Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day of Memory

Today is Memorial Day. It's a day when we remember. The remembering is to be in honor of all those who have lost their lives while serving our country. Our nation has a long and rich heritage of freedom and we know how expensive freedom can be with lost lives, permanent injuries, mental difficulties, and countless other maladies that plague war survivors. 

The freedom we share with each American is a freedom bought and paid for with the life blood of those dedicated to serve.  It's hard to explain how something like an enjoyable freedom is so closely related to a day of memories which brings sadness and tears. It's the difficulty in explaining that makes the day so special. We come to realize that many of our friends and relatives put their lives on the line because they believed in and continually sought to protect a free America. Some never made it home to experience the fullness of the freedom for which they fought.  So we remember..........

Those of us who are Christians know this freedom we have is similar in lots of ways to the spiritual freedom that is ours because we are God's children. The Christmas story of Jesus' birth and the Easter story of his death, burial and resurrection, bring us to an understanding that someone died so we could be free.  We remember and honor Jesus for giving his life when we worship, commune, and even share his message with others. 

Probably, none of those who have been killed in battles protecting America would ever want their deaths to be likened to the death of Jesus. We all know the sacrifice of Jesus brought eternal results which are manifest in a life of loving service to God and man.

The place where I make the parallel between the death of our military personnel and the death of Jesus is summed up in one word......dedication. The Bible says Jesus "gave his life as a ransom for many."  I thank God that Jesus was dedicated to give his life for me. If Jesus had not died for us, we would have no hope, no assurance of eternal life. 

The dedication of our American service people is also something for which I am thankful to God. They are dedicated to the cause of protecting us from harm, defending the Constitution of our country, and ensuring our citizens can live free.

Do not ever fail in thanking God for who you can become because of the death of Jesus.  And do not ever fail to thank God for those who have given their lives for your freedom. Today we remember them with a national holiday; a pause in our routine for reflection and renewed dedication. Make it a special day by also praying to God your words of thanksgiving for their dedication, and for the freedom you experience every day. Keeping America free is the proof that none of them died in vain. 


Friday, May 24, 2013

Prayer changes things

Do you remember Hezekiah from the Old Testament? He was the 13th king of Judah and reigned somewhere around 700+ years before the birth of Christ. As far as I can tell, Hezekiah was a pretty good king and his reign brought forth numerous religious reforms. He worked hard to bring an end to the worship of other gods, and to restore allegiance to the one true God. 

2 Kings 20 tells the story of Hezekiah becoming gravely ill and describes his as being near death. The prophet Isaiah came to him and gave him the news, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

 We would be safe in assuming that was not good news for Hezekiah. After all, a prophet had delivered God's decree to him, telling him he was going to die. The Bible tells us Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall and began to pray.  In his prayer, he mentions his faithfulness to God and recounts his devotion to doing only those things that were right in God's eyes. Hezekiah kept praying and weeping.

God's prophet, Isaiah, had already left but had not gotten very far before God sent him back to Hezekiah with these words. "This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

Hezekiah's prayer had touched the heart of God and instead of hearing the echo of a message of death, he was now hearing that God was going to heal him. Not only that, God also promised to add 15 years to his life and deliver Hezekiah and his people from the hand of the king of Assyria. 

I remember seeing a movie which showed the flashing neon sign on the front of an old run-down church building, "Prayer Changes Things."  It sure changed some things for Hezekiah. It brought him healing, a longer life and deliverance. 

Do we have the confidence that our prayers, according to the will of God, can bring us healing and life and deliverance?  If we focus on faithfulness and devote ourselves to doing things which are right in God's eyes, I think we can have that confidence. 

Our study this week on prayer, specifically intercessory prayer, has taught us of God's willingness to hear and answer when we pray. In Hezekiah's story where he prayed for himself, or in our praying for God to bless the lives of others, God's love for us is seen in the infinite God listening to finite man, and answering his prayers. 

Prayer does change things, and an improvement in our prayer lives will show that to be true. My prayer is that God will bless and strengthen you as you grow closer to Him.