Monday, March 27, 2017

GRACIE'S HAIR




My wife helps teach in our church’s preschool in the class for 4 year old children. She loves it and is
always being surprised by the observations the children make. Little Gracie is in the class, and Gracie is always easy to spot because she has a beautiful head of red hair.

This last week the children were sitting in a row watching an activity going on. My wife was sitting behind the children and over heard when a little 4 year old boy leaned over to Gracie and ask, “Do you dye your hair?” Gracie turned to him and said, “No, it’s all my own.”
 
The question is; what prompted the little guy to ask the question? Obviously, Gracie’s hair is different from most of the other kids. It would seem likely though that he knows someone who dyes their hair.

Often in our world today it’s hard to know what is real and what is not real. People do a great job of disguising things as well as themselves. Most of the time only the outside is changed, which only disguises what lies underneath. Obviously many people do this, that’s why “plastic” surgeons make a good living. That’s why cosmetic companies thrive and clothing companies work hard to design the latest trendy clothing. We want to look good and feel good about ourselves.

Sometimes we wonder what is real and what is not in the religious world, don’t we? There are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of churches, (religious belief’s) in our world. How can we know what is real and what is not. Most everybody in our county knows about Jim Jones and his “church”. They know the meaning of the phrase, “drinking the cool aid” also. Jim Jones was the church leader who convinced 918 of his followers to drink cool aid with cyanide in it and kill themselves. We think about that and wonder, “How could they not realize this was not God’s message for His church today?” “How could they not know this was not real?”

If you look at the person next to you, can you tell if they dye their hair? It’s a silly question I know, but unless it is a really bad dye job, you may not be able to tell. However if you worked with hair on a daily basis you most probably could tell immediately what is real or what was not.

There is a way to discover the truth though isn’t there… by study, by exposure, but being instructed. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In John 17:17 we read, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth,” (NIV) “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth”. (NLT) You see, if you spend enough time with God’s Word, you will be able to recognize what is real and what is not.

As you look at your life, is it real or is it fake? Do you dye your spiritual life (change it on the outside) to make it look good to others, or is it really you? Are you drinking the cool aid, just because someone gives it too you, or are you able to tell what is real?

The Gift



I’ve written a couple of times about our new rescued dog, Cassie, but something I don’t think I have mentioned is that she was a gift to my wife. Our little dog Chewy died this past summer and my wife has been grieving every since. Actually, until we got our new furry kid I didn’t realize how much I missed her too. Anyway, the search for a new dog began as a search for a special dog for my wife for Valentines day. We got her a few days late, but the name which was chosen for her is “Cassie Valentine”.
 
You probably have heard the saying which goes, “it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” well that’s Cassie. She has bonded with both of us, but especially my wife as she is with her so much more. My wife can’t leave the room without a little black shadow following her. She gets so excited when we give her canned dog food that she prances around, rolls on her back and wags all over, (the dog, not my wife). She returns the blessing of love, maybe because she understands the gift she has been given and remembers what it was like not to have those who loved her and cared for her.

Our grandaughter has also received a gift through this little fur ball. She has “suggested” for the past six months that “you guys REALLY need a new dog”. What she was really saying is that she wanted us to get a dog that she could play with. However, blessings sometimes bless us in unexpected ways. Our 9 year old grandaughter has begun hand sewing cloths for the dog. She has made her a coat and Shaw and a neckerchief. They really look cute and she is proud of her ability to make these little gifts for the dog. Gifts can be blessings which fill our needs, gives us something we can’t give ourselves, or even that which causes us to share with others.

From another aspect though which we understand is that this gift comes with responsibility. Dog’s take care; they take time, and there is some expense with having a dog. That’s not unlike the gift of being a Christian is it? Someone reminded me again, that Dog spelled backwards is GOD, maybe that’s not an accident that it’s that way.

I like this modern translation of Ephesians 2:8 that tells us, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Often in the New Testament we read of the reaction of those who come into contact with Jesus. They rejoiced, gave thanks and went and told others what Jesus has done for them, because the gift he has given them.

How are you doing with that? In Matthew 28:119-20 we read of Jesus saying,Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” You see, this is our response to the gift! It is the gift that keeps on giving and one for which we must keep on rejoicing.

SECOND HAND DOGS



You may or may not have read the article I wrote about our family rescuing an older dog from the local animal shelter. Some might call her a “Second Hand Dog,” but that’s OK, we love things that have seen a little wear and tear, maybe has some of the ‘new’ rubbed off. We did adopt her and she is fitting in just fine with just minor adjustments as she figures out this new home and strange people in her life.

We had to take her to the Veterinarian this week as she had developed a cough. They warned us at the shelter this might happen; I guess kennel cough is a common problem where there are large groups of dogs. She is on antibiotics and has almost stopped coughing completely now.

The Vet said something that made an impression on me during the exam. As many of us do when we go to the doctor we experience what they call “White coat” anxiety. Our heart rate goes up; our blood pressure goes up, etc. After examining her, the vet said, “I can see that she has chosen you for her family?” I was confused by that statement, but the Vet continued: “When I began the exam her, heart rate was high, she was afraid. You came over and began to pet her and talk to her and as I listened her heart rate dropped. I knew she had chosen to trust you and accept you.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that is such a cool thing to be trusted and accepted as someone’s protector (even if it is a dog). It’s great to be chosen as a protector, but what about the ones who choose to protect and love us. We have come to love that little furry one, protect her and provide for her. She gives us back something which is without price, her love.

Isn’t that just like our God and our relationship? He chooses us doesn’t he? Paul writes in Colossians 3:12, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” How do we respond to our God who has chosen us? The apostle Peter adds in 1 Peter 1:5, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.

I pray that you may be granted the peace, comfort and trust that our little dog finds in us in your relationship with our God.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

OLD AND UNWANTED




I’m getting to the age where many of the “young” people refer to me as “old”. That’s OK with me, I really don’t care, I figure that the gray hair is a mark of the many adventures we have had in this life. The problem with getting older is that your body can no longer keep up with what your mind thinks it can do!

I’m much luckier than many people in this world, because even though I am “more mature” in age, I am also loved by those important to me. Now the reason I am thinking about this is because our family status just changed. You see, about 8 months ago our little “furry kid”, (our dog), who had been with us for almost 16 years died. After struggling with the decision we went to the local Animal Shelter and found a little dog and rescued her.

Now what makes her special is that she was picked up as a stray and no one came to claim her. She was scruffy or scraggly looking with matted hair and quite a bit undernourished (you can easily feel her bones through her skin). The Shelter staff estimate her age to be about 12 year old, which makes it harder to find folks who are willing to adopt her. She was in the “OAU” category (old and unwanted). You see everyone wants a cute little puppy, but an older dog with just a few years left is another story. The bottom line was that if the Shelter didn’t find someone to adopt her they would euthanize (or kill) her.

From the first time I saw her picture (scruffiness and all) I wanted her. I saw a scared little dog who didn’t understand what was happening and was completely at the mercy of people. Being older ourselves and having had two small dogs in the past who lived to be near 16 we understand somewhat the limitations of age. We wanted to love her and give her the best (last) years that we can. We called everyday until they put her up for adoption because we surely didn’t what the alternative to happen. That morning my wife was there when the doors opened, and now she is ours.

It seems that our society has also lost some very important values and one of them is honoring older folks. Our younger generation for the most part worships youth and rejects the concept that those who are older just might have something important to contribute, something as important as love and acceptance. Our “old dog,” is already finding her way into our hearts. She was so over joyed to come home with us that she runs around like a puppy and climbs in our laps and cuddles up and exudes love. My wife said it seemed a little strange that she should adapt so quickly. I replied, “Maybe she knows the fate that awaited her before we came along,” probably not, but we knew and we acted because of that.

Now looking at the spiritual application a bunch of scripture comes to mind as it relates to this. The scriptures tell us, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” and that “he was not willing that any of us should perish but all come to salvation”. You see, we may be older, we may be a bit scruffy looking too, but not to God. God understood the fate that awaits those, who like that little dog, lost and alone in a big world will suffer. He determined that he would go to any extreme to rescue us and he did. He died for us that we can live eternally in the arms of a loving master. Are you there yet?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

TELL US NICE THINGS





One of the Elders in our church, Bob, shared some thoughts with us the other evening. One of the scriptures he mentioned struck a cord with me. It is several thousand years old, but it speaks clearly to our society. We live in a world where far too many have dismissed the idea of moral or ethical values or constraints.

We live in a world where more and more people feel they have “A RIGHT” to do or say whatever they want, whatever feels good to them without restraint. They teach, “Have sex with whoever you want, we’ve made abortion clinics available for everyone”. “Have homosexual relations, we changed the laws and it’s legal now”. “Cheat just a little on your taxes, or anywhere you can, it won’t really matter.” “Speak your mind, as crudely and as loudly as you want, no one can stop you”. “Participate in all of the worldly things you want… drink just a little, gamble just a little, party just a little… it’s your right!”

The problem is that the world has tried this before, (more than once), and it always has the same results. Notice what God says about this through his spokesman, Isaiah.

“Now go and write down these words. Write them in a book. They will stand until the end of time as a witness that these people are stubborn rebels who refuse to pay attention to the Lord’s instructions. They tell the seers, "Stop seeing visions!" They tell God’s spokesmen: "Don't tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Forget all this gloom. Get off your narrow path. Stop telling us about your 'Holy One of Israel.'" 

Notice how God responds to this line of reasoning: This is the reply of the Holy One of Israel, Jehovah God: "Because you despise what I tell you and trust instead in oppression and lies, calamity will come upon you suddenly; like a bulging wall that bursts and falls. In an instant it will collapse and come crashing down. You will be smashed like a piece of pottery; shattered so completely that there won't be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well." (Isaiah 30:8-14).

I’m convinced that the reason some of the “Modern churches” are growing today is because they no longer speak for God. I visited a church awhile back and sadly I never heard the scriptures read or mentioned during the whole service. The preacher instead gave a book review of the latest motivational book. Tell us lies the people said, Tells us only nice things, Forget all this gloom. It’s surprising that so many “Church Leaders” are listening to people like that. It has become all about numbers and money, not the truth.

Let me suggest to you that just because the government approves of something doesn’t make it right. Just because something is now socially acceptable doesn’t make it right. If we don’t begin to follow God’s word, “The Holy One, Jehovah God’s” instructions for our lives we will eventually be broken into pieces just as he did to Israel. Could it be that you need to make a change, maybe take a stand for what is right in God’s sight?

Motivate Yourself





As I have become “more mature,” I have found that often I find home more inviting than something that is “not home,” especially on these cold winter days. I sometimes find it harder to motivate myself to get out of my warm comfortable space and do things, even if I know they need to be done. But of course if we don’t motivate ourselves then perhaps God will allow our motivation to come from somewhere else.

I’m reminded of an incident that happened when I was about 18 years old. I was helping build a house with my dad and others in one of the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. There was an old stray dog that showed up on the job site. He was really skittish and afraid to get too close to us, probably he had been mistreated by someone. Anyway, I kept trying to win his confidence and even shared some of my lunch with him. He finally seemed to become a little more trusting and even took some food from my hand. He backed off and sat down and then surprisingly he yelped loudly, jumped up and took off running. I was mystified until I went over and looked at where he had sat down. There was an electrical cord with two frayed wires just where he had sat down. He received an unexpected shock and a lot motivation to vacate the premises.

What is it that you know you should be doing and are not? I’m convinced that there are a great many people who don’t begin to use their talents or God given abilities. They are comfortable and don’t want to get out of that comfort zone. Sometimes we enjoy the comfort of hearing others teach, but perhaps we should be teaching ourselves. Isn’t the church always asking (sometimes begging) for those to help teach? What about serving? Do we ever really have enough people to do the many things that need to be done within our church family? That takes a lot of forms such as cooking, cleaning, visiting, sharing, comforting, encouraging just to name a few.

There is a parable told by Jesus meant to motivate us to do what we should be doing. It is about three men who are given talents (in this case money) and told to use them for their Lord. Two did, but one buried his and gained nothing for his master, (Matthew 25:14-30). In the end Jesus said, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (vs 29-30)

Let’s hope that God doesn’t have to give us this kind of “shocking” motivation to get us to use our talents. Don’t think you don’t have any, God gives them to us all, it’s up to you to discover them and develop them.

DEATH IS INCONVENIENT


It seems that our lives are constantly coming into contact with death and whenever they do it is never convenient. Plans that have been made suddenly cease, trips that have been planned suddenly seem unimportant. All of those things on your “to-do” list can wait a little longer while we focus upon this seeming tragedy in our lives.

Yes, I said, “seeming tragedy”. Death is always a loss, many times it is a surprise, but it is not always a tragic thing when it happens. You know that some folks are ready to face death; they have prepared themselves spiritually and are ready to go and be embraced by their God.

I have been involved in somewhere around 100 funerals in my preaching career, (and I realize that is not a lot compared to some ministers), but it is enough to learn some things about people. The simple truth is that unless it is an immediate family member, death is more of an inconvenience than anything. It disrupts their plans. It’s not that they are not truly concerned and sorrowful, but the truth is that often the ones involved in the death are soon forgotten. Simply because in life, there are goals to meet, plans to complete, things to do… death is inconvenient.

There is actually a record in the bible of someone who felt that way. In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus tells us about it: “And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'  "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'  "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."

I believe that the man in this story found death to be very inconvenient to say the least. He had his plans made, his future planned out, his retirement prepared and death intervened. What about you? If you knew that you would be facing death soon, would your priorities suddenly change? Would your lists and your plans really matter any more? I would think that for many things would change a great deal. We don’t like to be reminded of it, but death is a reality and it is the one thing we will never escape in life. All you can do is prepare in advance for that which is coming to you at sometime whether it is convenient or not. An old hymn asks, “Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready for the judgment day?” Are you?