Today’s Portion

We had a staff retreat today if you call it a retreat.  We go off the church campus so we can spend some uninterrupted time planning for the future.  It is a daunting task since you dealing with such finite minds.  Preparation pays off in the long run but it is not everything.  I am reminded of a verse in Exodus where Moses defines the provisions of God and men.

A day’s portion every day.  Exodus 16:4

It is said that the twenty-four hours should be divided thus: Eight hours for work, eight for rest, eight for recreation, food, etc. There should be a counterpart of this in Christian living. Each day there should be a portion for work, a portion for restful meditation and sitting before the Lord, and a portion for the gathering of God’s manna.

Each day brings its own work. – God has created us for good works, and has prepared our pathway, so that we may come to them one by one. He has apportioned to each one some office to fulfill, some service to render, some function in the spiritual body of our Lord. It is comforting to know that we have not to scheme for ourselves, but to look up for guidance into the Divine plan.  Even when you retreat.

Each day brings its own difficulties. – God spreads them over our days, giving each day only what we can sustain.  As F.B. Meyer put it long ago, "The servant might be startled were he told that he would have to carry the coals, which it has taken two horses and a great cart to bring to her master’s door; but she will be comforted by being reminded that they will be borne upstairs only a coal scuttle full at a time."  I wonder how many of you know what a coal scuttle is?  Email me if you do.

Each day brings its own supply. – No Israelite could point to his store of manna and congratulate himself that he was proof against any famine that might befall. The lesson of daily trust for daily bread was constantly being enforced; for as the day came the manna fell. Those who followed the cloud were always certain of their sustenance. Where the cloud brooded the manna fell. Whatever any day may bring there always will be within reach of you, lying ready prepared on the sands of the desert, just what you require. Go and collect it; there will be no lack.

Planning is of little value if I do not take care of today’s work.  My attention to duty increases my ability to dream and to grow. 

Michael

Chalk It Up

When things go bad, what do you chalk it up to?  Bad luck?  Satan’s attacks?  Do you ever chalk it up to God?  The book of Job gives us an insight to the spiritual world we would not have otherwise.  Here we find Satan engaged in a struggle with God and Job is the centerpiece.

The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself you may not lay a finger."  Job 1:12

Set aside the question of how Satan can even speak to God, this text is troubling.  On one hand it speaks of the limitations placed on the forces of evil.  They cannot run in reckless abandon but are constrained by God.  This gives comfort.  On the other hand God allows those forces access to us and that is no small thing.  We can see what  happens when Satan is not resisted.  Murder, mayhem and violence rule and we can suffer the consequences.

In a way, it like the economic markets.  There is great profit and so blessings to be made when everyone plays fair and wisdom is used in making decisions.  It is the greed and malice of a few who put everyone else in jeopardy.  Loan institutions who were irresponsible for a quick buck have left a whirlwind of foreclosures and bankruptcies on our doorsteps. 

It’s a catch 22.  We need the markets but we fear them.  They can bless us and they can hurt us.  But so can the rest of life.  Maybe that is the lesson of Job.  This is a dangerous world with forces acting on us that we do not understand.  Yet it is a wonderful world filled with so many good things and people if we will just look. 

And the miracle is that when evil forces play havoc then the wonderful people emerge.  In the midst of pain and suffering, we can find a strength and integrity we didn’t know lives within us.  The light is never brighter then on the darkest night.  Jesus is never know more than in those painful times.

So take life for what it is.  A struggle that can make you better or bitter.  It can bring out the best in you or the worst in you.  God will hold back the forces just enough to let you decide.  So whatever the news today, the choice is yours.  God has made His.  Satan has chosen.  The rest is up to you.

Keep Jim Bode in your prayers.  They are concerned about clots in the legs right now.  Ron is home and doing well.  Phil is slowly improving.  This is Holy Week so I pray you find the time to think upon Christ and find some peace in His presence.

Michael

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

I use it all the time at the graveside.  "The Lord has given.  The Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."  Job 1:21  I used it this past week.  It is an odd sounding statement.  It speaks of the blessings that the Lord gives to us and then the apparent decision of God to take those things away.  At first glance, God appears capricious.  He gives us things and then he takes them away.

How could Job then call for us to give a blessing to the Name of the Lord?  It is a good question because it is what I ask people to do all the time in the middle of their suffering.  I ask them to trust the Lord.  It is a hard thing to do when it seems God is allowing a lot of things to be taken away from you.

What we miss is that Job is giving a description of life and then the answer to it.  Life is a series of things gained and things lost.  It is successes and failures.  Good and bad.  Every mature adult understands that inevitability.  Job is not so much concerned with who we lay blame to as he is that we see the only thing consistent in the process.  It is the name and office of the Lord.  It is the person of Christ.

God doesn’t change.  He is as devoted to us when we enjoy success as when we suffer setbacks.  He is concerned with our spiritual condition and eternal future, not just seasonal successes and failures.  That is hard for us because we are seasonal people.  We live in the moment and too quickly forget all the blessings of God.  Sort of ‘What have you done for me lately, Lord’ attitude.

Job offers an approach to life that can sustain you in the worst of times.  (Job should know)  Job determined that everything would be used to bring honor to his Lord.  The good things.  The bad things.  He would not curse his God.  He would not take his life.  He would wait and trust and speak of God’s goodness. 

That is why you and I still talk about this man of God.  What are people saying about you.  See you tomorrow at Palm Sunday.

Michael

It’s The Economy Stupid

It is being sounded from every station and rooftop.  The dollar is slipping.  Foreclosures abound and gas prices are soaring.  Few are those who are not feeling the pinch.  The president will try to reassure everyone this morning while gold hits an all-time high.  What a way to begin the morning.

So I thought it might be helpful to hear from a higher source than television pundits. 

"The silver is mine and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Hosts."  Haggai 2:8

God takes a definite interest in the affairs of men and reminds us of the illusion that we are in control.  If we were, things wouldn’t turn south of us so often.  We just think we are in control.

"God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."  2 Corinthians 9:8

We may not be able to live in the luxury we are accustomed to experiencing but by no means are we incapable of doing the good works God asks of us.  God assures us that if we are faithful in doing his good work, he will be faithful in providing the resources physical and spiritual to do so.

So take the news with a grain of salt.  Adjust your lifestyle and focus more on those things close to home.  And keep doing the good thing.  The Great Economist knows what is going on.

Michael

Into the Wild

Took a day with Marcia today.  Been too long since we had done that.  Began with a breakfast at Lurton’s in Commiskey.  An experience in its own right.  Food was good and interesting to watch the people who were there.  A collection of blue collar and back country with a young couple thrown in.  Friendly enough but everyone seemed to be on their own journey.

Caught up with my sister and her husband back from winter in Texas.  Good to see them and listen to their stories and look at their pictures.  Both were filled with people.  They wanted to feed us, of course, but we were still to full from breakfast.

Stopped outside of Columbus at a little food stand just opened from the winter.  Had our first ice cream cone of the season.  Sun was warm and the cone was good.  Marcia and I talked.  Mostly about people.

There were, of course, the phone calls.  People don’t stop hurting.  Such is life.  Good to talk to Ron just home from surgery.  A nice answer to prayer.  Will pray for those who continue to struggle.  Seems life is easier sometimes without the people or so it seems.

Did a few chores when we got back to the house and then we decided to pop some popcorn and enjoy a movie.  There was one out on DVD based on a book I read a couple of years ago.  Got in from one of my outlaws who hiked the Appalachian Trail, canoed the Amazon and camped in Cambodia.  It was a book that mimicked some of his life.  It was titled ‘Into the Wild’.

It was a long movie we interrupted for Megan coming home and a bite of supper.  It was a haunting movie about a young man who rejects the ways of the world and takes his own course trying to find source of happiness.  Fresh out of Emery University, he gives his money to a food bank and sets off on his adventure.

I won’t tell you how it ends.  Hate to spoil a good book or movie.  (The book is better than the movie like always)  In his final thoughts he realizes that happiness is something that has to be shared.  We need people.  I thought about my day.  The long bearded man eating his biscuits and gravy with a coworker.  My sister and brother-in-law recounting all the people they had meet.  The car hop at the drive-in with a ready smile.  Talked to my dad and step-mom on the cell.  They are getting older but doing well enough.  There was the  aging clerk at the store who made conversation while she checked us out.  Megan making plans with friends to go to the school play tonight.  And Marcia sitting beside me as we watched a touching film.

I am blessed.  God has filled my life and my days with a lot of people.  I am privileged to share the lives of so many people in good times and bad.  Megan will be home soon.  Marcia is working in the kitchen and the television if off. 

I hope you meet some people today.  I hope you had the chance to visit with them or at least notice them.  If you did, then you have a good life.  Make sure you enjoy them.  Don’t worry so much about the stuff.

Michael

Reaching for God

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Philippians 1:21

I go in a few moments to conduct the funeral service for Sam Hotchkiss.  He was a kind man and good Christian.  His passing reminds me of a missionary’s son named Matthew Huffman.

Matthew hadn’t reached his tenth birthday when he awoke with a fever at his parent’s home in Brazil.  As his temperature soared, he began to loose his eyesight.  His mother and father put him in the care and raced to the nearest hospital.  As the drove, the boy lay in his mother’s lap unmoving.  Then suddenly he put one hand into the air. His mother gently pulled back down but he raised it again.  So she moved it back again.  Then when Matthew reached out the third time, his mother asked him what he was reaching for.

His answer stunned them both.  "I am reaching for Jesus’ hand."  With those words, Matthew closed his eyes and slipped into a coma from which he did not recover.  He died two days later from bacterial meningitis.

Matthew was a child but wise enough to know who to reach for in the hour of their death.  Sam did the same.  King David was right when he said:

"The good man, the man of peace, he has a wonderful future ahead of him.  For him there is a happy ending."  Psalm 37:37

Well done, Sam.  Well done.

Michael

Naked

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart."  Job 1:21

If ever there was a summary statement about life, that is one of them.  It is not comfortable statement but it is revealing in more ways than one.  The ancient man lays bare the secret of surviving life’s terrible tragedies and the secret comes in layers.

First, Job lost all his business holdings.  In one moment, all that he had accumulated was gone.  Then on the heels of that loss came the news that all his children had perished.  We cannot contemplate such sorrow.  Most of us would have fallen at the first blow but there are things much worse than financial ruin.  The loss of our children would have crushed us but it wasn’t over for Job.  His health failed and he lay in physical suffering.  It doesn’t surprise me that such would happen.  The first two events would fail the health of any man.

But what amazes us is that as each level of Job’s life is stripped away, we find him faithful.  Here is the secret of Job.  The trials and losses did not make Job’s faith any stronger because Job’s faith was already there.  The heart of Job held an unwavering trust in his God even if he didn’t understand His actions.

Life has a way of stripping us down and showing us how deep a faith we truly have within.  When the stuff of life is stripped  bare we see how deeply we love God or not.  Job never lost his faith nor his resolve.  It was when he learned of the death of his children that he uttered, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart."  Job knew that eventually all of this world is lost anyway. 

We know that too if we will admit it.  When we are young, we accumulate.  We accumulate wealth, an education, a family and a career.  We have two or more cars, a home and hobbies.  Then time and health begin to strip us.  Our children leave.  Our health declines.  We sell the house and cars for something smaller.  Then in those last days, we are stripped of everything.  There is no injustice in this because this is life.  All of us die and then face judgment.

Sam died that way Sunday.  Disease had stripped him bare but he never gave up.  He had been through war and knew how thin the veil is between life and death.  He did not lament his death.  He walked into bravely because he knew what was on the other side.  I discovered what lay deep in the real man.  Sam had faith.  May we do the same.

Michael

No Explanation Given

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting…when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead… Job 1:18,19

Job never knew what we know now.  We got a sneak peek into heavenly places and witness to Satan’s attempt to deprive and destroy Job.  We watched as God allowed the attack with provisions for Job’s life.  Job never knew the spiritual struggle which had caught him up.

When our lives come crashing in, we feel like Job.  One day, everything seems fine and then the bottom falls out.  No warning.  No explanation given.

You have to follow Job for the next 41 chapters to discover that ‘the Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first." (Job 42:12)  Sometimes we have to wait a long time for our ship to right and life get back to some normalcy.  Tragedy takes a long time to heal.

But notice this: we never find out why God allowed Satan to attack Job in the first place.  We have Satan’s side of the argument but are never given God’s side. 

This is hard for us to handle.  Whenever something goes wrong in our lives, we look for an answer.  Was it us?  Someone else?  We say we are looking for answers.  What we are looking for is someone to blame.  We believe that by blaming someone, we can punish that person and get some justice for the tragedy.

God teaches a hard lesson here.  Sometimes, more than we admit, we don’t get answers to life’s dilemmas.  We may never find out why these things happen on this side of heaven.  Here then is the only answer we have in those times: God knows the reason why!  And He cares.  Sometimes that is all we get.  For us, that is always enough.

Sam’s services will be Wednesday at the church at 11:00 a.m.  We will miss his wit and his presence.  Remember Dave, Virginia and Esther along with the family.  Also remember Jim Bode.  He was admitted to St. Vincent’s with heart failure and extensive bleeding.  I go there this morning to see how is progressing.

Remember.  God knows and He cares.  That is enough for now.

It’s Official

With the level 2 snow emergency, we will have only one service tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.  No first service or Sunday School.  Please advise everyone you know.  Do not put yourself at risk.  If you live off the beaten path, use your common sense.  Also, don’t forget that we lose an hour of sleep tonight.  You will have to turn your clocks forward.  So it will be dark even till 9:30 or so. 

Spread the word.  I will put it on the radios and television.  Play it safe tomorrow.  See you then.

Michael

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