You know those commercials where the little old lady falls on the floor and cries out, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Well, it happened last night to my older sister. She lives alone and fell out of bed. She didn’t have to cry out. She has one of those buttons hanging from her neck. She pressed the button and in a few minutes blue lights were flashing through her front windows. Someone picked the lock on her door and four firemen came in. Gently they picked her up, put her in bed, tucked her in, smoothed her hair and locked the door on the way out. I asked if one of them kissed her goodnight. All she would say was, “I’m not a kiss and tell girl.” I think she had such a good time we might have a problem with her doing it again tonight.
One of my favorite verses comes from the story of Lazarus in John 11. It’s about falling. “After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’” Jesus specializes in picking up the fallen. Whether we have fallen into sin and fallen from grace or have fallen asleep as Lazarus did, Jesus is the fireman to come and rescue. So the big question is did you fall today? Did you need Jesus to pick you up? Of course you did. That was a stupid question. But don’t be tempted to deliberately fall. Remember Romans 6 says, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” This is such a great truth. I never get over how wonderful, practical and applicable is the Gospel.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be something else or someone else? What or who would you be if you could just for 24 hours not be you? Would you be someone famous; an actor, a politician, an athlete, a gifted musician, a great preacher? Would you be a different race or gender? Would you be a lion on an African savanna or your pet dog? Would you so enjoy it you would not want to return to being you? Or would you find it so distasteful 24 hours would be way too long?
Jesus did such a thing. He was the Creator and He became one of His created and not for 24 hours but for a shortened lifetime on this very small planet. He was rich and became poor. He was loved and became hated. Each of us searches for meaning for our lives. After the age of 13 He knew His meaning. He had sent ahead a manual (Isaiah) telling Him what He was to be and how to be it. He was to be wounded for our transgressions and be mangled by men.
I wonder if pigeons on a wire wonder about all the hustle that passes below and where is their place in the grand scheme. I doubt it. We seem to be the only creatures haunted by a quest for meaning. If my dog wonders about meaning it certainly is limited to the now and not related to eternity. She is here to bark at the UPS man and to tell me when the postman has arrived. Today she even had something to say about a small airplane that passed overhead. But we are different. We have meaning and purpose and that is our quest.
We just returned from Boston Symphony Hall where our souls were nourished for two and half hours as we listened to Handel’s Messiah. It is not difficult to pinpoint my favorite five minutes. I know we all stood for the Hallelujah Chorus but for me the best was yet to come. It was the very next aria “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and tho’ worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.” Job 19 and I Corinthians 15.
When the soprano sings “I know that my redeemer liveth” I want to jump and shout, “Yes, Yes, Yes.” This old body grows decrepit but I gladly trade it in for the newest best model. There won’t be a next year’s model because it will be the best possible model. That’s not because there won’t be any needed or wanted additions it is because it comes with never ending self/divine improvement software.
I did notice that some did not stand for the Hallelujah Chorus so I watched them at the end when the soloists came out for their bows. Those same people stood, applauded and some even yelled, “Bravo.” I should hold my judgment because I’m sure each had their personal reasons. But for me if I stand to applaud a fellow human whose accomplishment was to sound good, why not stand for the praise, honor and glory for the one who shall reign forever and ever because He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Tonight I shall go to bed hearing in my head, “I know that my redeemer liveth” and I will sleep well.
Thanksgiving is almost a synonym for food. Food preparation is not one of my gifts. Therefore about halfway through the holiday I begin to feel guilty. While I am watching football others are busy in the kitchen. Trying to compensate I look for little things that I can do that might be helpful. So when I saw the dishwasher full of dishes it was a serendipitous opportunity for me to do something other than freeload. So I quickly put in the dishwasher soap and turned it on. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I heard, “Who turned on the dishwasher? They were clean!!” Alas. No good deed goes unpunished.
I have a friend who belongs to a church that baptizes by immersing three times – one for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. He never said so bit I think he thinks I’m not really baptized since I was only immersed once. Then of course there are those who were merely sprinkled. And we can go one further and mention the thief on the cross who wasn’t even sprinkled.
Actually we are saved by grace and not by any rite; otherwise it would be salvation by ritual. Salvation is a heart experience with our maker. Salvation is saying, “Lord, I want to be like you.” Salvation is saying, “I am disgusted with myself and know I can only be clean if you say so.” Salvation is knowing Jesus also says to us, “This day you will be with me in my kingdom.” And how does that happen? Merely by asking. It is easy to make God happy. Fathers are like that. Yeah, they are.
On November 8, 1972, we sat in a plane with our pockets full of cash waiting to leave Entebbe, Uganda. The cash wasn’t ours. President Idi Amin had exiled all 580,000 Asians without Ugandan citizenship. Each family could leave with only $140. Thousands buried huge amounts of cash all over the country thinking to return someday to retrieve it. After they were gone Amin changed the currency thus rendering those caches to be filled with worthless paper. Lifetimes of hard work and saving were gone with the stroke of a pen.
The cash in our pockets was for a family immigrating to Canada. We got it into their Canadian bank account while it still had value. Never before did Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount mean so much to me. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6
As fleeting as human wealth can be we can still take heart in something else from the Sermon on the Mount. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6. Our heavenly Father knows us and will provide. For this we can celebrate this Thanksgiving week. To be part of the family of God is the best thing ever!
Our backyard camera recorded two large raccoons skillfully taking down our suet feeder and dragging it off into the woods. This afternoon there was a bark at the door and there was our wonder dog with the suet feeder at her feet. What a good dog! “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
If God is half as pleased with me as I am with my retriever I am in good shape. Ephesians 1 tells us God created us for His pleasure. I love that verse. He didn’t have to make us. He wanted to. He made us in His image and gave us the tools to grow. Our potential was unlimited until sin barged in and limited our years and thus limited our growth. How exciting eternal life is that we will have unlimited growth. We will make the Einsteins and DaVincis of the world look ignorant and ungifted when compared with our developing skills. And it will make God happy. Just as we burst with pride when our children and grandchildren excel, God rejoices in our feats.
In Job 1 God brags about Job only to have Satan challenge that pride. And so the story unfolded and Job made God proud. I was always happy when I made my father proud of me. He used to brag about me to his friends. God was bragging about Job. We are here for His good pleasure. Our pleasure is His pleasure. Do I ever disappoint God by my willfulness? Of course I do. Is He unhappy? I’m sure He is. Does He forgive me? By the time my request for forgiveness is uttered it is done. It makes Him happy.
Now that I have told you about the wonders of my dog, let me tell you about my grandchildren.
A strong November wind has finally stripped our trees. My woods finally look like Robert Frost’s poem My November Guest. “My Sorrow, when she’s here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; . . . She’s glad the birds are gone away, she’s glad her simple worsted gray is silver now with clinging mist. . . Not yesterday I learned to know the love of bare November days before the coming of the snow, . . .”
I am thankful our earth is tilted on its axis. Should it not be we would have no seasons. Depending where one lived on earth would determine a sameness to everyday. There would be 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night at the equator. There would be eternal evening on the poles. But as it is I rejoice in the coming of the snow and after a white feast I thrill at the bursting of spring with all its daffodils and crocuses.
It is Thanksgiving week and time to revel in the richness of life, which has little or nothing to do with one’s bank account. It is about life. It is about love and friends. It is about the thrill of learning something new each day. Even though we have our aches, pains, and worse for some – it is about the hope that Jesus has promised us – an eternity of life without those aches and pains, without the separation from loved ones.
And so I look out my window and pull my sweater just a bit more snug. I hope somewhere in heaven there will be snow – lots of snow. Somewhere there will be gray worsted days.
The signs of senescence are beginning. (Most of my students are amused that just now I am noticing. They think anyone over 50 needs senior care.) I got a nice brown flannel shirt earlier this week. (It’s very warm and should pay for itself by allowing us to keep the house a bit cooler this winter.) Yesterday I wore it while doing chores around town. It was only this morning that I noticed I had not yet removed all the tags. Maybe if I had worn it to class last night my students would have thought me super cool and think I was a rapper. I’m surprised I didn’t get stopped in Macy’s by security telling me I had to pay for it before leaving the store. Only then would they have noticed the price tag said Tractor Supply Co.
It might not be a price tag but all of us continually display tags or signs that supply people with a lot of information about who we are and what are our values. The way we deport ourselves preaches volumes. If I am rude and display impatience with others I am broadcasting my lack of character. If I am super critical of others I am saying more about me than what or whom I am criticizing. If I am continually negative and create clouds of gloom I make people wonder how I ever got married. Who would have me?
Being a Christian isn’t necessarily always talking about one’s faith, but more often, it is about our genuine care for others. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” John 13:35. This isn’t about what’s in your wallet. It’s about what tag are you wearing.
I got one of those solar panel phone calls today. The lady I was talking to was very nice. For a minute or so she answered all my questions just right but then she answered with a comment that didn’t make sense. It dawned on me. I wasn’t talking to a real person. I was talking to a very cleverly programmed computer. Boy, did I feel stupid.
That is the very reason the first commandment tells us not to worship any other god except Jehovah, our Heavenly Father. No matter how cunningly they are presented to us, they are ignorant and unable to do anything for us. Fearful that some might think that about the story of Jesus, Peter wrote, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” II Peter 1.
One of the truly great things about talking to our Heavenly Father is His intricate and intimate knowledge of us. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows our quirkiness and our peccadilloes. Despite our limited knowledge of life He never makes us feel stupid. He is patient and forgiving. A huge part of our problem is we don’t know what we don’t know. However, He knows what we don’t know and is understanding when we majorly mess up. A big problem is when we know what we are doing is wrong and yet we still do it. We have all done it. We can’t claim ignorance for all our sins. But the forgiveness is still there. It is a matter of repentance.
He is faithful and just to forgive all our sins. I John 1:9. He’s the best.
In 1940 the battle for France had been lost and the battle for Britain was to begin. Speaking to Parliament on June 18, 1940 Winston Churchill uttered these immortal words, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” Marina Abramovic, a modern day performance artist, is quoted in Time magazine as saying, “I always believed that people don’t do anything really important from the state of happiness.”
Could it really be? To be great, to produce something of substance, to pull from our depths the richness of our talents, is it necessary for us to be challenged with hardship, pain or loss? Do we not rise to our apex unless we suffer? Was Churchill right about Great Britain or was this merely inspirational rhetoric to steel the British people for what was ahead? I ask this because I think of what we have been promised. Will we not in an eternity of peace and prosperity rise to higher and higher levels of achievement and excellence or will we sink to mediocrity because there will be no pressure? Can we not be happy and still produce feats of great importance to us and to the universe?
Surely God will continue to need us and present us with tasks designed to challenge us and bring out our best. Perhaps the wonders promised us are not luxuries but instead metaphoric mountains to climb, problems to solve, needs to be met that we and we alone can be the solution. Whatever it will be, of this we can be sure. It will make us happy.