Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
In our new home’s development, we have many Indian neighbors. Almost all of them are 1st generation Americans. Though they come from different areas of India with different dialects, most are of the Hindu faith. This past Wednesday evening, we were invited to partake with them in one of their Hindu celebrations. Our neighbors were celebrating the Festival of Ganesh. Lord Ganesh is one of the principal gods of the Hindu faith. This formless divinity is characterized as a four-armed, elephant-headed being. (Not sure why.) This is their god of good fortune and prosperity; he brings good energy and removes obstacles. As was explained to me, they invoke this Ganesh celebration often at the start of new journeys or before big decisions. Last night, our neighbors, all adorned in their colorful Indian dress, danced and chanted (though we had no idea what they were saying), burned incenses, offered different fruits and sweets, knelt before an icon of their god, and they covered their faces (and ours) with a symbolic red-colored powder. As we stood on the outskirts of their circle, my wife and I simply took it all in. It was certainly out of our comfort level and outside the norm of our worship experiences. Sensory overload for sure! Yet it was extremely fascinating. After their celebration, we were invited inside for some traditional Indian snacks and tea. They showed us their in-home temple, right in their living room, where they regularly worship. They were very proud of their religious heritage. Our gracious new friends were incredibly hospitable and willing to answer every question I threw at them. Had it not been for our need to rush off to a back-to-school night, I may have sat there all night asking questions.
This is my wife’s favorite season. One of mine also. Although it doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd, it certainly feels like fall. The temperatures have cooled down quite a bit. The scents of autumn are occasionally distinguished in the fresh breeze. People have traded in their swimsuits for sweatshirts. College football has already begun (Go Badgers!) and the start of the NFL season is just hours away. We’ve seen our kids and grandkids go back to school. There’s more traffic on the roads as adults head back into the office. Apple-scented candles have started to burn. On my walks around the neighborhood, I’ve seen many fall-colored mums planted and other fall décor displayed. There is pumpkin spice everything no matter what type of store you go into. Happy Fall Y’all!
I don’t recall where or when I heard it recently, but the phrase “Fall is a Great Time to Return” has stuck with me. Perhaps it was in one of the many emails from my kid’s school district or it was in a commercial tempting people to come back to the gym. Either way, schools and businesses alike are eager to welcome back those who have been otherwise gone during these summer months or prolonged pandemic quarantine. Add our church to that list. Fall is a great time to return to King of Kings. I’m eager to welcome you back. Come for worship; stick around adult Bible study and Sunday School. Our attendance has certainly nosedived a bit over the summer months; this is normal for just about every church. But as we all settle back into the work/school routine, I’m hopeful to see so many of you back again.
Sometimes we may think that when we’re following Jesus, it will be smooth sailing. But many times it is just the opposite. Doors slam in our faces. Obstacles appear in our paths. Storms arise that threaten to drive us off course. This was just as true for Jesus’ initial disciples as it is for us. Do you remember the account of the disciples caught in the storm? Peter and his fellow seasoned fishermen would be accustomed to the rocking rhythm of a boat on rough waters. But this was no ordinary storm. This was bad. Really bad. So bad that the disciples were sacred, literally, to death. “Aren’t you concerned we will die? We’re going to drown!”
Jesus immediately rises and calms the storm. “Where is your faith?” he asks in the sudden silence. What about us? It is easy to have faith when all is well, but what about when the storms come? What about when we are embattled by the waves of turmoil, chaos, and discord? Despite the steady, record-setting rain that came down over the past 24 hours, I'm not talking about the aftermath of storm Ida—though that has left such fear and destruction in so many places down south. Now it has impacted our area with flooding and power outages. The world we live in regularly bares testimony to the brokenness of creation—wild fires, pandemic, hurricanes, flooding, terror and war. Still, I’m talking about things much closer to home, more personal. Often when a hard time hits, when a crisis hits, when a tragedy hits, we want out. When we encounter storms in life—like a serious diagnosis, the death of a friend, or the abandonment of a loved one—it can feel like we’re going to drown. The pain is threatening to take us under and we doubt we’ll survive that rip tide. We ask God for an airlift out of our problems. But perhaps there are lessons to be learned while in the midst of them. Romans 8:35–37 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Notice the phrase, “in all these things.” It isn’t saying we won’t face some of these things. But it says that in them we are more than conquerors. God is with us. If you are seeking to obey the Lord, expect opposition. Expect obstacles. Expect difficulties. But also expect God to see you through. Just as Jesus proved He was in control of the wind and waves that night, He’s in control of your storm, too. The pain won’t last forever and the skies will clear again. God is holding onto you today.
This week's devotional was inspired by other online articles/devotions I have been able to read over the past several days, although I now cannot find them again to give proper reference to. My apologies.
Where do you experience joy? In the dictionary, joy is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.”
Recently, with visiting family, we were able to take them down to Pt. Pleasant to give them a Jersey shore experience. The sun was out and the air was hot so jumping into the ocean waters was refreshing indeed. As I watched my children and nieces jumping over the surf and getting occasionally rocked by a big wave, you could see the untainted joy on their faces. Their faces could not help but smile. Their happy shrieks were music to the ears and their laughter was contagious. The bigger the waves, the bigger the smile. No matter how much sand landed in unfortunate places or how much saltwater filled their mouths, they couldn’t help but just giggle and go back for more. A few yards down the beach from us were members of a nearby group home. For all their mental and physical limitations and handicaps, these young adults were loving life as they too were sitting in the sand while the whitecaps rolled over them. Many of them could not articulate meaningful words, but they didn’t need to. The smiles on their faces were a true display of the fun they were experiencing. The animated, indistinct noises they made were clearly speech of pleasure.
They were having a blast. They were filled with joy.
Unfortunately, moments like that seem rare today. For many of us, caught up in the hustle and bustle rat race of life, we are far too busy or stressed out. There are many forces at work in this world to rob us of our joy, to take away our smiles. Evil abounds and terror exists; anyone who has ever watched the news cannot deny this fact. But there are more personal ways in which our joy is put in jeopardy. We lose a job. A loved one is diagnosed. Plans are cancelled. Work is burdensome. Relationships are strained. Basements get flooded. Cars break down. A spouse lets us down or our children overwhelm us with frustration.
As I stood on the sandy shores watching my family, I thought of these words of Jesus, “…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) First, let me state clearly that Jesus is talking about eternal life. He is not promising us a problem-free, happy-go-lucky, get-whatever-we-want earthly life. He is not suggesting that if we follow Him everything will be exceptionally good or satisfying. Sadly, the opposite is true. In this broken and fallen world we will have plenty of troubles. Yet in the context of this passage, Jesus is emphatically comparing Himself against the devil and all the devil’s evil minions. While they try to destroy us, Jesus is working to do everything He can to bring us out from this world and into eternal life. Jesus is the one who watches over us, provides for and protects us, and He alone is the one who loves us enough to put His own life on the line for us.
As much as this verse is not about being happy by worldly measures, I think it is also OK for us to believe that God doesn’t want us to have a life void of moments of pure joy and happiness. In a world filled with so much bad news and things that try to bring us down, I believe God wants us to find more moments of pure joy in this creation that He has provided for us. So make the most of this final week of summer. Head to the shore. Get together with your family. Jump in some puddles. Read a book. Go for a hike. Call a friend. Enjoy an ice-cream treat. Do whatever it is you need to do to experience joy and put a big smile on your face. Then take in the moment and thank the God from whom all blessings—earthly and eternal—flow. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” (James 1:17 NLT)
“Sometimes in life, we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey.” (D.F. Uchtdorf)
One week ago today, I said goodbye to a dear friend. It was inevitable. No such relationships last forever. I knew the day would come, but I tried not to think about it. We could see her fading quite a bit over the past year especially. We saw her health decline and she did not move around with quite the same perk that she once had. Her color had faded. Her list of minor ailments continued to accumulate. You could see the toll of time all over her body. Make no mistake, we did everything we could to help prolong her life. But in the end, there was nothing more we could do. We were foolishly pushing off that which we could not avoid. None of us can. The tears no longer flow, but I do still think about her from time-to-time. This friend had been with my wife and me so closely over the past 16 years. She was there for all the important moments in our lives—courtship, wedding, seminary, birth of our children, road trips, moves to Wisconsin and then to New Jersey. This friend was as steadfast and reliable as they come. Sure, there were moments of frustration along the way, but this friend was resiliently dependable. The history we had and the way she cared for my family and me is something I’m very much grateful for. That is why saying goodbye to her was so hard and bittersweet. Yes indeed, my friends, last Wednesday I finally bid farewell to my beloved 2005 Toyota Corolla. She’s gone. Sniff… Sniff
Many of my congregation members are already aware of this information, after my late-night email and plea for dehumidifiers this past Sunday evening. Unfortunately, my family had some significant water in our basement over the weekend. Can you even imagine? After six long weeks of work to completely finish our basement, the first attempt at using our new downstairs shower sprung a leak from behind the freshly painted walls. Unbeknownst to us, during a 12-hour absence, hot water was unobtrusively springing up from behind the newest walls in our brand-new home. Following an awesome, full-day with visiting friends down at the Jersey Shore, we came home to standing water and a squishy floor. After shutting off the hot water throughout the house, we spent a couple of panicky hours sopping up water and drying out bedding. Needless to say, watching water come up through the seams of brand-new flooring is quite disheartening. Thankfully, the damage seems to be limited to the still-present hole in the wall that was cut to fix the faulty plumbing. Drywall is easily replaceable. Everything else was fine. And now, our chorus of humming dehumidifiers are drying things out quite nicely—when they’re not tripping my circuit breaker.
Sometimes God has a wicked sense of humor. Our Old Testament reading from this past Sunday was filled with irony for me. Still slightly fatigued from a sleepless Friday night, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard our assisting minister read these words from Genesis. “God said to Noah, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you… I establish my covenant that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’” (Gen. 9:8-11) Did you catch that? God will never again use water to destroy the earth. Sadly no mention of newly purchased living abodes. Listen up preacher man, there’s divine raillery shining through in a teachable moment. The waters may have wreaked havoc on your pristine basement, but they won’t destroy the earth. Ha! A subtle reminder to keep things in perspective. Even while sucking up water in a ShopVac… look for a rainbow and remember His promise. Touché God, touché!
This past Tuesday, with our King of Kings Preschool kids during Vacation Bible School, we looked at the story of Queen Esther. Do you remember her? According to one source, she is the most mentioned woman in the Old Testament. It’s a fascinating story, well-worth the 10 minutes to read. An interesting fun fact is that the book of Esther never states God’s name directly. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t there; His involvement is felt in many ways throughout the story. It is clearly a story of God’s intervention and deliverance. Esther was a beautiful young lady, who found herself in a position of influence and power. But she is an unlikely heroine—a peasant girl, orphaned at a young age, and exiled from her homeland of Jerusalem. Perhaps the most familiar passage from this short Old Testament book is when her caregiver and older cousin, Mordecai, pleaded with her to use her newfound royal position to help her people and save her family. Mordecai informed Esther of the real threat and pending plan of annihilation to all her fellow Jews. He begged her to go before the king and plead for mercy for her people. But Esther knew that anyone who appeared before the king without being summoned would be put to death unless the king favored them. Mordecai called on Queen Esther to boldly fulfill her duty with these stirring words: "And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14) Esther accepted the mission and ultimately succeeded in saving her people. Because of her, what was supposed to be the day of the Jewish people's destruction, instead became the day of their deliverance. Our VBS kids looked at this story to help bring home the point, ‘Family and friends help us stand strong.’
After six weeks, the work of finishing my basement is complete. This was an endeavor that took almost twice as long as anticipated. As with any project, there were plenty of bumps in the road. Not being able to get the drywall down the stairs. Brand new purchases that were flawed. Items that needed to be returned. Higher than normal material costs. Other minor setbacks or inconveniences. But now, finally, we have a usable space for our kids to hang out or watch a movie as a family. Or perhaps I will add some locks to the door, turn it into a ‘man cave’ and allow my family down there by appointment only. 😉
Yet there is still work to be done. There are still places to touch up with paint. Sure, the heavy lifting and banging hammers is complete; the electric is wired and working plumbing installed. Walls have been painted and floors have been cleaned. But still, it is just an empty room. We still have to find furniture, accessorize and decorate. Such is the reality of owning a home. There is always a project. Something to be fixed or replaced. Something to be upgraded or refreshed. Something to be added or taken away. Landscaping to be done. No matter the size or the age of your house, it is always a work in progress.
What does it mean when buildings collapse?
This question has a harrowing relevance for today—seven days after the collapse of the Champlain Towers condominium in Surfside, Florida. 16 people now confirmed dead. 147 still missing. Families torn apart. Future plans obliterated. Lives destroyed by a terrible catastrophe. The stories and images being reported by the news are heartbreaking for everyone. Although families and rescue workers still cling to hope, that death toll will inevitably rise. More bad news lurks. Then further fallout as blame is cast, justice demanded, and heads start to roll. It is in the face of such shocking tragedies that the questions of ‘why’ arise. Why would God let this occur? Why didn’t He intervene? Why these innocent people? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Believe it or not, a strikingly similar event is referenced by Jesus in the 1st century, “… Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4). We don’t know anything more about the event Jesus alludes to. However, the people He spoke to know firsthand what He is talking about.
A story is told about a little league coach who pulled one of his young players aside and asked him, “Do you understand what cooperation is?” The boy nodded yes. Then the coach asked, “Do you understand that what matters is that we win together or lose together as a team?” The little boy again nodded yes. “So,” the coach continued, “when a strike is called or you’re out at first, you don’t argue or curse the umpire. Do you understand that?” Again, the little boy nodded. “Good,” said the coach. “Now go over there and explain it to your mother.”
It happens, doesn’t it? In the heat of the moment, when emotions are flying and tempers are hot, it’s tempting to sometimes lose your patience and just unleash on whoever is around you. And quite often, it doesn’t even matter what the issue is. Did you see this story on the news? A fist fight breaks out at a Kentucky championship T-ball game. Embarrassing. Yet this is hardly a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence; and not something found only down there in those southern states. This past weekend, my family spent time watching my daughter’s recreational league softball team make their way through the year-end playoffs. In two separate games, against two different teams, we encountered obnoxious parents who were a bit too forcefully yelling at the girls on the field and screaming (even cursing) at the umpires. I remind you, this was a 10-year old recreational league for crying out loud! Yet at both games girls and parents were left in tears. At least one of them insisting she didn’t want to play anymore. Coaches left fuming. Umpires understandably offended and annoyed. Sadly, stories like this are much more common than you think. Coaches and parents raising fists, exchanging insults, and hurling threats because of severely misguided priorities. What is this world coming to? Such fools people are in the face of inconsequential things!
Far too often our social media news feeds highlight the shocking sins committed by a person for a reason so ridiculous it is hard to even fathom. It is silly the things that get us riled up as adults. Of course, you and I are just as guilty. It may not be a Little League baseball game for us, but what about when permanent marker shows up on the countertop or a new scratch appears on the car door? We’ve all blown the proverbial gasket and boiled over at relatively mundane and unimportant matters before. Oh, how many times God must just sit in the throne room of heaven shaking His head in repulsion at the misguided people He created? But back to our original illustration… the greatest tragedy is that the anger and resentment by over-the-top parents or coaches is when it is then reciprocated by the children. The rage of parents and overzealous coaches often filters down to the young athletes themselves. If the adults cannot control themselves, the likelihood of players following suit is inevitable. Soon young competitors are overstepping and ridiculing the umpires and referees themselves. This is a cautionary tale. Is this “winning is everything” really a message we want to instill in our children? Children take their cue from their parents, coaches, teachers. So what are we teaching them? What attitudes and priorities do we model?
Old Testament hero, Moses, reminds us what we should be stressing. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These words I am commanding you today are to be upon your hearts. And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:5-9) Forget about winning baseball or softball games. The most important thing we should be teaching and modeling for our children—no matter how old they are—is a reliance and faith in the trustworthy, unchanging Word of God. This is the issue that matters most. Thank God there is grace for when we parents and grandparents misstep and forget that truth. May God grant to all of us a desire to diligently teach our loved ones to love the Lord.
“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps parents off the streets.” (Yogi Berra)