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)
There are times during the day when we need a snack. Maybe we skipped a meal, or maybe we just need a little pick-me-up. So, we scour the food pantries and scavenge through our desk drawers. Fueled by our hunger, we look for something to silence the quiet grumblings of our stomach and satisfy the cravings of our taste buds. What is your go to snack? A granola bar? A banana? A cup of yogurt? Do you prefer salty or sweet? All things being equal (which sadly they are not), I would grab a cookie or candy bar every time the pangs of food deprivation hit me. If only ice cream cones and peanut M&M’s were just as healthy as baby carrots or celery sticks. But we know better. Unfortunately, the junk food that is most appealing is also the stuff with the least amount of nutritional value.
[ree-kal-uh-breyt] verb (used with or without object): 1. to correct or adjust the gradations or settings on (a measuring instrument, sensor, or other piece of precision equipment). 2. to reexamine (one’s thinking, a plan, a system of values, etc.) and correct it in accord with a new understanding or purpose.
Recalibrate. This is the word that’s been on my mind these past couple of weeks. In Luke 10:38-42 we encounter the familiar story of Martha and Mary. Jesus and his band of disciples show up for a surprise visit. Can you imagine? This was not a shared Google calendar event and there was no text message to provide a heads-up of their pending arrival. Facebook events were not a thing back then, so no way for this traveling teacher to RSVP. No warning at all. Just a knock on the door and suddenly Martha had a house full of at least a dozen guests. Martha gets to work “preparing the house”—cleaning, searching for bedding, and making food. These are all good, hospitable things. You and I would have acted similarly if we were in her shoes (or sandals). But not so with the one she probably thought she could rely on the most. Her sister, Mary, simply sits down and listens to Jesus. Are you kidding me? What a lazy bum! Get off your butt and get to work! At least, that was Martha’s initial and understandable reaction. Truthfully, it would have been mine too. Fortunately, she took a better approach than giving her slacking sibling a piece of her mind. An exasperated and frustrated Martha comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Here’s what I’m thinking about doing. As the summer months kickoff, I’m thinking about telling my wife that I am going to take the summer off from her and the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously still love her and the kids too. They are still really, really important to me. Honest! It’s just that there are some other things I want to get done this summer also—and sometimes they cramp my style. Places I want to visit and things I want to do; having a family can just slow me down from checking things off of my bucket list. Don’t worry. I will reassure her that I’ll see her again in three months. Plus if there is some sort of major emergency, I will probably check in with her for an hour or so. I may even make an exception for a week or two in August so we can do some sort of obligatory family vacation. But other than that, it’s “Sayonara baby!” Think about it... for the next three months I’m not going to waste any of my resources—time or attention, energy or money on my family. Just three glorious months of no one to make happy but me. No more coming home, spending time with family. No more cleaning. No more dishes. No more laundry. No more conversations. No chauffeuring kids to games or piano lessons. I am going to spend 92 straight days doing whatever I want, whenever I want.
Sounds ridiculous, right? Of course it does. This is not really going happen. I would never do such a thing; and my wife would not let me. 😉 Even the suggestion of taking a summer off from your family sounds neglectful and absurd. Which wife in her right mind would tolerate a husband living in selfish solitude golfing and fishing the summer away without her? Yet the irony here is how easy it is to take the summer off from God. Seriously! Sure we may not see it that way, nor do we always do it intentionally, but the summer months often lend themselves to a less than consistent worship schedule. As our summer schedules fill up we can find ourselves tripped up by Satan and slacking in our “remember the Sabbath” duties. Vacations and trips to the lakes or down to the Jersey shore are the norm during the summer—but that doesn’t mean our worship habits should take a back seat.
God will understand you taking a well-deserved vacation. He told you to “rest” on the Sabbath, as He knows you need a change of pace in order to recharge your batteries. Exodus 20:8-10 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” God didn’t tell you to ignore worshipping Him for months at a time, but instead, find ways of worshipping him as you take a break from the busyness of your daily life. Maintain God as a priority in your life, not just when it is convenient. So on Sundays over the summer whether you’re in town or somewhere else—go to church. Be immersed in His story. Seek out a place to worship God and be fed by the holy goods that only He can give. Worship is the place where God promises to meet us and give us His life-giving, forgiveness-granting goods. Church is the place where God gospelizes and graces His people.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrew 10:23-25
I have a confession to make. There are times, when mid-week rolls around and I try to produce a devotional thought for this blog, I cannot help but think, “What’s the point? Does anyone even read it?” Whether or not this is actually true I have no way of knowing. Obviously, I hope that at least a few people do take the time to read or at least skim through it. More than stories waxing poetically about my beloved old car, there is a genuine attempt to bring the Word of God into the daily routines and happenstances of our lives. Every scenario and situation of life can be a teachable moment if we just still ourselves long enough to consider what God might be telling or showing us. Plus, no matter who you are, the occasional spiritual pep-talk helps ground us in the fact that God is with us. Even still, on occasion, when it is time to type, all I can pessimistically think of is “What’s the point?”
The irony of my thinking really hit me one morning while reading the Bible. The moaning and groaning I do over unverified neglect towards a simple church newsletter or blog pales in comparison to the obvious and undeniable neglect of a publication far greater than the meanderings of this site. Consider the scriptures—the Holy Bible. No question this is a compilation of writings that regularly goes unappreciated and unused. You and I are no exception to that. How often do our Bibles sit on the shelves collecting dust while we read different magazines, supposed self-help books, and scroll through social media feeds? More than we care to admit, we fail to read it. We shrug off the treasures it possesses and roll our eyes at the timeless counsel it provides. Can you imagine God thinking to Himself—“What’s the point of giving them my Word if they don’t use it. They don’t read it. They don’t do what it says. I’m not even sure they care about its existence. So what’s the point?” Here God gives us direction and instruction for our benefit, details His immense love for us in Jesus, and so much more. But like a stubborn old geezer, we refuse the very prescribed medication that treats every form of hopeless and slows every sign of despair.
Fortunately, God’s patience goes right alongside His probable frustration. Despite our tendency to shun it—the Word of God stands true and steadfast… throughout time and over all history. It is always there for us. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). God has given us His holy Word—full of promises, strength, encouragement, and so much more. It is indeed a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. “For everything that was written… was to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) And God has put so much more into His Word than just a few painful writer’s block moments at a keyboard. Sweat. Blood. Sacrifice. God put His life on the line for this Book, His Word to you and me. He has given us a wealth of information regarding all that He has done for us. So crack the good book. Dust it off and turn the pages. This summer, as you are basking in the sun or sitting beachside or on a boat in the middle of the lake—crack the book. Or use your phone--yes, there is an app for this too! Whatever form it takes, actually read the Bible. You don’t have to go cover-to-cover. But read the goods that God gives you. Explore the depths of His great love for you. Discover the many ways in which He desires to teach and grow you in faith and in faithful living toward Him. Happy reading!
“A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't.” (Charles Spurgeon)
"When is enough enough?"
This is the question I was asking myself late Tuesday night and wrestling with again early Wednesday morning in regard to my beloved car. Only days after a fresh oil change and fixing my leaky exhaust, a new issue has surfaced. It’s always something, isn’t it? This time it appeared like the unwelcome culprit was the transmission. This is no small thing. And it pushes the price tag of necessary repairs to the $1-2,000 range—at least! Melancholy and gloomy visions of bidding farewell to this gray, four-wheeled treasure saddled my mind as I drove to two different mechanics this morning. Was this really the end? Would I actually have to come up with a new illustration for weekly blogs and Bible studies? I thought we had more time together. I just washed and detailed that car last weekend. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. And as much as we love that car (i.e. no monthly car payments), the reality is that after 15 years and 210K miles, the time may finally be here to stop pouring money into an old car and start searching for a replacement. Reliability and safety now compromised; this could be the breaking point. When is enough enough? When is it no longer worth it? BUT… after a second opinion, there now appears to be a glimmer of hope for my beloved, rusty and zip tied motor vehicle. I’m now cautiously optimistic that the problem is much less severe and not nearly as expensive. If this is the case, we’ll opt for the repair and not the new car. For the time being, my faithful Corolla appears to be on the cusp of receiving a stay of execution.
When is enough enough? We have all asked some version of that question of ourselves. When we’re unhappy in a job. When we are in damaging or unreciprocated relationship. When we’re treating a sickness or disease that refuses to go away. When we keep chasing dreams or possessions that still leave us empty. When we compare our own lives to the highlight reels of other’s social media feeds. In the unrelenting rat race of American life, we are always on the go and always chasing after something to get ahead or keep up with the proverbial Jones. It can be exhausting. And no matter the context, when we get to asking such a question, it suggests that something is off, something is askew. It is a frustrated point when we realize that all our good intentions and best efforts did not solve the problem. It still persists. It’s never fun to be in a position when we must consider if what we’re doing is prolonging the inevitable and wasting precious time, money, or sanity!
Have you ever done anything stupid? Gotten in trouble? Broken the law? Cheated on an exam? Destroyed a relationship? Of course, this is a silly question because we have all done things before that we are not proud of. It is who we are as part of a fallen creation—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Even when we do not intend to be malicious or foolish we still often find ourselves going down a path further away from what God desires for us.
Taking a look at different world religions and even other “Christian” denominations (Islam, Scientology, Sikh, Wiccan, etc.) we see a format of belief that stresses doing good and being pious. Most of these false religions put an emphasis on "righteous living" as means to enter from this life to the next (in whatever form that takes). Do this. Do that. Don't do this. Do that every year. In their minds, eternal life is completely dependent on their own works, actions, behaviors while living upon this earth. In other words, it is all up to them. If you’re like me, you find very little comfort or hope in that. All the more reason to celebrate the truth revealed in Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures.
As Christians we most certainly do not believe this. After all our Lutheran battle cry echoes the words of the Apostle Paul, we are "justified by faith apart from works" (Romans 3:28). Don’t get me wrong—this is not a license to sin or do whatever you want. Of course, righteous living is important but not because it influences the grace God gives to us. This is good news! It means that in spite of all your moments of weakness and stupidity, God counts you as righteous and gives you his grace simply as a GIFT through Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary message of many other religions, it is not at all up to you! In fact, it’s not even