Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
“The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it,
the more it stimulates thirst.” (Martin Luther)
One of the “safety” measures of my Honda CRV is something called LKAS. I’m fairly certain this is now a standard feature in most cars today. LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) is designed to make driving more convenient by helping to keep your vehicle in the middle of a detected lane, and it provides alerts and steering adjustments if the vehicle is detected drifting out of its lane. In other words, if you’re not paying attention, distracted, or slacking off behind the wheel, the car will automatically steer back into the proper lane and alert you to your inattention. It is there to help keep you on the road. In the past such daydreaming and negligence could more swiftly result in a sideswipe or fender-bender; but with these new safety features there is a bit more warning so you can remain safe and avoid calamities. Of course, this doesn’t completely absolve the distracted driver from potential accidents. But when you hear the beeping alert, feel the vibrating steering wheel, or see “Steering Required” flashing on the dashboard you know you need to refocus asap.
I’ll admit that I had some fun playing with and testing this feature when I first got the car. My kids were equally impressed watching the steering wheel move by itself as we traveled down the highway. "Look kids, no hands!" However, it's important to know that there are limitations. If I ignore the audio and visual alerts, the car will continue to veer off-course and end up in a ditch or something worse. This safety feature is only meant to reengage my attention. It is never going to self-pilot the car or completely prevent an accident. That being said, it has saved me a couple of times in the short two months I’ve had my car. For whatever reason my car, and my mind, have drifted causing me to get too close to the painted lines. It is definately good to have such safety features.
My mind was blown this past Wednesday morning. 🤯 While eating breakfast, my daughter informed me that in one of the original stories from which Cinderella is based on, there was a bit more bloodshed than I ever knew. Do you remember the humorous animated scene when Prince Charming’s servant is trying to find the perfect match for the glass slipper that was left behind by a mysterious, disappearing princess? Well apparently in the original story, to accommodate a small shoe, and a potential life of royal luxury they simply cut their feet down to fit. You read that right! To fit themselves into the tiny glass slipper, one desperate stepsister cuts off her big toe, the other stepsister, a bit of her heel. Their ill-fated plans are foiled by the blood everywhere—go figure! The handsome prince learns of their trick from two doves who peck out the sisters’ eyes for their trickery. The now disgraced stepsisters then spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars. But Cinderella and her new beau live happily ever after. I had no idea! So much for an innocent family fairytale. For some reason, in 1950, Walt Disney decided to leave that part of the story out. I think he made the right decision.
On my drive to work later that morning, a bit of irony struck me. When we have young children and grandchildren, do we not try our best to spare them from viewing and hearing about gruesome, bloody stories? When the evening or morning news is a bit too riddled with violence and murder, we will change the channel. If a tv show or movie is far too violent and gory, we will tell them to choose something else to watch. If a video game is filled with nothing more than brutality and bloodshed, we’ll send them outside to play or nudge them to find another thing to occupy their time. For the most part, and especially when they are under our watchful care, we try to hide our children from bloody carnage and massacres. Can you even imagine sitting there watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street only to watch them start disfiguring themselves!? This is the very reason we consult the MPA’s film ratings of such entertainment before we take our children into the theater or stream something into our living rooms. They’re far too young and innocent to be exposed to these things.
That is, until they come to church…
This past Tuesday night at our council meeting, our esteemed president shared an acronym that he heard via a YouTube preacher. H.A.L.T. It has stuck with me. I’m not sure what the origins are of this; they are not with the preacher. A quick google search reveals it is also used in counseling settings and chemical dependency treatments centers. It refers to four areas of life which, when lacking or out of balance, can be when we are most vulnerable to relapses based on our physical or emotional well-being—or lack thereof. These relapses can come in the form of unkindness, lashing out, depression, and so on. In spiritual terms, these are the moments when we are easy prey for attack by our archenemy, the devil. The devil perceives a weakness within us and he pounces. We then fall into sin; we hurt others or ourselves. H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Though not an exhaustive list, these are four situations in our lives where we need to be very aware that the enemy is out to use moments of insufficiencies against us.
Fittingly, the actual definition of the word ‘halt’ tells us precisely what to do when our lives are on shaky ground, when we are plagued by these types of despair. “a verb (used with or without object): to stop; cease moving, operating, etc., either permanently or temporarily.” Think about it… God Himself stopped the work of creation on the seventh day to rest—thus prescribing it to each of us in the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day.” He rested because His creative work was complete. He rested because He knew, many years later, harried children like you and me, would be high-stressed and jam-packed with busy schedules, always anxiously bustling from one commitment to the next. This is a divine and ordained summons to find calm and step away from the chaos. This is the Lord’s way of telling us to halt. And even though God made it part of the beginning of creation and made it even more vital as a commandment, it is one of the pieces of our faith we’re most likely to ignore. Stop for a moment. Evaluate. Assess before you get burned out. Consider the acronym. Where is your deficiency? Diagnose it before the demands of life-on-the-go leave you exhausted, unbalanced and agitated.
Jesus has something similar to say about this in Matthew 11:28 (NLT): “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The word translated 'rest' here is a word that literally means 'tranquility in the midst of labor.' Jesus wasn't telling the disciples to take the week off, but to be spiritually still before Him. That is what He wants from us too. Meditating on His word in the midst of screaming kids, spending time talking to Him over a pile of laundry that needs to be folded, surrendering some of your mind’s greatest burdens, and confidently trusting that He will guide the mundane tasks of your day. Jesus invites us to reprioritize and take ample time to rest. Relax. Unplug. Find relief from the stress. Put down your phones. Push away from the computers. Leaving the responsibilities of work at work. Give your body time to refuel. Allowing your mind to be renewed. Let your emotions be refreshed and restored. God invites us to return to the arms of our Savior who provides the care and protection, the grace and peace that we need to ensure the evil one doesn’t destroy us in moments of anger or tiredness. Jesus wants to meet us in times of rest to remember our relationship with Him.
“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25
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.’