Leaning

Leaning

1 Chronicles 16:11: Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

I don’t know how you manage your trash and recycling. It depends on where you live, and in Manassas, for single family homes, the City provides two wheeled bins: a green one for recycling (get it?) with a helpful list on the top about what can and cannot be put in that bin. Then there is the black container for trash. This one sports stern warnings about what the City considers trash. Residents don’t dare put in anything but trash for fear of the Trash Police, who just might be lurking. Before trash/recycling pickup days, residents who want to take advantage of the service roll their bins to the street and roll them back to where they are stored after the trash and recycling are picked up. Because our yard slopes down from where the bins are stored, our friend Mr. Gravity makes rolling the bins to their place beside the curb a near-runway event. When it’s time to bring the bins back, Mr. Gravity is no longer our friend, and I find that I must pull on the bins and find myself leaning forward to complete the task.

It seems there’s a parable of sorts in this weekly task. We can find it easy to involve ourselves in some behaviors or attitude that we really shouldn’t. It’s like me rolling the bins down to their place. But changing that behavior or attitude takes effort—it involves leaning forward to do what needs to be done.

Even when we are on a downward slope, God is there, urging us to change and helping us when we do decide to do so. It’s not our strength that makes this happen: God has guaranteed God’s help and strength. All we have to do is ask, and all can be restored, even again and again. Praise God for God’s strength, for God’s persistence and for God’s love that sent us Jesus Christ, who saved us by his blood and by leaning in to be our Savior. Amen.

How It’s Made

John 1:3: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched How It’s Made on television. If you haven’t, it shows videos of different objects being made, strangely enough. Some of these things include 3-D printers, NASCAR engines, apple pie, barber poles, skateboard wheels, bicycles, foosball tables, office chairs, bowling balls, barber poles, miniature train cars, jukeboxes and grandfather clocks. That’s quite a list, and it doesn’t begin to dent the number of objects the series has covered since 2001.

Once we at home overcame our sense of wonder at the variety and uses of the objects, we noticed something unintended about the series. In almost every episode, there are incredibly complex machines that in a way are more marvelous than the objects they make. In fact, we’d like to see a show dedicated to the design, creation and use of the manufacturing machines. We could call it How the Machines that Made All This Stuff Are Made. I know it would be a big hit.

I think God is like the machines that make other things. God simply was, is, and will be. No one and nothing designed God. Instead, driven by love, God made the universe and everything in it and made them so that they can fulfill God’s plans. Humans are at the pinnacle of material creation, and God loved us so much that we can choose to be part of God’s plans or not. This choice differentiates us from everything else in the universe, and part of doing God’s will involves taking action to make sure everyone has a chance to experience salvation. And while that is a process, I still think the whole arrangement was made by God. And it works and it works well.

Amen.

I Talk to Machines

I Talk to Machines

1 Kings 19:12: After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the song from the musical Paint Your Wagon called “I Talk to the Trees.” There is at least one person, then, who talks to the trees. For a while, some people who cultivated plants talked to them, my mother among them. She said that helped them grow.

I can’t raise any kind of plant, but I do talk to appliances and cars. I think it’s a good idea to stay on good terms with them, so I talk to them and they return the favor.

Take my car, for example. When I push the “open” button on the fob, my Mazda tells me it has received the order and is complying by means of a single blink of the parking lights. It’s as if it’s saying, “Yes!” as it opens the door. Then, when I get out of the car and push the “lock” button, it blinks twice, as if to say, “Good-bye!”

Then, when I don’t fasten my seat belt fast enough, it chimes once and that’s it. I’d call that a gentle reminder, unlike Becky’s Camry which sounds a piercing tone once as a reminder. If you don’t buckle your belt, it moves on to repeated piercing tones and finally to a continuous sound that would draw blood from your ears. At least it gets you to fasten your seat belt or suffer. It works.

I was thinking how God is like the warning system on my car, but instead of chimes, Jesus used a gentle knock. Whether or not we answer is up to us. God loves and respects us so much that God will not continue to hammer at us like the Camry tone, but stops until the next time when he comes with another gentle knock.

I believe that we must be listening for the gentle knock and open the door. And when we do, we will have the opportunity to be closer to God and to grow in God’s grace.

Praise God for God’s gentleness, for continuing to know and for loving us so much God returns until we open the door or not. It’s up to each us, and I pray that we will continue to open the door and let Jesus in.

 

Amen.

Too Close for Comfort

Too Close for Comfort

Isaiah 55:6: Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.

I don’t know if you’re claustrophobic or not. When someone asks me if I am, I say, “It depends.” And it does.

I’m claustrophobic when I’m in a crowded elevator. You know the drill in that case: stand as stiff as a ram rod, don’t touch anyone and, while your nerves are screaming for just a little room to breathe, YOU CAN’T LOOK AT ANYONE and so you ended up staring at the ceiling. When the door blessedly slides open, the enforced crowding ends, with people quickly scattering in all directions like those hombres who run with the bulls in Pamploma.

When telephone booths walked the earth, I couldn’t stand using one with the door closed. No matter the weather, I chatted through storms and hurricanes. Sure, I got wet or froze, but it was better than a panic attack.

When we were in New York once, we went to see a production of Mary Poppins in an ancient theater with seats suitable for Munchkins. I endured the closing in feeling until intermission when I knew I had to get out. I was having the beginnings of a panic attack and spent the rest of the musical across the street from the theater in a café, drinking caffeinated coffee to calm my nerves. And it worked.

Two places in which I don’t mind being in a small space are in a budget airline seat and during an MRI. I couldn’t figure this since these places are certifiably tight until a friend told me something I’d missed with the airplane and the MRI. Both of these have outlets which blow air in the passenger’s or patient’s face. For some reason this quiets the urge to panic. It’s too bad they haven’t discovered this on Broadway, although it might make it difficult to pay attention to the musical.

The point is that God is like that stream of fresh air. God invites us to be in God’s presence and suffuses through the inmost part of our being. And as a result, we are revived, sanctified, calmed and encouraged.

Praise God for drawing near to us, for offering us strength and new life and for sending his Son to die on a cross so that we might have eternal life and nothing to worry about.

Amen.

 

Farther Along

Farther Along

1 Corinthians 13:12: Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I don’t know how you entertained yourself during worship services when you were a child, but I do know my brother and I had seemingly endless ways to do that and not so by the way to irritate our mother. One time we decided to use one of my cuff links as an interstellar battle cruiser. We were way ahead of George Lucas with this, but mom didn’t appreciate our visionary efforts. “If you don’t stop that,” she said, “I’ll march you out of here and put you in the nursery where you belong. Behave!”

This cooled our jets for the rest of that service, but Sunday comes one a week and we were at it the next time, singing hymns with different words that we found humorous. One of our favorites was based on “Bringing in the Sheaves.” Here’s a sample chorus:

Bringing in the sheaves, raking up the leaves

We shall come rejoicing rolling up our sleeves.

We did this and managed to live through another service by leaning forward and singing into the hymnal racks. Mom thought we were being pious. We never told her our secret, but I think she knew. She was just too tired to do anything.

The phrase “rolling up our sleeves” reminded me that this last Monday I had blood drawn for a routine test. To prepare, I rolled up my sleeve far enough to cut off circulation if I had left it that way. When I sat down at the place where the drawing of blood was to take place, the technician—and please nod if this has been your experience—rolled my sleeve another two turns, and my whole arm went numb. No, it really didn’t , but hurt like a big dog. At least that distracted me from the tiny pin prick of the needle.

I think my experience with drawing blood shows us how God deals with us. We have a constant call from God in which he says, metaphorically, “Roll up your sleeves! I have work for you to do!”

So, we roll up our metaphorical sleeves and go to work and proudly say to God, “Look what I did! Am I not your favorite believer?”

God says nothing, but reaches down and tightens our sleeves another notch or two. With this, we forget our pride and self-importance and work at a higher level. And when we do, we hear God say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!”

Praise to God who holds us to a higher standard, who celebrate when we do God’s will and who loved us so much He gave up his son so that we might live and serve God forever. Amen

On the Side of the Road

On the Side of the Road

Luke 10:30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that stories in the Bible match up to what happens to us, except that you’re intelligent people so I know you’ve noticed.

Anyhow, one of those cases happened to us last Friday. I was watching an educational program on television called Cops, which consists of narrated body cam videos of police “taking down” (that’s police talk) various miscreants. I don’t know why I find this so fascinating, but I do.

The phone rang and it was Becky. I knew she had gone to Peebles to take advantage of a sale, probably also using coupons and discounts so that she could walk out with a bunch of merchandise after the store had paid her to take it off their hands. She first told me the call was nothing bad and then said, “I had a flat tire,” which I think is bad, but I wasn’t there.

My guy genes kicked into high gear at this point and I drove slowly and legally over to Peebles, not wanting to end up on an episode of Cops. I found her sitting in the car with the tatters of the left front tire clinging sadly to the axle. I set about jacking the car up so I could put on the “doughnut” (a sorry excuse for a spare), loosened the lug nuts and tried to pull the tire off. Nothing doing. It was like it was glued to the axle. No, it WAS glued to the axle with rust or some other miracle ingredient. After about fifteen minutes of this, Becky saw a Buckhall EMT vehicle pull up, ostensibly to get some Chinese food. She suggested that I ask them for help, having noticed that at least one of them was a big beefy guy who could probably bench press me. I asked them for help, and they readily agreed, saying they liked to do such things.

Long story made shorter: they had the tire off and the doughnut installed in ten minutes.

Now for the application: while we weren’t by the side of the road (we were in a parking lot), the car had been injured and we could fix it with the help of a couple of guys we didn’t know who wouldn’t take anything for it. It was somewhat like the parable of the Good Samaritan.

All this goes to show that people haven’t changed and they have reacted to situations in the same way throughout history. We all find ourselves beside the parabolic roadside and sometimes we are blessed by helpful people who come along. Of course, sometimes they don’t, but that’s another story and another parable.

Thanks be to God for the love God had implanted in our hearts so that we want to help others, and thanks to God for loving us so much that he was willing to die on a cross for us. All praise to the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter. Amen.

Eggs in a Hat

Eggs in a Hat

I don’t know if you remember the Woolworths stores, including the one in the Manassas Shopping Center. I loved going into Woolworths as a kid. It seemed they had everything, including tropical fish and a snack bar. There’s not one of these stores that I know of anywhere around here, even those the company is still in business. Just not here.

I remember that my mother bought a Nativity set from the store with all the usual suspects: the angels, wise men, shepherds, sheep, donkeys, Mary, Joseph, a tiny cradle and of course the Christ child. My father made a wooden stable, and our collection was jammed into it in the most joyous and satisfying way. In the way of children, I had my favorite character, but it wasn’t a wise man or angel as you might expected. Instead I liked one of the shepherds who, dressed in what looked like burlap, had a number of eggs in the gray hat. He was bending toward the baby as if giving his offering to the child, never mind that newborns can’t eat eggs. But I have to think that the shepherd wanted to offer the best of  what he had, and the eggs were it. The key is that he gave freely of something that the baby at least couldn’t use, although I have a feeling that Mary and Joseph had a tasty mutton omelet for Shabbat brunch later on.

The point of all this is that the shepherd gave of the best he had, even if it didn’t rank with gold or frankincense  or myrrh, the gifts of kings. I think it notable that the shepherds, the lowest of the low in that society, were the first to see and worship the baby. The kings came three or four years later. But shepherds and kings brought gifts and worshipped the Redeemer as their response to the gift God had given them, the same gift God has given to us. Praise God for the gift of his Son, for the remembrance of the Christmas season, and for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen