On Second Thought

Memory

Deuteronomy 31:8: The LORD goes before you and will be with you; God will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

I don’t know if you have ever been unable to think of something or someone’s name. Or, to put it another way, as far as I am concerned, can I ever think of something the first time I want to? The answer to that is, about half the time.

For every curse, there is a blessing, however, and I discovered that while working crosswords. If I had gone through all the clues and find I don’t have any idea what the words are, it does me no good to stare at the puzzle and go over and over the clues. Nothing comes. But if I put the crossword down and do something else for a while and come back to it, I can usually find most of the answers. Notice I said, “most of the answers.” I’m still waiting on perfection as well, and I think you know the likelihood of that happening in this life time.

The same principle works for me if I can’t remember a name or if the Nats won or lost last night (although here lately that has become much easier), it doesn’t do any good to walk around obsessing on what I can’t remember. It simply won’t come that way, and although my brain is fond of obsession, some other part of me is crying out, “Give it up! This won’t work!” My brain puts up quite a fight, but if I can conquer its insistent voice and think of nothing (which is easy for me) or something else, the answer will appear, in 20 minutes (rarely) or in a long a time as six hours (the current record).

I think my struggle with remembering has a spiritual side as well. We go along in life, and when we run into an obstacle, we try to force our way through, we can’t surmount it, no matter how hard or how long we try. I think we do this because we believe that we are in charge not only of ourselves, but of the whole universe. You and I know that that job is already taken, and if we relax, let go of our obsession with control, and turn the matter over to God, the answer will come. We don’t know how long that will take—the Israelites waited nearly 2000 years for a Messiah. I doubt that most of our questions will take that long, but I think that believers will have an answer. That is the great promise of God, and the greatest fulfillment of any promise came with the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Praise God for God’s promises, for making them come true and in doing so, giving us eternal life. Amen.

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Running with Two Outs

 

 

Bryce Harper Scoring

Jeremiah 23:23-24: “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord, “And do not I fill heaven and earth?”

I don’t know if you like baseball, but I do. Notice that I said, ‘like,’ not ‘adore,’ ‘can’t live without,’ or ‘must have above all else.’ Obviously, I have to do without the game in the off season, and while I might be gloomy about that at time, I do manage to survive somehow until the next season starts. I’m not a big enough fan that I would miss a daughter’s wedding for a game, largely because I would want to be on this earth a while longer. We heard of someone who didn’t come to his daughter’s wedding because a football game was being played that he said he wouldn’t miss, and he didn’t. And no, he didn’t win Father of the Year for that.

One situation in baseball that I like happens when there are one or more men on base with two outs and a count of  three balls and two strikes on the batter. The runners know they can start running on the next pitch because one of a limited number of events can occur. The batter may strike out and the inning is over, or the batter may foul a pitch off and the inning continues, or the batter may walk and the inning continues, or the batter may get a hit, possibly scoring one or more of the runners. What these situations have in common is that the runners are safe in running, provided they don’t fall down between bases. In other words, the situation takes care of itself.

It occurred to me that God takes care of every situation, regardless of what has happened or what will happen. All that we have to do is confess our sins and believe that God is our salvation, and that’s it. It’s as easy as praying that simple prayer. And when we do, we know we can run through this life with confidence, knowing that we can come home standing up with no problem.  Thanks be to God for being present at all times and in all circumstances, and for the gift of Jesus Christ, who redeemed us by his death on the cross and who knows about and takes care of every situation, especially those when the count is three and two. Amen.

 

A Rock for a Pillow

Ethiopian Neck Pillow

Ethiopian Neck Pillow

Genesis 28:11: When Jacob reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.

I don’t know if you think much about the sleeping arrangements that we favor. I did the other day when I was making the bed and put my pajamas under my pillow. I had a sudden thought: why did I put them there when I could have put them any place in the house? The answer is not surprising: I did this because that is what my mother taught me to do with my pajamas. Nowadays, I do it so I can find them again. They are part of a long list of possessions that I must put in the same place if I ever want to find them again. Forgetting to do so sets off a mad, anxiety-ridden search. It’s not pretty.

Sleeping customs in our country and culture are far from universal. Masai herders can sleep standing up, a custom they probably learned from some of the students I taught. The Somali tribe in Africa makes use of a carved wooden neck pillow, somewhat similar to one used in Korea, Japan and China. They sleep just fine using these implements, thank you, and there’s even a version advertised on Amazon.com! And people can sleep outside on the ground without a cover, even in the winter. So, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when Jacob uses a rock for a pillow when he has his well-known dream of a staircase stretching to heaven. (And sorry, “Jacob’s Ladder” fans: Jacob probably was dreaming of a ziggurat, a kind of terraced step pyramid found in the area where he lived and not of a Home Depot extension ladder.)

We are told in the account that when Jacob awoke, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” He then took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it, using it as an altar of sacrifice to mark that place as holy.

Now, if God can lead someone to sanctify a stone, we shouldn’t be surprised that God can sanctify or make holy anything or any situation. Remember that Jacob felt that he had to leave Beersheba because he was afraid of what Esau might do after Jacob had stolen his birthright. So, here’s this man who’s running for his life who goes to sleep in the desert with a rock for a pillow, and God comes into this situation and promises him in his dream that his descendants will be a great blessing and bring salvation to humankind. God redeems what looks like an impossible circumstance, just as God does again and again in the history of salvation.

Praise God for coming into desperate, impossible circumstances and making them not only tolerable, but the best anyone could hope for—or dream of. Amen.

Deposits with Returns

 

 

Pepsi Bottles

Galatians 3:14: Christ paid the price so that the blessing promised to us would come to all the people of the world through Jesus Christ and we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.

I don’t know how you earned money when you were younger for those necessities children must have like candy and toys. I used various means, including taking my parents’ offer to pay me a penny for every dandelion I dug up. Some of you know how hard the clay that passes for soil around here is, so my scheme to get rich by digging dandelions in the hot sun lasted maybe ten minutes and I earned ten cents (I was a slow child).

Then my brother and I tried a Kool-Aid stand, but no one in the neighborhood had any more money than we did, and they were not about to buy something they could make themselves. That business scheme resulted in a total loss, so we went further into the hole.

Then some kids at school told me about the wonders of bottle deposits. They’re still around in some states, and some pay ten cents a bottle, but in case you haven’t heard how the system worked back in the day, when we bought bottled drinks, each drink had two cents added to the price to insure that you would bring the bottle back so it could be reused. When you brought the bottle to the store,  you got your two cents back. You returned the bottles to get a return.

Some people who were apparently wealthy didn’t return their bottles, but left them lying around  or threw them out of the windows of their cars, and if those didn’t break, we would come along towing our red wagon, collect the empties, and haul our take to the grocery store and redeem them. We didn’t make a lot, but more than if we had sat around reading comic books all day. My mother suggested that we save some our hard-earned money, but we scoffed at that idea and spent it before it could “burn a hole in our pockets,” as my mom said, rather disdainfully. I wasn’t until I started painting the interiors of houses in high school that I made enough to matter. And I did save some of it.

The spiritual application, I think, is this. We don’t have to worry about nickeling and diming our way to salvation, to use a phrase. It’s not even worth trying, although some people do, thinking their good deeds are the deposits that they can use to gain eternal life. We of course know as believers that our debt was paid in full at Calvary by the sacrifice of the Redeemer of the world whose Resurrection we celebrate this Sunday and every Sunday. Praise God for the treasures that have been stored up for us in heaven so that we don’t have to try to earn our way in. Amen.

 

Grazing and Browsing

 

Sheep Grazing

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered about the difference between grazing and browsing. I know I have, and so I looked up the two terms and found that browsing applies to the feeding behavior of animals who eat off shrubs and small trees. You might say they’re selective. Grazers, on the other hand, eat what’s on the ground which is generally grass and other short forms of vegetation. Grazers, by their very nature, can eat too much and completely strip an area of vegetation. Sheep will keep eating until they “founder,” and unless someone intervenes (you don’t want to know what they have to do), the sheep will die. I suppose that’s what you might call too much of a good thing.

Grazing and browsing also applies to the behavior of people in bookstores or waiting rooms where there are books or magazines. Browsers are selective, only reading what is of interest to them, while grazers thoroughly read what is written, determined to wring the last bit of information out of the reading. Depending on the material and our mood and the time available, we may be grazers one time and browsers the next. We also may browse through files on our computers, selecting one or several to spend time with, or to graze, if you will.

I think the spiritual sense is this: God has spread a literal and metaphorical feast before us in this life and the next, and we have a basic choice. We can browse God’s truths, and only choose those that are convenient for or palatable to us. Or we can graze what God has given us, and take it in and continue taking it all in, because, unlike the sheep, we cannot have too much of the goodness of God, and the mercy, forgiveness and love of God are without end. Praise God for giving us the choice to graze, and for insuring that we will never run short of all that the Creator has blessed us with. Amen.

The Real Deal

Library at Trinity College

Exodus 20: 6. So says the Lord our God: “I will show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

I don’t know if you are a reader, although I suspect as much because you are in choir and many of you have studied the Bible for years, and you are also intelligent and good-looking. I bring this up because I also don’t know how you prefer to do your reading. Maybe you’re like me and went through a stage where I preferred e-books for their convenience and lower cost. I used them for about ten years, but recently have found them hard to hold (they’re made of plastic, slippery and just plain awkward),  harder and harder to read (that’s on me, not the readers) and reliant on batteries. With an e-reader, I can access thousands of books, but if the battery goes out and I can’t recharge it, it’s like having no book at all. And I don’t want to think about that.

And so, I have gone back to the future and now read paperbacks and the occasional hardback when someone gives me a gift card, and it’s like coming home. I can hold the books easily, read them readily (with no large print—yet), mark my place and, best yet, write in the margins. This devotional came from a note I made in a margin of the book I’m reading now. (It read, “Write about books for devotional,” and here I am.)

I know, I know, e-readers mark the place automatically and it is possible to make notes, but that process is more trouble than it’s worth. And I have to say that having a book sent electronically is not very exciting or satisfying. Becky tells me that the one thing people look forward to the most every day is the delivery of the mail. That applies to “real” books as well. There’s nothing like going out to the bookstore for a change of scenery, choosing a book, paying for it and taking it home. And there’s also excitement in ordering it online and waiting to see if the promised delivery day is accurate. Then there’s the enjoyment of opening the package and finding out that, yes, they did send the right book. Then comes the reading and all the rest, but you already know about that.

It occurs to me that our experience with God is or can be like having the best book in the universe. Just as books can have a real presence in our lives that is important and enriching, so God is the ultimate reality and offers not only an enriched life but also salvation to all who accept Jesus Christ. Jesus said, in John 6:58, speaking of himself as the New Manna, “I am the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The riches and opportunities of the universe are ours because God is the real creator, sustainer and redeemer. May we always remember these qualities, and may we always know that God is real. Amen

Stars in Their Courses Above

Night Sky

Lamentations 3: 22-3: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness, O Lord of Hosts. (This scripture is the basis for the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”)

I don’t know if you worried a lot when you were younger. I know I did—and I worried about everything. I worried when I had trouble going to sleep, and I worried if I slept too long , thinking that both of these meant I had some sort of hidden disease and was not long for this world.  To give me more to worry about, my third-grade Sunday School teacher made a vivid impression on me with the story of Passover. I carefully noted that the Angel of Death came for the firstborn son in each household, and guess who that was? As a result, I spent a number of sleepless nights watching for any suspicious figures that might resemble a death dealing angel sent for me. I’m not sure what I thought I would do if one did come, since Angels of Death are, after all, deadly, but eventually I got over this fear and went on to other ones.

I think the concern I kept going the longest had to do with the sun. I was certain it would burn out any minute, leaving us all to experience life as big human Popsicles. I was inspired in this by a set of encyclopedias my family bought so I could learn to think and not be irrational or superstitious. The article on the sun included an engraving of a meadow with sheep in it after the sun had fizzled out. The most horrible detail to my mind were icicles hanging from the sides of the poor sheep. What a horror! Of course, I could have read the article and found out that the sun will likely last for another five billion years, but I’m sure I would have used any extra time I had to worry about other things.

I eventually calmed down over the years, largely because of the nature of God that is the point of this consideration. The Bible tells us God is faithful, not in a few selected cases, but everywhere, all the time to everyone. God sends the rain and sun not just to those who deserve it, but to everyone. And those gifts continue: in the words of the scripture, “his compassions fail not.” And the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” observes,

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

God’s love is in nature and throughout the universe, extending to the stars and beyond the reaches of the universe, keeping those vast nuclear fusion furnaces that we call stars burning.

All we have to do is accept this omniscient and ever present God who offers us mercy, forgiveness and love, and all we have to do is accept it through acknowledging Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. May those of us who have done so rejoice, and may we be led by our experiences to bring others to an understanding of the God who keeps the stars in their heavens. Amen.