The Works of Our Hands

Get Excited and Make Things

Matthew 8:3: Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

I don’t know if you were encouraged to make things by hand when you were younger. I know I certainly was, largely to keep my hands (and in some cases my feet) busy at some useful task so they would not break something valuable.

Bernard Tate narrated a classic example of using his hands and ingenuity with his story about improvising an instrument for watching the eclipse last week. Here’s what he wrote in one of his “Postcards from D.C.” emails, a series in which he writes about interesting or amusing or striking events or sights in the city.

“About noon on the day of the eclipse, a sudden “eclipse fever” hit the Government Accountability Office building, and everyone was asking each other if they had their eclipse glasses, or rushed to build pinhole viewers in which the pinhole acts as a lens and projects an image of the sun onto some surface. I went across the street to the CVS and bought a roll of aluminum foil.  I cut the front and back off my office steno pad, taped a piece of white paper on one piece, cut a hole in the other piece, taped aluminum foil over the hole, and punched a pinhole in the foil.

“Several folks had cereal box & shoe box pinhole viewers, but my little 10-minute special had a longer focal length and projected a bigger image…with the screen on the sidewalk and holding the pinhole five or six feet away, I got a half-inch image.”

It occurred to me that in his story, Bernard used his hands to create something timely and useful, and that got me to thinking that, while God created the universe and everything in it with words, God chose to fashion Adam directly from the earth. While we don’t know the exact process God used, I imagine it would have been something like hands or some other agency that could shape matter. As humans, we can be involved with God in co-creation using, along with other methods, our hands. Allowing us to be a part of what God does seems to me to be further evidence of the great love and grace that God bestows on us and on creation at every turn. Praise God for the works of hands, for love, grace and for creation. Amen.

 

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Sabbath Rest

Rest Here

 

 

Matthew 12: 8: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
I don’t know if you remember a time when Chik Fil A wasn’t the only business that closed on Sundays. This was the case when I was a boy, and up through about 1988, when Virginia’s blue laws were repealed. It’s interesting that the town of Colonial Heights didn’t get around to repealing its Sunday closings until March of this year. Having Sunday closings was inconvenient and required some planning, but I wonder if there isn’t something to setting aside a Sabbath.

Orthodox Jews take the observance of the Sabbath very seriously. They cannot shear sheep, work with wool, thread needles, weave, tie or untie knots, sew, tear, write, erase, cut, build, light a flame, carry anything, drive, turn on a light switch, or finish anything that had been started before the Sabbath. While we might not want to go that far, I wonder if there are some things we tend to do on Sundays that we really don’t need to do.

When I was young, many people had jobs involving manual labor, and they worked hard five or more days a week. Saturdays were reserved for errands and catching up on household work and maintenance. As a result, they were ready to rest on Sundays. I remember that I was expected to lay my suit, dress shirt, tie and shoes out Saturday night for the next day—and I had to polish my shoes. I still remember the smell of the polish as I tried hard not to get it on my hands or clothes. I didn’t always succeed.

On Sunday morning, we got dressed in our best clothing and sat down to breakfast. It was a challenge for me to keep bits of egg and bacon off my pants. Generally I did, and then we were off to church. When we came home, my father, brother and I relaxed in the living room with the Sunday papers and their color comics while my mother slaved in the kitchen to fix a special Sunday meal of fried chicken, green beans cooked to within an inch of their lives, biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy and, of course, sweetened ice tea. I’m sorry now that we didn’t do anything to help her, but that’s how it was back then. We didn’t eat like that the rest of the week, and that special meal made the Sabbath more special.

After we ate and everyone had a nap, it was time to entertain ourselves by taking a ride in our car. It’s hard to believe now, but driving then was a pleasure, and we always seemed to find something interesting to look at. When we came back, we had sandwiches for our evening meal, and then settled in to watch our black-and-while television or play rummy (to this day the only card game I know). My paternal grandmother visited us from Tennessee every once in a while, and as a strict “old school” Baptist, she did not believe in drinking alcohol, dancing, going to movies, or gambling, including playing cards without money being exchanged. She did like watching wrestling on television, however.

Obviously, we can’t go back to those days, but I wonder if we can set aside some time on Sundays to relax and focus on our relationship with each other and with God. Doing so would help us navigate this all too busy world, and I believe it would make us better people and better witnesses to the power and love of God, who created the world in six days and took a Sabbath. And God saw that that special time was very good. Amen.

Creeping Up

 

Heavy Traffic at a Traffic Light

Psalm 103:8 The Lord is kind and merciful. He is patient and full of love.

I don’t know if you do this when you’re at a long light, say on Sudley Road (you can have your pick there of long lights) or if you’ve noticed other drivers doing the same thing. Say you’re stopped for a light. Say it’s a long light, long enough that you think the season may change before the light does. You’ve filed your nails, read all the bumper stickers you can see and said prayers for almost everyone you know, and then it happens.

The light hasn’t changed. And then you creep up, not far enough that you run into the car ahead of you. The question is why? The timer that controls the light doesn’t care what you do. You’re not intimidating it to change sooner with your car. It will take its own sweet time until it changes and, short of your car growing wings and flying above traffic or going off-road (which I don’t recommend), you have to wait. And wait. And wait.

I’ve been trying to understand why some drivers do this, and one possibility has to do with the anxiety we feel on the roads in this stressful, time-driven area. Creeping up at lights might be a way to relieve some of the anxiety we feel at traffic lights. We’re moving—it’s not far and it’s not for long, but darn it, we’re going somewhere. And a few seconds later, when the light changes, we are really going somewhere, even if it’s only to the next red light, and we feel better. It’s only for a short while, certainly, but we need all the feeling better we can get.

I think that the spiritual connection is this: not to demean God, but God is like that timer on the traffic light. God is going to accomplish God’s purposes on God’s timetable. There’s no way we can hurry God or make those purposes happen any sooner. We must wait until they do happen, and when they do, the joy and contentment we feel is well worth waiting for. Think of the Children of Israel waiting for the Messiah. They moaned and cried out for a Savior for millennia, but that didn’t change the time of that Messiah’s coming. Jesus came when the time was right, and for those of us who have accepted him as Lord and Savior, our joy is free and unbounded. Praise God for being patient, for doing what is necessary when the time is right, and for sending the gift of Jesus Christ, who is indeed our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Small Steps

 

 

Small Steps

1 Kings 19:11-12: (Elijah goes out to meet the Lord) Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 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 ever accidentally stepped on a cat. It’s not a pleasant experience either for you or for the cat, and there’s always the risk of both cat and human breaking something, whether from being stepped on or falling.

Our elder cat Nacho doesn’t move quickly any more, if she ever did, except when it’s time to eat and she hustles toward her food. And she is remarkably stubborn about claiming whatever space she happens to sprawl on. If she’s lying in the hall, for instance, and I come along, she will not move. I am then forced to step over her since the hall is not wide enough to go around her. In that circumstance, she looks at me as if to say, “Yeah, buddy, this hall is mine and so is any place I happen to occupy. You can go over and go around.”

Knowing Nacho is like this, I have gotten into the habit of taking small steps, almost shuffling my feet, so that if I do encounter her unexpectedly, I’d only nudge her with a toe, as opposed to stepping on her with what my mother used to call, “my big flat feet.” (They are flat, by the way, but I think more “average” than “big.” They’re still big enough to hurt a cat.)

I think I first adapted small steps as a preventative measure when Amy and Alyssa started crawl. They were much like Nacho—they claimed their space, and if I came along, I had to watch out for them since I was the responsible party, as the insurance companies like to say. So I shuffled along the floor when they were at that age. When we adopted Nacho, I easily fell into taking small steps, a legacy from our daughters’ activities at that age.

I think the spiritual application is this: in our faith, we need to take small steps after our initial leap of faith as we grow into Christlikeness. There will occasionally still be giant steps with our spirituality, but most of the progress is done in small everyday bits, such as being kind to someone or sensitive to a person’s emotional state. Jesus spoke of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush. God is not necessarily in the whirlwind, but perhaps more so in the silence of small acts and thoughts, which can have huge effects on the world and on its people. Praise God for the small deeds and words that grow, like the mustard tree, into the Kingdom. Amen.

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.

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.