Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/27/10

Another week of cold, and the Olympics are nearly over, and the northeast received another several feet of snow. And a quake in Chili, and life goes on. And we learn something from life every day.

I read of a father and his seven year old son who agreed to spend at least 15 minutes every day walking and looking to see what they would find. The first day they picked up two recyclable cans. Not much. But each day they went out and their eyes started to see more, so by the end of the year their accumulations of coins, golf balls, cans and bottles and other stuff, netted them a little over one thousand dollars. Besides, they enjoyed each others company and benefited from the daily dose of fresh air and exercise. What did this? The daily doing of a small task, indeed, a very small task.

Many people think of the Bible as mostly to do with getting people to heaven, and getting right with God, as saving their souls. It does that, and very well too. But it also has a good deal to do with life on earth. The Psalmist said it like this, “Thy WORD have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The same Psalm (119), teaches that “Thy Word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path”, and further says, “I am a stranger in the earth, Oh, how I need a map”.

The Bible never treats earth as an afterthought. Jesus prayed, "On earth, as it is in heaven”. The term for this is Wisdom. Wisdom is the art of living with skill in whatever situation we find ourselves. It is not getting information. Wisdom is much more, it is applying what we know to the way we live, speak, act each day, treat parents, kin, and neighbors. Wisdom directs our life as God’s children.

The Bible Book that sets this out for us best is the Book of Proverbs. The first nine chapters is a father to son speech, then the Book distiles wisdom into bits and pieces that are easily remembered, and done. Proverbs 2,9 when we read and study, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice, and every good path (9), “When you apply your ear to wisdom, and your heart to understanding”. V.4.

Growth won’t come at once. It took a year for that father and son to accumulate stuff worth one thousand dollars. But gradually, bit by bit, we will be changed through our reading God’s Word daily. Bit by bit He changes us, and the Spirit strengthens faith and leads to firmer stand in every trial and temptation.

Search and you will surely find,
Treasures to enrich the mind.

GPD 2/27/10

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/23/10

The advice to me on Sunday about the weather was, “Don’t plan to plant the tomatoes real soon”. He meant another blast of cold was predicted this week. But it did remind me of those tomatoes. In Detroit we had a small patch behind the garage, sunny, and I spaded that by hand and planted 6 plants. That’s really all I needed to do to have a harvest. Plants grew, and they produced tomatoes, red, rich, juicy, sun-warmed, just right for a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich (That was before that was forbidden food). No luck in Texas at all, and my tomato provider says he is hampered with a rotator cuff problem and won’t plant this year either. It did take initiative and get-with-it to get the job done before we had the harvest.

And that brings me to an interesting question often used by people who decide whom to hire after an interview. They’ll ask, “So, what did you do today?” Kimberly Thompson, a counselor, suggests this question may be a trap, because it does reveal what kind of a work habit a person has. For what you do with your time affects your job search in several ways. Are you busy catching up on some reading in your field, or did you spend a week getting the garage in order. She suggests planning your time is part of the job search process. So be ready to answer that question positively. In short, be prepared.

And that is good advice always. The recent financial crisis had people looking at their credit report more closely. People tried to curb the habit of just using the card whenever they wanted something. Being in debt was no big deal, till it became a big deal. Having good credit suddenly became very important.

St. Peter chimes in with this for us Christians for the daily walk. “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorably among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works which they see, glorify God in the day of visitation.” The rest of this chapter speaks of this further. 1 Peter 2, 1.2.

Hold off with the planting, but never with the Christian living, “for to this were you called”. May He daily and richly bless this walk.

GPD 2/23/10

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/20/10

Two soldiers from Spring, Texas, brothers, are the very first brothers to have the honor to serve as honor guard at the grave of the unknown soldier The older is 5'11", while his younger bother is 6'7". That is taller than the measurement is supposed to be, but they waived that requirement for the brothers.

I mention this because these soldiers who stand this guard have very strict requirements in uniform and behavior to meet. They even stood guard during IKE.

This all came to mind as I read an article in the paper about people looking for churches. The article quotes the Barna Group and Life Way Research, both organizations that study reasons for “empty pews”. The article tries to show what people look for when seeking churches. They speak with admiration of the large growth of ‘non-denominational’ churches which offer many things beside worship, help with taxes, physical activity, fitness and recreational facilities, etc, etc.

A person with Lifeway said, “People want honest, and have the Bible brought to life so they can live their faith every day”. But “specific denomination was not important, and many people were open to more than one denomination.”

They quote Kerry Shook of The Woodlands. “We find denominations put up barriers. . so we take those barriers away and welcome everyone.”

The article speaks about Church, but it seems to forget that the Church is God’s invention, and should be run by His rules. But I see no mention of God.

It reminded me of a steeplechase race planned by a running club. They invited runners, and hundreds showed up because the prize being offered was a large sum of money. They explained to the runners that the track was clearly marked, but it wound up and down, and twisted through some rough terrain, but each turn was clearly marked by an orange pointer. So the race began, runners were on a track for maybe half a mile, then the first turn came and the pack followed. During the race, they crested a rather steep hill, and the pointer showed left off the track, but left led to a muddy path leading to some woods. By this time the runners had sort of established a routine of following, and when the first stayed with the clear track, most of the rest did too. Some noted the pointer and turned into the muddy trail, but not many. You guessed it, the muddy trail was the right one. The broad way led to a jumble of shacks and not much else. No prize.

And the word of Jesus comes to mind. Matthew 7,13, “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Go where Jesus' Word is taught and He is Savior of your soul.

GPD 2/20/10

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/18/10

The walking was cold, but no wind, so it was really nice. The lad waiting for his ride was bundled up, even had his hood pulled up and only his face showing. And his voice was sort of muffled when he greeted me.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and so the beginng of the 40 days of Lent, not including the Sundays. Lent is a special time in the Church year with its emphasis on the Passion story. For me it was always a time to study something special about the events, a Book or a report, and a Sermon series ending always with Easter, and the Resurrection from the dead.

The season usually started with wintry weather, often rain or snow and cold, and then the Spring with the fresh growth, and some early flowers peeking out, and the Joy of Easter.

This year I plan to read the Gospel of John again, this time using Luther’s translation. I picture him, secluded in the Wartburg castle, struggling to set The words of the Bible into a language the common people could read and understand. And the work was richly blessed, and is still in use to this day.

That is really a picture of the Church at work. Often struggling, often beset by difficulties, often, as St. Paul wrote, ‘shipwrecked’, and enduring all the other trials and hardships mentioned in Hebrews chapter ll, for example. Yet out of it comes a Church stronger, more enduring, than ever. Jesus had said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be not dismayed, I have overcome the world”.

Always out of tribulation comes character, and strength of faith, and sure hope as well. And that is what we need to look for during Lent. See again with fresh eyes what Jesus did, and hear again the assuring word, “Father died for this one”.

In that light, may He bless your Lenten days for growth and calm assurance in this uneasy world.

GPD 2/18/10

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/15/10

No rumbling yellow busses today, President’s Day. So the walk was cold, but quiet. As the weather folks promise for several days now. Moscow enjoys the fact that a few feet of snow brought government nearly to a halt in D.C.

I was thinking of the conversation a fellow pastor reported. Several of the younger members came with this request. “Pastor, why don’t we have more praise songs, more input from members, more experiences. And we need to change the liturgy we are using. It’s not relevant”.

My friend had been Pastor for many years in the same church. He thought for a bit and then asked, “Relevant to what or whom?” "Well, our age group. We need to attract more young people.”

His answer went something like this. In the congregation I am Pastor of there are many needs, older people, sick people, shut-ins, people with drink problems, people with family trouble, others with loss of job, or loss of retirement. Some lost a family member, others are in deep debt and are struggling. Many needs and worries I am not even aware of.

To get back to our way of worship, liturgy, as you say. Have you ever really listened to it? It all comes from Scripture, and takes us from our needs and cares into the presence of God. Suddenly we stand there. And the first thing we do is make confession. “There is no health in us.” Then we hear His Word, and a sermon based on that Word which applies to our life situation, and that is followed by His Holy Supper which tells us God has not forgotten us, but has forgiven us our sins because His Son, Jesus Christ, died in our place.

Liturgy is not a sudden thing, it comes from centuries of practice and use, from all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, to fit every need in every possible place.

Gently it opens our eyes to HIM. We are reminded again that we are not the center, God is, and He is there as Our God, ready to listen to us, to help us, and to bless us. That is why we worship and praise and thank Him as we do. Then we return home and we return different people, ready again to face the week, strengthened by His Word and comforting presence.

There is a story about a father and his daughter caught in the open prairie when a fire comes roaring from the west. The father burns the grass at their feet, and then does so all round, so when the fire reaches them, it races by because they stood where the fire had been. So Liturgy reminds us all we stand where the judgment has been, and we are called righteous because of the Blood of Jesus.

Does this help, the Pastor asked? Does it help you?

GPD 2/15/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/10/10

The sweater under my jacket felt good, though it was not as cold as they had said it might be, and there was no wind, so the walking was quiet, and pleasant.

The snows in Philadelphia and Washington D C and surrounding areas that have shut down transportation, closed schools, and brought things nearly to a standstill reminds us again that there are cycles in weather. History teaches that.

But we want to be in charge. In many ways we do control weather. Take football, for instance, That used to be played in an open field under all kinds of weather conditions, rain, snow, cold etc. But now we have managed to control that situation, and today’s game is played in a nice, climate-controlled place, where no wind makes a thrown ball flutter or wobble, where no rain sullies the field, and no mud lies ready to sully or besmirch that clean uniform.

Given all that, I find reading Psalm 8 again wonderfully calming and faith-strengthening.

“When I consider your heavens the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?
For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor”. Psalm 8, 3-5.

And such reading and meditation sets my mind at ease, for I too say with the Psalm, “O Lord, our God, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth”. V.9.

GPD 2/10/10

Monday, February 8, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/8/10

Cold this morning, and when facing the wind, nippy. So I did not face the wind very much during the walk.

Sometimes, when time allowed, I would stop and visit some of those family cemeteries scattered around the county. One could read the history that lay there. One struck me. A family was buried there. There had been seven children, three boys, and four girls. All had been married except the last one, a girl, who also died last. On her tombstone were the dates etched, and then this:

Don’t mourn for me now,
Don’t mourn for me ever,
I’m going to do NOTHIN
Forever and ever.

You can see the story. The youngest daughter, the one who did the dishes after a meal, cooked the meal, fed the chickens, canned the vegetables, swept the floors did the washing, weeded the garden, and never a word of thanks. Just taken for granted. So the verse.

Recently a friend sent an item by email titled, “The Invisible Woman”. Who says she didn’t seem to matter much, people ignored her, took her for granted, till a friend gave her a book with pictures of cathedrals. The book detailed how it took centuries for some of these to be built, and pointed out to her that everyone fit in. The stone mason who toiled on the walls, as well as the craftsman who came years later to design and place the stained glass windows, as well as the workmen who put the roof tiles in place.

And that reminded me of the time our youngest daughter graduated from Concordia, St. Paul, as a teacher, and I was honored to be invited to be their commencement speaker. I used St. Paul’s experience as my text. “But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” Acts 9,25. And the title was “Somebody Made A Good Rope”. I pictured the grimy waterfront loft where the rope-maker worked, and how he came before sunup to start the days’ toil. How he carefully choose the best materials, and twisted them carefully, as he had been taught, so the final product was sought by customers who knew they could count on the rope not breaking.

That was the graduates' lot. They would teach, some in city schools others in small more isolated situations, but all that the Lord required of them to “make a good rope”. That is, do their best where they were. That God will bless.

And that brings me to Sunday’s sermon on Luke 5, 1-11, and Peter’s response. “BUT at Thy Word I will let down the net”. It did not seem reasonable, because “we fished all night and caught nothing”. But “At THY word”. And that is the response of the believer always. What the Lord sets before us often does not make sense to our limited vision, but always, “At THY Word”. Brings His rich blessing.

The direction of the Christian life is one of obedience, of doing what He sets out before us, in carrying on as His children, often regardless. So, make a good rope, work where you have been planted, do what lies at hand to do, simply because God sets it there for you.

GPD 2/8/10

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shade Tree wisdom 2/5/10

In the beginning God spoke, and it was so. Creation came by the spoken word of God. Then something went wrong, very wrong. That, too, is recorded in Genesis. But God, in His mercy, promised to do something about it. He promised to send a Savior to this broken mankind.

That is what the Gospel deals with. The WORD of God, Jesus Christ, became flesh “and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. John 1,14.

The Gospel tells of the Baptizer, who, when he saw Jesus coming toward him and, ‘behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. 1,29. That is what the Gospel tells about, clearly that Jesus is this Savior the Lord had promised in Eden when Adam and Eve fell into sin. So, toward the end of his story, John writes, “Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. John 20,30.

The Gospel, then, is written to teach men who Jesus is, and lead them to believe in Him as their Savior from sin.

Later, when he was probably already an old man, he writes his letters. These are addressed more to those who now are believers. He wants to make sure one more time that they KNOW the truth, and hold it tight. Picture, if you will, a Pastor about to leave his flock, people he taught, and cared about and for, and cherishes still. He assures them of an “Advocate with the Father.” If any man sin”. I,2,1, And he calls Jesus their “Atoning sacrifice for their sins, and for the sins of the whole world”. V.2 He warns about the world and its lures, and about the Antichrist who is already present to try them, and tells them a truth to cling to. He writes in 3,8. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”.

Then he warns them always to “Try the Spirits whether they are from God, because “many false prophets have gone into the world”. 4,1 (Isn’t our world full of such today?)

And he speaks of the confidence they have. They are SURE of these truths John taught them. He urges and prays they will Hold to them always to their salvation. A good word for us to remember. When we are puzzled, have trouble seeing clearly, we make it a practice to first find something sound to stand on, a rock to cling to, a TRUTH we KNOW. Then we will not be struck down by the devil’s.

We, too, walk in dangerous times. Let us be sure we stand in the truth of Jesus Christ as the Only Savior.

GPD 2/5/10

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shade Tree Wisdom 2/2/10

Cold this morning, and a bit wet underfoot for it must have rained a little overnight. But the walking was just fine, busses on time, children alert enough to climb aboard, so all seems to be well here. The problem is I now have all the 1099 forms at hand and it’s time to gather stuff together for my tax man.

This morning I was thinking of the Gospel of St. Mark. Believed to be the earliest Gospel written, he sort of rushes into the heart of it, as if to say, “enough of procedure, let me get to the message.”

For that is what evangelism is, and what the Gospel is, a book with a message. Mark says nothing about how Jesus was born, he gives us John, he barely mentions the baptism, he just touches on the temptation, and then he starts out with the first words Jesus spoke in His earthly ministry.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe the Gospel”. Mark 1,15. That is how he launches the Gospel. Three short, urgent sentences. We have heard them so often, now what do they mean?

“The time is fulfilled” must surely mean now is the right time for this to happen. There is forgiveness, and so there is hope. The dark side maybe refers to the time we live in. A time rife with sin, filled with corruption, brimming with evils on every hand, and the slow poisoning of our environment. It’s all here, here now.

But Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God now here, and so “repent, and believe the Gospel”. There is the offer of salvation. When we see what John meant by “Behold, the LAMB of God, which taketh away the sins of the world”, we are led to believe in Jesus as our Savior, the Lamb sacrificed for our sins. “He died for all, that they which live shall no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again.”.(2 Cor. 5,15).

That is the message the Gospel of Mark emphasizes. He shows us that Jesus is truly the Son of God. The parables He tells and the incidents he records are set to lead us to true faith. That is why he haste in the beginning. St. Mark can’t wait to get the good news out. Something like a person who discovers a really good sale at a favorite store, and has the cell phone working overtime to share the news with others.

And, in that sense, that is the reason we, too, feel an urgency to share this wonderful news. Just the other day I was entering the grocery store when I passed a person going out with a filled cart, and as we met she said in a normal voice, “Jesus loves you”. I did not respond, too shocked, I suppose.

I have a classmate who does that regularly on his morning walks in Houston. This time the man he gave the word to turned, threw him to the ground, and started to beat on him. Police driving by on patrol rescued him. But the word is still true, the message must be told, for “The Kingdom of God is at hand”.

GPD 2/2/10