Party Guests of All Kinds — A Faith Fable

Harrison Banister threw a birthday party for himself. He was a businessman of some renown, influence, and wealth, though unconventional and peculiar in many ways. Each invited guest was not surprised, therefore, that the requested unconventional wardrobe for the party was a gold graduation robe that each received several days before the party from Mr. Banister. The printed invitations included the peculiar instructions that conversation at the party was to be limited to asking and answering each other the three printed questions that came with the invitation.

“What was a happy time for you growing up?” “What was a difficult part of growing up for you? “What is most important in life to you now?”

As the guests arrived they were greeted by Harrison Banister who encouraged them to mingle. So they mingled, flowing about in their gold robes, asking and answering each other the three questions. The guests continued the exchange of questions and answers as they ate dinner and birthday cake.

After a few party games Harrison Banister said, “As you quickly discovered, you didn’t know anyone else at the party other than me. Each of you has a unique connection to me and each of you is important to me in a special way. One of you is my banker, another of you is my barber. A cashier from the grocery store is here, so is a barista from the coffee shop I frequent. One of my golfing buddies from the club is present. The guy who shines my shoes every Monday down the street from my company headquarters is here as well. The gentleman who picks up my garbage with his automated garbage truck is here, too. One of my vice-presidents of the company is in attendance.

“I hope you all feel that you’ve enjoyed each other’s company this evening. Unfortunately, you’ve been separated from each other by where you live, your educational level, the kind of work you do – professional, tradesman, minimum salary worker or whatever, and your economic level. I’m your common denominator! Each of you is golden to me in your own unique way, hence the gold robes.

“On this my birthday, I wanted to give each of you a birthday gift instead of you gifting me. My gift to you, I hope, has been a deeper awareness that we are all equal as human beings, beloved of God. May you always see the people who happen to be around you, no matter who they are, as golden!”

Everyone applauded Harrison Bannister. All agreed it was the best birthday party they’d ever attended.

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” Romans 10:12

That Good Future

The coronavirus has interrupted life as we knew it. Astonishing is a good way to describe how much our own little worlds and the bigger world around us have changed in the last weeks.

Although we’ve always had wars, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural and man-made disasters disrupting life, they have usually been localized. You could always look elsewhere and get a glimpse of normal life. Not this time; the upset to normal life is world-wide.

This world-wide shift of how daily life is lived can help us better understand, and perhaps better accept a teaching of Jesus (and the rest of the New Testament) that the world as we know it won’t always be the world as we know it. I find it interesting that most people, even people who don’t claim to be Christian, believe that what Jesus taught was good and was true, and should be believed and followed. Well, Jesus taught that He is returning to our world some day and that He will stop history as we know it. He taught that everything is going to be made new and that those who want to be with Him can enjoy this new heaven and a new earth someday.

Generally, people have found such talk as rather bizarre. The world has always kept spinning, and we keep doing our thing day after day: working, going here and there and back again, entertaining ourselves, marrying, giving birth, building buildings, having parties, etc, etc. But the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted much of this. World-wide disruption of life as we know it is now believable because it’s happened! This experience can make more believable the teachings of Jesus that God has plans to change things dramatically in the future for our world.

This is good news, that God plans to end history as we know it and make all things new. It gives us ultimate hope, that someday we’ll be done with pain and suffering, illness and death, hurting human relationships and hatred.

The way we can prepare ourselves for this eventuality that Jesus taught is NOT by stocking up on toilet paper! The prep for this astonishing transformation of all things is to align ourselves with Him in yielding our lives and will over to Him, to live now for Him.

We may wonder if we’re good enough to be accepted by Him and to be included in His plans. Not to worry; He’s a God full of grace and mercy and has provided a way to have all that’s wrong with us forgiven. This is why Jesus came to earth the first time, to be our Saving One, our Savior. Accept Him for who He is and you’re good to go, good to go into that good future when He comes back a second time!

Jesus said, “At that time people will see the Son of Man [Jesus’ favorite name for Himself] coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26)

The Unknown Future

My wife Diann gave me the idea for the following reflection concerning the pandemic of the coronavirus and how it’s changed how we view the future. I want to give her credit because I’m “staying home” with her, “sheltering-in-place” with her or however you want to put it, and so I DO NOT WANT her to be angry with me!

She was sharing with me how we’ve always known we can’t predict the future and that our plans are always subject to change, but that we’ve never known that to be as true as we do now! So many of our plans, most of our plans, have been dramatically changed because of the pandemic in a way that’s never happened before.

Before the pandemic we gave mental assent and lip service to the fact that the future is unpredictable, but we hadn’t grasped that truth in a heartfelt way as we have in this pandemic of the coronavirus. We planned graduations, weddings, vacations, sports events, and other major life events not giving much thought that we might not be carrying through on those plans.

My mother would often conclude a reference to what she was planning with the phrase “the Lord willing.” Being my mother’s son I have often done the same. From here on out, when I use the phrase, I’m going to be putting more meaning into it!

This new respect for the future’s unpredictable nature puts us in a better position to relate to God in a more appropriate way! God is the one who is ultimately in charge of the future, not us. God is the one who knows the future before it happens, not us. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

When we insist that we can manage our future from the present, that we’re in control, we deny God’s sovereign rule. One of the keys to having a healthy, maturing, and deepening relationship with God is to recognize His right to have ultimate control over our life. That not only means yielding to His will and leadership in the present but yielding the future to Him as well! We shouldn’t look for God to bless our plans for the future but look to being blessed by God’s plans for us in the future!

Does this means we give up making plans? Of course not. God’s designed us to be able to think ahead, to plan. It’s just that it’s all subject to His approval!

As we reflect on all the plans that have not turned out the way we planned, we can turn it into a positive. It can deepen our resolve to be ever ready to yield to God’s ways when they are not the same as our ways, to be open to His will always. I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t something I planned on learning at this particular time!

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” James 4:13-15

Faith in a Pandemic

Martin Luther painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1529

As we deal with the pandemic of the coronavirus, we can learn much from something the great church reformer Martin Luther wrote over 400 years ago. I first saw this quote in a post on the Rock Point Church (of Schertz, Texas) Facebook page. Their post stated…

“When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death (Bubonic Plague, 14th-16th centuries), he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now…

‘I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.’

And so Luther stayed in his hometown of Wittenberg, Germany, along with his pregnant wife. He cared for and ministered to those dying of The Black Death until the plague had passed from his area.

Quote From: Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess.

I wanted to pass along this Facebook post because Martin Luther’s words are insightful and helpful all these years later! So are the words of the Psalmist with which we close.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”  Psalm 91:1-2 & 5-6

The Pandemic’s “Pause” Button

Remember when we used to go to sports events, movies, restaurants, church activities, social events, school, and work? And how many hours didn’t we spend in going here, there, and back again!

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the “pause” button on much that made up our busy lives. Most of it was good, and we hope we can get back to it sometime soon. But are there opportunities as we live with the pause button pushed?

Being a person of faith in God, I’ve come to the conclusion, along with multitudes of others, that if God allows something to exist or happen, such as this pandemic, then He has a plan and purpose for it. So, how does He want us to use this pause in our lives?

God’s into pauses. In the seven day week He’s designated we set aside one day a week for rest, the Sabbath it’s called, a day to pause. We’ve not always been very good at following His command on this, one of His Ten Commandments.

With much of life on pause how about asking ourselves, “What’s God trying to tell me through this?” “What lesson or lessons am I to learn?” Our busy lives have kept us from really thinking, we’ve been so caught up in doing. The tyranny of the urgent has often kept us from addressing what’s important. Now that our lives have been put on pause, in one way or another it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what’s really important in life.

We’ll need to resist the temptation to spend time grumbling, we don’t hear much from God when grumbling. Binge watching old TV shows or movies probably isn’t at the top of God’s list of ways to make the most of this time on pause either. Familiar addictions and sins over which we’ve gained ground can slip back when we have additional time on our hands, reinforcing Ben Franklin’s warning that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

This is not a time to find ways to kill time but to find ways to redeem the time! The pause button can prompt us to think, read, act, and pray our way to being a better person, more the person God wants us to be.

In spite of the need for social distancing we can find creative ways to nurture closer and deeper relationships with each other. We can rediscover that being is more important than doing, resting is better than rushing, and affirming others better than self-achievement! We can move God from the periphery of our busy life to the center of our quieted soul.

Ironically, even though life is currently on pause for many of us, it’s possible we can later arrive at a place where we discover we’ve fast forwarded in important areas of our life! How about we pause and think about that?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

Peace in a Pandemic

Ethan walking down the steps to our house with me. Ethan, his sister Grace, and their mother live at Refuge Ranch where their mother is on staff.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a major effect on every one of us in a variety of ways, from impacting our normal schedules and activities to affecting what we can purchase because of shortages of essential items. We can’t keep from thinking about the pandemic…a lot! It’s easy to worry at a time like this; it’s difficult to experience any measure of peace at a time like this.

Much is being said about the symptoms that indicate a person might have the coronavirus. There’s a symptom, however, that many of us exhibit concerning the coronavirus even though we most likely don’t have the virus. That symptom is fear.

Fear can be good. A healthy fear of the virus prompts us to take appropriate precautions and actions that can help protect us and also contribute to the containment of the virus.

This symptom of fear, however, can also be bad. Fear can distract us from focusing on our normal daily activities that continue to need our attention. Fear can be debilitating, the anxiety reaching a level of panic at this pandemic. Fear can weaken our faith in God, distancing us from Him.

I’d like to remind us of an available vaccine that can be helpful, not for the pandemic itself, but for the pandemic-inspired fear that can infect our mind, heart, and soul. Just as a vaccine often uses a very small dose of the actual disease to fight the infection, I’d like to suggest how a proper small dosage of fear can be used as an antidote to fight the big fears that infect us.

Picture a small child, a toddler, facing a bunch of steps that he wants to go down. He’s old enough to fear falling head over heels if he attempts to go down the steps. He uses his fear to prompt him to reach out for the hand of the adult who is alongside him. Reaching up, he grasps the big hand of the adult that’s reaching down. He has the same fear of the steps, that has not gone away, but now he confidently takes the steps because he is holding on to someone bigger than himself in whom he has faith. What he doesn’t even realize is that the adult’s grip on him is far greater than his grip on the adult!

The symptom of fear that we exhibit in confronting the coronavirus can be used to prompt us to reach out our hand in faith to grasp the hand of God that is reaching down to us! And to realize that our weak grip of faith is enough, for His grip on us is far stronger! No matter what we face, no matter what will happen, He will be with us, and in the ultimate sense, it will be okay! We can have peace in this pandemic!

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” King David in Psalm 23:4a

Doing Good Beyond What We Can Do

How can we do good beyond what we can do? It sounds nonsensical, illogical. It’s not! It’s true, and it’s a truth that can really encourage us!

So often we think there’s so little we can do in a situation. We’d like to help out a loved one, but they aren’t very open to our help. We want to contribute financially to a person, family, or cause, but what we can offer seems so inconsequential. We’d like to come alongside someone in their crisis, but what can we say or do that would really make a difference? And because the something good we could do seems so small we’re tempted to do nothing good at all.

There’s a principle of Jesus’ that can help us out here. He said that God’s unleashing of His good in the world (what He referred to as the kingdom of God) is like a person planting a seed. The farmer plants the seed and may help it along by watering and weeding, but he doesn’t make it grow. As Jesus put it, the seed grows “all by itself.”

In a small garden area near our daughter’s home I built a decorative pond with a few fish next to a palm tree I planted over a dozen years ago. One of the fish is a koi. When I put it in the pond it was about two inches long. When I planted the palm tree it was about three feet tall. Now the koi is about ten inches long and the palm tree must be around twenty-five feet high! I did not “grow” the koi or the palm tree. I just put the koi in the pond and the palm tree in the earth, and with but a little care on my part they grew all by themselves to their current size.

It’s God who has built into koi, palm trees, seeds, and countless other living objects the ability to grow. We just do the small business of planting, feeding, watering, and tending and the growth happens. Jesus would remind us that this is how God wants to work in our lives.

God can use our simple words of encouragement, a small gesture of kindness on our part, or a seemingly woefully inadequate effort by us in a very bad situation to carry out His good. We just need to be God’s person in God’s place to do what little good we can do and leave the rest up to Him. We’re not called by God to do it all, we’re called by God to just do something! God takes our effort and runs with it, helping us do good beyond what we can do!

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the fuill kernel in the head.” Mark 4:26-28

The Broken World

The ball I found

I found the world broken. It lay along the edge of the road. The broken world was a foam rubber ball made to look like the world. I picked up the sad looking sphere and held it in my hand, turning it over, surveying the damage.

The small globe had seen much play and some evil abuse. Apocalyptic events had gouged out parts of the oceans, some islands, and a good chunk of several continents.

It was either discarded or lost by the child or children who had played with it. I decided to keep it, a symbol of the larger world it represented.

Like the microscopic organisms that likely inhabited the surface of the small broken world I held in my hand, the real world also has creatures, human beings, inhabiting its surface, microscopic in size and unseen when viewed from anywhere beyond our envelope of atmosphere.

We human beings experience the brokenness of this world beyond the fracturing earth’s crust creating earthquakes and tsunamis, wild weather resulting in droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, and microscopic bacteria and viruses causing sickness and death. The brokenness also exists between us and the God who made this world and us, between each of us, and within each of us.

The good news is that our broken world is not lost nor has it been discarded. God could have considered our world a lost cause, but He didn’t. He could have discarded the world as we know it, but He didn’t.

Those of us who call ourselves Christians believe God did something absolutely astonishing. We believe God came to our broken world as one of us, became broken Himself on a cross, broken unto death, for us. He didn’t stay broken, however, but became alive again, good as new. He did this so we wouldn’t have to be broken in a relationship with Him, could have healing in broken human relationships, and inner healing from what’s tearing us apart inside.

I’m keeping the broken world of a ball. The good news is that it still can be played with as a ball, as broken as it is. This, to me, is like the larger world it represents. My world, your world, our world, is broken, no doubt about it. The good news is that God can and does work with it all and some day will make all things new again!

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Revelation 21:5

Planting and Painting a Palm Tree Island

Tom painting the palm tree island

The scraggly small palm tree that could be a cousin to Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree stood alone on the tiny island that graces the entrance to our older subdivision. Our neighborhood may have had a homeowners’ association, an HOA, at one time, but no more. The island appears to be a no man’s land.

Then one day two newly planted palm trees were growing on the small island, lovingly propped up by wood braces to keep them standing in strong wind. Who planted them? Who owns the little island? Who cares?

Heading out on my morning walk one day I met a man painting the small island’s curb bright yellow. Striking up a brief conversation with him I found out his name is Tom and that he lives in our neighborhood one street over from where we live. It turns out he also planted the trees. Upon further questioning he told me that no one’s paying him for the planting of the trees and painting of the curb and that he paid for the trees and paint out of his own pocket. He just thought the entry to our neighborhood needed some sprucing up. Wow!

I’m planning on getting to know Tom better. Anyone who puts forth the time, money, and effort to fix up something that’s not his has to be some kind of special person!

We need more Toms in the world. I need to be more like Tom! For most of us it’s our default mode to ask before we put forth time, money, or effort, “What’s in it for me?” Tom’s planting and painting of the palm tree island is a reminder that this default mode is a serious fault!

There’s an old Greek proverb that states, “Society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they shall never sit.” Tom’s 73 years old.

From the most casual of our relationships to our most personal of relationships and from the smallest and most obscure of opportunities to the large and life altering opportunities we can choose to give of ourselves when there’s no guarantee we will receive anything back. In fact, we can choose to give of our ourselves when there’s the guarantee we won’t receive in return! Plant a tree under the shade of which you will never sit!

Tom told me as he painted the curb that in recent years he’s lost his wife of 47 years, a daughter, and a grandson. Still, Tom seemed happy with his planting and painting of the palm tree island. I don’t wonder why. Giving rather than grumbling is always a better response to the pain that comes to us in this fallen, broken world. That’s the lesson I learned from Tom, the planter and painter of the palm tree island.

“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:12-13

An Emptying and A Filling — a Faith Fable

Once upon a time there was a furniture maker who not only was known in his village for his fine craftsmanship but in the nearby villages as well. He had no shortage of work, was wealthy, and bragged that he was the finest furniture maker that there was, which no one disputed.

On one particular day the village pastor was paying him a visit, as he had done many times before. The furniture maker had resisted the pastor’s efforts to help him find God. The pastor exclaimed in frustration, “I don’t know what else to tell you. I’ve told you the truth about God time and time again. Why can’t you accept it?”

Bent over a piece of wood, sanding it, the furniture maker shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. I believe what you say is true about God. I just don’t need that truth right now. My life is good.”

The village pastor moved to a chair in the corner and, remaining silent, watched the furniture maker work, not knowing what to say that could make a difference. Just then a friend of the furniture maker walked by the open door of the carpenter shop and paused. The village pastor, seated in the shadowed corner went unnoticed by the friend in the doorway. Raising a jug he was carrying in his hand, he said, “My wife has just made some fresh squeezed lemonade that I’m taking to my son and his friend who are working in the hot sun. Would you care for some?”

“I certainly would,” said the furniture maker. Looking about he saw and retrieved a mug from on top of a stack of boards. He glanced into the mug, moved past his friend in the doorway and tossed the contents of the cup into the street. He then extended the mug to his friend and let him fill it with fresh lemonade.

The friend having left, the furniture maker sipped the lemonade as he returned to his woodworking project. The pastor stood and walked out of the shadows to stand near the furniture maker. “What was in the mug before your friend filled it with lemonade?” he asked.

“Yesterday’s coffee,” the furniture maker replied.

“Why did you empty the mug of the stale old coffee before letting your friend pour you some of his lemonade?”

With an incredulous look on his face, the furniture maker said, “It’s obvious, isn’t it? I had to empty the mug of the stale coffee before having it filled with the lemonade.

The village pastor started to leave, but as he did so he said, “I too have offered you something better than anything you now have, but you cannot receive it. You’re so full of your old self that you cannot be filled with the newness of God.” And with that the village pastor left the furniture maker to his thoughts.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13