THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

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DAILY BREAD

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

daily breadYesterday, I wrote that “daily bread” refers to our necessities. What, then, are the necessities of life? The most obvious meaning is the food needed to sustain us physically. In spite of the hunger that exists in our nation, with 36% of adults and nearly 20% of children considered overweight or obese (according to the CDC), most of us have more than enough bread. So, can those of us with plenty to eat skip this petition? Martin Luther would say, “No.” When he explained the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he defined “daily bread” as the following:

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. [Small Catechism (Martin Luther)]

For Luther, the words “daily bread” encompass far more than whatever is necessary to sustain life. He expands it to mean whatever is necessary for a good life. In a mostly agrarian society, it’s easy to see why farm, fields, livestock, and good weather were a necessity to Luther’s congregations. Nevertheless, they’re still necessary in our increasingly urban society—without those, our grocery stores would be empty. When we continue to think in broader terms, Luther’s list makes as much sense today as it did in 1529. While we probably don’t have servants as members of our household, we may have employees or co-workers in business and we all depend upon other people’s employees when we dine out, bank, shop, visit the doctor, or take medicine. We may not have (or want) a spouse or children, but today’s children are tomorrow’s employers, judges, mechanics, police and office holders and we need strong and upright family units to raise them to be good ones.

After reading Luther’s list, I began to think seriously about what I considered necessary for life and it was far more than food, clothing and shelter. We all need friends and neighbors along with good government, peace, health, decency, and honor and yet I’d never thought of these necessities as daily bread until I read Luther’s words. Let us never forget that along with both our physical requirements and the less observable needs of life like friendship, there is yet another kind of bread for which we ask. When we ask for our daily bread, we ask for the true bread of life—Jesus Christ; the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. He is, indeed, a necessity for life both in this world and the next.

Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread!

“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:33-35 (RSV)]

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BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS

Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

BIG CYPRESS FOX SQUIRRELThere’s an old proverb, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning don’t find fault with something received as a gift or favor. Another adage that goes along with it is, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I thought of those sayings when a friend told of walking into a taco stand when a street person sitting near the entrance asked him for money. Instead of money, my friend offered to buy him a burrito. Once at the counter, he ordered two bean burritos only to hear his homeless dining companion complain, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” My friend has little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the man wasn’t familiar with the above proverbs or with the one about a half a loaf being better than none!

Recently, I came across a cartoon drawn by Lynch. It showed Jesus, with piles of loaves and fish, surrounded by a multitude of people calling out to Him: “Is it gluten-free? Is there a vegan option? Are there nuts in those loaves? Was the bread baked locally?” and “Does the fish contain mercury?” While it is just a comic, I imagine some people actually may have muttered things like, “Isn’t there any falafel? I wanted olives! Aren’t there any grapes or figs?” or even, “Is this the best He can do?”

Jesus’s miracles of feeding thousands reassure us that God cares for His people. Moreover, shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely cares for us. Although God is concerned about meeting our necessities, sadly, our vision of what is necessary is usually far different than His. We don’t understand what our daily bread is or isn’t. It’s not brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, one of the $20 deluxe loaves found at New York farmers’ markets, or the £21 ($28) English Shepherd Loaf made from organic Somerset spelt flour, Cotswolds spring water and Cornish sea salt. Moreover, our daily bread probably doesn’t include the extras like Nutella©, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more.

The words, “We are beggars; this is true,” were written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. We are no different than the homeless man at the taco stand or the hungry people gathered on a hillside and probably no more appreciative. Let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [Matthew 6:31-32 (RSV]

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LOVE NOTES

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy [Psalm 96:11-12 (NLT)]

wireweed - sida acutaStopped at a red light, I glanced at the grassy median on my left and did a double take; the small yellow wild flowers (some would call them weeds) appeared to be dancing. Their petals seemed to be floating in a breeze—only the petals were still on the flowers and there was no wind. Another look told me that hundreds of dainty sulphur butterflies were flitting to and fro just a few inches above the grass. With both butterflies and wireweed (sida acuta) being pale yellow, it looked like the flower petals had managed to escape their stems and the field was bursting with joy! A glance at my fellow drivers told me they were oblivious to the butterfly celebration taking place on the roadside. I wanted to get out of my car and tell everyone to look at the beautiful frolic right beside them. Caution and common sense, however, kept me in my car and, when the light changed, I reluctantly made my turn while thanking God for His gift of an “Aha!” moment. Did He specially arrange that revelry in pale yellow to intersect with my drive that morning? I don’t know, but it sure felt like He did. It was just what I needed to encourage me on a discouraging day.

Although I know my husband loves me, I cherish the times he walks by and touches me affectionately, whispers something sweet, or grazes my cheek with his lips. I also know that God loves me; after all, He demonstrated that on the cross. Nevertheless, God’s “Aha!” moments are His gentle kisses, tender caresses, and love notes. They’re subtle reminders that He is there, He cares, and He loves me.

As I continued on my drive, I wondered about the other drivers. Was I the only one who saw the butterflies? Then again, how many times have I have been so self-absorbed or intent on my activity that I missed one of God’s love notes? It isn’t just butterflies; it can be a song on the radio, a child’s laughter, the aroma of jasmine, a weed growing through a crack on the sidewalk, a squirrel chattering in a tree, a finch on the windowsill, the mockingbird’s song, seeing a young couple caress or an old couple walk hand in hand, the smell of grass after a spring rain, a rose bud, or a stranger’s smile. Although God personalizes His love letters for each one of us, we need to slow down and be mindful enough to recognize them when they come our way.

There is an old Hindi poem, translated by Ravindra Kumar Karnani, in which a child asks God to reveal Himself. God responds with a meadowlark’s song, the roar of thunder, a star and the birth of a baby but, in her ignorance, the child doesn’t recognize His answers. Finally, in desperation, she cries, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!” But, when God touches the child, she brushes away the butterfly and walks away unknowingly. It occurs to me that we are not much different. May we never thoughtlessly brush away one of God’s gentle kisses or fail to notice one of his love notes.

O Lord, your unfailing love fills the earth. [Psalm 119:64a (NLT)]

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. [Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)]

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MORE WAG, LESS BARK!

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (RSV)]

 My son, sweeten thy tongue and make savory the opening of thy mouth; for the tail of a dog gives him bread, and his mouth gets him blows. [Story of Ahikar]

dogLast month, my husband and I attended a “Sweetheart” dinner at church. The men were in charge of the entire event and there were a few rough spots in the night. Then again, at the risk of being accused of political incorrectness or gender bias, most of the men probably were novices at that kind of event planning. Unlike the men, we women have had decades of organizing (and attending) school parties, PTA fund raisers, charity galas, birthday parties, showers, weddings, anniversary bashes, and other assorted celebrations. In spite of the glitches, there was much that went right and the evening was enjoyable and entertaining. Unfortunately, the woman sitting beside me kept criticizing how things were done—from name tags and table assignments to flowers and dessert. Her nit-picking comments became as annoying as the yapping of a bad-tempered dog and I thought of a bumper sticker I’d recently seen: “Wag More, Bark Less!”

Bad tempered dogs (and people) are nothing new; a similar proverb dates back to 500 B.C. in an Aramaic papyrus found in Egypt called the Story of Ahikar. “Wag More, Bark Less!” may be bumper sticker philosophy, but I wish more people (including me) did just that. After reading the qualifications and concerns of the candidates for our property association board, I was struck by how many were unpleasantly barking and nipping at each other rather than wagging their tails and showing me how well they’d work with one another and our management company. An on-line community newsletter was so filled with bark (and bite) that we stopped subscribing. Rarely are the letters to the editor in the newspaper anything but bark in the way of anger and criticism. While waiting at the bakery counter yesterday, an impatient woman yelled at the harried clerk and stormed away in a huff. Sometimes, it feels like we’re in a kennel full of angry upset dogs—yapping, baying, growling and snarling! Worse, once one dog (or person) starts barking, other dogs (and people) tend to join in the unpleasant clamor.

Like the woman beside me at that dinner, there are times I bark or snarl in disparagement, annoyance or anger rather than wag in happiness, appreciation, or compassion. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are responsible for what we put in our minds. Even in the bleakest of circumstances or worst of conditions, there is some small thing worthy of praise. Our job, as Christians, is to find it and think about it! Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to help us in that task. Moreover, as my mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all!” Thankfully, the Spirit gives us the self-control to do just that! If we can’t wag, at least we can muzzle ourselves so we don’t bark!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. [Galatians 5:22-23, 25-26 (RSV)]

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MARVELOUS WORKMANSHIP

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

ViceroyWe were discussing when and how we came to believe in the existence of God. Some, who’d been brought up in families of faith, said there never was a time they weren’t aware of God’s presence. Others spoke of believing in God because He is visible in His creation of flowers, mountains, birds, sunrises and sunsets, the vastness of space, or the miracle of birth. Apologizing in advance for grossing us out, one woman shared her experience while in med school.

Not a believer, she’d thought science explained everything that needed explaining until she dissected a human brain. As she cut into the tissue and started labeling parts, she began to wonder. While slicing through the 100 billion neurons of a man’s brain, she questioned where the part was that loved stroking his wife’s hair, that knew the sound of his children’s laughter, that built model airplanes with his boys or a dollhouse for his daughter. Which part learned the alphabet and times tables, loved his parents, knew how to play the guitar, spoke wisdom to his students, called blue his favorite color and enjoyed both the Beetles and Bach? With each slice she asked things like, “Is this the part that knew sorrow at his child’s death or joy at his daughter’s wedding? Where is the memory of his first bicycle, first kiss or honeymoon?”

She held the most fascinating and complex organ of the body in her hands and knew the parts and the functions of every part of it but she couldn’t find the answers to her questions. Touching his brain, she knew this man more intimately than anyone but she couldn’t uncover what made him who he was. When she couldn’t find his essence—his very soul—she realized he was greater than the sum of his parts. Understanding that inside us all is something unique that cannot be seen, cut into, labeled, or even explained was her “Aha!” moment. It was then that she realized something or someone far greater is in charge. It was then that she finally understood God—the creator of heaven and earth and all things in between.

When she finished speaking, the room was absolutely silent; she started to apologize again for talking about cadavers and dissections. We reassured her there was no need for apology. Her compelling story had not turned our stomachs; rather, the beauty of it had taken away our breath! We sat in stunned silence as we each reflected on this great and marvelous Creator God who reveals Himself in such wonderful and unique ways.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. [Psalm 139:13-15 (NLT)]

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