ROOTS

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

sea oatsIt’s not just light poles that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma’s winds; many trees also met their end at her hands. As I looked at the upended roots of a once mighty oak, I thought of one of Aesop’s fables about an oak in a storm. A proud oak stood by a stream, and like this one, had survived several storms in its many years. One day, a hurricane the likes of Irma arrived and the great oak fell with a thunderous crash. As the water rose, it was carried down to the sea. When the oak eventually came to rest along the shore, it looked up at the sea oats that were waving in the now gentle sea breeze, “How did you manage to weather such a terrible storm?” it asked. “I’m a great oak and even I didn’t have strength enough to battle the wind.”

The sea oats replied, “That was your problem. You were too proud to bend and yield a little and so the wind knocked you over. I’m just an insubstantial sea oats plant but, knowing my weakness, I didn’t resist as the wind gusted. The harder it blew, the more I humbled myself and the lower I bent. So, here I am, still enjoying the beach. Aesop’s moral is that it is better to bend than to break. “Perhaps there a message here,” I thought and, yet, I wasn’t sure it was just about pride and humility.

The Apostle Paul was very clear about standing firm in the face of trials and temptation. He told the early church to stand firm and not to waver; he wanted them to be oaks and not sea oats. When facing one of life’s hurricanes, however, it’s pretty hard not to wobble, quiver and quake wildly. If we stand firm, will we be knocked down and end up a piece of drift wood or ground up into mulch? If that mighty oak couldn’t weather the storm, how can we?

The Apostle also said that growing roots in Jesus is what will keep us strong. That fallen oak’s upended roots were taller than me and yet they didn’t do the oak much good when Irma arrived. The roots of which Paul speaks are deep roots that grown down into our Lord. It is strong deep roots that will serve to anchor a tree in the ground. I’m not an arborist, but I could easily see that there was nothing deep about that oak’s roots (or the roots of the many other uprooted oaks throughout our community).

In Jesus’ parable about soil, he told of seed scattered on good soil that grew, seed strewn on a path that was eaten by the birds, seed that was crowded out by the thorns, and seed that fell on rocky soil. Those plants in rockyy soil grew quickly but, since their roots weren’t deep, they withered in the hot sun. If He’d been in a tropical climate like Florida’s, Jesus could have used sand and hurricanes instead of rocks and sun in His analogy. Good nutritious soil is necessary for a plant’s success and Florida’s soil is shallow and mostly sand. The many fallen oaks’ roots, while wide, were shallow and certainly not the kind of roots of which Jesus and Paul spoke.

Aesop’s fable was about pride and humility but the many uprooted oaks in town tell me something more. Granted, there may be times we need to bend a little, as do the sea oats, but we must never bend if that means compromising our faith. I think of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their roots were so deep that they were willing to die before they bent down to worship a false god or failed to worship the true one. While a miracle saved them, there was no miracle for Stephen, a man whose deep roots in Christ gave him strength enough to stand and testify before the Jewish high council knowing he’d die because of it. These men were willing to be sacrificed and broken before bending to the prevailing wind.

Given a choice, I would rather stand strong, like an oak with deep roots, than fall because of the wind. Nevertheless, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, like Stephen and other Christian martyrs, I would rather be broken and fall than bend and survive as do the sea oats.

I pray from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. [Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT]

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WHAT LEGACY?

But God said to him, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. [Luke 12: 20-21 (NLT)]

Trumbull Cemetery - OhioWhen touring a nearby resort town, a beautiful old mansion was pointed out. It was once owned by a man who made so much money on his invention of the sanitary milk bottle cap that he retired at the age of 26. For 93 years, the Chicago White Sox played at a ball field named for the team’s founder. In 2003, the field was renamed US Cellular Park and then, in 2016, it became the Guaranteed Rate Field. When I went to Northwestern University, the football venue was named for a former Evanston mayor. In 1997, the stadium was renamed to honor the family of a generous donor to the school’s athletic facilities. A friend’s daughter is attending a school named for a German immigrant who opened a Chicago butcher shop in 1883. Who were these men?

If you’ve not been on a Lake Geneva boat tour, you’ve never heard O.N. Tevander. Although one can still find pictures of his bottle capping machine, he doesn’t even rate a mention in Wikipedia. Do today’s baseball fans know that Charles Comiskey was a key person in the formation of the American League and founder of the Chicago White Sox? Do the Northwestern Wildcats know anything of William Dyche, class of 1882, and that his name was to remain on any NU stadium for perpetuity? In another twenty years, will they have any idea that Patrick Ryan founded Aon Corporation and once served on the university’s Board of Trustees? By then, it’s possible that another large check will have been written and the stadium will have yet another name. When you hear the name Oscar Mayer, do you think of an immigrant butcher from Bavaria or of a large corporation (now owned by Kraft), hot dogs and the wiener song?

Even if we amass great wealth, make generous donations, or achieve some modicum of fame, chances are that most of us will be forgotten in a few generations. Our last name might remain on a corporate letterhead or, if wealthy enough, we could have a building or stadium named after us (at least for a while). Our headstone may rest in a cemetery, we might be listed in a genealogy chart, or an old letter or picture of us may reside in a box of memorabilia stored in someone’s attic. Nevertheless, we will be long gone and, for the most part, forgotten. For William Dyche, perpetuity lasted only 71 years! How long will it last for us? Even if a great grandchild has our china, a piece of our jewelry or carries our name, our essence will have vanished. We will be little more than a short family story or a faceless name.

Jesus told a parable about the rich man whose land was so productive that he ran out of room to store his crops. Rather than share his excess, he just built bigger barns so he could relax and enjoy his wealth for years to come. Unfortunately for him, he died that very night. A simple parable, it points out the temporal nature of life.

Financial planners often ask their clients, “What will be your legacy?” The rich man in the parable left a legacy of filled barns for someone else to enjoy. Sadly, he forgot the most important thing—his soul. Sometimes we’re so busy thinking about our legacy here on earth that, like the man in the parable, we also forget about our souls. Whether or not we are remembered in this world isn’t really important. The real question is whether or not God will welcome us into His kingdom in the next.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)]

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OUR FOUNDATION

In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. [Isaiah 33:6 (NLT)]

Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. [Martin Luther]

Old World Wisconsin churchYesterday I mentioned getting an email with the subject, “How firm is your foundation?” Although it was an advertisement for a new study Bible connecting Biblical teachings to Christian beliefs, that very question has been the topic of discussion in our northern church for the last few weeks. The parish is doing a church-wide study of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Back in the 1500s, Martin Luther was appalled at the lack of knowledge of both pastors and their congregations. Not especially tactful, he accused some pastors of being “lazy bellies and presumptuous saints!” His words for their congregations, “simple cattle and mindless pigs!” were no more diplomatic. People who called themselves Christians had no idea what that meant. They didn’t know the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer, let alone anything else in the Bible. Last week, our Pastor asked us what Luther might say if he visited today’s churches. We agreed that his words for our pastors would be more complimentary but that his words for their congregations might be the same or worse!

To remedy the deplorable lack of knowledge he found, Luther wrote his Small Catechism in 1529. This little book of Christian instruction was written not for theologians and priests but for ordinary people. It covers the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, confession, Holy Communion, daily prayers and even offers a Household Chart of Bible passages describing the duties of people in various walks of life. Much of the catechism is done in question and answer form with the answer succinctly provided. For example, after listing the first commandment, it asks, “What does this mean?” and then explains: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” In short, Luther’s Small Catechism is a 16th Century version of Christianity for Dummies. Surprisingly, given its age, it is amazingly straightforward. Without theological minutia or argument, it is easily understood and certainly not limited to the Lutheran church.

This brings me back to the question that appeared in my email yesterday, “How firm is your foundation?” Do you know and understand what it is you profess to believe? Do you know why you believe it? How firm is your foundation?

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [John Rippon]

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

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IF SOMEONE ASKS

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. [1 Peter 3:15b (NLT)]

Yesterday, I echoed Paul’s words that, when witnessing, we need to speak our words with love. Of course, before that can happen we need to speak and, therein lies our problem. To speak, we need words and most of us are sure we don’t have them. Granted, the way we conduct ourselves is a continuous sermon but, if we never speak, no one will know what makes us the way we are. Actions may speak louder than words but that doesn’t mean words aren’t necessary.

We don’t have to go knocking on doors, stand on street corners with a sign, accost strangers, or go on a mission trip; we just have to be open to the opportunities that arise nearly every day to share our love of God. Peter instructed us to be ready to explain the reason for our hope; I think we’re asked that question more than we realize. There’s a good chance people have commented on your joy, peace, or calmness. In all likelihood someone may have said something like, “How do you do it?” or, “You don’t seem to worry,” or even, “I wish I had your life!” In reality, that person is asking about the source of your hope. Rarely have my answers to such comments revealed the true source of that hope, strength, peace and joy. I’ve chosen the innocuous reply rather than the true one simply because I didn’t think I had the right words to explain! When Jesus told us to go out into the world and be His witnesses, He promised we wouldn’t have to do it alone. Since the Holy Spirit will empower us to be His messengers, let’s allow Him to do His work! We can’t speak with love until we speak!

God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them. [George Whitefield]

But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! [Luke 21:13-15 (NLT)]

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SOUNDING BRASS

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)]

maccaw

1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to the young church at Corinth;  the first letter does not remain. What we consider the first letter is actually Paul’s reply to the Corinthians’ response to his first one. While much of his letter is spent confronting the Corinthians about their sins and correcting their behavior, this rebuke to a troubled church has one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul, however, is actually writing about the Corinthians’ abuse of their spiritual gifts. By only associating this chapter with weddings and anniversaries, we may miss some of its original meaning.

The “tongues of men” probably refers to the Sanhedrin, the supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jews. Having jurisdiction over religious matters, the high priest acted as its president and its members consisted of the chief priests, scribes and elders. They were to be men of distinction and wisdom conversant in all seventy languages of mankind so interpreters weren’t needed in court. It’s likely that the tongues of men to which Paul referred were the supposedly wise and multilingual tongues of the Sanhedrin. Being ministering spirits, angels have no need for tongues. Nevertheless, there were times they took on flesh and appeared to man and, when acting as God’s messengers, they were inspiring and eloquent in their speech.

Personally, I like brass quartets and the sound of those tinkling cymbals worn on the fingers of Middle Eastern dancers, but those are not what Paul meant. Paul actually was referring to sounding (or echoing) brass which were large cast urns placed around the back of a theater. This primitive sound system served to amplify the actors’ voices and Corinth had a famed set of them. The “sounding brass” could no more create their own sound than could a Bose speaker; having no voice of their own, they only could reproduce sound. As for tinkling cymbals, the two kinds of cymbals used during Jewish worship were percussion instruments. Only played during interludes in the vocal music, they didn’t produce a light tinkle. One was more of a shaker with small cymbals attached to a handle that was shaken. The other cymbals were smaller and heavier than today’s orchestral ones. Rather than the pleasant ringing of wind chimes, they were said to penetrate “as far as Jericho.”

In their cultural context, Paul’s words make far more sense. Even if he could speak with great wisdom, in every language known to man and as magnificently and eloquently as an angel, if his words didn’t come from his heart, they would have no meaning. If he just thoughtlessly  echoed words, his voice simply would be an irritating  loud sound.

We worry so much about what to say and how to say it when an opportunity to share our faith arises that we usually fail to share God’s message at all. Paul’s words should reassure us that it’s not the words or eloquence that matter; it’s the love behind those words. If we love God and love people, then the words we speak will be filled with love. Without love, however, no matter how articulate, self-assured and knowledgeable we are, our message will be meaningless noise.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. [1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)]

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TITHING OUR TIME

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

Pioneer CenterMany people faithfully tithe by giving ten percent of their income to God’s work. I recently read an article in which the author not only tithes her money but also her time. She dedicates 2.4 hours a day or 16.8 hours a week to God’s work. Weekends are used to catch up on any remaining balance she owes. Her tithed hours are spent in things like Bible study, prayer, mentoring, visiting the house-bound, bringing food to the needy, or sending encouraging notes.

While doling out time may work for the author, I’m not so sure it would for everyone. There would be those who’d ask if we’re talking gross or net hours. If net, once we’d taken out the eight hours for sleep, only 1.6 hours a day would belong to God. I picture people keeping a spreadsheet showing time spent in good works and wonder if Sunday evening there might a frantic effort to find a way to use the remaining time. Would we call an elderly neighbor to chat while counting minutes until we could disconnect? I can picture splitting hairs about what actually determines working for the Lord. If I’m bringing my trash can back to the house anyway, does bringing up my next door neighbor’s count? If I take canned goods to the food pantry, do I get credit for the entire time I spent at the grocery store? Does having a friend for lunch count or must it be someone I don’t know (or like)? If I’m driving someone to church, can I count the time spent filling the gas tank? Do I get extra credit for baby-sitting monster children? Once those sixteen plus hours are used, could we then turn a deaf ear to people’s needs? If we spend more than 16.8 hours serving in one week, would the extra hours carry over to the next week? With all that nitpicking, would people become more concerned with tallying time than sharing God’s love? Instead of being a privilege to serve, would doing His work become a chore? God loves a cheerful giver but this doesn’t sound very cheerful to me.

Originally, tithing time seemed like a good idea, especially when I realized that I spend more than sixteen hours a week writing these devotions. My time tithe would be complete so I’d be off the hook; nothing more would have to be done for God! The Holy Spirit then gave me a kick in the behind and said, “You’re never done serving the Lord; I want all 168 hours of your week!”

I was recently at a facility for the developmentally disabled. They’d made a colorful sign saying, “Throw kindness like confetti!” Indeed, the clients were scattering kindness to one another and to the staff—encouraging, laughing, smiling, sharing, loving and helping. Although in adult bodies, they remain children; nevertheless, there is much we can learn from them. Remember, the kingdom of God belongs to children and children don’t keep spreadsheets of kindness—they just love with their whole being all of the time. Indeed, as Christians, we’re to have an endless supply of kindness confetti and scatter it 24/7, not just 16.8 hours a week!

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. [Attributed to John Wesley]

As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. [2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT)]

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)]

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