A fellow died and his widow expected to receive all his wealth. She gave him a nice funeral and an expensive headstone, only to find out when the will was read that he had left everything except $5 to his secretary. Naturally, the wife was furious and drove to the tombstone establishment and ordered the inscription on her husband’s monument changed. The engraver (or chiseler) said “I’m sorry, ma’am. You told me to inscribe ‘Rest In Peace’ on the stone and that’s what I did. I can’t change it now, unless you want to buy a new stone.” She thought for a moment. She certainly didn’t want to spend any more of her money, so she said, “Right after ‘Rest In Peace’ I want you to chisel in the words — ‘Till We Meet Again.’
In some ways she was sorry she had come to church this morning. She had been in church every Sunday, of course, but she had never been affected by the scripture reading as she was this particular morning. There it was, right there in the Word of God, the lady in Zarepath who had not only lost her husband, but was down to her last box of baking soda in the refrigerator. That’s all! Even the last bit of catsup went for tomato soup last night. The widow of Zarepath, who after this last bit of bread is gone, doesn’t know where the next meal will come from.
However, on this Sunday, this woman in the pew felt that the words were meant just for her. She was a young widow. She had a small boy. No passage had ever bothered her like this one. She was sure she was being touched by God. After his death, roles thrust upon her. Her husband always took care of the money and paid the bills. In fact the weekly check for the church was part of the family budget. However, there seemed this day many questions about the routine.
Her mind flashed to the widow in the gospel. (Mark 12:41-44) Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. (She was thinking there are lots of rich people in this church. She fumbled for her purse to get her weekly offering.) But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
She thought, “can I really hold this widow up as an example for me and my son?” Our first reaction is that the widow’s actions are the ideal but not the norm. We always have conflicts between the values of the Gospel and the values of society. Why is it that we always question the Gospel’s values, first? Then all at once the pastor reads a second scripture lesson from 2 Kings 4:1-7. The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
So many of us are widowed, and yet we haven’t lost a spouse in death. A young couple with their child in tow came into a restaurant. The baby cried and the mother cradled the child and fed him. The dad ate and didn’t want to be bothered. The mother fed the child through the whole meal and didn’t eat. They left without her eating. She sacrificed everything for her child and husband.
All of these widows had something in common, they gave everything that they had! Then came the thought, JOH 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Perhaps, laying down our lives as the scripture says, just may mean giving ourselves for our family, for others, rather than dying. For it is in giving that we receive!
Let me share one of my favorite untrue stories. A priest had two parrots. The parrots were also very devout. They prayed the rosary every day. The priest had an aunt who also had a parrot. But this parrot used to say only one thing: “Hi, my name’s Suzy, and I’m a swinger.” The priest told his aunt about his own parrots, who said the rosary all the time. He told her to bring her parrot to the rectory and his parrots would teach her parrot to say the rosary. The aunt agreed, and when she carried her parrot into the priest’s living room, sure enough, there were the priest’s parrots saying the rosary together. Her parrot immediately blurted out: “Hi, my name’s Suzy, and I’m a swinger.” At that point, one of the pastor’s parrots turned to the other and said, “O.K., Charlie, we can throw away the beads, our prayers have been answered!”
Newsweek (March 18, 1991) carried an article about dating. No one will ever really know what makes one person fall for another. What they found was that 32% met their “main squeeze”(1991 language) through friends or relatives; 5% met at church and only 1% met through a dating service. Twenty five years later, dating services are really growing.
The poll also found what some of the things were that attracted the couple to each other. Although 46% reported that personality was what first attracted them to their sweethearts, 33% said looks counted too. 20% of the female respondents thought their main squeeze looked like Tom Selleck (in 1990), and 21% of the males thought their sweethearts looked like Sally Field (in 1990 even though she still doesn’t look bad). For 70% it was not love at first sight. The love at first sight surprised me!
A dad said to his daughter’s boy friend, “The man who marries my daughter will get a prize.” “Okay,” said the boy, “but let me see the prize first.” “Marriage is not finding the person with whom you can live, but finding that person with whom you cannot live without.” I remember something Mal Elliott said to me one time when he was in the hospital towards the end of his life. Fran (his wife) had told me how they met and I said to Mal, “Why did you ask her to marry you?” He said, “I decided I couldn’t live without her.”
Samson was a great man, but Samson had one problem, women! Samson was a religious man and a good man – he lived a clean life. The problem was that he was always looking for that special person in the wrong places. Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. Timnah was in the heart of Philistine country. The Philistines worshiped the god Dagon. A half fish and half man image. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? In other words, “isn’t there someone of your own heritage and faith? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.”
An old puritan once wrote, “If you marry a child of the devil, you can expect to have trouble with your father-in-law.” Then he (Samson) went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her. There is a big difference between like and love. Like doesn’t make a marriage. Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass. In it was a swarm of bees and some honey, which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms. When he appeared, he was given thirty companions. “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.” Samson’s wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.
An attractive young woman whose career necessitated a good deal of traveling was asked if she was ever bothered by uninvited male attention. She answered, “Never, I just say four words and immediately I am left alone.” “What are the four words?” She said, “I simply ask, ‘Are you a Christian?'” Why date someone that doesn’t share your faith, your values and have some of the desires in life that are important to you?
(Genesis 24:2-4) He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” Abraham knows the importance of marrying someone who believes as you do. And the marriage lasted.
Paul writes (2 Corinthians 6:14) Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
Bottom line? Never date anyone who you know you would never marry.
A country-western song came out many years ago that said, “You’re not the has-been you used to be.” Renewing the Church is like remodeling your house: it takes longer than you hoped, costs more than you planned, and makes a bigger mess than you ever thought possible.
(Genesis 6:1-2) When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. The “sons of God” was another term for the fallen angels; (when Lucifer and 1/3 of the angels left heaven.) We know in the Book of Job that they have to come and given an accounting. 2PE 2:4 “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment….” The “daughters of men” were people like you and me, normal people. Human beings and in this case very sinful.
GEN 6:5 “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” So God decided that He would destroy all of humankind, except for Noah and Noah’s family. Beyond the fact that the people Noah was dealing with were sinful, they thought that Noah was nuts. He was building an ark and talking about rain. It was believed that it had never rained on the earth until that point. Water came from fountains and springs from under the earth. GEN 2:5 says that no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground. To spare the animals, God sent them two by two to Noah. Then it rained for 40 days, which in the Bible means a long time, “however long it takes to flood the earth.” Jonah was at Nineveh for 40 days, in other words, a long time. It took 150 days for the flood waters to subside.
Human renewal takes place by the power of God’s hand. What is it that makes the difference between Noah and Jonah? The people in Noah’s day are without remorse, unrepentant. The people of Nineveh are confronted with their wrong and repent.
Recently I decided not to renew my subscription to an excellent magazine. There followed one renewal notice after another. Three times I received a letter indicating that this was absolutely my last opportunity to renew at the least expensive rate. Someone even called on the telephone and asked if I was certain about letting the subscription lapse. Their persistence finally led me to examine carefully my motives for not renewing the subscription. Ultimately I renewed, and I have been pleased with this decision.
The Bible speaks of renewing experiences. Indeed, the Bible insists upon them! The Bible does not present merely philosophical ideas about personal renewal. It tells about the actual struggle of people searching for a reliable source of joy, health, and strength. In a host of different ways, the searchers find God as the source of renewal. ISA 40:31 says, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
It has been said that God is a God of a second chance because He gives us a second chance. The Bible teaches three R’s! Remorse, Repentance and Renewal. If we want renewal, if we want a second chance, if we want to start over, it must be preceded with remorse and repentance.
In seminary I ministered the Mt. Zion Christian Church. They only had a piano and the young girl who played it had only been taking lessons for a couple of years. She would sometimes mess up in the middle of a song and would say, “Whoops, lets try that again.” Starting over means trying it again.
Her car was stalled at the intersection, the hood was up, and she flagged me down to help. “I can’t get it started,” she said. “But if you jiggle the wire on the battery, I think it will work.” I grabbed the wire on the positive battery cable and it came off in my hand. Definitely too loose. “The terminal needs to be tightened up,” I told her. “I can fix it if you have some tools.” “My husband says to just jiggle the wire,” she replied. “It always works. Why don’t you just try that?” I paused for a moment, wondering why her husband didn’t ride around town with her so he would be available when the wire needed jiggling. “Ma’am, if I jiggle the wire, you’re going to need someone else to do it every time you shut the engine off. If you’ll give me two minutes and a wrench, we can solve the problem and you can forget about it.” Reluctantly, she fumbled under the front seat and then extended a crescent wrench through the window of the old car. As I tightened the battery terminal, it occurred to me how many times I try to get the “quick fix” from God. “I have this problem, Lord, and if You’ll just jiggle the wire, things will be okay. I’m in a hurry, so let’s just get me going again the quickest way possible.” But God doesn’t want to “jiggle the wire”. He wants to take the time necessary to deal with my real problem and fix it.
To get the long-term solution to the pressing needs in my life requires a complete surrender to God and a willingness to proceed on His terms. I must cooperate with Him in whatever it takes for as long as it takes. Renewal must be preceded with remorse and repentance. To be remorseful means to be sorry. And repentance means to change, go in a different direction. MAT 9:17 “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
You’ve heard the story about the Atlanta soda fountain where the nerve tonic syrup was mistakenly mixed with carbonated water instead of plain water. The result was a drink now known as Coca Cola. Among the people who came to Asa Chandler’s drugstore to enjoy the new taste was a businessman named B.N. Thomas. Thomas felt that there might be a future in bottling the drink for home consumption, but Chandler thought it a futile idea. So Chandler sold Thomas the right to sell Coca-Cola by the bottle…for the grand total of one dollar; Chandler gave away a multi-million dollar industry because he could not see its future. How much of what God has for us do we fail to realize because our vision is so limited? (Ephesians 4:22-24) “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
A little boy paid a visit to Santa in the department store and presented him with a list of requests: a bicycle, a train, a bat and ball, a rocket set, and an airplane. Santa was impressed. He said, “Thanks for the list. I’ll check between now and Christmas to see whether or not you’ve been a good boy.” The little boy reached over to take the list back and said, “Never mind, I’ll settle for the bicycle.”
Early in scripture we find that God is already planning on sending His Son. GEN 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” We already know that God knows that the covenants and the laws will fail. In order to redeem and grant forgiveness of sins, a perfect sacrifice will be necessary. As hard as they try human beings have always failed. Left to a covenant or a set of laws, there is no hope. That sacrifice will be God’s Son, Jesus.
It was a crisp, sunny afternoon in late November, and we were searching for a tree at the Christmas tree farm. We always relish the task, as members of the family comb the farm for the perfect tree. (Not too tall, not too thin, just the right shape, and, of course, a straight trunk!) As we were looking, we came upon dear friends of ours from church. I remarked, “This place is filled with beautiful trees! It is going to be hard to pick one!” My friend replied, “Not for me. I never look for perfect trees! I’m looking for a tree that needs me! Then I’ll make it beautiful!” It struck me at that moment that when it comes to picking disciples, God is just the same. Thoughts of Peter and John, and yes, even the sorry likes of me, made me realize that God doesn’t seek perfection in deciding who can carry out his work. He’s looking instead for folks who need him! And when we realize this, then God can make something beautiful of our lives!
As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone he would not. Incarnate, he could and did. (John 1:1-3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
The Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary was God. I have no doubt that Jesus grew up knowing that He was God and man. Not only because of that part of Him that was divine, but also the stories that Joseph and Mary told Jesus. But at the same time Jesus was a normal human being. There are no records or stories of any miracles prior to the wedding in Canna. Yet, we know that Jesus had a great insight into scripture. (Luke 2:42-48) When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Everyone who had been around Jesus, understood who this child was. Even old Simeon the priest in the Temple who blessed this child knew what Jesus’ destiny was all about. “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Ever wonder why the news hadn’t spread more than it had? The shepherds outside of Bethlehem knew about Jesus. They even knew Joseph and Mary. The Wise Men from the East knew about Jesus and told others. Herod knew about Jesus and even killed hundreds of small children in Bethlehem.
A preacher who could not resist the urge of the golf course called in sick early one Sunday morning. As he approached the first hole, the angels alerted God to what was happening. As God watched, the preacher made a hole in one! “We thought you would punish him for this,” the angels said. “I did,” God replied. “Who’s he gonna’ tell?”
Have you ever heard the Garth Brooks song, “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places?” While listening to the words of this song, it suddenly dawned on me that those words could have been Jesus’ words. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Jesus has friends in low places. That’s what got him in trouble, remember? He hung out with outcasts, alcoholics, the lame, blind, deaf, mute, lepers, sinners of every shape and color. These were the low of low. Jesus DOES have friends in low places.