Friday, August 31, 2007

God's Stars

On any clear night, glance at the stars and you’ll see tiny glimmers in dark navy sky. From Earth’s position, all the flickers of light look about the same, but magnified by the Hubbel Space Telescope, they reveal swirling colors and even new stars.

God keeps up with his stars. He numbers them and calls each by name (Psalms 147:4) Galaxies are delivery rooms, and God is still naming his newborn stars. Paul mentions that “even the stars differ from each other in their beauty and brightness” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

All the differing celestials, here-a-sparkle there-a-sparkle, remind me of the believers God places in different locations around the world. Jesus instructed his followers to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Hospital volunteers, soup kitchen workers, stay-at-home moms, law enforcement, college students, or patient dads, these are just a few of the roles God uses to pierce darkness with light.

Peoria Journal Star in Illinois encourages readers to post about random acts of kindness at their Web site, PJStar. Pam wrote about an experience at Longhorn Steakhouse.

A husband took his wife Pam to Longhorn Steakhouse, to eat her last meal before chemo treatments began. The restaurant staff got wind of Pam’s future battle, and offered a dessert on the house. When the sweet arrived, a message encircled the luscious chocolate concoction: “GET WELL SOON.” The shining-star-staff left the light on for Pam.

I’m writing about kindness because I stood behind a rude person in a grocery line the other day. A customer ignored the clerk and talked to a friend who had walked up. When the small purchase ended, the customer talked down to the clerk for a simple bagging oversight.

The clerk remained friendly and cheerful and made the correction, despite receiving the cold shoulder and rude disgust. When Jesus pitched his tent among us, he remained sinless. Rude behavior, words or voice tone were not in his life. His true self expressed compassion, mercy, justice, and encouragement even to those in error.

Kindness is habit forming and counteracts rudeness. Adopt kindness as your standard because you reflect God’s light. This area is teeming with people. Crowded roadways and longer lines at checkouts leave ample room for kindness.

A galaxy of earthbound stars can be the backdrop for God’s work in any area.

Shine on.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Psalms Calm

Twenty-four-hour news—do you want to turn the world off sometimes, retreat from news inundation? By clicking a remote, turning a dial, or logging on to the Internet, you can receive news—good and bad—from daybreak to daybreak. If you find yourself bloated by news and anxious, where do you go for comfort?

Anthony Ash wrote, "It has been said that somewhere in the Psalms can be found a reflection of virtually every religious experience known to man, and the person familiar with the Psalter can find balm for every wound." Mr. Ash admits that this statement may not be strictly true. However, it does reflect high regard for Bible psalms from those who experience kinship with the authors’ woes.

The Book of Psalms is a blend of theology, worship and daily living. One of my favorite psalms is the 46th and begins with these words, "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble."

In the stanzas, this psalm recognizes three trouble-areas: natural disasters, political upheaval and battle fatigue. The third stanza identifies war and battle fatigue as wearisome, and a good word from the Lord is embedded there, "Be still, and know that I am God."

At first, quieting self in turmoil may seem a daunting request. But, it’s doable because God is the master of lightening in a storm and the calm that follows. He can scrub striving and straining out of hearts and replace them with serenity and trust.

If you need a refreshing break from news overload, take a long drink from the Psalms. Choose from over 150 or read them all. They motivate. In 1529, the 46th psalm inspired Martin Luther to write the words and music to a well known hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

When technology brings repetitious disasters to our doorsteps, it’s easy to lose sight of God-in-control. Like a spring loaded clock, the world ticks to God’s timetable. He remembers yesterday, he is present in the moment you are breathing in, and he will be in tomorrow. He knows what is happening and the psalmists praise his generous involvement.

Does news rankle and irk and un-tuck your feathers? "Be still, and know that I am God" isn't a take-it-or-leave-it suggestion. If God’s instructions are followed, he uncorks calm and pours peace into lives.

Some folks read one Psalm a day, and go through the Psalter several times a year. To experience God, read and heed. Read about the human experience, and heed God’s care in Psalms.

If you have a favorite psalm it may be in your memory. It's a good place to tuck away words from the Lord, words that can help one be still and remember that God is God.

What is your favorite psalm?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bibles and Backpacks

This weekend in Texas, if you buy blue jeans for school, you will not pay sales tax. What a deal. Would you like to purchase something else without sales tax? Year round, you can buy tax-free Bibles in Texas, also tax exempt in Florida, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

A leader in Bible distribution is The American Bible Society: “to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so that all people may experience its life-changing message.”

The ABS formed in 1816, in New York City and early presidents included a Supreme Court chief justice and a New York City mayor. By 1817, the society gifted Bibles to the military crew of the USS John Adams. To this day, getting Bibles on battlefields is primary work. During Civil War years 1861—1865, Bibles were sent to the North and South armies.

Between 1940-1945, World War II, ABS provided more than 7.4 million scriptures to those serving in the U.S. armed forces. In 1991, they presented camouflage covered, compact Bibles to 300,000 serving in the Persian Gulf.

Early on, the society placed Bibles in hotels, and by the 1850s on steamships and railcars. Throughout the years, the society added Bibles to time capsule projects at World’s Fairs.

One of their major functions is translating the Bible into native languages. Within two years of formation, in 1818, the three letters of John were printed in Delaware Indian with English parallels.

For decades, the society has kept abreast of current technology, using slides, motion pictures, and radio and television broadcasting. Today, ABS at offers Bibles and even downloads to cell phones.

Who will most influence your children this school term? The Weekly Reader poll, a leader in surveying teens, questioned 1,100 teens between the ages of 12-18 about influencers in their lives. Many, 67.7 percent, believe their parents to be the most significant role models. After parents were teachers, coaches, siblings and religious leaders.

Many school book purchases will be made in the next few weeks. Parents, each student could also use “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). A Bible in a backpack is a good idea. Traditional book or text on a cell phone screen, your children can have God, the best influencer of all, at their fingertips.

Do you have a favorite Bible? If so, how long have you had it?

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Short Prayers

Centuries ago, Christians retreated into the hot, barren Egyptian desert to escape persecution. Later, in 311 A.D., when Christianity became a recognized religion, some chose to stay in the desert, embracing an austere life. They attempted through disciplines to remember God is near every moment of every day. In ministry to others and in private prayers, they devoted themselves to God and became known as the Desert Fathers.

Out of their tradition, arose “breath prayers.” They based their short prayers (could be said in one breath) on the pattern of Jesus Christ. Even on the cross, Jesus said a brief prayer, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” When I’m in pain, my prayers are very short, too.

Also, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the succinct prayer included short phrases. The cited reasons these desert dwellers’ prayed repetitiously was to stay in constant contact with God. Also, they wanted to follow the apostle Paul’s urging to the Thessalonians, “pray continually.”

Out of their tradition arose short prayers, repeated in a breathe-in and breathe-out pattern, consequently the name breath prayers. By far, their favorite prayer was from a parable of Jesus when a repentant tax collector pled, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Eventually, some even shortened the plea, “Lord [breathe in] . . . mercy [breathe out].”

With my many flaws, I could certainly pray that prayer each day, and even each hour. Before I ever heard of the monks known as the Desert Fathers, I saw many short prayers in the Bible. I admit, I’m not a chanter, saying them repeatedly throughout a day. I also don’t breathe a certain way when praying. Usually the quick prayer that springs to mind and on to God bypasses earthly regulations.

I’ll share a favorite. One praise prayer that can be imitated comes from Eve, the mother of all living. Part of women’s fates after the fall was childbearing plus – plus pain. And after Eve delivered Cain, her first son, she said, “With the help of the LORD, I have brought forth a man.”

I like to imitate her praise and tell God thank you for help. Usually, my accomplishment is not as labor intensive as childbearing: “With the help of the Lord, I finished the income tax” or “With the help of the Lord, I told my hurting friend about Jesus.”

Praying short phrases from the Bible is not new, and many find this natural and satisfactory. This summer, a young mother told me that when rowdiness reigns in her home she repeats this Bible praise back to God, “Children ARE a blessing from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).

When you next read your Bible, watch for short phrases that describe where you are in life, and say them back to God. They may be the gentle whispers that keep you in God’s presence that day.
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Thursday, August 02, 2007

31 Day Plan

Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs. 1 Kings 4:32

How would you like to go on a 31 day treasure hunt? If so, during August, plan to read the 31 chapters of Proverbs in the Bible, authored for the most part by King Solomon. Summer temperatures will sizzle near 100, and you’ll want to retreat into the air conditioning. Why not plan to turn off the television and visit ancient wisdom, still practical in 2007.

Not everything in the Bible is about heaven and salvation even though the Bible is God’s story about interaction with man. In the wisdom literature, God spells out ways to live ordinary lives on earth with integrity, right thinking.

In the prayer, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prayed that the Father’s will be carried out “on earth as it is in heaven.” By reading Proverbs in 31 days, one can get a crash course of very good advice for living out God’s will on earth. The first chapters teach reverence for God, a good starting place for all.

The book of Proverbs also tackles topics such as morals, honesty, humility, eating habits, friendships, laying traps, fools, laziness, gossip, lessons from nature, taking advice, knowledge, money management, honoring parents, how drunkards learn lessons, and marriage. Following are favorite Proverb truisms:

“Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house” (24:27). Build up your nest egg, before you build the nest.

“Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly” (17:12). An angry bear is recognizable, a fool, whoa, some of them look just like an average Joe.

“Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—too much of you, and he will hate you” (25:17). Situation comedy writers, are they reading Proverbs for screenplay ideas? How many times has the intrusive neighbor been a storyline?

“Let another praise you, not your own mouth, someone else, and not your own lips” (27:2). Bern Williams said, “The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”

One more proverb to whet your appetite: “A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will be refreshed” (11:25). You might not get a check in the mail, but heaven’s reward program is better than frequent flyer miles.

This August, I’ll pray a proverb over you—that you’re not waylaid by a she-bear with stray cubs or a fool with stray morals.

As you read 31 chapters in 31 days, watch for gems. You’ll absorb plenty of wisdom-guidelines, helping you to respect God and others for the other 334 days in a year.

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