God of Wonder, you surround us with signs of your glory and surprise us with your presence. Make us alert to the ways you make yourself known. Amen.
For a little help noticing the signs of glory, watch this video:
Thank you Jim O’Dillon for sharing the video and thank you Alpharetta Presbyterian Church for the Unison Prayer of Confession from December 30, 2012 that I mined for the intro.
My friend Becky Peterson emailed this story to me October 27, 2008 and I kept it in my inbox until now…
Here is the story I read last night that was written by a doctor who worked in South Africa…
One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator). We also had no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). ‘And it is our last hot water bottle!’ she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways.
‘All right,’ I said, ‘put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.’
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle, and that the baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.
During prayer time, one ten-year old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. ‘Please, God’ she prayed, ‘send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon.’ While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, ‘And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?’
As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, ‘Amen’. I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything, the Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home.
Anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator! Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting.
Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – that would make a batch of buns for the weekend.
Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the…..could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out – yes, a brand-new, rubber hot water bottle. I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, ‘If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly too!’
Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted!
Looking up at me, she asked: ‘Can I go over with you and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?’
That parcel had been on the way for five whole months. Packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child – five months before, in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it ‘that afternoon.’
‘Before they call, I will answer’ (Isaiah 65:24).
The Ministering to Ministers Foundation helps ministers who have been beat up by their congregations. The number of such casualties seems to be growing and the MTM Board, often intimately familiar with the bloody details, bears much of the burden of funding the first aid efforts. The Board of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation meets September 23-24 in Richmond, Virginia. I have been asked to bring a devotion to start the meeting on Friday. I am planning to share these words of Martin Luther from many centuries past.
It is not we who can sustain the Church
It is not we who can sustain the Church, nor was it our forefathers, nor will it be our descendants. It was and is and will be the One who says: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” As it says in Hebrews 13: “Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, and forever.” And in Revelation 1: “Which was, and is, and is to come.” Verily He is that One, and none other is or can be.
For you and I were not alive thousands of years ago, but the Church was preserved without us, and it was done by the One of whom it says, ‘Who was’, and ‘Yesterday’.
Again, we do not do it in our life-time, for the Church is not upheld by us. For we could not resist the devil in… the sects and other wicked folk. For us, the Church would perish before our very eyes, and we with it (as we daily prove), were it not for that other Man who manifestly upholds the Church and us. This we can lay hold of and feel, even though we are loath to believe it, and we must needs give ourselves to the One of whom it is said, ‘Who is’, and ‘Today’.
Again, we can do nothing to sustain the Church when we are dead. But He will do it of whom it is said, ‘Who is to come’ and ‘Forever’. And what we must needs say of ourselves in this regard is what our forefathers had also to say before us, as the Psalms and other Scriptures testify, and what our descendants will also experience after us, when with us and the whole Church they sing in Psalm 124: “If the Lord himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us,” and Psalm 60: “O be thou our help in trouble, for vain is the help of man.”
… May Christ our dear God and the Bishop of our souls, which He has bought with His own precious blood, sustain His little flock by the might of His own Word, that it may increase and grow in grace and knowledge and faith in Him. May He comfort and strengthen it, that it may be firm and steadfast against all the crafts and assaults of Satan and this wicked world, and may He hear its hearty groaning and anxious waiting and longing for the joyful day of His glorious and blessed coming and appearing. May there be an end of this murderous pricking and biting of the heel, of horrible poisonous serpents. And may there come finally the revelation of the glorious liberty and blessedness of the children of God, for which they wait and hope in patience. To which all those who love the appearing of Christ our life will say from the heart, Amen, Amen.
~ Martin Luther (Weimarer Ausgabe 54, 470 and 474 f.).
Appearing IN PLACE OF A FOREWORD in Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Volume I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 2, xi (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004).
Back when I traveled by plane the first time, you could buy flight insurance in the terminal. A friend from seminary who gave me a ride to the airport bought a policy on me before I boarded. He bought it as a sick joke because he knew I was nervous.
I buckled my seat belt tightly and paid close attention to the stewardess as she gave instructions. I remember praying as the plane lifted off the runway, “God, you know me. I’m one of yours. I’m not one of those people who pray only when scared. I’m with you all the time. I can count on you to keep me safe now, can’t I?”
I’ve flown many times since that first trip from Louisville, Kentucky to Jackson, Mississippi. I still feel a little anxious during take-offs, but my prayer has changed over the years. Now the words of the Psalmist come to mind on every ascent: “I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1)
Our lives are always in God’s hands. Flying doesn’t change anything, but take-offs have become an occasion for me to remember and acknowledge my dependence on God. Acknowledging my dependence upon God makes me a better person. I should fly more often.
The Book of Ruth recounts the devotion of Ruth, a Moabite widow, to Naomi, her widowed Israelite mother-in-law. The relationship of two widows does not seem especially important to the fate of the world, but the story highlights how committed relationships can change the world.
Ruth stays with Naomi after her husband dies. Ruth travels with her mother-in-law from Moab to Bethlehem after Naomi decides to return home to Israel. Naomi encouraged Ruth to return to her own mother, but she replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried. May the Lord’s worst punishment come upon me if I let anything but death separate me from you!” (1:16-17).
The book does not explain why Ruth is so committed to Naomi. We don’t know if Naomi was especially kind to Ruth. We don’t know if Ruth’s own family was abusive. We don’t know if God revealed himself to Ruth in a special way. All we know is that Ruth devoted herself to Naomi and that the fortunes of her life changed in Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem, Naomi’s relative Boaz protects and feeds Ruth and ultimately marries her. The book reveals what attracted Boaz to Ruth when he says at their first meeting, “I have heard about everything that you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband died. I know how you left your father and mother and your own country and how you came to live among a people you had never known before. May the LORD reward you for what you have done. May you have a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, to whom you have come for protection!” (2:11-12).
Ruth’s commitment to Naomi inspired Boaz to commit himself to Ruth in marriage. They had a son they named Obed. “Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David” (4:17). The very David from whose lineage Jesus was born (Matthew 1:1-17).
The power of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi changed the world in which they lived. Ruth’s commitment was the foundation of the family life of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz in Bethlehem. And, ultimately, the king of kings was born from the lineage of Ruth and Boaz.
Being committed to my family seems dull most days, but that is only because I cannot see the world-changing potential of my commitment. It often takes years for the fruit of commitment to blossom, but the story of Ruth is an important reminder that the power of a committed relationship can change the world.
Ted Lynam talked about Ruth as an example of “the power of a committed relationship” in our Disciple IV Bible study group at Alpharetta Presbyterian Church and helped me realize the Book of Ruth is in the Bible to inspire us to be committed in our relationships. Thanks Ted.
I got my first suit when I was 17 years old – creamy white in color with contrasting maroon stitching on the lapel. I wore it with a maroon shirt and a red, white, and blue tie. Give me a break; it was 1974.
I can’t remember how much my first suit cost, but I remember stating emphatically at the dinner table one night that I would wear a $100 suit to work every day when I was grown up. I remember because my father’s immediate response was that he was ashamed to think that a son of his would spend money so wastefully.
My adolescent aspirations missed the mark; I have never worn a suit to work every day (and certainly not one that cost $100). I have, however, lived frugally as my father taught me.
Frugality has served me well. Without ever having a remarkable income, I have become wealthy. Don’t get me wrong, I have earned a very good income during parts of my working life, but, for example, I’ve never drawn the paycheck of an executive in a large company.
What has enabled me to become wealthy is that I have always been happy to live on less than I make, to save money, and to invest. And I married well. I married a girl who, like me, is happy to live on less than we make, save money, and invest. And, oh yeah, we’re both smart, hard-working professionals in the United States where it is relatively easy for smart, hard-working professionals to accumulate wealth.
My wife does not “feel” wealthy and she expresses discomfort when I talk about being wealthy. I do not feel wealthy either, but know that I am; most Americans are wealthy compared to many people on this planet. And an American who has accumulated assets, like we have, is fabulously wealthy.
I talk about being wealthy because I want to help similarly wealthy people become self-conscious of their wealth and to start behaving as wealthy people are supposed to behave.
The Bible gives very specific directions to wealthy people: “Command those who are rich in the things of this life… to place their hope, not in such an uncertain thing as riches, but in God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share with others. In this way they will store up for themselves a treasure which will be a solid foundation for the future. And then they will be able to win the life which is true life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
The Bible says repeatedly that God rewards people who give generously to the poor… “When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back” (Proverbs 19:17). “Give to the poor and you will never be in need (Proverbs 28:27). “Give… freely and unselfishly, and the LORD will bless you in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 15:10). “God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause” (2 Corinthians 9:8). “He [God] will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times” (2 Corinthians 9:11).
The Bible is very clear about the importance of behaving generously… “If… one of your brothers should become poor… you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and … your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cries to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).
The economy has been in terrible shape for several years. Everyone is spending less and saving more if they can. Breaking even in business has become a constant challenge. Cutting back on giving in times like these is tempting. Those of us, who are wealthy, however, are supposed to give generously in times like these. Many of our neighbors are unemployed. Now is the time to give, now, when we must trust God about the future, now, when we really must depend on God to “bless us in all our work and in all that we undertake.”