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So if the kingdom of heaven is so valuable, why doesn’t everybody do everything they can to be a part of it? I think it’s because value is often in the eye of the beholder. What has value and what doesn’t is really up to personal interpretation. What some people think are valuable have no value at all to others. Several years ago I used to heat our house with wood. Every fall I would go out and cut wood with my friend Roger Raether and Bob Bosma. I never liked cutting wood because it was a lot of back breaking work but I liked the price. It was free except for the labor so we would take a Saturday here and there in the fall to cut wood and pile it up for the winter. In addition to cutting wood I used to get the wood scraps from a store called “The Wooden Bird.” They make beautiful hand carved bird decoys and animal decoys out of wood. Every decoy costs from 50 to 250 bucks and they are really nice decorative pieces to put on the mantle. Their shop used to be right here in St. Boni so every couple of weeks I would stop in and pick up their leftover wood scraps to burn in my wood burner. Right before Thanksgiving I stopped in to pick up a load of scraps. I walked in the front door and told them I was there to pick up the wood. The man wheeled out two bins like usual to the loading doors and helped me load them in the truck. Usually the wood was just chunks of pine but this time they looked like decoys. I asked him if he was sure that he was giving me the right wood because they were unpainted decoys. I noticed that they had a few cracks in them so I figured they were throwing them away because of the cracks. The man insisted that I had the right stuff and waved me goodbye. I took my load of wood and promised that I would bring his carts back as soon as I got the chance. He told me there was no hurry and I could even bring them back after Thanksgiving. I went home and unloaded the decoys in a big pile in the basement. The wood burner was low so I grabbed a handful of decoys and threw them in the furnace. That dry pine burned nice and hot so I threw in a few more to ward of the cold. Then I went back to work. After work I went home and reloaded the furnace with decoys and had just enough time to bring back the carts before they closed for the long weekend. When I pulled up in my truck two men ran out of the building and demanded that I bring back the decoys. I asked why and with urgency in his voice he told me that I had taken their entire inventory of Christmas decoys worth tens of thousands of dollars by mistake. He went on and on about calling the police and trying to find my vehicle and driving around for the past three hours in a complete panic because I had taken their entire Christmas inventory of decoys worth thousands of dollars by mistake. I pointed at the guy who gave them to me and he just gave me the deer in the headlights look and walked back into the building. Then the manager said do you still have them because they are incredibly valuable. Each decoy had taken them over a week to make and they needed to get them back. Rather stunned I told them that I had burned a few of them but would bring the rest back. Then I went home and carefully loaded a few hundred decoys back into the bins and brought them back to the Wooden Bird. Value is often in the eye of the beholder. The decoys had no value to me other than a little heat. But to the Wooden bird, the decoys were worth tens of thousands of dollars.
THE LIGHT OF HOPE
As Craig T. Kocher in his commentary on our text states, "Christian hope is fundamentally different from optimism. Christian hope locks its steely eyes on the devastation of the world around it, and readily acknowledges that things may not get better. Christian hope does not bury its heat in Yule-tide cheer and artificial lights, but like an Advent wreath glowing stronger and brighter each week, this hope pushes its way into the brokenness of the world clearing a path in the wilderness so the true light might burst into the darkness."
Kocher then goes on to cite a story told by Tom Long, about a rabbi Hugo Grynn, who was sent to Auschwitz as a little boy. In the midst of the concentration camp, in the midst of the death and horror all around them, many Jews held onto whatever shreds of their religious observances they could, without drawing the ire of the guards. One cold winter's evening, Hugo's father gathered the family in the barracks. It was the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Lights.
The young child watched in horror as his father took the family's last pad of butter and made a makeshift candle, using a string from his ragged clothes. He then took a match and lit the candle. "Father, no!" Hugo cried. "That butter is our last bit of food! How will we survive?"
"We can live for many days without food," his father said. "We can not live a single minute without faith and hope. This is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here! Not anywhere!" [Pulpit Resource, Logos Productions, Inc, 2005]
From Ronald Harbaugh's Sermon "John the Baptizer Points to the Light that Shines in Our Darkened World"
NOT MY JOB
The names in this story have been changed out of respect for their privacy. Julie W told her family's story in a magazine article.
[My daughter], Allison, came home for the weekend. She opened the door, didn't speak, and dropped her duffel bag. Smudges of mascara circled her eyes. I whispered a "God-please-no" prayer.
"Come tell me about your classes." I patted the sofa. She muttered,
"Gotta take a shower."
As she clomped upstairs, I analyzed the recent changes in her: complaints of not having any money, rarely answers the phone, weight loss, pinpoint pupils, and a "who gives a rip" [facade]. I searched her purse and found a leopard-colored pipe and the unmistakable sweet odor of pot. My heart fluttered wildly like a bird stuck inside my chest.
She plodded down the stairs, hair in a towel, wearing the same wrinkled clothes. Be still and talk in a sweet voice, I told myself. You must convince her to stop. "We need to talk, honey."
"Not now. I'm tired."
"I found your pipe."
She stared at me with death-row eyes. "Chill, it's not that big of a deal."
The tightness in the den suffocated me. I needed air. "Want to walk?" I asked brightly. "Like we used to?"
I knew I could talk some sense into her. "Honey, please. You've gotta stop." I grabbed her hand.
"Mom!" She jerked away.
"We have a strong family history. You don't want to..."
I never got to finish the sentence. Allison stormed out of the room and within minutes was headed back to college. I knew what I had to do--abandon everything in my life and start to worry/fix/control full-time.
I began spending most days by the phone. I evaluated Allison's reactions, gestures, and comments. Thoughts circled my mind like buzzards: What if she never stops? What if I never see her again? What if she overdoses? Or goes to jail?
I lured Allison into therapy by promising we'd go to an Italian restaurant before visits. Her first appointment day arrived. She played with her spaghetti, and I couldn't eat. "So, what do you plan to say to the counselor?" I asked.
"How should I know?"
When they called her name at the office, I hurried in to make sure the counselor understood. Allison refused to sign for me to have any information. I considered eavesdropping, but too many people were around. An hour later, she walked past me as I paid.
"What'd you talk about?"
Our therapy/lunch charade continued that way for a few weeks. Then Allison's sister informed me she was still using. She denied it, refused to see the counselor, dropped out of college, and stopped answering my calls.
I was convinced if I forgot about Allison, even for a second, or enjoyed anything, something bad might happen. Several months later, after another night of little sleep, I glanced in the mirror. I could have passed for the addict: dark circles under hopeless eyes.
I called my friend Linda. Her son, also an addict, had been sentenced to state prison. "You can't imagine all that's going on here," I said.
"Come over for coffee," she urged.
I wanted to stand guard at home but knew she'd listen and understand.
"Hey, girlfriend." Linda hugged me. I didn't touch my coffee as I blurted the saga. Linda didn't sweet-talk. "You need help."
"You haven't heard the whole story," I argued. "I'm fine--my daughter, she needs help."
"You're addicted to worry and control," Linda said. "I've been where you are." She stretched out on the sofa. "The only one you can control is yourself."
The possibility that she might be right terrified me. "It took me years to realize that I'm not in charge. God is," Linda admitted. "By worrying, you're telling God he can't handle things. Go to Al-Anon with me." I'd heard of Al-Anon but didn't see how it applied to me. But I agreed because I was in awe of Linda.
I didn't open my mouth during the meeting. Every word spoken sounded like my own thoughts:
"I worried myself sick about my alcoholic husband."
"My peace comes only when I let go and let God."
Then the speaker said, "To change, you'll have to leave behind some familiar lifelong habits." But how? This is who I am--what I do. "An alcoholic can't drink, and those of us in this room can't allow an ounce of worry. For us, it's every bit as dangerous and addictive. Worry robs our serenity."
I didn't think change was possible. Not for me. But I knew one thing for sure--I was destroying my life. That night at home I got real. "Help me, God. I can't do this without you." I began to ask God for help each morning. I whispered, "Not my job," as worry, fear, or control tried to needle back in.
Two years after that first Al-Anon meeting, Allison and I met for an impromptu lunch. She'd gone back to the same therapist. On her own.
"You can't imagine how easy it is to study when you're not high," she laughed.
"Nope, I guess not." I blinked back happy tears.
"When you didn't fix my problems, it scared me. A few times I had to dig change out of the seat of my car for gas money. Some days," she paused, "I didn't have food." My throat felt warm with pride. She'd done it on her own. "I'm making A's. And look," she handed me her checkbook. "I have money again."
Recovery defies logic. It means doing the opposite of what feels natural. When I took care of myself and my addictions, Allison did the same.
Citation: Condensed from our sister publication Today's Christian,© 2008 Christianity Today International Julie W., "Not My Job," Today's Christian (July/August 2008)
Everyone needs a hero. For the mother who told this story it was her friend, Linda. Then she turned to God as her ultimate hero. We all could do with someone to help us work through our troubles. We need a victorious warrior to fight our battles. No one knows that better than God himself.
From Mark Haines' Sermon "Our Mighty God"
Several years ago in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, George and Vera Bajenksi’s lives were changed forever. February 16, 1989. A very normal Thursday morning. The phone rang at 9:15 a.m. "There’s been an accident..." It involved their son Ben.
As they approached the intersection of Adelaide and Simcoe Streets near the high school, they could see the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance units. Vera noticed a photographer and followed the direction of his camera lens to the largest pool of blood she had ever seen.
All she could say was, "George, Ben went home--home to be with his Heavenly Father!" Her first reaction was to jump out of the car, somehow collect the blood and put it back into her son. "That blood, for me, at that moment, became the most precious thing in the world because it was life. It was life-giving blood and it belonged in my son, my only son, the one I loved so much."
The road was dirty and the blood just didn’t belong there. George noticed that cars were driving right through the intersection--right through the blood. His heart was smitten. He wanted to cover the blood with his coat and cry, "You will not drive over the blood of my son!"
Then Vera understood for the first time in her life, one of God’s greatest and most beautiful truths...why blood? Because it was the strongest language God could have used. It was the most precious thing He could give-- the highest price H...
Anyone see “Oprah” this past week?...I believe it was on Friday, Feb. 8.
The test tube babies of the 80’s have come of age...and Oprah had some of those young people on her show.
These children had no identity apart from a mother and were in a constant search for, not only there father, but for other siblings. They admitted with tears that there is a huge void inside that needs so desperately to be satisfied and they are willing to use all their energies to seek the truth.
These young people were consumed with the hope of learning their true identities.
One teenage child only knew he was from test tube #46.
One mother, when asked by her child –where their father was, explained that another man, who already had a family, was loving enough to donate and that made the child a “love child.”
We live in a land and among a people who have no idea...Not only who they are BUT where they came from
How in the world can we expect them to know where they are going?
Most are using all their energies to learn their true identities.
Well, there is good news for them, and for you...
for when someone introduces them to Jesus Christ, or for that fact...when you introduce anyone to Jesus Christ, he provides that person with their true identity, their true purpose in life.
LOVE OF A DISCIPLE
Tertullian, an early Christian author, reported that the Romans would exclaim, "See how they love one another," and Justin Martyr, a Greek-speaking Christian apologist, sketched Christian love this way:
"We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies."
Clement of Alexandria, describing the person who has come to know God, wrote, "He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain."
There is a game my parents used to play when we were on road long road trips in the car. The rules of the game went something like this. "The first one to talk loses." We called it the silence game. Have you ever played the game? I would bet that just about every parent has made up a game similar to this. When traveling in a vehicle and arguing continues, or complaining erupts, or the eternal question, "How much further?” is asked for the 100th time, we want silence. So we play the silence game. Sometimes, silence is golden.
Sometimes, though, silence is not golden. If you have ever felt the awkward pause in the conversation, or if you have ever had an angry spouse or parent give you the silent treatment then you know what I’m talking about. (Whisper) Sometimes silence can be deafening.
A NATIONAL PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
Joe Wright is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Wichita, KS. On January 23, 1996, He was asked to be the guest chaplain for the Kansas State House in Topeka. He prayed a prayer of repentance that was written by Bob Russell, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. According to an article in the Kansas City Star from January 24, 1996, his prayer stirred controversy, and one member of the legislative body walked out. Others criticized the prayer.
The controversy didn’t end there. Later that year in the Colorado House, Republican representative Mark Paschall angered lawmakers by using Joe Wright’s prayer as the invocation. Some members there also walked out in protest.
Paul Harvey got a hold of the prayer and read it on his program. He got more requests for copies of it than any other thing he had ever done. Here’s what he prayed:
"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that’s exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it a choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air...
THE MARK OF JESUS
When I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Levelland, there was a man in our church, the owner of a local business and a highly intentional Christian. The apostle Paul once said of himself that he bore "on [his] body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). Well, this man bore the marks of Jesus on his life. His wife was the most annoying woman I have ever known. She was chronically ill, and her sickness had embittered her spirit. She demanded almost all of this man's time and energy, and she was never grateful for a single thing he did for her. She complained about life, and she complained about him. For his part -- I don't know how he did it -- but he remained gentle and serene, and he had the utmost patience with this woman. He never spoke ill of her. He never sighed under the burden of her criticism. He was truly a man of God. He had an intimacy with God that was not showy but nevertheless evident. If life had not rewarded him with outward happiness, he was deeply and inwardly joyful. God was his "portion," as the Bible says (e.g., Lam. 3:24; Ps. 16:5; 73:26), and he was satisfied.
How could he do this? How could he be so patient and kind and committed to the welfare of his wife despite her ingratitude? I'll tell you: he was in covenant with his wife, but he was also in covenant with God. And here's what I learned from him. This man partnered with God in his own process of sanctification. Now, let me tell you what I mean. This man's highest interest was not in being happy in some conventional way. No. Instead, the longing of his heart was to be the kind of person God wanted him to be. And God has to work on a person to make them like he wants them to be. And what this man did is: he yielded to God's program of overhaul in his life. God not infrequently uses suffering and adversity. How does the old hymn say it? "When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
That's what this man wanted. He wanted his dross consumed; he wanted his unloving tendencies to be burned in the fire of affliction if need be, and his gold refined, his character refashioned to be like that of his Lord, who "loved the church and gave himself up for her."
"LIVING LIFE UPSIDE DOWN" by Russ Lee
John has a new way of looking at life
He’s tired of his job, his kids and his wife
He says the secret to his success
Was in leaving and finding himself
Now he’s someone to somebody else.
And you say we’ve risen to a new age of truth
You’re calling it a spiritual Godly pursuit
But I say, I say,
We’ve got a program for saving the earth
While unborn children are denied their right to birth
One baby’s blessed, another cursed
Have we made this world better or worse
Now that the life of a tree comes first
And you say we’ve risen to a new age of light
You’re telling me what used to be wrong is now right
But I say, I say,
What if we’ve fallen to the bottom of a well
Thinking we’ve risen to the top of a mountain
What if we’re knocking at the gates of hell
Thinking we’re heaven bound
What if we spend our lives thinking of ourselves
When we should have been thinking of each other
What if we reach up and touch the ground
To find we’re living life upside down.