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SUNDAY DINNER

It was Sunday. I imagine, as I think back upon it after all these years that it was probably in early December. My mother had hustled my younger brother, Andy, and I out of church and the two blocks up the street to our home. My brother and I enjoyed going to Sunday school and church. Other than “regular” school it was the main source of social activities for us. In a community which probably could boast of 100 people on a good day, the small white church we attended was typical of many small towns across our country. It had a steeple with a bell in it. That bell did not just set up there idle, it was rung several times each Sunday, announcing that Sunday school was about to begin, and later, the morning church service was ready to start.

The church was painted white on the outside, like any good country church would have been during those days, and when you stepped inside you found yourself in a small sanctuary with a wood floor that slanted downwards toward the front till it became level a few feet before the altar. I wonder, how many times over the years I heard a penny, nickel or dime dropped onto the floor by some little urchin at the back of the sanctuary, and then listened as it rolled all the way to the front, coming to a stop against the altar. That always seemed to happen during a moment of silence or at some particular point in the pastor’s sermon where it was sure to cause a disturbance and gain the attention of the entire congregation for a few moments.

I suppose, in looking back after all these years, that the floor and the pews are the two main things I remember about that little church. The pews were made out of wood and had no cushion of any kind. Let me tell you, now, they made it difficult for a boy to get a decent bit of a nap during the pastor’s sermon unless you were really worn out from a good SS class.

Well, I am getting off track here. Let me get back to my story. Mom and my brother and I had hurried home, like I mentioned. My Dad, who did not attend church with us, had the long oval-shaped table in the dining room set with dishes and silverware upon a blue and white checkerboard pattern tablecloth. I would not be surprised if we could have smelled the sweet aromas coming from our kitchen long before we entered the house. A mouth-watering meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and sourdough biscuits browned just right and hot out of the oven was about to be placed on the table.

My brother and I needed no urging from Mom or Dad to dip some hot water out of the boiler on the wood range in the kitchen, splash it into the metal wash pan, and quickly give our hands a washing. Sometimes we even used a bit of soap that our grandma had made! That stuff could clean your hands in a snap, let me tell you! And you “felt” clean after using it.

Dad placed the last of the piping hot serving dishes on the table. A thin curl of steam was drifting upwards from the hot mashed potatoes and, on looking closely; the same was true for all the other bowls and dishes on the table it seemed. It appeared as if all that food was just crying out for two hungry boys, fresh from napping through the last half of the friendly pastor’s sermon, to “dig in” and savor every single bite before it cooled. And my brother and I seemed to take full responsibility to insure that none of this bounty was wasted.

Say, now. What a meal that was! It was not unusual for us to be joined by extended family members or friends for Sunday dinner—they all knew about the meals my Dad prepared. And then the “old” folks would sit around the table long after the plates had been scraped clean and the food had been cleared away, just talking—just visiting, telling stories, and enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. Those were really good times.

You know something? I believe that Jesus enjoyed the dinner table during the time when He walked upon this earth. In reading through the Gospels in the New Testament you find numerous occasions when he was seated at the table with folks, enjoying their company and, no doubt, some good food. He dined with all classes and manner of folks and the people must have appreciated that. He also used the occasions at the table to share significant teachings as well as to give some of those closest to Him important instructions. In Acts 1:4 we find these words: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

Those instructions, and that promise, and the impact it continues to have on the lives of Christians, was given at the dinner table! Aren’t you thankful for the dinner table? The next time you sit down at the table, whether it is with few or many, please try not to rush—take time to enjoy the company of the others present as well as the food set before you. Listen to what folks are saying. And don’t be afraid to share with them, either.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the example of the “dinner table” you have given us. Help us appreciate its significance in our lives as we begin our meals with prayer and close them with wonderful  and unhurried fellowship. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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SHOWER OF SPARKS

A loud “pop” over our heads made all of us turn and look towards the top of the tall white pine tree. A shower of sparks was falling toward us from the high tree top which had been set afire by lightning during the previous night.

Someone yelled, “Look out!  Run!  Watch your heads!”   I was already bounding away from the spot near the base of the tree where I had been working with the others, trying to dig a fire line to help contain the small blaze.

I took several long leaps and dove beneath the shadow of a large fir tree, its branches drooping close to the ground.  Holding my metal hard hat tightly onto my head, I watched as sparks and burning embers from the tree top landed around me on the ground and in the branches of the nearby trees.

Oh, boy!  Now our job was going to become even more difficult.  There was no doubt that the flaming material from the tree top was going to spread the fire to an even greater area as more of the heavy carpet of dry pine needles and grass covering the ground ignited.  Looking cautiously out from beneath the branches of the tree I was under, it appeared the sudden “spark shower” was over.  It was time to go back to work.

Taking our shovels, I and several other men quickly began an attempt to cover the dry ground around us where the hot sparks and burning embers had landed, throwing dirt on them in an effort to extinguish them.  More than once I found myself brushing at sparks that frequently continued to drift down from the burning tree top to land on my arms or shoulders.  It was not long before I found I was not always quick enough.  A spark would land on my shirt, burn through it until it touched my skin, and I would let out an “Ouch!” as I slapped at it with my gloved hand.

Have you ever been around someone when they seemed to be having one of those days where, with unpleasant regularity, they sent a “shower of sparks and burning embers” flying towards all those who were around them.  Some of the sparks may have “burned” you, leaving an unpleasant sting that did not heal quickly.

In the Bible, in the New Testament book of James, we find these words: “. . . . Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire. . . .” (James 3:5-6)

It is not pleasant to be around the person whom we might describe as having a tongue such as the writer of James describes.  Yet, we must examine our own conduct, insuring that we are so very careful that we are not the source of a shower of sparks which can do irreparable damage to those around us and with whom we come in contact.

With God’s help, we can be known as a person whose words will encourage and lift up those with whom we come in contact.  Let each of us strive to be known as individuals from whom there is no danger of a damaging shower of sparks!

Prayer: Ah, Lord. Please help me to speak words that encourage, lift up and bring healing to those around me. Always, Lord, always. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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JESUS AND BLISTERS

It’s been some time back that I was wondering about something. Do you suppose Jesus ever had a blister? Hold on now, don’t cut me off just yet. I would like you to think about several things for a few moments.

Picture Jesus seated on a large rock, warming himself by a small fire on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He is watching as several of his disciples are far offshore in a boat, fishing. He holds his hands out towards the fire to warm them in the cool of this early summer evening. The sun has gone down and the temperature seems to be dropping faster than usual on this day.

Jesus realizes his back is becoming uncomfortably cool so he turns and faces away from the fire, feeling the reflected heat quickly begin to warm the back of his legs. Ah, that’s better!

He stretches, realizing his shoulder muscles are somewhat tender, having pushed and heaved just a little too hard in trying to assist the disciples in getting their boat off the sandy beach several hours earlier. It had been a real chore, requiring strenuous effort on the part of each of them. Jesus massages first one shoulder then the other. He thinks to himself that he will probably really feel it in the morning.

As he muses over the happenings of the past few days Jesus turns back to face the fire once more. The flames are getting a little low and he steps over to a pile of driftwood, kneels down and picks up several heavy pieces. As he stands he realizes that the muscles in the back of his legs are even tender. Say, that must have been from that walk up the mountain yesterday. He knew he had walked up the steep slope for quite some distance, in hopes of finding a little privacy in which to pray and meditate for a while. But those crowds of people had come along and, “Oh, well  .  .  .  .  .”

Jesus places a piece of wood on the fire and sits back down on the rock. He begins to study his feet and he lifts one leg up to lay it across the opposite knee. He reaches down and pulls off one of his sandals. “Say, now,” He thinks to himself, “that is how I got that blister on the side of my foot!”

He is studying one of the straps which holds his sandal on and has found where it has torn with only a tiny piece of the leather still holding it together. Beneath the rough edges of the torn leather the skin of his foot has been rubbed and a large, painful blister is bulging unnaturally up out of the flesh.

Hmmmm.

I wonder how often we place Jesus in the unusual category we create in our minds where we think that He may never have experienced many of the very same inconveniences in life which you and I do. I cannot help but believe that He grew tired, he had sore muscles on occasion, he even wore blisters on his feet, he sweat, he felt hunger when he went without eating, he knew what it was like to long for a cup of cold water, he experienced the cold of winter and the unpleasant heat of summer. He no doubt was bitten by bugs. He may have awakened in the night with an upset stomach from eating something which was not cooked properly.

We could go on and on but it seems we often place Jesus completely outside the framework of being human. Yet, He became a man for only one reason—your benefit and mine. He became a man, knowing the cross lay ahead of Him. If He was to experience the pain of the cross he must have also experienced much of what you and I are confronted with as we go through life.

Let’s not forget that it was for our sakes He died. In the New Testament, in Hebrews 12:2 we find these words: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Yes, I think Jesus probably had blisters, for our sakes!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, don’t allow me to forget what you suffered for my benefit. Thank you, Lord, for all you went through—for me. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Have you ever wondered what God has in common with sourdough biscuits? Probably not! In fact, you are probably wondering why such a question would even be asked in the first place—God . . . . and sourdough biscuits? C’mon, now! Well, stick with me for a few moments and I think you’ll understand.

It has been some years now since two of my grandsons, Alec, who was 7 years old, and his 5-year-old brother, Drake traveled from their home in Southern Idaho to the home of their grandparents in the Idaho Panhandle. This was always an adventure the two boys looked forward to. They knew that there would probably be very few dull moments once they set foot on the curb in front of Grandpa Alec’s and Grandma Grump’s home (She was really not grumpy—that’s just what the boys began to call her when they were very small). They knew they would love every minute of their time at the old place. It was understood that their great grandparents would often have a surprise or two in store for them. On this particular occasion it was a cookout.

Say, now! Let me tell you, those two young boys could hardly wait to get the show on the road, so to speak, when they learned a cookout was in the works. They knew Grandpa and Grandma were both the greatest of cooks and they also had learned there was nothing like cooking out in the wilds over an open campfire. Oh, yes. They surely did love the outdoors! There was a bit of a problem on this trip, though. They soon learned they were not going out into the “wilds,” for this cookout. The wildest things were going to get, it turned out, was in the “wilderness” of the living room of Grandpa and Grandma’s home in a residential area of the city in which they lived! Say, what?

The boy’s grandmother wasn’t even sure what was getting “cooked up” as she sat in her favorite living room chair, knitting, and observing the activities of the two young boys as they began lugging heavy red bricks into the house from the back yard. They carefully placed the bricks on the hearth in front of the living room fireplace. As Grandma continued to look on, they moved the bricks from the hearth to the inside of the fireplace where they stacked them neatly in two rows, one on each side. Several minutes later, here came Grandpa lugging a heavy iron grill, rescued from a hunting camp many years earlier. He placed the grill atop the bricks the two youngsters had stacked in the fireplace. By now, Grandma was beginning to have serious questions about what she was observing take place. But Grandpa and the two young boys had no doubts.

The boys left the living room and returned a short time later with several pieces of old newspaper, small twigs and sticks, along with several larger pieces of firewood. They carefully laid out the materials for their fire and, within minutes and with the help of their Grandpa, they had a blazing fire snapping and crackling between the bricks, and beneath the grill. Smoke was rising steadily up the fireplace chimney as the wood burned rapidly and a bed of bright coals began to glow. The boys sat back on the living room rug, admiring their handiwork for several minutes. Then, it was time to be about the business of preparing the feast.

A package of wieners was opened and several were placed on the grill to begin roasting. Grandpa then brought into the living room an old blackened frying pan (another hunting camp relic), and it was not long before a “hunter’s stew” was in the works. It consisted of potatoes, onions, macaroni, cheese, a few pieces of Polish sausage for flavor; all immersed in milk seasoned with butter, salt and pepper. In a short time the aroma from the bubbling stew and the wieners broiling over the coals was wafting throughout the house. But the greatest part of the meal was just about to make its entrance.

As the two boys sat on the carpet watching their feast cooking in front of them, licking their lips occasionally, they looked up to see Grandpa walk into the living room carrying a metal reflector oven in his hands. It was obvious that this old oven had seen many a campfire over the years. On the rack in the oven were small mounds of sourdough that had been kneaded, molded and pressed into just the right shape to become out-of-this-world, mouth-watering biscuits when baked. The boys scooted off to the side and Grandpa placed the oven on the hearth were the heat from the glowing embers of the fire would be reflected into the oven to bake the sourdough into golden brown biscuits.

Say, now! If you had walked into that living room a few minutes later the pleasant and lip-smacking aromas that would have confronted you would have been downright pleasurable! The scene of the two young boys having a cookout in the “wilds” of their grandparent’s living room was truly a sight to behold. The warmth of the crackling blaze in the fireplace, the boys seated cross-legged on the floor with their grandpa, the pleasing smell of roasting wieners and the hunter’s stew cooking over the open fire, and the heady aroma of sourdough biscuits baking in the reflector oven……it makes me think of God—especially those sourdough biscuits!

But, wait just a minute—God and sourdough biscuits? Sure! The warmth of the fire, reflected against the harsh metal of that oven, changed those individual lumps of cold sourdough into warm, golden brown delicacies, which became a sight to behold and a delight to the tongue. That is not unlike the life of an individual living in a world that can be cruel, harsh and hard. Yet, when the love of God is fanned into a flame that warms the heart and reaches to the very depths of the soul, and is thereafter reflected into every aspect of a person’s character, the transformation that takes place is beautiful to behold!

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, we find these words: “. . . .and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

If you are not familiar with this freedom which is spoken of—if you have not experienced the transformation we just read about, why not plan on attending a Bible-believing church in your community this next weekend. You may not actually find sourdough biscuits there, but you can find God and He will warm your soul!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to vividly reflect your glory to those around us—with those we come in contact with today. May others see Jesus in us, Lord. In your Son’s Name I pray. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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HIS HEART WAS TIRED

“His heart was so tired, after working hard over such a long period of time, it just did not want to go back to work.”

It was several years ago that the young man on the phone was sharing with me about a mutual friend of ours who lay in a hospital, his life having been in question more than once during the previous week.

The 34-year-old husband and father of five children had entered the hospital just over a week earlier for repair to the valves of his heart. The surgery, lasting four and a half hours, had gone well and family and friends who had been waiting were told it was a success. The repaired heart was beating on its own. A short time later the surgeons were “wrapping things up,” as it were, when something went wrong. The heart stopped beating. It would simply not do its work. The surgeons rushed to revive the man and had to let the machine, which had done the heart’s work while the surgery was in progress, go back to keeping the young man alive. It continued that way for the next three days. Finally, the doctors believed everything was all right and the heart was working properly again. They closed the man’s chest up and notified the family, once again, that everything seemed fine. He should be all right.

Two hours later, without warning, the heart stopped beating once more. The surgeons had to rush to open up the man’s chest again and before the surgery was over had completed a triple bypass on him. This time they waited several days before the chest was closed up. After watching him carefully it was determined that the heart seeming to be working strongly and was pumping the life-sustaining blood throughout his body as it should and so the chest was closed again.

As I visited with my friend he noted that it had been several hours since the last surgery and the doctors felt confident that the young man was going to make it. As we talked, the friend said, “His heart had been overworked for so long that it was just tired out. The machine had given the heart a break, a much-needed rest, and it apparently did not want to return to work! It did not want to start beating again.”

I have wondered, as we have approached the Christmas Season, if the “heart” of our Lord Jesus Christ ever became tired. Did He ever become tired of the skeptics, those who ridiculed him, the many who walked away unbelieving, and those who followed Him for a brief time and then turned back to their old ways of life? Did disappointment and sorrow ever cause his heart to become “tired”? Do you suppose there were occasions when His heart, saddened by a people who seemed so insensitive to the authentic message of Christmas and eternal life, became tired?

We read various accounts in the Bible where we are told He went off by himself to pray and to be alone with His Heavenly Father. He seems to have needed those occasions and they were an important part of His life. It was during those times that His heart must have been strengthened. And I am convinced of this: Jesus loved you and me so very much that, tired as He may have been at times, He still came into this world willingly where He ultimately endured the cross for us so that we might be able to live with the confidence of eternal life with Him!

In the New Testament, in John 4, we find the account of Jesus approaching Jacob’s Well in the town of Sychar. Verse 6 tells us that, “….Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well……..” It was then that a lady came to get water and Jesus, though He was tired, begins to visit with her. He could have sat back, closed His eyes, and got some well-deserved rest. Yet, He engaged her in what became a life-changing conversation that impacted a multitude of other folks. In verse 39 we read, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.'”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, though there will always be those occasions when I may be physically and emotionally tired, help me to always be ready to share with others the hope I have because of you. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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LIKE A RIDE?

I heard a friend share about an incident which occurred when he was in the military and stationed in Korea. He and a young Army buddy had an opportunity to leave their outpost and go into the city for the day. And to make it all the better they were able to use an old, though small, pickup truck. They were bouncing along the rough, dusty roadway when they came upon an elderly man, stooped over beneath an incredible load of long sticks he was carrying on his back. The man had has face toward the ground, seemingly intent only on placing one foot in front of the other as he struggled along, mile after mile, towards his destination.

After they had passed the elderly man, one of the soldiers suggested to the other that they should offer him a ride. It was still many miles to town, and that was more than likely where the old fellow was headed. And besides, the back of their pickup was empty.

They came to a stop, backed up the road to where the old gentleman was still resolutely struggling along beneath his heavy load and, with the little bit of the local language they knew, along with some hand gestures, asked if he would like a ride. The old fellow gave them a wide grin, obviously understanding what they were offering him, and climbed into the back of the pickup.

Several miles down the road one of the soldiers looked over his shoulder through the back window to see how the elderly man was doing. To his surprise he saw that the elderly man was standing in the back, facing into the direction they were headed, with his eyes squinted against the wind and his hair blowing in the breeze . . . . . the heavy load of wood still on his back!

I wonder if a number of us may be like that elderly man traveling along the hot, dusty road in Korea. We reach a point in our lives where we become aware of the awesome love Jesus Christ has for us and we choose to accept Him as our personal Savior. Then, we begin to move along the path of Christianity . . . . without setting our burdens down!

Jesus tells us in the Bible, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

I wonder how many of us have accepted His offer to “travel” with Him but are still carrying an almost unbearable burden we have yet to give to Him. He is waiting to take that from us if we will simply give it to Him!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the invitation you offer us to give up our burdens to you and accept your rest. Lord, I find that I often have difficulty doing that–giving all of my burdens to you. Will you help me today to do as You have invited? Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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