Bueller, Bueller…

here

I know I am dating myself by referencing this, but do you remember in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when a teacher is taking attendance in class and calling out, “Bueller, Bueller” with no answer until someone says, “Um, he’s sick”?

I bring that iconic scene to mind as I think of the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10). God called to Samuel three times: “Samuel, Samuel…” But Samuel did not answer God. He was off seeing if it was the priest Eli calling him. Finally, Eli realized it was God calling Samuel. So when God called Samuel a fourth time, “Samuel, Samuel…” Samuel responded to him, “Speak, for your servant hears” as Eli had told him to.

Are we listening when God calls us? Are we going to others instead? Are we ready when we do hear him and he has a task in mind for us? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves on a daily basis and then do what we can to be better listeners and followers of God.

One blessing that I hear in this story of Samuel is that God knew Samuel by name and was not just randomly calling people. He was calling Samuel personally. And he is calling you by name to follow his will in a very specific-to-you way. Be the best “you” you can be for God.

Turn to Him

turn to God

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. Ezekiel 18:32

The word repent means “to turn.” On this Ash Wednesday, we turn to God in repentance for our sins as we begin the 40-day season of Lent leading to Good Friday and Easter. As we read in this verse from Ezekiel, when we turn to God, we live. Compare Ezekiel’s words to those of St. Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Sin means death, but Jesus means life. Turn your head, turn your heart, turn your life to Christ this day and live through him.

Wind Chill

wind chill

Most of the country went through a deep freeze recently with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills well below zero. Meteorologists like to say that wind chills are the “feels like” temperatures. The thermometer may say one thing, but our body feels another when we are out in the elements.

The concept of wind chill can apply to other parts of our lives as well. By all outward measures, things may seem fine in our lives, but the “feels like” reality may be something far less than fine. Some people call it the winter blues or blahs. Others may point to the fewer activities or holidays after the new year. But many just may be feeling down for whatever reason.

It is good for us as Christians to read the temperature in the room, so to speak, when we visit someone we know who we think might be lonely or depressed. Jesus was often quick to sense what was going on in a particular situation on a deeper level. I think about the woman at the well who had many issues going on in her personal life which led her to being at the well all alone. Jesus was able to bring those difficulties out and supply her with the living water of himself, which gave her comfort and even joy as she excitedly shared her story with others. (See John 4:7-30.)

We may not be as adept as Jesus, but we can be a voice of support to someone, a listening ear if they want to talk or just a friendly face to bring cheer. Sometimes the simplest things can melt the sadness and warm the heart. Of course, professional counselors might be the best option. But you can be the first to take the chill out of an existence that is below normal. Let Jesus be your guide.

One of Many

one of many

A friend on Facebook posted a picture he took of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris. Nice, simple, close-up snapshot. Then he turned his camera around and took a picture of the masses of people waiting behind him to get that same snapshot.

Kind of puts things in perspective, huh? We are not alone on this journey through life … and on our journey through faith. The Bible mentions that masses of people would often follow Jesus wherever he went, seeking just to see him or touch his robe (see Matthew 4:25; Matthew 8:1; Matthew 14:35-36). Jesus could not have a close-up talk with every single person on earth in his lifetime. But that still does not change the fact that he loves each one of us dearly and died and rose for each one of us that we might be with him forever.

The thought of masses of people streaming toward Jesus reminds me too of favorite lines in the song “Alleluia to Jesus,” by Carl Schalk, which was sung at my father’s funeral. The lyrics envision all those who have passed away climbing Jacob’s ladder to heaven: “Many millions have climbed it, have reached Zion’s hill, and thousands by faith are climbing it still.” The most memorable line for me comes toward the end: “And remember each step, that by faith we pass o’er, some prophet or martyr hath trodden before.” We are in good and faithful company, blessed by God to reach the goal of heaven through the path Christ opened for us and for all. There is joy in being one of many. God’s love graciously goes far beyond ourselves, but is far more personal than looking face-to-face at the Mona Lisa.

Oaks of Righteousness

oak

They may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. —Isaiah 61:3

Oaks were the main trees of Israel’s natural groves and forests. The three species which grow there have in common their strong and hard wood and all attain a great height and reach a very old age. The Hebrew name, allon, even means strong. So it is no wonder then that Isaiah uses the imagery of oak trees to symbolize those who are strong in the Lord.

Besides being strong, oak trees also rise up to the sky. Oak trees branch out to provide shade for those who need shelter from danger. And oak trees expand with a new ring of growth each year.

In much the same way, people who are oaks of righteousness are drawn closer to heaven through the Holy Spirit. Oaks of righteousness protect others from the evils of this world by the power of God. And oaks of righteousness continue to mature in their faith in Christ through prayer and Scripture reading in order to grow stronger in him year after year.

Who are some oaks of righteousness that you know who are like this? How can you become more and more like an oak of righteousness at this time in your life? People are watching us more than we think, and it is time for us to show the world, as in Isaiah’s day, that the glory of the Lord is within us through the death of Christ on the tree of the cross.

Unsearchable Riches

treasures

This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. Ephesians 3:8-9

Some blessings are beyond our knowing or understanding, and that is what jumps out for me in these verses from Ephesians 3. Only by God’s grace are we able to comprehend at all the richness of forgiveness, faith and everlasting life which Christ lavishes upon us mere humans with our finite minds.

That’s why witnessing can be so daunting for us sometimes. We are expressing to others what is naturally and initially inexpressible: unconditional love and salvation from a God who has known us forever and will know us forever. What comes forth from our mouths is by our own admission not from us, but from God. Yet we are the vessels that carry this treasure of Good News to the people around us.

Don’t be afraid of what you don’t fully understand. Don’t let the riches of Christ go unseen, unheard, unsearched for or explored. That is how we continue to expand the kingdom and grow within ourselves as his faithful people.

Embouchure

embouchure

As those in band know, embouchure is the use of the lips, facial muscles, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument. The word comes from the French root “bouche,” meaning “mouth.” Good embouchure allows for a better sound, a wider range of notes and less strain on the muscles.

How wind instrumentalists move their mouths directly affects the quality of music that comes out. I find this fascinating. Wind instrumentalists I have talked to about this say that after awhile correct embouchure becomes almost second nature. They come to know exactly what is needed to create a certain note without thinking too much about it.

Whether we know it or not, we are capable of a kind of Christian embouchure, a way of moving our mouths to elicit the beautiful sounds of the Gospel to a listening audience. We may not know exactly how we do it, but the Holy Spirit gives us the words to say in the proper way and at the right time to bring about the best result in the hearts of minds of others to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

We don’t need to be experts in Christian embouchure by any means, but we simply need to allow our mouths to utter the joyful noises of the Good News of our Savior, who came to earth to teach, preach, heal and even sacrifice himself for us. His mouth moved in such a way from the cross to utter, “It is finished!” At his ascension, his mouth opened to declare, “Peace be with you” and “I am with you always” to his disciples.

With trumpet sounds, Jesus will return to take us home to be with him in heaven, where we will open our mouths and sing with all the saints the glory of his name. Sing a song of praise in preparation for that day today. Play your praise on an instrument, if you know how.

Freedom

Dream

Today we honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and we remember these stirring words from his “I Have a Dream” speech, spoken on August 28, 1963: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Dr. King is envisioning a time when freedom will ring out for all people. It is a vision we continue to strive for as a nation, as a people and as individuals.

But as Christians we know that we are already free, spiritually speaking. As Jesus tells us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Because of the truth of God’s love for us in Jesus, we are free to love, free to forgive, free to live by Christ’s example every day of our lives. Let our freedom in Christ bring harmony to all.

Exercise?

exercise

Several days into the New Year, without fail, gyms, rec centers and fitness classes are filled with people. Exercise is #1 on almost every person’s New Year’s resolutions list. And all establishments that cater to exercise reap the benefits, at least at this time of year.

Then in a few months, the number of visitors and attendees will begin to trail off, like clock work. We are a fickle people and a people who don‘t keep up with their promises on things like this that take extra work and more pain and added time to our days.

Thank God that he is not like that with us. He commits to us and sticks with us and continues to exercise his role in our lives from day to day and year to year. He will never get tired or weary of us. He will not back out of a relationship with us because it is painful or more work or takes a lot of time. He loves us regardless of how we look or what we have done. He loves us because we belong to him and we are his own. Our membership in his family will never run out.

Truly Wise

wise men

Coming 12 days after Christmas, Epiphany is the official day in the church year when we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men to the place where Jesus was. We call them Wise Men because that is how the Bible defines them. It is assumed that they are called wise because they presumably studied astronomy and knew of the location and movements of a star that was quite unusual and that was related to the birth of a king.

But the Wise Men proved to be very wise on their trip as well. They went to Herod‘s palace to get information from Scripture about a newborn king. They listened to what the Scriptures said and went to the town of Bethlehem. After they saw Jesus, the Wise Men, prompted by a dream, were wise in not returning to King Herod, who did not have good things in mind for Jesus.

The Wise Men were most wise of all when they met Jesus face to face. They bowed before him. They worshiped him. They gave him extravagant gifts that told the world that this was a very special King.

What can we learn from these Wise Men? It is wise for us, too, to go to Scripture for answers. It is wise to know and honor the right King, Jesus. And it is wise to give our King Jesus the very best of our gifts of precious time, special talents and treasured possessions. Be like the Wise Men in every way you can today.