Speaking Clearly Without Saying a Word

Story of the Day for Tuesday December 6, 2011

Speaking Clearly Without Saying a Word

                 And Joseph got up from his dream and did what the angel of the Lord told him.

                                                                        Matthew 1:24

When we read the Christmas story and hear about Mary and Joseph, does it come as a surprise to you that, in the Bible, Joseph never speaks a single word?

Why does this seem so odd?  Maybe it’s because Joseph “speaks” so powerfully by his life.

After Joseph was engaged to Mary, he discovers she is pregnant.  At this time, he doesn’t know what’s going on.  But he does know that Mary isn’t pregnant because of him.

In the Old Testament, if a woman is betrothed and another man sleeps with her, both are to be executed.  Not only that, but in the culture of the day, Joseph is expected to stand up and defend his innocence by publicly denouncing Mary.

 

But Joseph didn’t do this.  Instead, he planned to divorce her quietly.  Engagements could only be legally dissolved by divorce, but he could do so without making a big stink about it.

Do you see what Joseph’s plan meant?  Mary, he thought, had been unfaithful to him.  As heartbreaking as this was, Joseph didn’t plan to retaliate by harming her.  But think about it: if he divorced Mary quietly, who would everyone assume got her pregnant?  Joseph!  Yet, Joseph was willing to bear the public shame in order to protect Mary.  And, not only that, by divorcing her quietly, he also loses the dowry he paid for her.

Joseph had no idea Mary was pregnant because of the Holy Spirit.  Only later, in a dream, does the angel of the Lord tell Joseph what is happening and that he must take Mary as his wife.  And he does.

 

In the 19th century, one of the most well-known preachers in America was Charles Spurgeon.  On the side, Spurgeon and his wife raised chickens and sold the eggs.  Some of Spurgeon’s close friends and relatives expected a discount on the price of his eggs.  Spurgeon refused. He insisted that everyone pay the full price.

Needless to say, Spurgeon earned a reputation for being a cheapskate.  It wasn’t until after Spurgeon’s wife  died that the public learned all of the money the Spurgeons raised from the sale of his eggs went to support two poor widows.

Charles Spurgeon was willing to let gossips attack his character rather than reveal the true motive for his egg prices.  Joseph was willing to bear dishonor and humiliation rather than to expose Mary to public disgrace.

Are you willing to do the same?

Joseph’s displayed a higher kind of righteousness; he showed mercy.  And, in the years to come, Joseph’s son would proclaim that God longs – not to give us what we deserve, but to show us mercy.  And Jesus would invite us to both accept and adopt this higher law.

That is why Joseph speaks so clearly without saying a word.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Walking Out of the Manure

Story of the Day for Monday December 5, 2011

Walking Out of the Manure

                    In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, saying, ”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”     

                                                                    Matthew 3:1-2

When I was in kindergarten, the circus came to town.  They promoted the circus by sending “frontrunners” to Gosling’s store.  They let you wrap a boa constrictor over your shoulders.  But the thing I remember most is that they let you pet a porcupine.

Did I just say they let you pet a porcupine?  Wouldn’t you get quills in your hand?  Actually, you don’t.  The circus people told us to pet the porcupine in a smooth motion, but you must move from head to tail.

Now, what if some kid didn’t want anyone telling him what to do or how to do it?  What if he defied instruction and petting the porcupine from the tail to the head?  Could he do that?  Of course.  But it would be unpleasant.

God instructs us in the best way to live.  Whenever we defy God, it is like petting a porcupine from tail to head.  We end up with a handful of needle-sharp quills.

 

The first words recorded of John the Baptist are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  He called the people of Israel to change their minds about how they lived, to confess their ways as wrong, and to find the forgiveness of sin as they were baptized in the Jordan River.

 

Whenever I hear the word, “repent,” it sounds severe and threatening.  I don’t like it.  I have learned to associate the word, “repent,” with God sternly threatening that I better shape up or He’s going to scorch me in His wrath.

Actually, repentance is a gracious word from God.  The Lord is telling us we’re walking in the wrong direction and he’s saying, “Hey! I’m over here. Turn around.”  God uses repentance to make our life better.

 

When I was an adolescent, our family stopped at a farm in Ohio so my dad could visit with his old buddy from the war.  One of the farmer’s sons was my age so we went to do fun stuff.  We climbed to the top of the silo, rode boar hogs, and built a fort in the hay mow.   But our crowning adventure was trying to ride cows.  I say trying to ride cows because I didn’t do so well.  I fell off in the barnyard and splatted into several inches of watery manure.

Did I mention that we were going to a funeral later that day and I was wearing dress clothes?

Repentance began when I admitted that riding cows in dress clothes was not a good idea.  But only when I was willing to walk out of the barnyard and go to the house could I get a bath, and have my clothes thrown in the washer before we left for the funeral.

God can cleanse no one who refuses to walk out of the manure. We repent when we leave the stench of our ways and let Him wash us clean.

We smell so much better.

                                      (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

A Good Time to Dance on the Table

Story of the Day for Saturday December 3, 2011

A  Good Time to Dance on the Table

                  “Blessed are you when others mock you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you. Rejoice and be glad . . .” 

                                                                  Matthew 5:11-12

For her work in the field of therapeutic humor, Patty Wooten has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. One of her favorite stories is about a grumpy patient who continually pressed his buzzer for help.

Despite a hectic day, his nurse clung to her good cheer and asked, “What’s wrong?”

The patient complained about his dinner. “This is a bad potato.”

The nurse, determined to keep things upbeat, picked up the potato with one hand and spanked it with the other.  She scolded the potato, “Bad potato! Bad! Bad! Bad!” Satisfied that the potato had learned its lesson, the nurse set it back down on the plate.

The patient was so taken off guard that he burst into laughter. A crabby, irritable patient had been instantly transformed.

What changed his whiny attitude? His circumstances hadn’t changed: he was still lying in a hospital bed with an unappealing dinner before him. But the thought of the naughty potato lying on his plate completely altered how he viewed his situation.

 

When we’re in a sour mood we feel we’ve earned the right to nurse a bad attitude. That’s because we believe our attitudes are dependent on our circumstances.

They’re not. When we’re crabby, it’s never because of the situation we’re in, but how we are interpreting our situation.

Jesus tells us that when we’re horribly mistreated for following him, instead of moaning, it’s a good time to dance on the table.  The proper attitude to persecution is joy.

No circumstance in life demands a crabby attitude.

 

One hot summer day, Robert Fulghum was sitting at an oceanfront café on the Greek island of Crete. The temperature was over a hundred degrees and the tempers of both tourists and waiters were rising.

At the table next to Fulghum’s, an attractive young couple, fashionable dressed, were kissing and laughing. Suddenly, they picked up their small table, and stepped off the quay into the shallow water of the harbor. The man waded back for their chairs and gallantly seated his lady before sitting down. The onlookers roared with laughter and applauded.

The surly waiter appeared, raised his eyebrows, and picking up a tablecloth, napkins, and silverware, waded into the water to set their table. Minutes later, the waiter returned with a bucket of iced champagne and two glasses. The couple toasted each other, the waiter, and the crowd – which prompted cheers as the other customers threw flowers to them from their table decorations.

The circumstances didn’t change. It was still hot. But everyone’s disposition was transformed because one young couple taught the rest to see in a new way.

                                             (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Slowing Down Enough to Enjoy Him

Story of the Day for Friday December 2, 2011

Slowing Down Enough to Enjoy Him

                           Be still before the Lord and patiently wait for him. 

                                                               Psalm 37:7

I’m a passionate deer hunter – which goes completely against my nature. When  you hunt you need to  s-l-o-w . . . w-a-y . . . d-o-w-n. But I want to do everything in overdrive. It’s not easy for me to enter the woods and drop anchor. When I sit motionless I feel as comfortable as a Buckingham Palace guard with happy feet.

Yet, in those moments of stillness, the woods come alive. A snowy-white ermine once played at my feet. A nuthatch landed on my shoulder. I have watched the goofy games that a pair of fawns will play and have even ruefully discovered the pace at which a mountain lion will stalk you.

 

Hunting teaches me that you can accomplish more by going slower. Astronauts understand this principle. If you want to rendezvous with another spacecraft, you cannot accelerate to catch up with it. Accelerating sends you into a higher orbit – which slows you down. If you want to go faster, you must decelerate. As you drop into a lower orbit, your speed increases.

 

But even if you don’t care about deer hunting or racing spaceships, slowing down to speed up is vital in so many aspects of life.

Studies have shown that creativity and insightfulness decrease when we are in a hurry to be creative and insightful.

Rushing through life diminishes our appreciation of things.  Once, our family went to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. My wife and kids dawdled over every exhibit. They gawked at the enormity of General Sherman’s stuffed horse. They stared at Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and reminisced about the movie.

I was getting antsy. There was so much to see. So, I left them to tour the museum of art on my own. While art lovers sat on benches to ponder a painting by Leonardo DaVinci, I was marching through the hallways to see everything. As a result, I saw a lot but enjoyed little.

When you don’t take time to stop, you never know what roses smell like.

 

But, most importantly, we have to slow down to grow in our relationships. When I take my wife out to eat, I’m more than happy to zip into the drive-through lane at McDonald’s and stuff my mouth with fries while I drive.  My wife, on the other hand, prefers a candlelight dinner. That’s because, when it’s dark, I can’t see the food on my plate, and I eat more slowly.

 

Learning to be still before God doesn’t come easy for me. But the things I long from God: insight, appreciation of his goodness, and a relationship of harmony with him only happens when I slow down enough to enjoy him.

                                   (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

One Missing Crescent Wrench

Story of the Day for Thursday December 1, 2011

One Missing Crescent Wrench

                 Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with each other? 

                                                                      Malachi 2:10

When I was young I picked up a couple of hitchhikers.  We were driving down a dark, lonely stretch of road when the guy next to me said he was going to kill me.  (Not to ruin the suspense or anything, but he didn’t.)  They did, however, promise to rob me, and they were faithful to their word.  They went through my glove compartment, found nothing memorable, and finally settled on stealing my crescent wrench lying on the passenger side floor.

 

Whenever we break a promise or betray a trust, we are creating more than a single incident of disappointment for someone.  When someone puts their trust in us and we let them down, they now become less likely to trust others.

Have you heard the old story of the Bedouin who was riding his camel through the desert?  He came upon a stranger who said he was stranded, and asked if he might be able to ride with him on the camel.  The kindly Bedouin was happy to help him out.

They had not ridden long together before the stranger threw the Bedouin off the camel.  As the stranger fled on the camel, the Bedouin shouted after him, “I am not so much angry that you stole my camel, as that, from now on, it will be harder for me to help a stranger who is in need.”

 

As a society, and even more, so as a body of believers, we live in community.  Healthy communities are founded on trust.  Loren Morse wrote to Reader’s Digest about his friend, David, who moved from the big city to rural Maine. David went to a store to rent a rototiller.  He was told the rental fee was not based on how many hours he had the tiller, but on how many hours he actually used it.

David was confused, “How will you know how long I’ve used it?”

Puzzled, the owner said, “You tell me.”

Life is so much more refreshing when we’re are able to trust each other.

 

Sadly, communities can break down.  Every lock you buy testifies to the insecurity we live in when we can no longer trust each other.

 

We cannot control the climate of the community we live in.  But we can influence it.  Jesus said, after all, that we are the salt of the earth.  You don’t have to trust everyone, but you can become a person others can trust.  And even if we have failed to be trustworthy in the past, God’s mercy provides you a new day, and a new start.

 

And, although I never do it with my wife and kids in the car, and though I don’t commend the practice to others, I still pick up hitchhikers.  Helping others get down the road has been well worth the price of one missing crescent wrench.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)