Welcome to the August 2010 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Topics

Rest

Pay Attention

Faith

Neighbor

Mercy

Christ-like

Seeing Jesus

Trust

Prayer

Fear

Sin

Learning

Good Works

Remember

Enemy

Patience

Imperfection

Humility

Grief

Disagreement

Knowledge

Contentment


A WORD FOR TODAY


Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.







A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2010





August 2, 2010

ďAt that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Ē Matthew 11:25-30, ASV

We are officially just three weeks until the first day of school. Some schools may have a little more time, but it is obvious in all the stores that we are getting close to the new school year. The stores have shelves full of back to school supplies, everything from pencils to notebooks to backpacks. I like to wander the aisles, though I know I should not do so because I always managed to find something I think I need that Iíll probably never use. I buy ahead on notebooks, crayons and pens, even though I probably have enough to last us well beyond my kidsí school years. After all, this is the last year Zack will be in public school and Victoria is halfway through her college years.

I still like to wander the aisles because you never know when you might need some fresh glue sticks or notebook paper. It amazes me the creative products that are being offered for our children these days. I suppose we had our share of cute and handy back to school supplies. However, it seems like theyíve come up with some really great items for the kids these days. New organization techniques and more affordable technology make some of the products very desirable, even if we donít have kids to use it.

Iím far more aware of the other things that go on sale at this type of year: the college collections. I love the colors and styles of all the linens and dorm dťcor available for the college students. Iíve noticed that the shelves are filled with more combo packs of items that a college student might need. Since Victoria is moving in to her first apartment on campus with three of her friends, Iíve been more aware of these opportunities. You can buy box sets with matching appliances all in one box for a very affordable price. They might not be the best products, but they are suitable for the girls to use during this school year.

Everyone wants to benefit from the back to school rush, even the grocery stores. I have noticed that the end caps and islands are filled with the kind of supplies moms will need to send their children off to school with a healthy lunch. Iím not sure why anyone is buying things like lunch packs or deli meats at this point, since they donít have a very long shelf life. Even items like chips, juice, and fruit snacks do not make sense to me because in my house they will be eaten long before school begins.

An end cap at one grocery store made me laugh the other day. It seemed like it must have been set in preparation for the back to school shoppers because it had numerous items that students might enjoy having in their lunch. What made me laugh, however, was a curious assortment of other items that might interest the mothers of those students. There were a few types of biscotti and bottles of Bloody Mary mix. I turned to Bruce and said, ďI guess they figure the mothers deserve a little treat once they send the kids off to school with those healthy juice boxes in their lunch!Ē

There is no way to know what the store employees were thinking when they set up that end cap. It is easy to joke about the strange combination, but it could have been something completely different than my assumption. Perhaps the items were put together because they were items that could not fit on the regular shelf. It is possible that they were items that had no place in the shelf plan-o-grams. It could be that those items are found in the same aisle even though they seem unrelated. We canít know. But it is fun imagining all those mothers kicking back on the couch with Bloody Marys and biscotti on that first day of school once theyíve pushed the kids out the door after a crazy summer!

Perhaps lounging on the couch with a Bloody Mary and biscotti is not the best way to rest, but we know that all the mothers will be thankful for that day when they can just stop for a moment and breathe without a child underfoot. We donít realize how difficult it is to have the kids around all summer. Mothers are not able to do the work they need to do because they are doing extra work for the children. Summer means vacations, extra activities, more driving and time spent with the kids. Back to school means back to normal, even if normal is the hectic schedule of homework and activities.

Whatever we do to rest once the school year begins again, there is no rest we can take that is like that of our life in Christ Jesus. That rest is real and eternal. We will still need to chase after our kids and help them with their schedules, but we can do so without stress if we remember that our work is for Godís glory. We have crazy lives, both during summer vacation and once school is in session, but that craziness need not be a burden for us. Just keep your eyes on Christ, point to Him with all you are and all you do. Thatís where weíll find rest, even when our bodies canít stop for even a moment to relax.

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August 3, 2010

ďNevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou hast holden my right hand. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.Ē Psalm 73:23-26, ASV

Readerís Digest has a story about a man named Chris Mittelstaedt. Chris was in his late 20ís, had a low paying job and a pregnant wife. He knew he had to make a change, to do something better with his life. His new family was depending on him to make a good life for them. He wasnít going to do that with the hourly wage he earned at his non-skilled job. One day he thought of a brilliant idea, the kind of idea we all wish we could find. He noticed something in the world around him and thought of a way to make a change that would benefit not only himself and his family, but also those whom he would serve with his idea.

See, his friends had desk jobs that required long hours and they were not enjoying very healthy lifestyles. Instead of exercise, the spent most of their time sitting in front of computers. Instead of nutritional food, they snacked on the junk that came out of vending machines: soda and chocolate. Chris noticed that his friends were constantly gaining weight because they were not taking care of their bodies. Chris saw that there was a market for healthy food in corporate offices. He contacted hundreds of companie and two were willing to give his idea a chance. They paid up front and his business was born.

Chris created a company that delivers fresh fruit to corporate break rooms. He realized that the unhealthy eating had everything to do with access. Most people will choose a healthy piece of fruit if given the opportunity, and Chris has found that to be true. His business now delivers to hundreds of companies on a regular basis. What began as a few deliveries a day has become a multi-million dollar corporation. He has expanded from coast to coast, bought interest in some family run farms to keep them in operation and developed a distribution system that will keep the fruit fresh and delivered in a timely fashion. He has even planted some of his own trees so that he wonít have to import all the fruit.

The company wasnít always successful. He nearly lost everything early in his business because he made a few mistakes. He got cocky, and it nearly destroyed his company. He grew too fast, expanded beyond his resources and it all nearly collapsed. But he didnít give up. He began again, making better decisions. His company now ships more than 100,000 pieces of fruit around the country to offices that are benefitting from the healthier choices.

When interviewed, Chris told Readerís Digest that he got complacent and forgot an important lesson his father had taught him. ďMy dad was also a pilot. When he was teaking me to fly, he always said, ĎThink about the small mistakes that end up big because you werenít paying attention to the dashboard.í Thatís my mantra: What is the dashboard telling me? What do I need to pay attention to now? Iím managing a business today to make it work tomorrow.Ē

Thatís good advice, not only for those managing businesses, but in all areas of our lives. Small mistakes really can become big disasters if we arenít paying attention. Instead of the dashboard, though, for Christians the question is ďWhat is God telling me today?Ē What do we need to pay attention to now? How is God guiding us into tomorrow? We arenít perfect, but thankfully God is. When we fail He can make it all new. He is our strength and our portion forever. We just need to remember the lessons He has taught us and weíll find that the work we do will not only make our little corner of the world a better place, but our neighbors will see a difference in their own lives.

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August 4, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, August 8, 2004 Ė Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 19: Genesis 15:1-6: Psalm 33:12-22: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16: Luke 12:32-40

ďBy faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.Ē Hebrews 11:3, ASV

Itís all about faith. This is an easy statement to make, but it is much harder to live it. After all, what is faith? How do we define something so intangible, so incomprehensible? The scriptures are filled with faith stories, and we all have our own stories to tell, but can we really define what it is? And what happens when our actions are faithless? Does this mean we donít have faith?

We know that Abram had faith. The Old Testament and the Epistle lesson remind us of that. He trusted God and followed Him out of the world He knew into a world he did not know. He left his home and his people to become a nomad, to journey to a strange and foreign land because a God he didnít know called him. There is nothing reasonable about Abramí story, at least from our point of view. How do we react to those who say ďGod told me to do this?Ē Usually we laugh or ridicule them, or we reject the notion that God might speak to an individual in such a specific way.

I wish God would talk to me with such clarity. Iíve been asking Him what He wants me to do for as long as I can remember. Iíve sought His will on my career, my family, my future. Sometimes I think I know whatís Heís saying, but most of the time I just muddle through. Iím not very patient, you see, and so when things donít fall into place as soon as I think they should, I begin to second guess myself. So, even now as I wander through each day with the faith I have, I wonder if Iím headed in the right direction. God does not always seem as clear to me as He seems to have been to Abram. Could I leave my home and family like Abram to follow this God? Iíd like to say ďYes, I have that much faith,Ē but Iím not quite that confident.

But thatís the point of our scriptures today: it isnít about how much faith we have, it is about trusting in God even when we feel like we are faithless. It is comforting to see this story of Abram from Genesis 15, because even in this text that is quoted so often lifting up Abram for his faith, we see the reality of Abramí faithlessness. He trusted God even while He doubted God. Abram is saying, ďOh Lord, how can you possibly give me anything since you havenít yet given me a son?Ē No gift or blessing really makes sense to Abramí world view if he has no heir to which it can be passed.

He was an old man and his wife Sarai was an old woman. There was no hope. There was no way that they would ever have children. As the text continues, we see Sarai and Abram taking Godís promise into their own hands. Abramís faith was credited to him as righteousness, and in the next breath Abram trusted in the human ability to get things done.

Can you imagine how outrageous the promise in todayís Old Testament lesson must have seemed to Abram? He was old and childless, but God was promising him more offspring than he could ever count. Donít forget, though it is possible easy for us to count the stars in the night sky above our cities, Abram did not have light pollution to block all but the brightest stars. If youíve ever climbed to the top of the mountain or viewed the sky far from the city, you know that the number of stars that Abram saw was significantly larger than what we can see. It would be difficult to even determine how many generations it would take to guarantee such a large number of offspring.

But thatís the point. It isnít about that which is tangible. It isnít about flesh and blood. Faith is about living in Godís promises. We wonít do it perfectly. Weíll doubt. Weíll be afraid. Weíll try to take matters into our own hands. But our failure doesnít negate that which God has already done. Our righteousness is not dependent on our ability to stand firmly in the promises of God; the righteousness in which we dwell is from God. He covers us; we simply live under that cover. When we do fail, God is near to reassure us with His mercy and a reminder of His promises.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, ďNow faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.Ē How would you describe faith if you were questioned by a child or a non-believer? We might want to define faith according to our earthly understanding, but faith isnít about anything tangible. Unfortunately, those who do not have faith need something to grasp. They want to take it in their own hands, do something to be worthy of the promises of God. They want to come up with human explanations for everything they see, even though we know that not everything we see has come from human power.

The thing about Abram is that he was constantly looking ahead. The writer of Hebrews tells us that if Abram had looked back, he could have returned to the life he left behind. But Abram continued to go ahead even when he had doubts. Even his mistakes were about moving forward, not returning to the past. He believed that God had plans and he wanted to be a part of the fulfillment of those plans. He believed in Godís word, even if it seemed ridiculous. He believed in God.

Jesus doesnít make living in that faith easy. He tells us in todayís Gospel lesson, ďSell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth.Ē Perhaps we have not been given the command to leave behind our family and our homeland, but God does want us to let go of the things that we think define us. For Abram, family and land meant everything, but he left it behind on a quest he could not see clearly. He didnít leave everything behind. He took his household, his livestock, his servants. It was not just one man and his wife who set off from Ur that day, it was an entourage of many carrying food, clothes and possessions.

God is not necessarily asking us, as the monks in the middle ages often assumed, to give up everything for His sake. He is calling us to turn away from our old life and follow His quest into His promises. He is calling us to discover the things in our life that are keeping us from living freely in His grace. It might just be our money, or our homeland, or our career. It might just be the houseful of stuff we have collected or that car in the garage. It might be those bank accounts that donít seem to be big enough or that wish we are desperate to see fulfilled. Our treasures donít have to have any value to others; our treasures are those things that pull us outside the cover which God has built for us to dwell. Our treasures are the things in which we trust.

Though we might not talk about having faith in our jobs or our houses or our homes, when those things get in the way of our dwelling in Godís grace, they become the gods of our life. Sadly, we donít realize that it is in chasing those things that we experience doubt and fear. We become afraid that we wonít be able to hold on to our things. We doubt the Word we heard because we do not see it coming to fruition the way we might expect. The righteousness which we have been given is muddied by our self-righteousness.

But Jesus reminds us that Godís Word is true. He shows us that God is pleased to share His grace with us. But He also reminds us that we donít know when we will see it fulfilled. Abram (Abraham) never saw the reality of Godís promise. He never had more offspring than he could count, yet he believed God would make it happen. He never lived in the Promised Land, but he believed that his children would one day inherit that promise. He looked forward to the day when it would be fulfilled, even though it would not be in his lifetime. We look forward to a day when Godís later promises are fully realized, but we may have to die before they are complete. That doesnít make the promises less valid; it makes our faith true. We believe not in what we can see and touch, but in what God has said.

It is there weíll find peace. The psalmist says, ďFor our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.Ē Weíll fail. Weíll try to take matters into our own hands. Weíll doubt and weíll fear. But the righteousness we have is a gift from God, a gift that is accompanied by the faith weíll need to stay in Godís grace. It is all about faith, but even more: it is all about the God in whom we believe. For He has framed the world by His Word, and His Word gives us the confidence to keep moving forward toward that which He has promised. We may not see it today, or tomorrow, or in this life, but God is faithful even when we are faithless.

May we always remember that the righteousness with which we have been credited is not something we have to pursue or earn or deserve, but it is something in which we dwell by faith. Thanks be to God.

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August 5, 2010

ďFor ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.Ē Galatians 5:13-15, ASV

I was driving down the road the other day when I noticed some guys working on the landscape at a business. They had mown the grass and trimmed the edges; all that was left was the clean up. Now, a long time ago, in the days before lawn technology, clean up meant sweeping the sidewalks and discarding the clippings. Today, however, clean up means blowing everything off the sidewalk with a leaf blower. Where do they blow it? Into the street.

Thatís how I noticed the guys were working on the landscaping: they blew the clippings into my car. Iím sure they didnít do any damage, although on other occasions Iíve heard the sound of stones hitting my car. I know these guys have a lot of work to do and little time to get it done. Everyone wants their landscaping to be crisp and clean, their sidewalks to be presentable. But I have often wondered at the lack of consideration by those workers when they blow the clippings into the street. Those blowers are more powerful than you might expect, and you never know what might be sent flying as the workers try to clean up their mess.

What would happen if a car window were open as they blew the grass? Even a small clipping could be dangerous if it flew into the eye of a child. A small stone can chip the paint of a car and start the rusting process. Besides, it doesnít look any better to have those clippings all over the street in front of the business, does it? I am not sure the workers realize that the small act of convenience for them becomes something ugly and perhaps dangerous for others.

The San Antonio River is a very slow moving river, particularly through the center of town, and everything that ends up in the water ends up on the river bottom. They have to drain the river to clean it every year. There is a commercial campaign about caring for the river. The ad reminds us that everything we leave in our yards and our streets can one day be washed into the river. Iíve thought about those grass clippings as Iíve heard the commercials. We might think that grass is not a problem because it is natural; some might argue that the campaign is meant to keep plastic bottles and oil out of the waterway. However, even grass can harm the ecosystem. The grass can clump and collect, changing the course of the river or creating a dam. It makes the river mucky. While it is certainly bad to have water bottles and oil in the river, it is also bad to have all that grass end up there.

We might think the things we do will not harm another. Blowing the grass into the street seems harmless; after all, it is just the street! Yet, even the smallest things can cause harm to others without our even realizing it. An angry moment can ruin someoneís day. Keeping that extra quarter the cashier accidentally gave you in change can get her fired. Telling that little white lie can make someone believe something that isnít true.

You may not be blowing your grass clippings into the street, but what little things do you do that might impact someone in a way you might not expect? In what way are you making life a little uglier for your neighbor? Is there something you should be doing, or something you should be doing differently, that will make a difference in the world? Thatís what it means to love our neighbor: to do what makes the world a beautiful place for them, even if it means a little inconvenience or discomfort for us.

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August 6, 2010

ďBut the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they rejected mine ordinances, which if a man keep, he shall live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my nameís sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out. Moreover also I sware unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; because they rejected mine ordinances, and walked not in my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless mine eye spared them, and I destroyed them not, neither did I make a full end of them in the wilderness.Ē Ezekiel 20:13-17, ASV

As a parent, I can openly admit that there have been times in the lives of my kids when I have simply given up. Iíve given in to the whiny child begging for a treat at the grocery check out. Iíve stayed at the park for a few extra minutes because it was easier than fighting with a determined child. Iíve learned when to fight the battles and when to let go, because sometimes the fight is just not worth it.

But, I stood firm sometimes, too. When I made a deal with my child and he or she did not hold up their end of the bargain, I let them suffer the consequences. They were disappointed when they were not able to get what they wanted, but they also learned the lessons that have made them more responsible and mature. I reprimanded my children when it was deserved and corrected them when they erred. Though I was a softy at times, I was also firm with them when it was appropriate so that they would learn how to act and live well in this world. See, our rules are designed to keep our children safe and to guide them into a way that will not only make us proud, but will also benefit them in the end.

God did not give His people a bunch of rules just so He could prove His power or take control of their actions. Godís rules are designed to protect Godís people, to keep them from suffering and pain. His rules help us to walk a path that protects others, too, so that we wonít cause their suffering or pain. God is not trying to be a lord like human lords tend to be, but He is Lord. He has given His people commandments by which to live, like a Father, and He has the authority to assign the consequences for disobedience.

Godís people did not live by those rules very well, however. Iíve been reading the entire bible this year and Iím struck by how often the Israelites, and even the New Testament Christians, did not follow the path directed by God. Over and over again it is said about the kings of Israel and Judah ďand he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.Ē And Godís people followed the kings rather than God. Yes, Iíve also noticed that over and over again we hear the words found in todayís passage, ďBut I wrought for nameís sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out.Ē

I like the way this idea is paraphrased in ďThe Message.Ē Eugene Peterson writes, ďBut I thought better of it and acted out of who I was, not by what I felt, so that I might be honored and not blasphemed by the nations who had seen me bring them out.Ē I was not a perfect mother. Iím sure there were many times when I should have had mercy on my children, but stood firm for all the wrong reasons. Imagine what it would be like if we made all our decisions based on the reality that we are Godís children, heirs to His promises, and did everything for His names sake not for what we feel? There is certainly room for discipline, and though God always stood by His promises He did allow His people to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. However, God also had mercy at times when they did not deserve it. He showed them favor despite their faithlessness. He did what He did not based on His feelings, but so that His name would continue to be honored by the nations who have witnessed His glorious acts. I wonder if we can do the same?

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August 9, 2010

ďNot that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.Ē Philippians 3:12-14, ASV

I like to paint. Iíve been trying to be more consistent with my time at the easel, but I havenít been as regular as I should be. I began my latest painting a few months ago, right after wildflower season. The beauty of the wildflower fields inspired me to recreate it on canvas. Unfortunately, I didnít like the way it looked. I ignored it for awhile. I spent time contemplating ways I could make it better, and then ignored it again. I finally gave up on that painting and Iíve covered that mess with something completely different. I like the way it is going now and I think this will be a good painting.

See, Iím not very good at realism. I admire painters like Monet and the other impressionists, who are able to give us beautiful scenery with mixtures of bright colors. I love the brushstrokes used and how, if you get up real close to the painting, the scene gets lost and the technique becomes the painting. I canít seem to recreate this marvelous style. Yet, every time I let the inspiration drive the work, the paintings go well. Iíll never be Monet.

Iíll never be God, either. I know thatís a very big leap from an artist, but I was struck by the difference between God and man when reading a passage in the book of Ezekiel the other day. Ezekiel writes, ďSon of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, even to the shepherds, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe unto the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill the fatlings; but ye feed not the sheep. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought back that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have ye ruled over them. And they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food to all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my sheep were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and there was none that did search or seek after them.Ē (Ezekiel 34:2-6, ASV)

Compare this with the words of the psalmist, ďJehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.Ē (Psalm 23, ASV)

What a stark difference between human effort and Godís faithfulness! The human shepherds are selfish and self-centered, concerned not with the sheep of the flock but their own needs. God, on the other hand, is focused on the sheep, keeping them safe and satisfied. Though we have been saved and sanctified to be Christ-like in this world, we arenít able to be God, no matter how hard we try. And even when we try, we tend to be more like those human shepherds, failing to share Godís grace with those who desperately need to experience Godís hand in their lives.

We do fail, but it is good for us to know our limitations. I know Iíll never become Monet, and thatís ok. I have found my own style, a style that seems to be making a statement among those who have seen my paintings. When it comes to the work we do in this world, our calling, it is up to us to figure out a way to be as Christ-like as possible while understanding our own limitations. When we do fail, we know that God is faithful and forgiving. And through it all, God is with us: to guide us and help us be the best we can be. He has not only saved and sanctified us, but He is constantly saving and sanctifying our lives so that weíll grow in grace. Day by day, step by step, act of mercy by act of mercyÖ we are constantly moving toward the day when we will be like Him.

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August 10, 2010

ďAnd behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was threescore furlongs from Jerusalem. And they communed with each other of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, while they communed and questioned together, that Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What communications are these that ye have one with another, as ye walk? And they stood still, looking sad. And one of them, named Cleopas, answering said unto him, Dost thou alone sojourn in Jerusalem and not know the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel. Yea and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things came to pass. Moreover certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. And certain of them that were with us went to the tomb, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. And he said unto them, O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they were going: and he made as though he would go further. And they constrained him, saying, Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in to abide with them. And it came to pass, when he had sat down with them to meat, he took the bread and blessed; and breaking it he gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.Ē Luke 24:13-31, ASV

I have often read this story and wondered how these disciples did not realize it was Jesus who was with them. After all, they spent an extraordinary amount of time with Jesus. They ate together, traveled together, and talked about God together. It seems impossible that they could have such an intimate relationship with Jesus and still not recognize Him. Now, the scriptures tell us that they were kept from recognizing Him, and in the end their eyes were opened. I know God can do the miraculous, but it seems odd that He was right in front of them, and they did not know it.

Yet, just the other day I had a similar, though embarrassing situation. I was working the front door at the park where I volunteer, greeting guests who were arriving for the day. I donít have a script, but I do have certain things that I usually say, questions I generally ask, so that we know more about our visitors and know how to direct them when they enter into the welcome center. I started asking those questions when the lady said, ďOh, you know me!Ē It turned out that she was a member of the staff, but I didnít recognize her at first.

I even saw her as someone else, a person I knew from another place. It took a few minutes and I finally realized who it was and I was so embarrassed to think that I hug this woman every day when I see her at work but I didnít recognize her at this moment. She was different. She was wearing a hat and was not in the usual uniform of her job. She was visiting as a guest rather than arriving to work. Though we all approach our work at the park with an attitude of fun, there is a difference when you come to play. She was very gracious when I admitted my failure and said that she understands. She joked about how the hat was her disguise so no one would recognize her. She even told me a story about another time when people didnít recognize her.

The disciples didnít recognize Jesus and that was in part because God intended on revealing Him in a unique and special way. They saw Jesus in the breaking of bread, to give us the confidence that we will see Him in that way, also. Mary didnít recognize Him when she saw Him in the garden, and from her story we are reminded that we see Jesus when He calls us by name. Thomas knew Jesus from the wounds, and we can find comfort in knowing that He shares in our suffering. In all these stories, they didnít recognize Him because He came to them differently, but He opened their eyes in all those old familiar ways.

But I wonder how often we miss Him. Do we miss Him in the neighbor who desperately needs a friend, but we donít have time to share a cup of tea? Do we miss Him when we meet a stranger having a bad day and allow them to ruin our own mood instead of giving them a word of grace? Do we miss the opportunities to shine Godís light in the lives of people lost in the darkness? Jesus tells us that we will see Him in others, in the opportunities to share His grace, but do we recognize Him when He doesnít appear as we might expect Him to appear?

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August 11, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, August 15, 2004 Ė Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 20: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

ďTherefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.Ē Hebrews 12:1, ASV

When I wrote about these scriptures six years ago, my daughter was just entering high school. Now, six years later, she is thriving at college and my son is about to begin his senior year of high school. Time is passing, perhaps too fast. My kids are a heartbeat away from no longer needing a mother to take care of them and deal with their problems. There comes a day when there is nothing more we can do. They are going to make choices that are different than we want. We canít choose their career or their spouse. We canít force them to live under our noses. What father wants his daughter to move to the other side of the country to attend college? What mother wants her son to join the army and go to war? Are any daughter-in-laws good enough for a motherís son? Sometimes their choices seem to be in direct opposition to our hope for their lives.

If it happens to us, imagine how God must feel about the choices we make! He has given us life and guaranteed eternal life, and yet we continue to make decisions that are less than God expects. We ignore His calls to service and follow paths that meet our own wants. We chase after the things we think we need rather than accept that which God knows we need. We do our own thing without considering how it will affect others. But there are plenty of reasons why we make the choices we make.

I know a lot of pastors who love what they do, but I know very few who have no complaints about the job. It is not an easy vocation to pursue. Pastors are often underappreciated, underpaid and over worked. They are expected to be perfect and their mistakes have a much harder impact on their communities. Recent conversations have included grumblings about the unrealistic expectations of some faith communities and the lack of help from the lay members of that community. Some pastors tell me that they are expected to do everything, including janitorial duties. Other pastors tell me that the congregants make unworkable demands concerning preaching and teaching of Godís Word and the practice of the Sacraments.

It isnít a path many people choose to take, and this is obvious in many of the denominations. Iíve heard stories of congregations that have waited years for a pastor. Sometimes the reason is because there is no one to send. But often the reason is selfish or self-centered on the part of the congregation or the pastor. God has created a perfect machine, and He has called each Christian to play their part, but we donít always want to do what He wants us to do. Would you move away from the people you know and love to go thousands of miles to a congregation in a community that is totally different than what you know? Would you be comfortable working to meld with a people who have different dreams?

We have good reasons for making the decisions we make. The pastor who says ďNoĒ to a congregation that has unrealistic expectations knows what he or she can handle and knows his or her gifts. But what if that is truly the place God is sending the pastor? What if that experience was meant to grow and mature the pastor for something else that is to come? He or she missed the opportunity to learn from a difficult experience because he or she wanted to take an easier path.

And what about the congregation that refuses to call the pastor that is passionate about change and is ready to come in and rock every boat? They reject that person because they are afraid of the change, but that change might just be exactly what they need to be the people God has created and redeemed them to be. Iíve seen this story from both ends, and I know the blame canít always be put on one side. We all have a tendency toward self-preservation and we make our choices from that point of view. It is no wonder that the call of God is a difficult path to choose.

The big problem we face is: how do we know? So many voices in the world claim to be speaking for God, and we have trouble knowing which ones to believe. I thought it was funny a few years ago when the movie ďThe Passion of ChristĒ came out, the book on which it was based was accepted as a prophetic word about Jesusí last moments. ďThe Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus ChristĒ was that was based on the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich in the mid-19th century. At the same time, another book was popular among the prophetic charismatic denominations (I donít recall the name) which gave a completely different and even contradictory depiction of the last days of Jesus.

I had a conversation with a friend about the movie and gave her a copy of Emmerichís story and when she finished she was absolutely amazed. She was prepared to accept that book as gospel, as inspired by God. ďIt must be true,Ē she said. Thatís not the impact I thought the book should make, and I showed her information about the other book. She asked, ďHow do we know which one is true?Ē Iím not sure I have the answer to that. Iím confused by the many voices that scream at me on a daily basis about what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed to believe. Too many of our churches are divided today because we have contradicting voices telling us Godís ďtruth.Ē

I used to belong to a mailing list that sent out ďwordsĒ from God, statements made by ďprophetsĒ who have heard Godís voice and have been compelled to share them with the world. I was cynical, although at times the ďwordsĒ made sense. Then one day I received a mailing that described the interpretation of a previous vision that was never reported until the obvious fulfillment. Unfortunately, they sent out the email a little bit too early, and it turned out to be completely wrong. See, the vision had something to do with the destruction of a place of sin. The interpretation was made that it was in reference to New Orleans and the mail was sent as a major hurricane (long before Katrina) was headed right for the city. The ďprophetĒ suggested that New Orleans was about to be destroyed as God punished the people for their sin. At the last moment, the hurricane changed course and hit the gulf coast far from the city. New Orleans was spared (at least that time). Was the prophecy meant for another place? I donít think weíll ever know because the prophecy disappeared off the website as soon as it was proven untrue.

I stopped receiving the email immediately. I occasionally check out the site, to see what ridiculous things they are trying to convince people to believe, and Iíve noticed that most of their posts have taken on new focus: earning profit for the prophets. The website is filled with books for sale, invitations to expensive conferences to hear the ďwordsĒ of the prophets and other opportunities to throw your money their way. You have to scroll past dozens of ads before you even come to the link to read the most recent prophecies. Even then, half the ďwordsĒ are advertisements for something.

It isnít easy to tell the difference between the words of God and the words people claim are from God. We are human, and we are easily deceived. This is a problem that Godís people have experienced since the beginning of time. There are many people today who claim to be prophets and who say that they have been given a special message from God. These messages often come in the form of dreams, but they also say, ďGod told me.Ē While it is important to hear what they have to say, we are to always remember that Godís Word does not contradict itself.

In the passage from Jeremiah God asks, ďWhat is the straw to the wheat?Ē Straw is part of the wheat, it is the stem that is left after the wheat kernels are taken. Straw has value; it can be used for bedding, for warmth, for building. But wheat is life-giving. The kernels can be used for food or they can be planted to grow more wheat. Godís word as compared to that of the false prophets is life-giving. It is forgiving. It is filled with grace and hope and peace. Godís word might be demanding. It might be powerful, like the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, but it is also healing and it is transforming. Most of all, Godís Word reveals His faithfulness.

Thatís the best way to know whether someone is speaking for God or if they are speaking for themselves. How does that prophetic list glorify God? It seems, by their own advertisements, that God is glorified in their successes. One ad is for a conference where the speakers are going to lead the guests in prayers for prosperity. Is that the way to know that Godís Word is being revealed?

Iím not so sure. After all, if we read what the writer of Hebrews has to say, weíll see that following God does not always lead us into a path of wealth and happiness. The passage of Hebrews gives a much different picture. ďÖothers were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth.Ē This isnít a life I would choose and it is not one in which I would expect to find peace. However, over the history of the Church, the stories of martyrs often include descriptions of faces filled with joy and peace as they were burnt or beheaded for their faith.

Weíll make mistakes. Weíll follow the wrong voice and follow the wrong path. Weíll choose that path that seems best to us even when another path might be even better. We are afraid. We doubt. We are uncertain about which voice is real. The promise of God is not peaches and cream. It is peace and joy.

What does it mean to have the peace of God? We might like to think that peace is a life without conflict. We might like to think that joy is a life without sadness. But that is not what God promises. Jesus was a man of peace, but the peace He brought was a peace that passes human understanding. It is a peace in the heart, a peace with God. It is a peace that is not dependent on human effort. The Christianís life does not always appear peaceful or joyful, but there is something about their attitude that manifests before others. Those who live in the passion of Christ often have lives that look like His own passion, but they face those difficulties with thanksgiving and praise. They walk in faith, trusting that God is with them every step of the way.

You have to walk in faith to do the works of God. Think about how hard it must have been for Abraham to leave his homeland and wander to an unknown place. Or how hard it must have been for Rahab to help the spies escape. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets all had burdens to carry and boundaries to break through. Yet, they went forward.

It isnít that they were perfect; after all, each one has a black mark on their account along with the stories of their faith-filled journey. Rahab was a prostitute. Gideon tested God. Samson was easily deceived. David pursued Bathsheba. If we were to point out similar people in our world today, I doubt we would ever expect that they would be commended for their faith. And yet God accomplished great things through them because they believed in Him. We can accomplish great things, too, as long as we remember that it is Godís Will to be done, not ours.

It wonít be easy. We may have to step out of our comfort zone and allow God to do something incredible in our lives. We might have to accept the assignment that doesnít fit our desires. We may have to trust voices that say what we know to be true even if they donít say what we want them to say. But we do all this knowing that God is near, helping us through.

Our text today reminds us, however, that God is also far from us. He is not limited by our experiences or point of view, even if we would like to keep Him in our little box. Jeremiah writes that God ďfills heaven and earth.Ē He is far and He is near. He is greater than we can imagine and more personal than we can expect. He has a purpose for us and a plan for His creation. He will be with those who have faith even when it seems like everyone else has abandoned us. And when we wander from His path (we all do, it has been that way since the beginning of time), He is there to calls us back. He forgives and loves us, drawing us back into His heart.

Let us live in faith, especially when it seems like there is no reason to be thankful. Let us live in the peace of God, even if it seems like there is good reason to be afraid and doubt. Let us trust in God, even though it appears to the world that we are being foolish. Let us praise God, even when the words He speaks to us are uncomfortable. For He is faithful; His promises are true. He knows what the world is throwing at us, just as He knows what we are trying to hide. He knows the realities of the world in which we live. But He also knows the rest of the story. He has provided for us the guarantee. The suffering of today will one day pass and heaven will be ours forever. Until that day we may have to experience the pain of conflict, but we can be at peace anyway, thanks to Godís grace.

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August 12, 2010

ďFinally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for all have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.Ē 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, ASV

Robert J. Morgan, the writer/editor of a book called, ďNelsonís Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes: The Ultimate Contemporary Resource for Speakers,Ē writes about one of his own experiences with prayer. ďI once spent the night in a crumbling hotel in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A friend and I ascended to our room, high in the building, in a tiny, creaking elevator. From our window I saw slums spreading out far beneath me, and I fet uneasy. That evening I prayed, ĎLord, please save me from any danger of fire. You can see weíre at the top of a dilapidated hotel, which is nothing but a firetrap. There isnít a fire station near, and I canít see any fire escapes outside the building. Lord, you know that this building would go up in flames in a second, and at this very moment it is probably full of people falling asleep with Marlboros in their mouthsÖí By the time I finished praying, I was a nervous wreck, and I hardly slept a wink all night. The next morning, as I evaluated my evening, I realized that my bedtime prayer had focused on my negative feelings rather than on Godís assurances and promises, and learned an important truth: Unless we plead in faith, our prayer can do more harm than good!Ē

Have you ever had a similar experience? Have you prayed yourself into a frenzy over a problem or situation that would have best be given to God? My most obvious example of this was a few years ago when we were waiting on word about a change in duty station. We didnít know where we were going to go, we just knew we had to leave. It was my first move as a military dependent and I didnít know what to expect. I was nervous and I wanted to control the outcome. I prayed daily (sometimes hourly!) asking God to give me the perfect opportunity. I worried, I wondered, I prayed. And I was stressed. Shouldnít the prayer have made me feel less stressed? The problem in my prayer was that I was praying for the wrong things. I was trying to be in control. I was saying, ďGod, this is what I want.Ē

One day I realized that I couldnít control the situation. My prayer suddenly became, ďGod, your will be done.Ē It was then a feeling of peace came over me, and everything began to fall in place. We had no trouble with our move. We ended up in a good place, managed to sell our house, even found an excellent preschool for Victoria and church for our family. I was stressed not because of the situation, but because I had prayed myself into the stress.

The book mentioned in the first paragraph also gives a list of the things most people pray for: families, worldís children, world peace and co-workers. I think we are pretty good at praying for one another, particularly when people we love are suffering. I wonder how often those prayers are focused on the wrong things, praying like Mr. Morgan in the negative to such a point that our prayers become a source of pain. We are very good at praying agendas, too, meaning that we pray that others will be or say or do what we want them to do. Thatís prayer that tries to take control rather than ask Godís will to be done.

Paul asks the people in Thessalonica to pray for him and his companions, but I like the focus of his request. He says, ďPray that Godís word will spread and that God will be glorified.Ē Paul goes on to ask that they pray for his safety from those who do not have faith, but he does so with the confidence that God is faithful. We never know when our hard times, when our scary moments, when our unknowns are the very moments when Godís grace will shine more brightly in our lives. But if we pray to keep control, weíll miss the grace and our prayers may do more harm than good. Let us always pray in faith, knowing that God is faithful.

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August 13, 2010

ďAnd when he was entered into a boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the boat was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Save, Lord; we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.Ē Matthew 8:22-26, ASV

It is Friday the 13th. Are you planning to do anything differently today? Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is an abnormal fear of Friday the 13th? According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina, millions of people suffer from this phobia to the point of changing their daily routine on the day to avoid bad luck. Some people refuse to go to work or even get out of bed. Interestingly, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that fewer accidents, fires or thefts are reported to have happened when Friday is the 13th compared to all other Fridays. So is it really unlucky? Or, are people so frightened by the possibility of accident that they are extra careful on Friday the 13th?

We have to wonder how this superstition came into being. Some fears though often extreme have reasonable reasons. Fear of snakes can come from painful and dangerous experiences with snakes. A fear of heights can come from a real experience of falling or knowing someone who fell. The news is filled with images of fiery plane crashes, so it is understandable when someone refuses to board a plane. But have those millions of people really experienced something horrible on Friday the 13th to give the fear substance? Probably not.

We are so ingrained in believing that something bad will happen on Friday the 13th that we might think it is a superstition that goes far back into history. However, there is little evidence that the superstition was popular before the 20th century. There are a few writings that make reference to the date, a few horrific events that happened on Friday the 13th, but researchers can only theorize that the tradition began because of those events. A website lists a dozen possible reasons why people might have this unreasonable fear, but every theory is questionable. So, can this day be truly unlucky when there is no real reason to think so?

I probably would not have even realized that today is Friday the 13th if I hadnít heard someone mention it on the news. I think sometimes we talk ourselves into our fears because we believe what others have said. Would those who have accidents today have had them only because it is the 13th, or would they have had an accident anyway? Would that bad news have come no matter the date on the calendar? We certainly canít make things better by living in fear.

Imagine what sort of day the disciples were having when they had this experience. Thereís no way for us to know whether it was a Friday the 13th, but it wasnít exactly a banner day. In the show ďJesus Christ SuperstarĒ this day was visualized as one of confusion with the crowds hemming in on Jesus. They all wanted healing, they all wanted to feel His touch. In an incredibly unsettling moment in the story, Jesus cries ďHeal yourself!Ē to the crowds. We donít see that in the scriptures, but in the section just before our passage for today, Jesus tries to escape the crowds by crossing over the lake. They were coming to Him because Heíd healed Peterís mother-in-law. His escape was interrupted by those wanting to know what it takes to disciple. Jesus tells them that the cost is great.

So in todayís passage, the disciples are in a boat, crossing to the other side. They are amazed at what they saw, but also emotionally spent because they dealt with the illness of a loved one (Peterís mother-in-law.) They saw the suffering of many and learned that they would have to give up everything to continue to follow Jesus. Then, just as it seemed like they might find some peace in this hectic and stressful day, a storm swept over the boat. Is it any wonder that the disciples might be afraid? Jesus answers their fear with a simple question, ďWhy are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?Ē

So today, if you are afraid to go out into the world because it is Friday the 13th, remember Jesusí question and face the day with courage and faith.

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August 16, 2010

ďThe proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction; to discern the words of understanding; to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness and justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion: that the wise man may hear, and increase in learning; and that the man of understanding may attain unto sound counsels: to understand a proverb, and a figure, the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.Ē Proverbs 1:1-7, ASV

I went to the grocery store today and bought several bags full of good products. I bought canned goods, fresh produce, meat and frozen foods. I also bought some bread and eggs as well as a few miscellaneous items. We should be good for dinner for the next few days. Hopefully I wonít have to go to the grocery store again until later in the week.

I worked in retail, and though I didnít work in a grocery store, Iím sure things work in much the same way. I was in management at Woolworths and Toys R Us, so I know how to train cashiers to best serve the customers. Though the merchandise is different at these types of stores, many of the procedures are the same, because they are based on common sense. We put a lot of time into explaining the proper way to address the customers, move the merchandise and bag it. We taught shrinkage control (ensuring that customers are not trying to steal anything) and efficiency. We teach all these things, but Iím sure the employees did not always do what was right. Sometimes cashiers can be rushed or lazy, or they simply forget the lessons taught.

I have to admit that when Iím standing in line, I often think back to those times and I grade the cashiers. I think about whether or not that employee would get a good review or if they needed more training. I have noticed that the cashiers at my favorite stores donít always follow the procedures that I taught to my employees all those years ago, and I often wonder if they are not being trained or if everyone has decided not to do things the way we used to do it. Of course, some things have changed. The registers are more complicated and more efficient (although there is always human error with computers.) The check-outs are organized to deal with different kinds of bags. But even with these changes, there are some common-sense things that every cashier now as then should know.

One thing I always notice is that cashiers generally put like items together. This seems like a logical way of bagging, but when you purchase a large number of cans, the bag can get very heavy. If the customer then buys a bunch of lightweight items, and the cashier bags them together, one back is too heavy to lift and the other is extremely light. We taught that heavy items go in a layer at the bottom, and to layer the lightweight items can be stacked on top of them. This way the bags are not too heavy and they are equally weighted for easier carrying.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that some food just does not belong together. Unfortunately, our cashier didnít know that lesson because he packed our raw, frozen chicken in the same bag with our fresh vegetables. Now, we are good about hurrying home to get everything put away before it defrosts, but we live in a very hot place and it takes no time at all for the process to begin. By the time I removed my chicken from the bag and discovered the vegetables underneath, the bag was damp and the chicken a little mushy. I would wash the vegetables well no matter what, but thatís no reason to mix items.

As I watched my cashier today, I wondered how much training he received. He chatted with the customers as if they were out to tea, stopping his work while telling some story or discussing the products on the belt. Iím happy to have a conversation with the cashiers, and often enjoy the interaction, but when the store is crowded and the lines are long, the cashier must think about the other customers who are waiting to check-out. I know that the turnover in those stores is often high, with some employees lasting just days or weeks at the job. I know that the managers are overworked and underpaid and that there are a million little tasks that need to be accomplished and never enough time to get them done. Iíve been there.

But, some things matter. It might seem insignificant that a bag of chicken was packed with other cold items, but the health of the customerís family is at stake. If I canít lift some of the bags, how can that disabled person carry them? Iíve had bags rip on my doorstep because they were too full or too heavy. If youíve never had to clean up a broken bottle of spaghetti sauce, you may not understand my concerns.

We all sin. We all make mistakes. The mistakes we make are often not that important. Sometimes our mistakes are because we do not know any better. Sometimes we are rushed or lazy. Sometimes we just donít think it matters that much or we follow a different sort of logic. I suppose there are some people who prefer to have all their canned goods in one bag. But as we go about our day, it is up to us to look at the world through the eyes of others, considering how our actions or inactions might be affecting their lives. Some things might not matter, but let us consider with great care and wisdom the things we do that can harm another so that we wonít put the raw chicken in the same bag as the fresh produce.

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August 17, 2010

ďAnd he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.Ē Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV

I enjoy spending time on Facebook. In the past few years, Iíve reconnected with a bunch of old friends, including people who graduated with me from high school. I like hearing daily news from family who live far away. I rejoice with friends who have good news and pray with friends who are dealing with troubles. I especially enjoy the photo sharing: not only sharing my own photos, but seeing the photos of others. It is fun to see the happy faces of families at leisure and to travel along with friends as they travel. Facebook is a great way to share our lives with others.

There are disadvantages, of course. One of the benefits of Facebook is that there are plenty of fun applications. The games are competitive and you can challenge others to play along with you. There are other games that allow you to grow gardens or take care of pets. You can fight in medieval battles and join the Mafia. Virtual cities are growing up all over the Internet as people build cafťs and zoos and bake shops. Each application has activities that encourage the players to get their friends involved: gifts to give, free coins, cries for help. You can ignore the invitations from friends or you can agree to install the application and join in the fun.

You can also build special pages for the things you love. There are fan pages for rock stars, movies, tourist sites. Some businesses are building pages and offering specials for all their fans. All you have to do to be a part of their activities is click a link that says ďlikeĒ and you become a fan of that page. Anyone can build a page, so the network is filled with silly pages for everything including the kitchen sink. My friends, especially the younger ones, have clicked ďlikeĒ for hundreds of pages each one more ridiculous than the next. Iím not sure what happens at those pages because Iíve made the conscious decision not to click ďlikeĒ for everything. Clicking ďlikeĒ gives the creators access to some of your personal information. Some of the pages even have spyware or viruses.

Another fun thing about Facebook is that you can ďlikeĒ the posts of your friends without having to make a comment. Unfortunately, there are times when we want to show our support to a friend, but we donít want to comment and we donít want to ďlikeĒ it because it is bad news or something we just canít like. For as long as I can remember, people have been trying to get the developers of Facebook to create a dislike button. It hasnít happened, yet. But plenty of people have found creative ways of making use of this desire. A recent page told users that by clicking the ďlikeĒ button, they will get a ďdislikeĒ button for their profile.

As it turns out, this page is a scam; the creators were using it to get information about Facebook users. The ďdislikeĒ button still doesnít exist. I saw that several of my friends had clicked ďlikeĒ for this page about the ďdislikeĒ button, but figured it was not real. If there is a Facebook dislike button, it will be part of the program like the ďlikeĒ button is part of the program. Users will not have to become a fan of something or click ďlikeĒ for a page to get the button. News reports are confirming that the page is false, and users have discovered that the page is designed to steal information. Clicking the ďlikeĒ button in this case is dangerous. Thankfully, several links have popped up with articles about the scam and my friends are learning that it is not good to click ďlikeĒ for everything.

Day by day we learn and grow. I donít think a day goes by that we donít learn something new, at least I hope that is true. The lessons may not seem important; after all, knowing that we shouldnít click the ďlikeĒ button is not life-changing. Hopefully we are learning new things about God and about our faith each day, too. Weíll never know everything about God, but how much better is our relationship with Him when we are acquainted with new aspects of His Word, His grace and His love. And as we learn and grow in life and faith, weíll be less likely to fall for those who are trying to harm us on Facebook or in the world.

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August 18, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, August 22, 2004 Ė Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 21: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

ďÖthen shall thy light rise in darkness, and thine obscurity be as the noondayÖĒ Isaiah 58:10b, ASV

From the June/July issue of Readerís Digest Magazine: ďLending a hand after hours may make your day job more enjoyable. Researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany studied more than 100 people who worked five days a week and also volunteered for about seven hours weekly. What they found: Work felt less burdensome the day after a volunteer stintóeven if the unpaid duties, like fire and rescue work, werenít exactly relaxing. The study suggests that if you really want to shed job stress, vegging out may not be the best way to do it, says lead author Eva J. Mojza, PhD. Challenging extracurricular activities will yank your attention away from the demands of your career and send you back to work with the satisfaction of a job well done.Ē

If you type ďbenefits of community serviceĒ into your search engine, youíll find hundreds of websites and articles describing the health benefits of serving others. A document from the Corporation for National and Community Service notes that volunteering can have a positive effect on physical and mental health because the volunteer experiences a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. We find a sense of purpose in our work, including that work we do without pay. Volunteers are generally more satisfied with their lives, and because they are content they have fewer factors that lead to stress related disease. The volunteer also benefits in mental and emotional health. Volunteers experience stronger relationships, better social skills and general happiness. Some studies even suggest that volunteers live longer lives.

I found it interesting that the studies generally show greater benefits for the older people who volunteer than those in younger generations. I suppose part of that has to do with the fact that youth are usually healthier than the elderly. However, one study suggested that much of the volunteer work done by youth is mandatory for school and extracurricular activities. My own children have been required to do work for school. They donít always want to even get out of bed, and they often have no choice about the work they have to do, so it is understandable that they might not benefit as much from their volunteering. Yet, Iíve seen in their lives the same sense of accomplishment and joy when they have done volunteer work they enjoy.

I know that Iíve felt healthier and happier in the months since I started volunteering at Morganís Wonderland, an ultra-accessible theme park designed for those with special needs. I have to laugh because I serve as a doorman, opening the door for the guests as they arrive. I have other tasks, but the most important thing I do is make every person who comes to our door feel welcome. A monkey could do my job, so my job satisfaction has nothing to do with accomplishing something great. It has everything to do with ensuring that each and every person receives the love and care they need.

A few months ago I greeted a man who came to the park to volunteer. He was a very accomplished man, having been a teacher and school principal. He was highly educated and very intelligent. He came with a resume, ready to choose a volunteer task that would use his talents and experience in great ways. He said to me, the doorman, ďI know every job is important, but I donít want to do any menial tasks. I have too much to offer.Ē He filled out an application and I passed it on, though Iím not sure whatever happened to him, but I was under the impression that if he had to serve like the rest of us (being happy with whichever task we are given) he wasnít interested. My first impression of this man was not good: he was demanding and seemed angry that the park would not meet his needs while he was so graciously giving his time and talents. Iím not sure volunteering would have the same benefits for that man as it has for those who joyfully arrive each day to smile at the guests and play with them in the park.

Isaiah tells us that if we do right to our neighbor ďthen shall thy light rise in darkness, and thine obscurity be as the noonday.Ē He tells us that if we do what is right, then God will be with us and will care for us. He writes, ďJehovah will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in dry places, and make strong thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.Ē Do you see a parallel? Strong bones and watered gardens are healthy. Doing good is good for us.

Isaiah goes on to talk about keeping the Sabbath. Now he has taken the list of right living to a religious level. Not only are we, the faithful, to do what is right to our neighbor, but we are to give honor and glory to God. It is well and good for us to volunteer, to feed the hungry and to ensure freedom for the burdened, but Isaiah reminds us that there is more to living a righteous life. God is to be the center of it all, including the good works that we do. Instead of demanding to have great and important tasks to complete, we are called to pursue Godís purpose, to delight in Godís grace. We might benefit from doing volunteer work, but weíll be truly blessed when we live according to Godís ways. Those blessings do not come from the good works, but from the faith of the one pursuing Godís purpose.

I donít think the synagogue leader would argue about doing a good thing for Godís people; he probably would not have mentioned it if Jesus had healed on a Monday. However, the leaders were concerned about the power and authority Jesus manifested and they had to find a way to discredit Him. The Sabbath rest was important to Godís people, so important that it had (and for some still has) a long list of regulations.

The religious leaders, in trying to establish an answer to the question, ďWhat is work?Ē came up with a list of thirty nine actions that are the basis of all work. The thirty nine melachot are the most basic actions of which all work is made. The first thirteen are involved in the baking of bread Ė planting wheat, plowing the field, reaping grown wheat stalks, binding sheaves of wheat, threshing, winnowing, sifting kernels, grinding, sifting flour, kneading dough and baking. The next eleven are used for making clothing Ė shearing, bleaching, combing and dyeing wool; spinning and weaving thread/yarn, making two loops (as an anchor on which to base material); sewing two threads together, separating two threads, tying a knot, loosening a knot, sewing two stitches (to attach sections of material) and tearing (other threads and material) in order to sew two stitches. The next seven are part of hunting and leatherworking Ė trapping deer, slaughtering it; flaying, salting, curing, scraping and cutting its hides. The final eight encompass all other types of labor Ė writing two letters, erasing (old text) in order to write two letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a flame, igniting a flame, striking the final blow (finishing a project) and carrying (an object) from one domain to another.

Iím not sure how curing the sick falls into this list of prohibited work, but the rabbis in Jesusí day had established that healing was work and could not be done on the Sabbath unless it was a matter of life and death. Of course, the healing was normally done by the rabbis and priests, so it may have been a way for them to ensure a day from their work. Whatever the reason, the law meant Jesus should not have done that kindness for the woman wracked with pain. Jesus answers the complaint, ďAnd ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the Sabbath?Ē

Now, the leader might have argued, ďSheís been ill for so long, couldnít she wait one more day for healing?Ē I know that I donít mind putting off something for another day, especially when it isnít an emergency, but Jesus saw it from another point of view. He saw her suffering and didnít want her to suffer for even another minute.

How often do we put off until tomorrow what we know we should do today? We think, ďIíll volunteer tomorrow when I have more time.Ē Or, ďIíll donate to the food bank when I have a few more dollars in my bank account.Ē Or, ďIíll fight for my neighborís freedom when Iím not so afraid.Ē We find a million different reasons to wait, but each one is no more than an excuse to put off doing what it right. Jesus knew that God would be glorified by His good work more than God would have been glorified by ignoring the womanís need. She received healing and praised God; God was glorified by Jesusí kindness and by the womanís song of thanksgiving.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus calls the religious leader a hypocrite because he insists on obeying the law but will have mercy when his own interests are at stake. There is a tension in our relationship with God. He demands so much from His people, as we can see in the laws listed in the scriptures. Even worse are the demands of Jesus, of perfection, holiness, and sinlessness. Throughout the scriptures, like in todayís Old Testament lesson, we see the benefits of obedience. It seems as though we are blessed because we obey.

Yet, blessedness is not the result of obedience but of faith. Godís people have had faith (trusted in God) and yet failed over and over again to be faithful. Stories like that of Abraham and Sarah show us that Godís grace comes not to those who are good enough or worthy enough or holy enough, but to those who believe. Righteousness is not the product of rightful living but of a right relationship with God, knowing that human flesh is sinful and God is merciful.

Tension has always existed between God and His people. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve went their own way and ate the fruit of the tree based on the word of the serpent, rejecting the Word of God. Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of Abelís relationship with God. Even those who had faithólike Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideo, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophetsófailed to be faithful. They doubted God, they doubted His grace, and they doubted His plan. They were afraid, uncertain and worried. They went their own way, though by Godís grace they were brought back into a relationship with Him.

In todayís passage from Hebrews we are reminded of the way the people reacted to Godís presence on Mt. Sinai. In Exodus chapter 19, we hear that God came like a dark cloud, with lightning and thunder and a great trumpet blast. The mountain was engulfed in fire. Everyone in the camp trembled in fear. The writer of Hebrews tells us that they could not bear to even listen to the Word of God because they were afraid. It was much the same for the people in Jesusí day. They trembled, but not at the foot of the mountain. They trembled at the foot of the Law. Out of fear that they would do something against God, they listened to the council of the leaders who burdened them with these long lists of laws and taught that Godís grace depended on their obedience. They did not trust in Godís grace. Thatís where the tension always begins.

The writer of Hebrews gives us two visions of life under the rule of God. In the first there is fear. The people stand at the base of Mount Sinai, receiving the Law as given to Moses. That mountain was fearsomeónot even an animal could set foot on it. Anyone who touched it would be stoned. The people were so frightened by the sound of Godís voice that they begged Moses to be an intercessor. Even Moses was terrified and trembling with fear.

In Christ we have something much different; in faith we know that the Sabbath is not a list of rules but a time to focus on God. We are blessed when we worship as our needs are satisfied: our bones are made strong and our gardens watered. In the Sabbath we see the mercy of God, His forgiveness, His healing, His grace. We will delight in Him and He will lift us to the heights of the earth. He will bring us closer to Him. He will build on the relationship that He has brought by His grace. He will ease the tension because weíll see that the Sabbath is gift.

Our Psalm for today is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for His grace. The psalmist recognizes the need to let his light shine in the world. We shine our light in songs of thanksgiving but also in acts of mercy. We know we will be blessed when we do the good things God calls us to do, but we are reminded that Godís blessings are not earned. God does not save us because we have done good works. It is because we are saved that we share the grace of God with others.

I donít think that man at Morganís Wonderland would have experienced the real benefits of volunteer work. He wasnít there to help others but so that others would see his greatness. As far as I could see, he had no real concern for the people who visit our park or for the other volunteers. He said he wanted to do good works, but the reality seemed to be exactly the opposite: he wanted good to be done to him. For the man, each visit to the park would have been a burden because he was doing the work for all the wrong reasons.

The leader of the synagogue had fallen into the same trap. He was doing good works by keeping the Sabbath, but he was doing it for all the wrong reasons. He refused to heal because of the law, but he forgot that Godís mercy is not confined to our times and days. He rejected Jesusí power because he was concerned about his own power. We might have to do some good works because they are required or because thereís no one else to do them, but let us always approach everything we do with the knowledge that God has promised that we will be blessed by every morsel of food we share and every chain we break for another. In this way we not only remind ourselves of Godís grace, but we shine it to the world.

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August 19, 2010

ďAnd I said, This is my infirmity; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will make mention of the deeds of Jehovah; For I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also upon all thy work, And muse on thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: Who is a great god like unto God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: Thou hast made known thy strength among the peoples. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. SelahĒ Psalm 77:10-15, ASV

My dad had this way of holding on to the steering wheel of the car. Iím not even sure why I remember it so well, but I do when I realize Iím holding my steering wheel the same way. I canít recreate it when I try, so I canít even explain it to someone. I just know that I do it sometimes, too, and when I do I think of my dad. At that moment, I think about him, miss him and thank God for him. Isnít it funny how the simplest thing is a reminder of someone I love?

I was shopping a few weeks ago and I stopped into a store that sells cast iron pots. I thought of my mom when I was in that store because years ago she bought me a wonderful cast iron grill pan. It was an expensive pan, something I could never have bought for myself. She bought it because she knew I wanted one and she wanted me to have it. Now, whenever I see that type of pan for sale in a shop, I remember her fondly and the gift she gave me. Isnít it amazing how such an unimportant moment and object can bring to mind someone I love?

I have dozens of things that remind me of my dad and mom. I have some nick knacks that were my motherís. I have a crocheted wall hanging she began when she was pregnant with me. I have several throws she made. I have my dadís car and photos of some of the more interesting moments of his life. These things make me remember them and the love they shared, but it is sometimes more wonderful when they come to mind at those strange moments when the things I am doing seem completely unrelated to their lives. It is nice to remember then out of the blue, not just when I am purposely trying to remember.

There are many things about our faith lives that are designed to bring God to mind and to help us to remember the amazing things He has done for us. Our worship services revolve around the Lordís Supper, a gift of remembrance from Jesus. The scriptures give us Godís Word in a way that we can grow in our knowledge of God. I have a wall full of crosses that I have purchased and that have been gifts from people I love. They remind me of the redemption Jesus won for me, and for you, on His cross. These are wonderful ways to remember God.

But sometimes He comes to mind at the most unusual moments. Something that seems completely unrelated to my faith and God has a much bigger impact. Take, for instance, those moments when I am in the middle of a traffic jam and all I want to do is scream at the other cars that are in my way. It is amazing how often I see something, like a wildflower on the side of the road or a small child waving at me from one of those cars, and I think to myself, ďGod is really wonderful, isnít He?Ē Those subtle reminders make me less frustrated about the traffic jam and I worry a little less about how late I might be.

I think God talks to us all the time through His creation and through other people, but we donít often take notice. We are good about seeing Him in our worship and our study. We are even good about seeing Him in the other Christians with whom we serve and in the faces of those with whom we share Godís grace. But have you seen God in that traffic jam that held you up today? Did you see God in the pile of paperwork you had to sign? Did you see God in the produce department when you couldnít decide what to have for dinner? How has God revealed Himself to you today? What has made you remember Him and all the wondrous things He has done?

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August 20, 2010

ďBut I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them. And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.Ē Luke 6:27-36

I worked in retail management for a number of years between college graduation and marriage. I enjoyed my job. I especially enjoyed working with the crews that built or refurbished new stores. Thereís something satisfying about watching an empty building become a fully stocked store. The plan-o-grams were like puzzles (although sometimes the pieces didnít fit!) The only thing about the job I didnít like was the number of hours I had to work. Management was required to do shifts from opening to closing several times a week, and it was not unusual for me to have fourteen or fifteen hour days. Add to those hours the lengthy drive to work, sometimes over an hour, depending on traffic.

There was a time when I was working as assistant manager in one store while putting in full time hours at a store being remodeled. My paychecks were fantastic, but I was working two full time jobs at the same time. I went weeks without a day off, often went from one store to the other without a break. I didnít mind, especially since I did not have anyone at home waiting for me. Of course, it meant I didnít have a life outside my job, but at that point of my life, I enjoyed it.

Then I got married, and I knew that there was no way I wanted to sustain that type of professional career while learning how to live in a relationship with my new husband. It would be even worse once we had children. After we were settled into our new house, in a new place, I went looking for a job. I couldnít sit at home and do nothing all day, and we could use the extra money. I wasnít interested in a full time job; I just wanted a part time job doing something that I enjoyed. I naturally looked in retail.

It didnít take long to find a job. I went into a chain retail store, filled out an application and had an interview in a matter of minutes. The department manager who interviewed me was impressed with my resume, and she asked several times about whether or not I wanted to be in management. I assured her that I was a newly wed and interested only in part time work. She was thrilled and grabbed me before any of the other managers could try. I was happy: she was manager of the Home Fashions department and I knew I would love to work there. Besides, it gave me first peak at the new merchandise, especially that which I might like to buy for our new home.

It didnít take very long before I made an impression. We had a number of customers who owned bed and breakfasts, so they were often in the store buying large quantities of merchandise for their businesses. I loved helping them think through their latest project, helping them make color choices and finding the right sizes. I had a reputation at the store as friendly and helpful. Even the general director knew my name. Some of our customers sent thank you notes with glowing praise for my work. The only person who didnít like having me in the store seemed to be my department manager.

Despite my insistence that I was only interested in part time work and the reasons for it, she was sure I wanted her job. She began to give me the worst schedules, ignoring requests for certain days off and forcing me to work behind the scenes in the stockroom as much as possible. She had no sympathy when I became ill during work. I donít know why, but she treated me as if I was her enemy. I tried to work with her, did what I could to reassure her that I was not trying to steal her job. I finally decided it wasnít worth the hassle. I was pregnant anyway and she refused to give me days off for a family visit I had requested more than a month earlier.

It would have felt good to take my grievances to the general manager, to stop the harassment once and for all. Iím not sure what might have happened to her, but I wasnít prepared to be the reason she lost her position at the store. She seemed to get along with the other employees and I was going to leave when it was time for my child to be born. She acted like my enemy, but I didnít want to treat her as one. I just wanted to do my job and serve my customers.

I donít consider anyone my enemy, although I have to honestly say that there are some people I just donít like. Iíd rather avoid them, but that is not always an option. We have to work with people with whom we just donít get along. It also happens in our neighborhoods and our churches. We have differences and sometimes our differences are like oil and water: they do not mix. Unfortunately, we usually respond to those differences is hateful or violent ways. Like that manager, we do whatever we can to make life difficult for those who are different. We donít take care of them because weíd rather see them suffer. But thatís not the way we are called to be. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do whatever we can to make their lives better, to work even harder to make them look good even when they are doing everything they can to destroy us. It is hard to live this way, but day by day we are called to love our enemies, not just in word, but also in deed.

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August 23, 2010

ďYe know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.Ē James 1:19-20, ASV

Today is the first day of school. Zack was in front of the house at the appointed hour to wait for his school bus. As is usual for the first day, the first week, the school bus was late. I saw on the news programs this morning that all the traffic was heavier than it has been for the past few months. Commuters have to deal with all those extra cars in the morning as parents take their kids to school. College students are back to campus, too, so those areas will be crowded again.

It usually takes about a week for the bus drivers to settle into a schedule that matches the students needs and the traffic patterns on their route. It is easy for them to sit down and think, ďIt will take five minutes to get from point A to point B,Ē but they often discover places where the traffic backs up at certain moments in time. It always takes a few minutes longer to get past a school during the morning as the children arrive. The driver canít be sure until the school year starts how much time will be lost waiting for pedestrians and the extra automobiles around our neighborhoods.

Zackís bus driver finally arrived about twenty minutes late. Thankfully, he was scheduled rather early, so Zack wasnít late for school. Even so, the schools are prepared for a chaotic time in the morning as everyone learns the new patterns. The parents of new students have to learn what time to arrive and how to drive through the drop off spot. The parents of older students have to be patient as the new people figure out how everything works. It is a crazy time and for the next few days, at least, a time when we have to be patient with one another.

I was ready to take Zack to school if the bus seemed to be much too late, but I was very happy when he arrived. I try to avoid the roads near schools during the morning and afternoon hours when children are arriving and leaving. I have to admit that I do that for my own peace of mind; after all, traffic jams are stressful for everyone. However, it is good to avoid the congestion for the sake of everyone concerned. The children are safer and the process is easier. It will get better as everyone figures out how to make it work, but even then it is helpful to avoid those areas to keep traffic to a minimum.

It is easy to get caught up in the tension of these changes, to get frustrated by the traffic and to take our frustration out on others. On the highways, drivers will take crazy chances, weaving in and out of traffic to get closer to their destination. Unfortunately, this often ends in a fender bender, adding to the congestion on the road. We need to keep our eyes out for one another, for the children walking to school and for the parents who might be aggravated by the inconveniences of back to school. Most of all, we need to be patient with one another, bearing in mind that if we are upset by all the changes around us, others are, too.

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August 24, 2010

ďWe speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought: but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.Ē 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, ASV

I got an email from a reader yesterday telling me that the devotional ended mid-sentence. I reread the work and I can honestly say I donít know what I was thinking. I donít know why those last few words were there. I liked the way it ended without it, so I donít understand why I kept going. And I donít know what made me stop. What I do know is that it is now obvious (it probably was to many of you anyway) that I donít do a very good job at editing the writing each day.

It is a little embarrassing to get caught in such an obvious error, but it was nice to know someone is actually reading what I write. I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if the work I do each day is worthwhile. I have no idea how many people read the devotional, and though I can give rough numbers, I canít be sure if everyone who receives it in their mailbox or visits the website even read it. On some days I just shake my head and think it is ridiculous to imagine that anyone gets anything of value out of this devotion.

And then Iím reminded that it isnít my writing that gives people hope and peace, but Godís Word. And somehow, for some reason, God has decided to use my constantly imperfect work to touch the lives of others. It isnít my job to worry about whether or not anyone is benefitting from the work. I am simply called to do what God has appointed for me to do, and then let Him do the real work of touching the hearts and minds of the world. If anyone is blessed by these words, it is not me but the Holy Spirit who has done it. Somehow, in the ordinary stories using ordinary (if sometimes grammatically incorrect) words, God does something miraculous and speaks His grace to others. How awesome is that?

We all have work to do, and we will all do it imperfectly. We will make mistakes, say the wrong things, fail to do the right things, and yet God can and does still use us in our everyday experiences to shine His light on the world. When a neighbor experiences Godís grace through some simple act of ours, it is not because we are particularly holy or divine, but because God has given us His Spirit who reaches through us into the world. This is beyond our ability to truly understand, but we are given the faith to believe it is true. And so, as we go through today doing whatever it is we need to do, let us always remember that the Holy Spirit goes with us, guides us, teaches us, helps us and uses our imperfection in ways weíll never really understand. It is up to us to simply be awed by Godís grace and do whatever we can to be vessels of that grace for others.

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August 25, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, August 29, 2010, Thirteenth Sunday in Pentecost: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sir 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

ďThrough him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.Ē Hebrews 13:15-16, ASV

Last Wednesday I told the story of a man who came to volunteer at the park where I also volunteer. He came with an attitude of conceit: he was going to have an important job or he wasnít going to volunteer. He certainly did have an impressive resume and he may have had some gift or knowledge that will benefit the park. However, it takes time for everyone to find their place in any organization, especially since the park is brand new and they are still trying to figure out how to make it work. Every volunteer has entered service with the understanding that for now our tasks are limited, but as time goes on everything will fall into place.

The park did not have any volunteer positions that fit the expectations of the man. The type of position he wanted was held by the few paid staff members, by necessity. The time may come, and has actually come, when volunteers are given more responsibilities, but on that day it was simply impossible for anyone to guarantee what type of work would be required of any volunteers. Unfortunately, since the man refused anything less than a position of importance, heís lost the chance the find his niche. Instead of being raised up from the lower seat, he stormed out because we couldnít give him a higher one.

Now Iíll tell you the story of another man at the park. This man was a corporate executive who was very successful at a job he enjoyed. When he heard about the park, he knew he had to be involved. He was in a financially sound position, so he quit his high paying position in the corporate world and got a hourly wage job doing maintenance at the park. This is not something everyone can do, surely, because there considerations like family considerations, but he was able. And he has been so blessed by the work, glad to get his fingers dirty for the sake of others. He is well respected by his co-workers and he loves what he is doing.

The second man was willing to take whatever was available to be a part of this wonderful park. He didnít walk in the door demanding a position appropriate to his power and position in his world. He humbled himself for the sake of others and has found great blessing in it. Though thereís not much room for promotion right now, he may find himself one day being asked to the head of the table.

We do tend to think highly of ourselves. We each have talents and knowledge that makes us a little better than another. Iím a better photographer than some of the professionals Iíve seen. Iím a better writer than some of the bloggers Iíve read. Iím a better painter than some of the modern artists Iíve seen. The trouble comes when we think too highly of ourselves, because even though we might be good at what we do, there is always someone better. I could never hope to compete with many of the photographers, writers and artists in this world, and I donít think I want to try. Iím happy to do what I do and hope that one day someone will see something Iíve done and give me the opportunity to share it with more people.

Television is filled with reality shows that show that attitude. It doesnít matter what type of contest is being played: the contestants are all videotaped talking about their greatness. It seems as if they think the more arrogant they are, the better they are. It has exactly the opposite affect on me: I want them to get fired or cut or chopped the moment they claim they are the best that has ever been. I can recall numerous occasions when Iíve cheered because I heard the judgment: your time on this show is over. I have even said, ďIt is about time.Ē Their haughty attitude makes me want to see them kicked out the door, and I like to root for the person who is kind and capable, who does their work well without putting others down. Unfortunately, humility doesnít make for good television, so the haughty tend to stick around much longer than they deserve.

As Christians, we live in such a paradox. On the one hand, the world expects us to boldly blow our own horn so that we can get ahead of our neighbor. As Christians, however, we are reminded that we are called to be like Jesus, who had it all but humbled Himself for the sake of the world. In todayís Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the crowds not to rush for the best seats at a banquet. He reminds them that there are others who may deserve to sit higher, and that it is better to sit lowly and be raised rather than sit according to our expectations and be humiliated when asked to move. ďFor everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.Ē So, too, it is with us: if we think too highly of ourselves, we will find that there is someone greater. But if we humbly accept the least, weíll find ourselves raised.

The Old Testament lesson for today is very short, just two verses from the book of Proverbs. Most of book is one or two line words of wisdom to help us live our lives as God intends. Todayís passage agrees with Jesusí words to the crowd about pride. ďFor better is it that it be said unto thee, Come up hither, Than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince, Whom thine eyes have seen.Ē We are encouraged to expect a lower place and let others lift you up and show your value. How do we live in this paradox? How do we do what it necessary to succeed in this world and yet also remain humbly respectful of those who are inevitably better?

This isnít a question of worth or ability. It is a matter of pride. It is good to give an employer reasons to hire you, to do a good job and show that you are a valuable asset to any company or organization. It is not good to be too proud. The passage from Sirach (otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, one of the deuterocanonical books) for today has this to say, ďThe beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.Ē (Sirach 10:12, NRSV)

The issue Jesus is dealing with in todayís Gospel less is much deeper than our place at a table or our positions at work. Pride makes us look out for ourselves and ignore the needs and value of others. From Sirach, ďFor the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.Ē (Sirach 10:13a, NRSV) When we live in pride, our focus becomes self-centered and we fall into other sins like lust and greed; the seat we have today is never good enough, so we strive to take hold of something better. We are never happy.

When we put our focus on ourselves, we become self-centered and demanding. We expect others to bow to our greatness, to give us what we think we deserve. But the world of the proud is a frightful place because the haughty never stay at the top for long. There is always someone better who will come along to put us in our place. So we live in fear that someone else will come along and do what we did against us to get ahead. We become paranoid that everyone is out to destroy us. When we are not content with our lot in life, we think that no one else is content either. In our pride, we refuse the opportunities that will make us truly blessed because we are too busy fighting to keep on top.

Pride causes us to love ourselves above others, including God. The writer of Hebrews gives us an image of the life of faith manifested in this world. He calls Christians to love one another, to be hospitable to the stranger, empathetic to the imprisoned, faithful in relationships and content in everything. He calls us to look to God who supplies everything we need: physically, emotionally and spiritually. He reminds us to remember the witnesses who have shared the Gospel of Christ with us so that we might be saved and follow their example. We are to stand firm in the truth that Jesus Christ is the same today as He was and as He will be.

ďThrough him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.Ē The life of faith, the life of humility, is manifested in a life that is lived for others. When we trust in God, we need not pursue after the places of honor or the satisfaction of our lusts and greed. The humble will be lifted and the place of honor is much greater than anything a man can offer. We will be seated in the presence of God to bask in His glory for eternity. For this we most certainly can praise God.

The psalmist writes, ďBlessed is the man that feareth Jehovah, That delighteth greatly in his commandments.Ē We are reminded that fear of God is not like the fear we experience in our pride. To fear God is to hold Him in awe, to keep Him in His rightful place, to be humble before Him. Pride means putting ourselves above the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. Humility means sitting in the lesser place, meeting the needs of others above our own. When we put others, especially God, ahead of ourselves and do what is right, we will find ourselves to be greatly blessed. God sees the humble heart and draws it to Himself, and there is no better place for us to dwell.

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August 26, 2010

ďBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ. But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which worketh in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: and our hope for you is stedfast; knowing that, as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also are ye of the comfort.Ē 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, ASV

We lost a beloved aunt this week. Our entire family is grieving this lost, along with her many friends and all the people she touched with her loving heart. It is a sad time. It is a time when tears will be shed, memories will be shared and decisions will be made. It is never easy, but weíll find our way through and come out on the other end better for having known her and looking forward to that day when we will be reunited with her in Godís presence.

I imagine everyone who reads this devotional has had to deal with the death of a loved one at some point in their life. Grief is not easy to describe because it manifests differently in each person, and it manifests differently depending on the loss. Some suffer greatly with tears of sadness and fear over the future. Others accept the loss with little or no emotion, a reaction that may seem insensitive to those who are more emotional. Whatever the reaction, we are given the opportunity to offer words of compassion and comfort to those who are suffering from grief.

Yet, it is often difficult to know what to say. The usual words sound so shallow, and yet saying nothing is even worse. A hug helps, but in todayís long distance world hugs are not always possible. A happy memory can make a difference, although it is important to keep the stories appropriate and encouraging. We walk on eggshells so that our attempts at comfort actually provide something that will help those who are in pain.

Grief doesnít just take hold when weíve lost someone we love. We grieve when we face financial difficulty. We grieve for lost jobs and physical health problems. We grieve when we move to a new home and have to say good-bye to old friends. We grieve when we fail at doing something we really wanted to accomplish. We grieve when we sin and realize our sinfulness. Grief is an emotion that we experience almost every day, although we do not always realize we have experienced it. We all need to be comforted regularly because our lives arenít perfect. Things happen in this imperfect world that cause us pain, and we are in a position to offer comfort to our neighbors who are suffering. We donít always do a very good job about it though. We respond to peopleís grief from our own point of view and often say or do the wrong things.

But in the midst of our grief, whatever the cause, we have one who will be our Comforter in those times of grief. We look to Him for peace, for joy in the midst of our sorrow, for hope in the midst of our doubt. If we are grieving over the loss of a loved one, we can rejoice in knowing that God is merciful. If we are grieving over the loss of a job or friendships, we can rejoice in knowing that God will never leave us. If we are grieving over our imperfection, we can rejoice in knowing that God forgives us and loves us. So even if we suffer, even if we grieve, we can expect to be comforted by the God who knows all our pain. He has experienced grief, too, and He understands.

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August 27, 2010

ďYe have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.Ē Matthew 5:38-42, ASV

There is no doubt that we have a great deal of conflict in our lives these days. The football season is beginning all around the country, and it is true that football is king here in Texas. I regularly watch two different television stations and both have been focusing on the games that will be played this week and throughout the year. A magazine is produced yearly that talks about football in Texas. Rivalries are played to the hilt, as fans work their schedules around game days and decorate their lives with their favorite team colors. A local football game will be televised nationally this weekend and it will be an exciting game because the opposing quarterbacks are considered the best in the nation.

Iím not sure I get the focus on sports, but I can see how it can be a microcosm of American attitudes. Competition is healthy, and friendly competition can be exciting. It can be fun to watch the football teams rough it up on the field, and even fun to watch the rallies held to encourage team spirit. I can even understand the fun practical jokes that sometimes occur between rivals, although those jokes can step over the line of good sportsmanship, becoming dangerous and malicious.

There is a commercial that runs on some of the local television statements that plays off these rivalries. I think it is for a satellite company (isnít sad that I remember the commercial, but not the product they are advertising?) The commercial begins with a nice little old lady watching her television talking about her favorite team. She comments about a new neighbor who is a fan of her teamís rival and she says that it is so nice that he can get all their games on one of his satellite stations. She then goes on to say that even though he roots for an opposing team, there is no reason to be unneighborly, so she takes a nice party tray to his house for game day. She lays it on the porch, rings the bell and then runs away. The final shot shows the party tray with a word slamming the guy spelled out in food. The battle is sometimes as great, or even greater, off the field as it is on the field.

The conflict in our lives is not limited to our sports interests. No one can deny that we have disagreements in every aspect of our lives. There is conflict in religion, politics, work and even in our relationships with family and neighbors. We see the world through our own opinions, through our own experiences. We understand the issues that divide us from a very narrow point of view, even those of us who think we are open and broadminded. We canít possible read or hear everything. We have to base our opinions on the little we know without even realizing that we know too little to make any judgments.

So, we insist our neighbors see everything from our perspective without even trying to see the issues through their perspective. We accept negative comments about our neighbors without trying to hear the reality in context. We reject anything that might be said against those with whom we agree as hateful or angry or greedy or stupid without really trying to see the other personís point of view. Disagreement can be healthy, just like competition, but we tend to cross the line between debate and vitriol. When things go from bad to worse, we tend to blame the other party as not being willing to put themselves in our shoes. We donít want to lose; it is very difficult for us to let things go. We insist on finding agreement, but that agreement has to be on our side.

In todayís text, Jesus calls us to take the high road. If our football rivals play a fun practical joke, we want to repay the joke. Unfortunately, we tend to do something even better (or worse, depending on how you look at it) to make an even bigger impact on our Ďenemy.í Then they repay it with something bigger and better. This can go on until someone crosses a line. The same thing happens with our discussions, debates and disagreements. We try to one up each other until someone says something hurtful or offensive. Sometimes we just have to trust that the truth will win without our help. The evil about whom Jesus is talking will not win in the long run. God is always greater. He sees everything from a much wider perspective than we can ever know. We might just find that the truth is somewhere between our opinion and the opinion of our neighbors, but weíll never experience reconciliation if we donít try to see the problem from other peoplesí points of view.

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August 30, 2010

ďAnd they come unto Bethsaida. And they bring to him a blind man, and beseech him to touch him. And he took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes, and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, Seest thou aught? And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking. Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked stedfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, Do not even enter into the village.Ē Mark 8:22-26, ASV

At 2:20 AM on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom of the sea. This great steamship, traveling from Southampton, England to New York City on her maiden voyage was said to be indestructible. More than 2200 people were on the ship, people from every social class. The rich were far more comfortable, but the poor had their place on the ship, too. Many gave up everything they owned for the chance to travel to New York to find a new life. Unfortunately, many gave up more than just their wealth; they gave up their lives, too.

Since the ship was said to be indestructible, there were not enough life boats to hold the people on board. The closest ship able to respond to the distress call from the Titanic was only four hours away, but they were too late to help. It only took two hours and forty minutes for the ship to sink after it hit the lifeboat, giving the people little time to escape. In the end, more than 1500 people perished that day. The ship settled on the ocean floor two and a half miles below the surface and has stayed there for nearly a hundred years. Treasure hunters searched for the shipwreck in a quest for wealth and fame ever since the ship sank in 1912, but it was not located until 1985.

As new technology has developed, new ways of investigating the wreckage has been used so that we can now get pictures of the slowly decaying scrap of metal. In the early days, the pictures were dark and fuzzy, hard to see and interpret. A current expedition is taking high resolution pictures that are crisp, clean and amazing. Even the equipment used to get the photos is better than ever, as robots are able to move more slowly and stay underwater much longer, allowing silt to settle. One photo Iíve seen from the work this week shows the entire length of the front of the ship clearly, something that I have never seen. One photo shows a piece of china in such detail that we can see the delicate pattern of tiny blue flowers.

Every expedition helps the researchers understand what happened to the Titanic 98 years ago. By the time we reach the 100th anniversary of the sinking, we may be able to definitively explain what caused the ship to break and sink so quickly. There are several theories, none of which can be fully proven until all the evidence is collected. Who knows whether tomorrowís technology will give us the information that will prove once and for all where the ship failed?

Perhaps it doesnít matter, since the same technology that makes it easier for us to see and study the Titanic has made the ships we use stronger and better able to avoid the dangers of the sea. But no information is ever wasted; it is added to everything else we know and gives us more knowledge to use in the future. The current investigators are learning more about what happens to metal and other things under the sea, how the salt water corrodes the metal and what will grow in and around the ship. These things will take us to a new level of technology that will help future generations build things stronger and better. Perhaps with this information the science fiction idea of an underwater city might actually be possible!

For some, the knowledge of Christ comes quickly, in the moment of a breath as God reveals Himself to them. For others, faith comes slowly as they experience Godís grace in the faithful around them. Whether salvation is sudden or long term, we grow in faith and in our knowledge of God every day as long as we live. With each scripture we read, and each sermon we hear, and each baptism we witness and each taste of the Eucharist we eat, we draw closer to the heart of God. It doesnít matter whether the new knowledge has a practical purpose; it becomes a part of our being and shines Godís light into the live of those living in darkness. Like the man healed in todayís scripture, we donít see clearly right away. It comes with a life of searching for God in the murky world for us to learn more about God and His grace.

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August 31, 2010

ďBut godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.Ē 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ASV

I saw a commercial the other day for the latest release of Shirley Temple movies. It might seem odd that movies from the 1930ís are still popular, but Shirley Temple is an enduring icon of American movies. In her day, she saved Fox Studios and made more money than some of the biggest stars in that day. She was charming, talented and professional, despite the fact that she was very young. Her acting career lasted only a few years; she left Hollywood and the movies behind at the grand old age of twenty-one. Though she continued to act on radio and television for another decade, she didnít pursue the fame of Hollywood or make any more feature films.

Unlike many actors, her life didnít end when she stopped making movies. After a painful divorce, she married her soul mate, had several children and prospered in her new vocation as wife and mother. She eventually got involved in politics, hoping to help the poor and oppressed by serving in Congress, but she lost the battle to another Republican who didnít have the stigma of being a former actor. She was appointed by Richard Nixon as a delegate to the United Nations. She also served as Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Finally, she served as the first female Chief of Protocol under Gerald Ford, and was Foreign Affairs officer for the State Department during the Reagan administration where she trained new ambassadors in diplomacy.

When asked whether she was going to continue working in politics, she answered, ďI havenít been asked, and I donít see political office.Ē She was always willing to serve, but she did not need to pursue a career in politics. She kept busy, serving on boards of corporations and organizations, always serving others with her gift of generosity and peacekeeping. Her movie, political and business careers may seem completely unrelated, but it was that same charm, talent and professionalism that made her successful in everything she did. Shirley once said, ďĎShirley Temple doesnít hurt Shirley Temple Blackí, she once said. ĎShirley Temple helps Shirley Temple Black because Shirley Temple is remembered with love and with affection. I am thought of as a friend -- which I am.íĒ

When I saw the commercial for her movies the other day, I thought about the recent resurgence of Betty White, another woman whose career has made her a beloved part of American culture and history and I wondered if we could do the same thing for Shirley Temple. Could someone begin a Facebook campaign to get Shirley Temple to host Saturday Night Live? Could she find success again in the movies, or on television, or in politics?

I donít doubt that she is still loved by many and that she could garner the support necessary to bring her out into the limelight again. The question we have to ask, however, is whether or not Shirley Temple Black would want the notoriety a Facebook campaign might bring. She has found contentment in her quiet life in Northern California, and she doesnít seem to be seeking the power of fame a public career might offer. I donít think we should see her singing ďOn the Good Ship LollypopĒ on Saturday Night Live and I doubt she would ever accept that offer, but I do think she could easily become the public face for those seeking peace and diplomacy in our troubled world.

I am happy for Betty White and the success she has had over the past few years, but I am also glad that Shirley Temple Black has found her place of peace away from the limelight. She is happy to be who she is and to do what she is doing. Iím sure, if asked, Shirley Temple Black would serve in whatever form necessary to do the work that needs to be done. But sheís not tempted by the promise of fame in a world that would quickly embrace her. She is content to live graciously and serve willingly to do what is good and right and true in this world.

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