Welcome to the February 2015 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

Invisible

Fellowship

Fear

Second Chance

Underdog

Why

Written Word

Transformed

Vocation

Fear

Connection

Kindness

Lent

Forgiveness

Grace

Trust

Worry

Plan

Money

Prayer


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, February 2015





February 2, 2015

"And in his teaching he said, Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts: they that devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation. And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." Mark 12:38-44, ASV

It is the day after the Big Game and many people are discussing everything that happened. They are Monday morning quarterbacking on the decision by the coach that lost the game for one team. They are re-watching the incredible catches that could have, and did, change the outcome. They are talking about the half-time show and the other entertainment from the day. And they are talking about the commercials. Almost everyone is in agreement that the commercials were disappointing this year, although a few stood out as always. What I think is most interesting about the conversations today is how diverse the opinions have been. Some people loved the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and others hated it. Some people loved the half time show while others thought it was pointless. Some people were, of course, extremely excited about the winning team while others wonder what might have been.

I don't usually watch the Big Game, but I do try to find the commercials online the next day to see what has been created. It was pretty easy this year: some of the biggest commercials were leaked days ago and I'd already seen them. I liked some and like so many I found some of them pretty depressing. I noticed something interesting as I was watching them this morning: two companies with very different products had nearly identical commercials.

The Doritos commercial showed a guy who began to think he was invisible because the world seemed to treat him that way. He walked around his city, sticking his hands in other people's Doritos bags stealing their delicious chips. It is obvious from their faces that they know he's there, but he continues to think he's invisible until the last scene which showed him sunbathing in the nude in a park. Two policemen saw him and started to chase him. He knew then he wasn't invisible.

The other commercial was for Nationwide Insurance. It starred Mindy Kaling, the star of the television show "The Mindy Project." She, too, feels like she's invisible and decides to live life that way. In her commercial, however, it seems she really is invisible until she decides to walk up to Matt Damon in a restaurant and kiss him on the cheek. Just as she goes in for the kiss, he looks at her with shock. She asks, "You can see me?" With fear in his eyes he shakes his head. She asks if he'd kiss her, he says "No" and she walks away. The point of the commercial is that the insurance company does not think you are invisible.

In today's lesson, Jesus is in the Temple with many other people and He's watching the pilgrims as they put their offering into the plates. Others were watching, too. The religious leaders wandered around the courtyard in long robes seeking the attention of the pilgrims. Who did they approach? Who interested them? Did they give any attention to the average pilgrim, or did they focus on those who were well dressed and who threw great sums into the trumpets? Did they even notice the widow who offered two pennies? She was probably invisible, unless they eyed her suspiciously.

Jesus saw the invisible one, the widow who was lost in the crowd. We donít know what she looked like or what she was wearing. We donít know if she was a foreign pilgrim or a local. We don't know if she was alone in that courtyard or if she'd traveled with a crowd of family and friends. We only know that she gave two pennies as an offering to God and that it was all she had. And we know that Jesus saw her. In this courtyard full of people, she caught His eye. He lifted her up as a woman with extraordinary faith. The lesson we learn is that we can be like her, giving everything to Him, even when it seems insignificant, trusting that He'll take care of us.

I suspect that many of us can identify with those who feel invisible in this world; I have to admit that I feel like that much too often. A story like this one from Mark helps us know that we aren't invisible to God, no matter our worth. Through all those crowds, Jesus picked out the one person whom everyone else ignored. Thatís what God does. He sees through the exterior and past the mundane; He points out value where the world might see none. The widow didnít have much, but she had great faith. That's worth noting. We may think there is nothing of value in our own lives, but God sees what the world can't. He sees when we trust in Him. We can give everything we have to God even when we have nothing and trust that He will always be faithful.

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February 3, 2015

"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh." Hebrews 10:19-25 (ASV)

I used to love to shop. I remember going on adventures with my mother, taking long road trips to distant malls. As a teenager I would spend hours at the local mall, wandering through the racks at the clothing stores and rummaging through the albums at the record store. We would go to the outlets and buy piles of seconds, clothes with minor faults that were incredibly cheap. I even loved Black Friday! There's something about the hunt for a bargain that excited me. I could easily fill my car with bags full of prizes.

I don't know what's changed. I suppose part of it is that I'm older and I don't have the energy to walk around the mall for hours anymore. Black Friday lost its attraction when it started to get violent. The deals aren't that great and the crowds are overwhelming. I would rather do without or spend a little more than fight to get the last item on the shelf at the doorbuster price. I think, also, I've gotten to the point that I don't need or want as much. There's nothing to buy so a trip to the mall is pointless. Window shopping used to be a joy, but it has become a waste of time.

It doesn't help when the items I really want to buy are nearly impossible to find. I was looking for a simple, non-powered carpet sweeper. An Internet search showed me the item was available at a local store, but I looked in every possible department and it was nowhere to be found. My current printer takes a type of ink that is not available in any store. Just the other day I went to an office store to buy a replacement cord. They did not have the one I needed on the shelf. In all three situations, I gave up looking in the stores and I ordered the items off the Internet. It was easier than driving all over town. The free two-day shipping meant I have the items quickly. Sometimes the online price is even cheaper, so I save time and money on my purchase.

The worst part about my new shopping habits is that it means I remain safely hidden behind the walls of my house. I'm not a hermit, yet, but it would be easy to become one. Some people manage to do everything online so that they never have to leave their house. You can even buy your groceries without walking out the door. Even faith can happen online.

However, we need human contact. It is a fact of human existence, even if we think we can be an island. We need the touch of another person, to hear their voice, to sit in their presence. We need to worship God together, to raise our voices in one accord. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to show us our errors, to encourage us and to share with us the gifts God has given to them. God did not create any one of us to exist alone. In the Garden of Eden, He said, "It is not good for man to be alone," and He created another being to live with Adam. We are drawn together by the power of the Holy Spirit and the mercy manifest on the cross. We can't be Christian by hiding in our homes, behind a computer. We need to gather together, to build up one another in faith.

I know Christians who have forsaken the fellowship of other Christians, preferring to worship God alone. While we can worship God in the quietness of a field or under the shade of a tree, we are called as Christians to live together in community. We are called to serve one another in love and mercy. We are all part of the body of Christ, each a unique part of the body with gifts that make the body whole. We may not agree about everything when it comes to our faith, but with Christ as the foundation we have the Holy Spirit to bind us together in love. God is faithful to His promises, to all who believe. Loners tend to be those who have rejected some aspect of the Christian faith; they are angry, bitter or frustrated with other believers. They think they will be happier, or more spiritual, if they go it on their own. Yet, without others we will never really know the joy and peace of life in the kingdom of God. We were created and recreated to be in fellowship with one another.

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February 4, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, February 8, 2015, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

"Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness." Psalm 147:11, ASV

The passage from today's Psalm is an odd juxtaposition of phrases, isn't it? We don't attribute loving kindness to someone we fear. Children who fear their fathers do so because the men have an iron fist; they use physical means or threats to control those in their care. There is no hope for loving kindness because it is beyond their understanding. Those children often grow up without seeing that a man can love and be kind, so they continue the pattern of fear through threats and violence. They can't identify with a passage like this one. Fear means trembling and dread; the only hope is to get away.

Now, fear can be useful. There are those who suggest that fear is necessary. We take action when we are afraid; fear brings us to the point of running or fighting back. The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. There are those who take a certain pleasure in fear. They enjoy making people tremble because it gives them a sense of power and control. If you are afraid of them, they can manipulate you to do whatever they want you to do. You'll give them information, possessions or your service just to remain safe. Sadly, not everyone is attune to the cues of fear and they freeze in those harmful situations or make excuses, like the woman who refuses to leave an abusive situation. Their lives often end in tragedy because they let the fear control them rather than use it to make a better life.

It seems odd us that the psalmist would write, "Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him." God does not pleasure in our fear the way an abuser, hoodlum or dictator might. In the case of God, the idea of fear in this passage is not the kind of fear that manipulates people for control. We fear God not because we are afraid, but because we know that God is awesome. He can do things that no one else can do.

The verse completes the thought and establishes the reality "Öin those that hope in his lovingkindness." We fear God and hope in His loving kindness. This fear is not the kind we feel when someone uses threats or violence against us. The fear of God is a sense of awe in what God has done and what God can do. This fear causes us to worship God with praise and thanksgiving, in it was see the reason for hope because we know and trust that God can and does what is good and right. He takes pleasure in those who trust and worship Him because He has done great things; He delights in them and does what is best for them.

We are troubled by this juxtaposition of fear and hope, but we are also bothered by this idea that God takes pleasure in us. Who are we that the God of Creation would even care? I suppose that goes back to the idea of that fearful father. We know that they use force as a means of control; they don't really care about the needs of the child. They demand their needs are met and do so by any means possible. God, however, does care. He cares about the ones who are great and the ones who are invisible. He cares about the religious leaders and He cares for the mothers who are busy raising their children.

I love being a housewife and I am so glad that I was able to stay at home to raise my children. I have to admit that there are times when I wonder what I could have accomplished if I had followed a career path. Someone once asked me the question, "If you could have done something differently in your life, what would it be?" My answer is that I would have pursued a different degree at college. Would it have made a difference? I hope not, because I love the life I've lived, but I can't help but think that I might have had a much bigger impact on the world in which I live if I had taken some chances in my youth. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing greater than raising two terrific kids. They are my legacy and they will accomplish great things, of this I am certain. But as an intelligent, talented individual, it is natural for me to wonder what might have been.

Today's story from Mark is very comforting for me in several ways. First of all, we see Jesus ministering in a home. In the previous story, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man after preaching and teaching the scriptures in the synagogue. He was seen and heard by many who were amazed at His authority over the word and the spirit. He was just beginning to accomplish the great things that we still remember today: the miracles, the crowds who followed Him, the willingness to give himself wholly for the sake of the world. These are great acts. Yet, we follow the story of healing with a much simpler experience. A friend's mother was ill. Jesus touched her and she was made well. And we see in this story that she wasn't healed for some great purpose. She was healed so that she could continue to live in her vocation: serving those she loves.

She was a nobody. She has no name and is only identified by who she knows. She had no great job, and yet Jesus restored her to her place in her community, to her place in her home. He gave her the gift of life again to do what she was meant to do. It was not a special day or a special place. This story shows us how Jesus did extraordinary things for ordinary people in ordinary places on ordinary days. Jesus can, and does, the same for us as we live our ordinary lives in this world. I donít have to wonder so much about whether or not I could have accomplished something great. God has been in the ordinary experiences of my life.

Our Gospel lesson takes place early in the ministry of Jesus and His friends. The news of the exorcism of the man in the synagogue had quickly spread around the countryside because later that evening many people who were sick and possessed came to see Jesus. He healed many of them, but not all. He managed to get some rest, but woke while it was still dark and left the house to find a quiet place to pray and renew His strength. When the disciples found Him, they said, "All are seeking thee." They expected Jesus to return to the house to continue healing the people, but He took the disciples in another direction.

The crowds could have easily dictated the course of Jesusí ministry if He had answered every call for healing from every person who needed to be made whole. He might never have left Simonís home, as the crowds would have come day after day looking for Him. But healing was not the focus of His ministry; it was an important part of it as it revealed the power and character of God in Jesus. Healing was one of the ways that God verified Jesus' authority. Jesus told the disciples, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth." He came to preach, to teach, to change people's spirits as well as their bodies. Jesus would not allow the crowds to dictate His ministry; He did what God sent Him to do: to share the Word that heals hearts and sets people free.

I think sometimes as we read the story of Simon's mother-in-law and we are shocked that she got up to wait on them so soon after her illness. Didn't she need time to recover? Didn't she need time to get back her strength? The point of this story is not just that Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law, but that He restored her to her place in the community. Jesus' ministry went beyond healing; He changed lives and transformed people.

Isaiah asks a number of questions about God. "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding?" And finally, "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?"

Fear causes us to lose sight of God but so does comfort. Fear creates in us the fight-or-flight response and we focus on fixing our own problems and comfort makes us believe that we have no problems. Both cause us to lose sight of God's grace. God's people have always tried to take control; we have always sought hope and peace and strength from the wrong places. Israel allied with neighbors for protection, sought encouragement from foreigners, all the while forgetting the God and King who provided them all they would ever need. They turned from Him, and in doing so lost touch with the One who could and would protect them. So do we.

Have we chosen to believe that we have the answers, that we know how to solve the problems? Have we become too comfortable in our action and forgotten that it is His Word that truly makes a difference? Have we lifted up the false god of our own goodness and made it our priority, ignoring the real purpose of Godís grace? Isaiah calls out to us today, just as he called out to the Israelites so long ago, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding." We stand in awe of the great things He has done and we live in the hope of His loving kindness.

Just as the people thought there was no hope, Isaiah called them to remember their God. He offered a word of hope that the God they have forgotten has not forgotten them. They needed their eyes opened, to see that the things and people to whom they had turned would never be able to provide them with all that they need. Only God can measure the water or the heavens with His hand. Only God can weigh the mountains and hills. There is no one who has, or can, tell God how to be God. He did not ask for human advice in the creation of the world or learn from human teachers. There is no one like God.

That's why we can't compare our God with the father with the iron fist. He can create both fear and hope in us, fear that brings us to our knees in praise and thanksgiving and hope that lifts us up to experience His loving kindness.

So many things about today's lessons seem out of whack to our modern way of thinking. But in these stories we remember that the Gospel is shocking, it is life changing. It is powerful. Most of all, it is for everyone. The power of the Gospel is for men and women, for those in worship and at home, for those in our small circles of friends and for our neighbors far away. That's why Paul says that he has become all things to all people. He's not wavering on the one thing that matters: the message.

When we initially read this passage from Paul, it almost sounds as if he's wishy washy, unwilling to commit to anything. But that's not what he's saying. Paul stands on Christ, the foundation of everything he believes. However, the people he meets are diverse. As a matter of fact, the people we meet are diverse. Some people are in a time and a place of comfort, others are afraid. Some are happy; others are in mourning. Some are healthy and some are facing dis-ease. We meet people from different cultures, from different perspectives. They have different needs and opinions. Paul is prepared to meet them where they are, to touch them in a way that will shine the light of Christ into their life. We are called to do the same.

Paul's message never changed; he always preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, he shared that Gospel in a way that would be understood and relevant to the people to which it was being given. To the Greeks he spoke as a Greek, to the Jews he spoke as a Jew. He was weak so that those who are also weak might find the courage to receive God's word for themselves. He took the extraordinary Word of God to ordinary people in ordinary ways. God's Word is meant for all, the Gospel was given for the salvation of the world. We are called to take that message to all who will hear and to give it to them in a manner which will be received with joy. Paul did not expect that all would be saved, but he was willing to see the world from someone else's point of view to help them see God in a life-changing and transforming way. He was willing to let God work through his life in a way that would heal people and make them whole. This is frightening because it means we have to give up control. But it is only in letting God work through us that anyone will be saved, and it is there we have hope.We must be willing to let God work through our lives in a way that will heal people and make them whole.

The Gospel brings change. The change comes from the Spirit of Christ dwelling within, and it is in Him that we live. In Christ we are more alive than we have ever been, and the breath we breathe is from the Spirit of God Himself. This awesome reality leads us to a life of praise and thanksgiving, a life that canít help but proclaim the message of Grace to the world no matter how much we might be afraid of the world. The Gospel gives us the power to take the Kingdom of God to those who will hear, for those who hear will be saved.

We will have to act. Weíll heal our neighbors and cast out their demons. Weíll feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Weíll act for justice and work for peace. But in the midst of these ministries let us never forget that ultimately our purpose is to proclaim the message to all people, so that they too might experience the transforming power of His Word. I might not be needed as a mother in the same way, but that was never really my purpose anyway. Raising my children was just one way that I lived out the work of proclaiming the Gospel which Christ has called me to do. Now I must go to the next town to share the message with others and trust that God will finish the work He began.

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February 5, 2015

"Then Jonah prayed unto Jehovah his God out of the fish's belly. And he said, I called by reason of mine affliction unto Jehovah, And he answered me; Out of the belly of Sheol cried I, And thou heardest my voice. For thou didst cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, And the flood was round about me; All thy waves and thy billows passed over me. And I said, I am cast out from before thine eyes; Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; The deep was round about me; The weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed upon me for ever: Yet hast thou brought up my life from the pit, O Jehovah my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Jehovah; And my prayer came in unto thee, into thy holy temple. They that regard lying vanities Forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that which I have vowed. Salvation is of Jehovah. And Jehovah spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." Jonah 2, ASV

So, Jonah was sitting inside the belly of a great fish, whatever that means. Of course, there are always those who will argue that this is physically and biologically impossible, but we don't have faith in God's Word because it has been proven by the world but because God said it. Whether the great fish was a whale, or an alien submarine (as the ancient alien theorists believe) or some spiritual understanding, we know that Jonah was thrown into the ocean and saved by God. We have faith that God can do this thing, we believe that God can use the most unexpected means to bring us to the place where He wants us to be.

See, Jonah deserved to die because he disobeyed God's call. Jonah thought he could run away from God; he thought he could go somewhere God could not see Him. We know this is not true. God is with us wherever we go, He sees us whatever we do. We don't think of this in the way that Santa Claus is watching us sleep and eat, but as a lifelong companion who walks with us wherever we go. We can't imagine a friend who would allow strange sailors to throw us into the ocean, but it was that very act that was lifesaving for Jonah. It saved his life because it set him back on the right path.

I am totally grossed out by the idea that Jonah was stuck inside the stomach of a great fish for three days. I once listened to a teacher who talked about what he would have looked like on that beach when the fish spit him out. The image of a man covered in goo is one that I will never get out of my head. I have questions that I'd love to have answered, such as "How did he breath?" and "Was there water?" He could have lived without food, but the lack of air and water should have killed him. These questions don't matter; God can do the impossible, even keep Jonah alive in the belly of a great fish. But the part that always bothered me about this story is the reality of what it would have been like inside that fish.

Yet, that fish was lifesaving. The pit that Jonah prays about in this prayer is not the fish's stomach; it is the sea. Jonah was as good as dead as soon as they threw him over the side of the ship. The ocean is unforgiving. Jonah was thankful to be in the belly of the fish because he recognized that it was God's saving mercy in action. He deserved to die, but God saved him and set him on the right path.

We often wonder, "Why me?" especially when we are in the midst of a difficult time. We wonder why God would allow bad things to happen to us, why He would punish us with suffering and pain. But these things do not happen to us as punishment; God finds the right way to set us back onto His path. We don't always understand why we are facing difficult times, but God asks us to trust Him. He wants us to believe that He is sending us exactly where He wants us to go. We, like Jonah, often want to run away because we don't want to do what He is calling us to do. It is unlikely we'll end up being thrown over the side of a ship, but God will always find a way to call our attention to our disobedience. We will, like Jonah, realize that we deserve whatever He sends our way, but as we call out to Him, He will always find a way to save us.

This is a story of second chances. God could have easily let Jonah go; He could have chosen another prophet to warn the Ninevites. However, God wanted to give Jonah the chance to do what He was called and gifted to do. He will use everything at His disposal to keep us, and restore us, to the path He has called us to walk. We won't necessarily like it. We won't necessarily like the call and we definitely won't like how He calls us back into His will. It might even seem like He's punishing us for disobedience, but the reality is He is giving us every chance to follow Him. It would be much easier for Him, and perhaps even for us, to just choose another to do the work. But God knows the blessing of obedience and he gives us every opportunity.

The next time you feel like you are in the belly of a great fish, remember the story of Jonah. Remember that the fish was God's way of saving Jonah from the certain death that was caused by his disobedience. God is giving you a second chance. What is He calling you to do? Where is He sending you that you don't want to go? Most of all, thank Him, as Jonah did, for His mercy and His grace. He has heard your prayer and has found a way to turn you onto the right path. Remember this prayer of Jonah, praise Him for saving you from the destruction of the wrong path and commit yourself wholly to the work God wants you to do.

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February 6, 2015

"Praise ye Jehovah. Praise Jehovah, O my soul. While I live will I praise Jehovah: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners; Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind; Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down; Jehovah loveth the righteous; Jehovah preserveth the sojourners; He upholdeth the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. Jehovah will reign for ever, Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye Jehovah." Psalm 146 (ASV)

Zack played basketball when he was young. It was a really fun experience for him; he learned the rules of the game and got to play with his friends. He was even excited when a friend played for the opposing team. Zack's coach worked well with the children, helping them to understand sportsmanship, respect for other players and proper technique. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw left them with the smallest players in the league, giving them a disadvantage. There were also some coaches who were only interested in the win, willing to do whatever was necessary to go home with the victory. Fortunately, Zack's coach was more concerned with raising these athletes with a joy for the game and a heart to do their best. They were the underdogs, but they did as well as they could each week despite the overwhelming odds against them.

We all face times when we are the underdog, particularly for those of us who live by faith. For many, Christianity is nothing more than a fairy tale and Christians are fools for believing. Today's world rejects the idea that the underdog can be blessed because what matters most is winning. There are even churches that teach a theology of glory in which the sign of a person's faith is their prosperity. If you aren't healthy, rich or successful, then 'the gods' have not treated you with favor. You must have done something wrong, or you must not have enough faith. Achieving great things is seen as blessedness, yet the reality is quite different. Zack did not get the first place trophy when the season was over, but we were thankful for everything that he learned and experienced. There is blessedness in the life of the underdog. In faith this is especially true because God regards those of humble circumstances with great love.

There are those in our society who pursue success to the detriment of all else. The coach who is willing to cheat for the sake of a victory is harming the children on his team because they are not learning sportsmanship and respect. The person who is willing to destroy a family for the sake of a career misses out on the incredible blessings of being part of a loving relationship. Yet, it is possible to take ourselves to the other extreme, to pursue underdog status, which can be just as dangerous. I know people who seek persecution, who see everything as being against them. They are bound by a desire to be the underdog and they purposely set themselves up for failure just so they can wallow in their humility, but it is a false humility.

God loves those who trust in Him. He is our help in our successes and our failures. He upholds us, gives us food, sets us free, gives us sight, and lifts us up. He guides and guards us when we are far from home or when we have lost those we love. He protects us from our enemies. He is the Lord God Almighty, and our hope is found in Him, through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether we succeed or we are the underdog, whether we are on the winning team or the team that just does their best, when God is our helper we will be blessed.

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February 9, 2015

"But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great conflict of sufferings; partly, being made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of you possessions, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Cast not away therefore your boldness, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while, He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry. But my righteous one shall live by faith: And if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul." Hebrews 10:32-39, ASV

I went on an adventure on Friday. About two hours from our house is a ranch. It isn't a typical ranch, with cattle or horses, although I passed many of them on my trip. This ranch was purchased by an artist, Italian born Benini, and has been used as a place to exhibit the work of sculpture artists including Benini from around the world. There is also an art gallery which features the paintings and small sculptures of Benini and several other artists. The dirt road of the ranch is laid out in a huge loop which takes you through almost two miles of Hill Country landscape littered with a huge variety of large sculptures. The artists use everything from steel, wood, bronze, stone and fibers.

One of the things I found fascinating about the ranch, and about all outside, public art, is that it is left out in the elements. When planning work for the sculpture ranch, artists are told to make it large so that it can be seen and to take into account the weather that will affect it. The piece must be heavy enough to stand up against the strong winds of Texas and strong enough to stand up to the potentially pounding rainstorms that can strike. It would not be good to create a piece out of paper mache which might blow away in the wind or be melted by the rain.

No matter how strong the piece, however, it will be changed by the elements. One piece at the ranch was a 150" arch made with long metal poles with pieces of rope hanging down waving in the breeze. Robert McConaughy says this about his work, "Simple form, beautiful lines and gentle symmetry characterize my sculptures. I want the viewer to have a pleasant and stimulating experience: what my sculpture tells the audience is not obvious or limited to a particular message. The only sense of narrative direction that I impart to the audience comes from the title, which might be simple, humorous or slightly ambiguous." The title of the piece at the sculpture ranch is "Phantom Hill." His work is site specific, meaning that he investigates the place he will build the piece and then he creates something that will fit; his piece at the sculpture ranch is long because the site is a long, narrow stretch of grass.

The piece has been at the ranch for at least six years and it has changed. The once new metal is now rusted from rain. The rope, which has always been in constant change as the wind makes it move, is unraveling, fraying from the elements. It looks older and much worse for the wear although no less impressive in the site. It is one of those pieces that would make someone say, "I just don't get it." I have to admit that I thought it myself. We are very much alike as artists, I suppose, because I took want the view to have a pleasant and stimulating experience, with a message that is not obvious or limited.

The piece had a message for me. It was not until after I saw that particular sculpture that I began to noice the wear and tear on the other pieces. I imagined that they were always meant to be rusted, worn and dirty but I realized that those pieces were all once brand new. I happened to visit on the day when a new sculpture was put in place. It was crisp and clean, painted white and shining bright in the warm Texas sun. I realized, though, that in time that piece will become chipped and the water will seep under the paint, causing the metal to rust and run. If left there long enough, the white paint may disappear altogether, leaving behind a totally different piece. At the very least, the sculpture will dull with wear, no longer shiny and new as it was on Friday. Yet, like all the other pieces, it will continue to serve its purpose whether it have a message or is simply beautiful and thought provoking.

I have heard many people ask the question, "Why?" They want to know why there is suffering in the world or why they've had to deal with the struggles of life. It might seem as though God has dropped into this big, harsh world to fend for ourselves. It wears us down, makes us a little chipped on the edges and rusty. It changes us. We can assume the changes are bad, that we are worth less because the rope has unraveled and the paint has chipped. And yet, the reality that the changes that come from our experiences are part of us and they help us develop into the people we are meant to become. The artists know that the elements will affect their pieces and yet they install them at the ranch anyway. I think, sometimes, that the artists even know that their pieces will eventually change and they plan for it when the sculpture is created. So, too, God knows that our experiences will change us, but perhaps it is those very experiences that God intends to help us become who He means us to be. It is from our struggle that we learn the lessons that help us achieve God's purpose in the world. We have reason to be confident because our God has a plan for us and He will see us through.

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February 10, 2015

"My son, forget not my law; But let thy heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and years of life, And peace, will they add to thee. Let not kindness and truth forsake thee: Bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thy heart: so shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear Jehovah, and depart from evil: it will be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honor Jehovah with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine. My son, despise not the chastening of Jehovah; neither be weary of his reproof: for whom Jehovah loveth he reproveth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." Proverbs 3:1-12, ASV

We have moved a lot over the past twenty-some years. Bruce's military service has meant constant changes in station. We lived in two different houses in several of the places, so we were constantly packing and unpacking everything we own. Each move meant some purging as we got rid of the things that we no longer needed like the children's baby toys and clothes that we would never wear. There are some things we never gave up like our favorite books and our collection of vinyl albums. The kids kept certain things, too, like their trophies and a few favorite items from their childhood. We organized those things in good plastic boxes during our last move so that they will be easily stored and protected.

Bruce and I weren't quite as good about protecting our childhood things. We had three plastic boxes that have been moved so many times that the lids are broken. They've been stored in the last few garages and were covered in dust. I've rummaged through those boxes searching for items or pictures or letters over the years. One of my trophies, which was broken the day I won it forty-some years ago, has completely fallen apart. Our love letters were a scrunched and disorganized mess. Some of the envelopes resealed from becoming damp in storage. There were things that we've kept that really did not need to be kept like old broken picture frames.

I went through those three boxes yesterday. Bruce has been trying to organize the garage into a workshop so he can work on some wood projects. There will always be some things stored in there, such as our Christmas items, but those three boxes were in his way. I knew we had room in a closet in the house for at least some of it, so I went spent time picking through the boxes. I managed to get rid of quite a bit of my old papers; I kept only the most important things. I organized Bruce's items, although he'll have to go through and purge the things that just aren't necessary anymore.

As I was going through his things I found a pile of mail he received while he was serving in the Persian Gulf twenty-four years ago. He was stationed in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. Many Americans supported our troops, not only with prayers and good wishes, but with letters and cards of encouragement. Bruce's pile included notes from family and friends, pictures from children sent by their teacher and even a few notes from a stranger. She was the grandmother of an acquaintance of ours who wrote to several service people during that time. She signed her letters "Grandma" and she talked about her life and her family. I'm sure that many other service people have similar piles stored away in a box somewhere, too.

I probably read through these notes when Bruce came home after his tour, but I did not remember them. I was surprised by some, surprised by the people who took the time to send him messages to brighten his day. I laughed when I read that another person was serving overseas and the writers asked, "Do you get to see him?" It was interesting to read what was going on at that time with the weather or with family. The letters were newsy, something that you might send to someone at any time. Most of them included a paragraph of pride, with a sprinkling of prayers for safety and hope for peace.

One of my favorites came from my mother who has been gone more than sixteen years. She bought a box of children's Valentine's Day cards in Bruce's favorite cartoon character (Garfield) and picked out a few. She wrote little notes on the backs of each, words of encouragement and love. On one she wrote, "And you are special. You've made my Peggy happy and that's important to us." She signed each one "Love, Mom and Dad Mericle." The cards were put into the individual envelopes and then all put into one envelope for mailing. Reading these notes was special and made me a little teary eyed. I realized that many of the people who wrote those notes are gone from us now, and the letters are the only tangible memories we have of them. We don't need to have something to hold to remember, but I think I will treasure those cards from my mom because they are a reminder of her love and thoughtfulness.

I wrote to Bruce often whenever he was away on temporary duty. Sometimes our letters crossed paths in transit. We don't do this anymore. Email makes it so easy to stay in touch; letters that used to take a week or more can be on someone's computer in seconds. Why bother spending the money for a stamp when you can just hit send and know it will get there quickly? Yet, I think we are losing something important: that tangible connection we have with people. We might reread an email, but we will eventually delete it because it is filling our mailboxes. We can print it, but it isn't the same.

Touch is important. Studies have shown that there is a fundamental need in humans for touch, and that it is necessary for us to be healthy and happy. We've separated ourselves by the use of computers, texting each other from the next room (or even the other end of the couch). While I'm sure email messages would have been as encouraging for Bruce, there is something about that visit to the mailbox and seeing that colorful envelop that makes us happy. As I worked yesterday I felt that connection with those people who wrote to him all those years ago, especially those who I can no longer touch. Their love continues not only in Spirit, but in their own words written by their hand.

The writer of the Proverb tells us to "Let not kindness and truth forsake thee: Bind them about thy neck; Write them upon the tablet of thy heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man." I think that's why God gave us the Bible. God speaks to us deep in our hearts and spirits, but He has also given His word so that we can hold it, read it, study it, enjoy it, struggle with it. In the written word is God's Spirit, transforming us into the people He has called us to be.

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February 11, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, February 15, 2015, Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13 (14-18); 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

"But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18, ASV

Transfiguration Sunday means that Lent is right around the corner; next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday already. Where does the time go?

We have been in the season of Epiphany, the season of Light, for the past few weeks. Our texts have focused on the revelation of God in the life of Jesus Christ. We have been following Mark's telling of the story of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry. We saw Him call His first disciples, drive out an evil spirit, heal many people (including Simonís mother-in-law), pray alone and move on to other towns to do the work He was sent to do: preach the Kingdom of God. We end this season with the brightest light of all, the transfiguration of Jesus. On this day we see Jesus literally glowing from within the radiant light of God's glory in the presence of the ones whom God sent to point His people toward the Messiah: Moses and Elijah.

There were many parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. Both Moses and Jesus had extraordinary infancy stories, with intrigues and danger. Both faced the possibility of death commanded by a king; both survived by being hidden. Elijah was a foreshadowing of Jesus; he did many of the same things and experienced many of the same sufferings. Jesus, Moses and Elijah all provided food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and hope for all God's people. They all spoke the promises of God to His people: Moses through the Law, Elijah through prophecy and Jesus through His life. Thatís why it is so appropriate that Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop in this culmination of the Season of Epiphany.

As an artist I have often tried to imagine what this might have looked like. How would I paint it? Holiness is often indicated with a halo of gold around the head, but the light of the transfiguration is greater. That halo is painted to encompass the entire body of Jesus. Some make the light appear like the crepuscular rays of the sun shining through the clouds, stretching forth as if they are God reaching out to us from the heavens. That's probably the best we can do as human artists because the reality would be incredibly difficult to produce on canvas.

See, this glow was not something outside or behind Jesus; He was the Light, and the light that they saw was Jesus. He was transformed, transfigured, into something different, something beyond human experience. Even His clothes were transformed into something otherworldly more white than the whitest white. We represent this with a yellow, white or gold aura around Jesus, but it was probably more like He became a light bulb, shining brightly on that mountain top. It is no wonder that the disciples were afraid.

The Old Testament lesson connects this experience to one of Moses'. Moses had been on the mountain for forty days and forty nights to receive the tablets of the Law. This was the second set of tablets; the first tablets were destroyed when Moses delivered them and discovered the people turned to the false gods when they thought he was gone. Moses was transformed during this visit with God; Moses was radiant from speaking with God. He had seen God's glory (Exodus 33:12-23) and was changed, although he did not realize it at first. The people saw how he reflected God's glory and they were afraid, but he called them to come to him and listen. He gave them the commands the LORD had given him on Sinai.

When he was finished talking, Moses put a veil over his face. There are some who suggest that even looking at the reflected light of God's glory is too dangerous for ordinary people to look upon. Although the reason for the veil is uncertain, St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians that he put it on to hide the fact that the radiance passed away. We don't hear that in the passage from Exodus, but we do know that he stayed unveiled when he spoke to the people after hearing from God. Though they were afraid of him, the light reminded them that Moses was speaking to them on behalf of God Himself. It is likely, then, that Paul has it right. The glory fades. Would the people of Israel have continued to listen to Moses if they did not have that reminder? Perhaps Moses wore the veil because of his own fears.

Paul tells us that the veil that Moses wore continued for those who refused to see the passing of the old covenant which was temporary and inadequate. The Old Covenant, given to Moses on that mountain and established in the Law could never stand because no matter how hard we try we can never be good enough to deserve God's grace. The Old Covenant has been replaced with a new one, one that is revealed to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Moses, and Elijah, was never meant to be the ones whom Israel looked to for eternal life. They both pointed toward the One God would send to restore God's people to Him forever. That's why the radiance of Moses faded.

That's the difference between the radiance of Moses and that which the disciples witnessed on the mountain of Transfiguration. Moses reflected God's glory, but even the holiest human is imperfect. We fail. We cannot sustain the glory because we are stained by sin. Moses did not want the people to know the light faded, so he hid his face from the people. Jesus, on the other hand, does not reflect the light; He is the Light. The glory did not fade for Jesus; when the moment was over, Jesus let it go so that He could continue the work in the valley. He had to go back, to get His hands dirty, to face the humiliation of the Passion, to die. He refused to stay in that moment of glory because the real glory would come later; it would come on the cross.

When Jesus was transfigured, they did not want to leave. Peter even wanted to build shelters to make this a lasting moment. As quickly as the glory came upon Jesus, it left and Jesus told them not to tell anyone. The mountaintop experience was not the moment they had been preparing for; it was just a preview of what was to come. At this point in His ministry, Jesus set His feet toward Jerusalem, toward death and the grave. Peter, James and John did not quite understand what was to come, but they followed Him, always blessed with the brief shining moment when they saw Jesus as God intended Him to be, crowned in glory. They saw the hope of what was to come.

The transfiguration must have been a most incredible experience for Peter, James and John. Not only were they on the top of a mountain, but they were there with the Messiah. At that moment, they did hear the voice of God, not in the whisper of the quiet wind but in a voice coming out of the clouds. The words were repeated from Jesus' baptism, "This is my beloved Son." Whether anyone heard that voice at the Jordan we may never know for sure, but now it was heard by Jesus' inner circle of friends. It was a moment worth grasping forever. But Jesus hurried them off the mountain, back into the valley because He knows that it is in the valleys where life is truly lived. They could not stay on the top of the mountain; they had to get back to work. There were still people who needed healing. There were still demons to be cast out. There were still so many who needed to hear God's word and learn about God's kingdom so that they might be saved for eternity. It would not happen if they lingered on the mountain top. The real work was in the valley.

Peter, James and John witnessed God briefly breaking through to our world in a powerful tangible way. The Law (seen in Moses) and the Prophets (seen in Elijah) were brought together in Jesus Christ. They saw Jesus in a form that is beyond anything earthly. They heard the audible voice of God speak to them personally. This is something we can read and imagine, but we can't really know what it was like for those three men, we can't recreate it in paint. We are awed by this experience, but they were afraid. How would we have responded to this incredible moment?

The message God spoke to the disciples was simple but very powerful, "Listen to Him." In a world when we have so many voices screaming at us with opinions that are built on biases, it is hard to know to whom we should listen. Which one is right? Who is telling the truth? What is the truth? But God tells us what to do, "Listen to Jesus." I'm not sure it is that easy, because there are so many voices trying to tell us what Jesus meant, and they rarely agree. But we can listen. We can pray. We can do our best to live as God calls us to live, serving Him with our hearts and our hands and our voices, knowing that God is faithful and that He is more powerful than our failure.

We aren't much different than the characters in God's story. None of us want to be the prophet. None of us want to be the one to do the hard work with God. Even Peter, James and John were afraid when they were confronted by the reality of God's magnificence. We all want control. In fear we all try to make God fit into our comfort zone. Paul writes, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish." Too many prefer to have God's word veiled. They prefer to believe what sounds good rather than hear what God really has to say.

Not everyone hears Jesus. Paul knew this. He recognized that there were those in opposition to his ministry. They accused him of manipulation and lies. They accused him because they were ministering out of self interest, commending themselves so that they might gain positions of status and influence. They refused to admit, or even see, that they were the ones playing games. They cared nothing for the Gospel or Christ, but only for themselves. To them, there was no glory on the cross. To them, the truth was veiled. They could not see because they were blinded by the god of this world. They were also blinded by their own fears and their own desires.

Paul writes, "Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ was a moment of glory, more magnificent than the whirlwind that took Elijah to heaven or the glory that shone from Mosesí face. It might have seemed like that was the culmination of Jesus' work. But it was merely the beginning of what was to come. Jesus was about to speak a strange and wonderful word into their lives, a frightening reality that included death.

The image of God as judge in Psalm 50 is not a comfortable image for us. He is described as preceded by a devouring fire and angry tempest. He calls forth the heavens and the earth to judge His people. Psalm 50 is a liturgical hymn probably used for the feast of Tabernacles. The words call the people to reaffirm their commitment to His covenant. It is divided into three parts. The first announces the coming of the Lord to call His people to account (today's passage). The second offers words of correction to those of honest intent. The third rebukes the wicked among them. We don't like to see God in judgment over His people. We'd rather see Him as we see Him on the mountain of Transfiguration, in glory.

We don't read the entire psalm in today's lectionary, but in it God calls His people to account for two things: their mindless rituals and the lip service they pay to God. They do not worship with heart, but do everything out of some sense of duty or some idea that God will repay their generosity with blessing. They can recite the laws, but they do not live according to the intent of God's Law. Theyíve lost touch with the God whom they are called to worship and serve.

Unfortunately for us, mindless ritual and lip service is easy. It keeps us in a place where we are comfortable and happy. It helps us to mold the world around us, including the spiritual realm, into a form where we have control. In mindless ritual and lip service we have nothing to fear. We don't want to be judged by our failures, we want to believe that God will honor our self interested ministering because we mean well. We reject God as judge and embrace only that which we want to hear.

Jesus came to save, but what would He be saving us from if there were no judgment? He comes to call us to account. But here's the difference between the Old Covenant and the New: Jesus pays the price. He left the mountain to walk the path that was required: death on a cross for our sake. He is the Light, that's why the radiance is not reflected but illuminated from within Jesus. He has the Word we need to hear; He is the Word we need. God said, "Listen to Him." The veil is lifted for those who do hear. He calls us to follow, not to the top of the mountain, but down in the valley where we will get our hands dirty and where we will die to self.

Many refuse to hear, but that does not mean God is less powerful or Jesus any less authoritative. The god of this world continues to blind those who would prefer to keep the truth and glory veiled. Jesus Christ has called us into this relationship, invited us to experience His glory and then follow Him into the valley to do His work. It is frightening, but as we join Jesus on the journey to the cross, we need not live in fear. God goes with us, and He has assured us that He has the power to fulfill His promises. He transforms us, filling us with His Light and Spirit so that He will be revealed through our lives to the world.

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February 12, 2015

"Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20-21, ASV

As I think back over my life of faith, I can see that my work and purpose were different from place to place. We moved often as a military family, but even I remember changes even before then. When I was a child, my place was to listen, to learn, to grow. On the day of my affirmation of baptism when I was thirteen, the deaconess of our church asked me to help in the kindergarten class. When I was in college I hung out with the youth group, not quite a student but not quite a leader. I spent a summer working for the city churches, evangelizing for their Vacation Bible Schools.

After college, I worked long hours, lived far from my home church and often worked on Sundays, so it wasn't very convenient to attend worship. But, I also went through a rebellion period when I did not attend church very often. I was reading through an old letter I sent to Bruce, one of the first after we met, telling him about myself. I said that I wasn't very active in church because I hated institutional religion. I laugh at that line now because I've grown to understand that despite our human failings, it is necessary for us to be in community with other believers.

After marriage I found encouragement and grace in our church as I dealt with living thousands of miles from home, married to a man who would travel often in the military. As a matter of fact, he went on a temporary duty assignment just a week or so after we were married. I got a job, but spent a lot of time alone in those days. The church community became my family. I learned to cook by feeding some of the ladies; they ate my food and didn't die, so I knew I could feed Bruce when he returned. I found work to do in the congregation. After the children were born my purpose turned toward educated the youngsters as I taught Sunday school and started a regular gathering for story time.

Education remained a part of my work and purpose, but the focus changed as time when by. I eventually taught adult classes and workshops. I even preached a sermon or two. I went through a period when I felt called to regular prayer. Of course, we should all pray regularly, but at that time I spent as much as two hours a week on my knees in the sanctuary of our church. I was involved in a prayer group and I spent more time in prayer at home. This vocation to prayer continued at other churches, but in different ways, just as teaching changed through the years. Apart from congregational work, I served God through the Internet, ministering in chat rooms and writing this devotional.

The point of this biography is not to boast, but to note how my work and purpose in God's kingdom has changed over the years. My experience is unusual, in that I moved often over the past fifty or so years. However, changes have happened even when I didn't go anywhere. God called me to new things. God offered me new opportunities. And God provided all I needed to do the work He was calling me to do.

He does the same for you. You definitely have some gift and a vocation that uses that gift well. God will provide you with the opportunity to use that gift. However, don't become so comfortable in that one vocation that you miss the opportunities God will present to do something new. You might not think you are ready or able, but if God is calling, He will equip. Some people have done the same work for their whole lives, teaching Sunday school for Kindergarten children or serving the donuts on Sunday morning. But God just might be offering a new opportunity, a chance to serve Him in a new way.

Are you listening? Are you ready to respond? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and do the work God has for you to do? Are you ready to fulfill your purpose, even if it isn't what you might expect?

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February 13, 2015

"And 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." 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?

Why did this superstition come into being. Though some fears are extreme, there are often reasonable reasons for them. We are afraid of snakes because some snakes can really hurt humans. 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 think the superstition has been around for a long time. 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 hadn't heard someone mention it on the news. As a matter of fact, the traffic reporter referred to the date saying, "The roads don't look like it is Friday the 13th" as if traffic should be worse today than on any other day. 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. There's no way for us to know whether it was a Friday the 13th, but it wasn't exactly a banner day. It started out pretty good, but Jesus' reputation was starting to take over, with many people seeking Jesus for healing. They were coming to Him because He'd healed Peter's mother-in-law. Though Jesus was willing to heal, the crowds were missing out on the real purpose of His coming, so He tried to escape by crossing over the lake. His escape was interrupted by those who wanted to know what it takes to disciple. Jesus told them that the cost is great. This was not the message they wanted to hear.

In today's passage, the disciples were in the boat crossing to the other side. They were amazed at what had happened, but they were also emotionally spent. Can you imagine what it must have been like to see so many people suffering from dis-ease and possession, including someone they loved? Can you imagine how it must have felt to hear that following Jesus would have such a great cost? 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 have been afraid?

But we work up our own fear without remembering that we do not go through our days alone. Friday the 13th is like any other day; we are afraid because we do not trust. Jesus answered their fear with a simple question, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" He asks us the same today. If you are afraid to go out into the world because it is Friday the 13th, remember Jesus' question and face the day with courage and faith. It might not be a perfect day, but with God in the midst of it, everything will work out just the way He has planned.

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February 16, 2015

"Greet one another with a holy kiss." Romans 16:16, ASV

So, I've been saving this one for her feast day, but today is an appropriate time. See, I recently purchased a book of saints that gives the stories of nearly a hundred saints with pictures. Some of the saints are well remembered like Francis (several of them, actually) and Patrick. There are others who are more obscure. They are listed with their patronage, the things or people to whom they are connected in some way. Francis of Assisi is patron saint to animals and ecology. Patrick is patron saint to Ireland and the Irish.

Another rather famous one is Saint Christopher. We do not know anything about the man historically; his story is based on a single famous moment. He was, apparently, a very large man with incredible strength and was known for carrying travelers from one side of a river to the other. One day he was carrying a child who was extremely light at first, but who became so heavy by the end of the journey across the river Christopher was nearly submerged in the river and it took tremendous effort for him to finish the task. On the other side, Christopher learned that his passenger was Jesus. To prove His identity, Jesus commanded Christopher to plant his pole in the river; the pole then sprouted bark, buds and flowers. This story has made Saint Christopher the patron saint of travelers and sailors. He is also the patron saint of motorists.

It seems odd to think that a saint might be patron of such a modern invention; after all he certainly had no experience with the automobile, but unless Henry Ford is canonized, there may never be a man that makes sense. As patron saint of travelers, it logically follows that he would be chosen for those who drive cars.

This brings us to Saint Clare. Clare was born in 1194 in a wealthy family and was an acquaintance of Frances of Assisi. He convinced Clare that the best thing she could do for her faith and to serve God was to renounce her life and take a vow of poverty. He helped her escape her father who had plans for his daughter, most likely to enhance his own estate. Clare won the battle and established a community of faith that is known as the Order of Saint Clare whose members take vows of absolute poverty. One day Clare had a vision while she was confined to a sick bed; she saw and heard the Mass without being present in church. In 1958, Pius XII used this story to make Saint Clare the patron saint of television.

Yes, she was the patron saint of television. Seems odd, doesn't it? But the very purpose of a television is to put us in the midst of something which is happening in another place, often at another time. Her vision in the thirteenth century was just like the experience of so many people who use the television to connect to people, places and events that they can't reach in person. It is a good thing that we have this option, since I don't think God is giving many people the type of vision that Clare is said to have experienced. There are those who even today are in a sick bed and who rely on the experiences television can give them. Yet, sometimes I fear that we are becoming unconnected with one another as many people rely on the television for everything, including worship and Bible study.

So, to me it seems very odd to have a patron saint over an inanimate object, especially one that is designed to take us out of the real world and immerse us into a world that is real, but is distant and intangible. We may be able to watch the Mass on television, but is it truly a worship experience if we can't touch our neighbors with the kiss of peace or receive the body and blood of Jesus at the Eucharist?

I have to admit that I watch a lot of television, perhaps too much. I greatly enjoyed being invited into the celebration last night for the forty year anniversary of Saturday Night Live. I would never have been invited to the real event, so I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be 'there' through the vision of a television, to celebrate, remember and laugh along with the many people who have been a part of the production of the show who were in the studio last night. When it comes to our faith, however, we are welcome to worship in the fellowship of other Christians where we can experience the intimate and real aspects of our faith, where we can truly give one another a holy kiss.

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February 17, 2015

"My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth." 1 John 3:18, ASV

An American fast food restaurant is giving away free tacos for a few hours today in celebration of National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Of course, the day is an unofficial holiday with an unknown origin, but it is an idea that could make today a better day for those who cross the path of someone trying to be kind. There will be at least a few people who are happy because they've been the recipient of a free breakfast taco this morning, and I imagine that will make today a good day for everyone they meet. Happiness is contagious and kindness produces happiness, so every random act of kindness might affect the attitudes of dozens of people.

The problem with National Random Acts of Kindness Day is that we should not set aside one specific day to be kind to one another. I suppose the unofficial holiday is meant to gain attention on the need for random acts of kindness in our world, a need that might change so much about the way we treat one another. And yet, shouldn't we be doing nice things for others every day? I'm not even sure I like the idea of random acts of kindness because it sounds so contrived. I know that sounds a bit like an oxymoron; how can something random be contrived? It can because people will go out into the world today with a plan on how to be kind to someone like the fast food restaurant, but tomorrow they will completely miss the one person whom God has sent that needs or deserves an act of kindness.

I've seen stories about people who have done this. Take, for example, the recent meme that has posted on Facebook of a note given to a man who had taken his daughter out on a 'date' for Valentine's Day. The couple who wrote the note was so impressed with what a great dad that man was that they paid for the dinner and left the note of encouragement for him to continue teaching his daughter who a man should treat her.

I've seen similar stories of people who paid for the dinners of families with special needs. Other stories tell of kind diners who give outrageous tips to wait staff who do an excellent job. Around Christmas we often hear of people paying off layaways or others who pay the bill at the grocery store for someone who is struggling to find enough cash.

The random acts of kindness do not always have to be driven by money, after all, most of us can't afford to do those big gestures. We can, however, be like the workers at the national chain store who helped a young man prepare for a job interview by teaching him how to tie a tie (he had gone into the store hoping for a clip-on) and then took the time to make sure he looked right. They also taught him a few things to say and helped him with his manners so that he would treat the interviewer with proper respect. This kindness not only made the young man feel good, it gave him so much confidence that he did very well at the interview. The young man got the job.

It is good to be kind, and I hope everyone will find an opportunity to do something nice for another person today. But here's what I hope for tomorrow: instead of going out with the intention of doing something kind for one person, I hope we all try to be kind as a constant attitude. Let's be conscious of those around us and respond with something that will impact their lives. A note of encouragement, a listening ear, a box of cookies or a cup of coffee can change someone's day. Take that empty shopping cart from that struggling mother in the parking lot or hold the door open for the elderly man with a cane.

Everyone who crosses our path could use a moment of kindness, even if they seem to have it all together. We all have hidden worries and fears. We all have reasons to be hurt or angry or upset. A random act of kindness can make everyone's day better and can transform our attitude in a way that will impact the world around us. We don't have to make a big deal about it, or even make it known to the world. We don't have to act as if our random act of kindness is something extraordinary. If we keep our eyes open and respond to the world in kindness, the random acts will become a natural part of our daily lives.

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February 18, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, February 22, 2015, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 25:1-10; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:15, ASV

Every child in a family matters, even if that family has a tribe of kids. It might not seem like it to some of the children, especially those who are stuck in the middle. The old television show "The Brady Bunch" used to play off this reality in the relationship between Jan, the middle child and both Marsha the oldest and Cindy the youngest. Jan always felt left out because Marsha was the best of everything and Cindy was so cute. She was as loved as the others, but she experienced life in a way that made her feel like she was ignored and rejected. Those children do not realize that the others also have to deal with stress and expectations of their own. Sibling rivalry usually has far more to do with the way siblings perceive one another rather than the actual relationship they have with the parents.

I can't imagine how hard it must have been to be Abraham's children. Ishmael, who was always lesser because he was not Sarah's son, must have hated Isaac with a passion. Hagar certainly hated Sarah, the wife and legal mother to her son. Abraham had faith that God had a plan and obeyed God's word, but he never wanted Ishmael to suffer. When it became necessary for Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, God promised that Ishmael would be blessed. Isaac was the promised child, and though Abraham regretted losing his son, he knew that it was necessary.

I suppose that's what makes today's story all the more shocking to us. God made incredible promises to Abraham, and they all rested on the boy Isaac. How odd it must have been to hear God's command to sacrifice that boy, especially since he'd already lost one son. What would we do if we heard the same request? We would question our sanity, or wonder if some other voice was trying to destroy what God had given to us. We would probably argue with God about the ridiculous nature of the request. We would cling on to the child to protect him from such danger. But Abraham believed and obeyed the word of God.

Abraham believed that God would be faithful to His promises. Abraham knew that God would do something; he told Isaac, "God will provide." This isn't to say that Abraham expected a ram to show up out of nowhere; he knew that Isaac was a gift of God, and as such belonged to Him. Abraham willingly gave the most important thing in his life to the LORD because that boy was God's.

We all have people or things that are very dear to us, so important that we run the risk of letting them get in the way of our relationship with God. We are asked, just like Abraham, to sacrifice those things on the altars of our hearts so that there is nothing more important to us than God. That's what Lent is all about. It is about discovering those things that mean more to us than our relationship to God. It is about repentance, about sacrifice, about trusting that God will keep His promises.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing of that which would happen at the end of our Lenten journey. On Good Friday, God took His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and put Him on the altar of sacrifice. But on that day He did not send a ram instead. Jesus died as the final sacrifice, the only one that is lasting. God is not asking us today to lay our children on the altar of sacrifice; but He is encouraging us to search our hearts for that which stands in the way of our relationship with Him.

Of course, many will pick things like chocolate and coffee. They'll fast their favorite foods for forty days, but will binge on them on Easter Sunday. It is a struggle and they will complain, and in the end they will be unchanged. None of us really think our love of chocolate or coffee stands in the way of our relationship with God, so the fasting is a test of our will power rather than our repentance. We don't lay on the altar the things that matter and trust God to bless us, we give him the things we can live without and hope He won't notice the idols we are hiding behind our backs.

See, here's the thing: God can see the hidden things of our hearts. He knows what we are withholding and that we are trying to fool Him into thinking we are being faithful. He knows that we will gorge ourselves with chocolate on Easter Sunday or go back to playing those video games we gave up for seven weeks.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God. They walked together and talked. They had a personal, intimate relationship with one another and with their Creator. They were naked and it did not matter. When the serpent deceived them and they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, things changed dramatically. The Bible tells us that their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked so they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the garden. They were afraid to be seen by God.

They were indeed physically naked since God had not given them clothing to wear and their response showed that they were ashamed of their physical nakedness. Yet, that was just a symptom of the greater problem that they faced. When their eyes were opened, they could see that their disobedient actions were disrespectful to their Creator and that they were not worthy to be in His presence. Their shame was not only about their naked bodies, but also about their fear to be in the presence of God. What would He do in response to their disobedience? He had warned them that eating the tree would mean death and they did not believe His words. No wonder they were afraid and hid from His presence.

It is easy to say that we will give up something for forty days as long as we know that we can go back to the way things were before Lent, but how has that honored God? Where is the repentance? Where is the trust? Easter Sunday is forty-five days away, but are we truly ready to meet our risen and glorious Lord? Isn't Lent meant to prepare us for that day, to make us ready to meet our Lord? What good is it to give up something that we plan to take back? We must, like Abraham, to give it up for good and trust that God will be true to His promises. Isaac was the child of promise, but Abraham knew that God would be faithful no matter what happened to Isaac. He willingly laid everything, including the promise of God, on that altar. Are we willing to be so faithful? Lent is a time for us to face our sinful, selfish hearts, repent of our sin, ask forgiveness and trust that God will be faithful to His promises. Are we really willing to give up the things that truly matter? To repent of that which keeps us from being the people God has created, chosen and redeemed us to be? When we give up the things that are dearest to our hearts and make God first in our lives, we live in the promises that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel lesson gives us a picture of Jesus going through the process of self discovery, an example for us to follow during this Lenten season. First Jesus learned His identity. During His baptism, God said, "You are my son." He was immediately sent into the wilderness to reflect upon this identity. For forty days He was tempted. Though Mark does not give us the details, we know from the other gospel writers that Jesus was faced with the possibilities of where to take His ministry. Satan offered Him a different path, but Jesus knew who He was and what He had to do. Finally, Jesus left the wilderness and went into action. He recognized His identity, reflected on His purpose and put it to work.

Mark writes, "And straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him." It is interesting that the word used here describing how Jesus ended up in the wilderness is the same word that is used when Jesus drives out the demons. This is not something Jesus chooses to do. He is forced into the wilderness. This was a time of testing for Jesus, a time of isolation from all human contact.

Why would the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness the way Jesus drove demons from people? Why would God make Jesus spend forty days isolated and tempted? There are times God tests us. Jesus wasn't given a choice; this was a necessary part of His journey. Satan was given free rein to tempt Jesus, and according to the other versions of this story, Satan did try to get Jesus to turn from God. Jesus, like us, had free will and could have said yes to any of the temptations, but He stood firm. When Satan tempted Him, He remained true to God.

We are tempted daily, and Lent is a time for us to recognize this reality. Lent is a time for us to journey through our own wilderness. What does that look like for you? We think we have to choose today something to fast for the next forty days, but perhaps we should take this time to discover who we are and reflect upon our identity. We tend to jump into action without really knowing who we are or what we are meant to do. How much easier it would be if we followed this process, like Jesus, listening for God's voice and taking time to face the temptations that keep us from being all that we can be. Then we can go out and do the work we have been called to do.

We are tempted daily, and Lenten fasting can be of great value as we come to recognize the things that tempt us daily. By standing up to the temptations, as Jesus stood against the devil, we learn to rely on the strength that God gives us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The things we fast might be unimportant, we might fail and we might splurge on them in a few weeks, but the lessons learned from leaning on God can help us overcome the bigger temptations of this world. James writes, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him." As we stand against the temptations that come our way, we are transformed into people ready to receive the Risen Lord.

We won't be perfect. It doesn't matter how many Lents we journey through; we'll never be perfect in this world. We will continue to fall for the temptations that are thrust our way by the world and the devil. It doesn't matter how many things we lay on the altar of sacrifice before our God, we will continue to fail. We will probably fail at keeping our Lent disciplines, no matter how simple and easy they might seem. The big ones will be even more difficult to accomplish. The goal, as in all our journeys of faith, is not to be perfect, but to draw ever closer to the God who us with through it all. He's waiting at the end, not to judge us for our failures but to embrace us for trying.

In one of the Lent devotions I'm going to read this year, Rev. David Wendel writes, "Here's something else to keep in mind about Lenten devotions, and all Lenten disciplines: use them in grace! People often become demoralized and disheartened when, by the end of the first week they have stumbled in their Lenten discipline. If you miss a day's devotion, or several days, catch up when you have time. There's no eternal harm in reading two day's devotions at once, or reading one week's devotions all together, if necessary." We can fail because our success will never earn us a place in heaven. Our eternal salvation rests only on the work of Jesus Christ, the only one able to stand against the temptations of this world.

This is the first week of Lent, a season modeled after Jesus' wilderness experience. Mark writes, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel." The Lenten journey we begin today and continue for the next few weeks is a time for us to repent and to believe in God's promises. As much as we want to join with Jesus in every way of that journey, we need to remember that we do not have to do it alone. The One who went before us will join us on this journey. Whatever we choose to lay on the altar of sacrifice, we can trust that God will always be faithful to His promises. He will give us the strength to try to be the people God has created, chosen and redeemed us to be.

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February 19, 2015

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities." Psalm 51:1-9 (ASV)

A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn't find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: "I have circled the block 10 times. If I don't park here, Iíll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses." When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note, "I've circled this block for 10 years. If I don't give you a ticket, I'll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation."

This joke really makes me laugh. I have to admit that I'm one of those people who like to find the close parking spot when I am running late. It isn't so much about the walking, but about time. It is amazing how much longer it takes to get some place when a parking spot is unavailable. A quick trip into a grocery store can take five or ten extra minutes when it is busy, considering the longer walk to and from the car. I'm not one who circles around a parking lot for hours just to find that perfect spot, but I hope I get lucky when I am rushed. It is very tempting to park illegally, especially when we think weíll just be a minute. What harm could it do?

Yet, whenever we do something wrong, we put others in a bad position. It is a no-parking zone for a reason; it isn't designed just to inconvenience us. That no-parking zone disrupts the normal traffic pattern, causes hazards for pedestrians and blocks access for emergency vehicles. When we park illegally, we make people angry and perhaps even put lives at risk. It may seem like a victimless crime, but we never know how our sin will affect others.

God has already answered the prayer in the minister's note. We are forgiven; we are forgiven for even those sins which we have not yet done. Yet, we should not expect that forgiveness will necessarily remove the consequences of our sin. That's why it continues to be important that we study our hearts and search our spirits to discover that which we do against God and our neighbors. There are those who think that Ash Wednesday and Lent are unnecessary because Jesus has already died on the cross and has risen to new life. Faith in His work on Good Friday and Easter guarantees our own eternal security. That doesn't mean that we no longer sin. We will continue to need forgiveness for as long as we live on this earth, and this time of Lent is a time for us to really look at ourselves in the mirror to see the truth: while we are made saints by faith in the forgiveness we have already received, we are still sinners in need of forgiveness.

In our story, the ministerís greater sin was not that he parked illegally but that he expected to get away with it by asking forgiveness. In doing so, however, he put another man into a difficult situation. Should he have compassion on one man and forgive the sin, or should he protect many others from the possible dangers created by this sin?

Our Lord Jesus Christ has answered this prayer of the psalmist. He had mercy on us, cleansed us from our sin and forgave us our trespasses. This is the joy of our faith, that though we were dead to our sins, He has made us alive to sing and praise His holy name. This life is not meant to live on the edge, doing the things that make our life comfortable and convenient but that also put others into the position of temptation between right and wrong. We are made saints through faith, but we remain sinners in this life, tempted to do the things we should not do. Sometimes we do these things willfully, asking for forgiveness even while we are doing them.

So as you go about your Lenten journey for the next forty days, remember the lesson of this minister and policeman: our sins put others in jeopardy even when it seems like a minor infraction. What in your life seems inconsequential but could actually be harmful to others? In what ways do you sin every day that seem like harmless, victimless infractions, but have the potential of causing life-changing harm to another? How often do you willfully do what you know is wrong, thinking that it will be fine because you've asked forgiveness?

Grace forgives. Grace also allows us to suffer the consequences of our sin so that we will know how we affect the world around us when we give in to the temptations that we face. Forgiveness is never a license to do what we know is wrong; it is a gift from God which sets us free to live and love according to His word.

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February 20, 2015

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; And sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; And my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Psalm 51:10-17, ASV

So, we are a few days into Lent and most of us have started some discipline to practice during the journey. For some, the discipline is about giving up something, for others it is about taking on something new. I imagine that some have already found it difficult to be faithful, including me. I have several devotions I'm reading, perhaps too many, and I've decided to read one at night. I've managed to get it read, but I'm not sure I got much out of it one night because I was so tired I could barely read the text. I have a list of things I was going to read and pray through on a daily basis (ways I could change my attitude and life) and I've already stopped doing it. I have already failed and we only just began Lent. I don't know how well I will keep up with some of the other disciplines I've decided to try, but I imagine that they will be nearly impossible to continue as we get closer to Easter.

While fasting and spiritual disciplines are a good thing, we have to remember that our works, no matter how good, will not save us. We might break old habits or develop new ones. We might accomplish something wonderful or grow deeper in our faith, but our success or failure will not affect our righteousness. We can't earn forgiveness; we can't make ourselves right before God with our own works. The spiritual disciplines of Lent can help to make us a better person, but we must always trust in God to make us right with Him.

The text for today continues the Psalm from yesterday. In yesterday's message I talked about how we should seek to live in a way that will not bring harm to our neighbors, that every sin no matter how small can hurt others. Today we recognize the reality of our quest for perfection: we can't do it ourselves. We need to humble ourselves before the One who can, and has, made us clean and new. We seek His grace with the faith of knowing that He has already given it to us abundantly. We ask God to do what we cannot do. He answers our prayers for the sake of His Son and the world, so that in faith we will share the amazing grace of God with others.

The psalmist was so overjoyed by the salvation of God that he was excited about sharing the message of forgiveness with others. The saving grace of God makes us into a new creation, filled to the rim with the love of Christ. That which Christ has done gives us the strength, courage, love, hope, peace and joy that should be overflowing into the hearts and lives of others. We are called to go out into the world with the gifts He gives, to teach other sinners about the forgiveness won on the cross by our Lord Jesus. We take the Word of God to them that they too might repent, turn to Him and be saved. God gives us a clean heart and renews our spirit so that we will give ourselves fully over to it for the sake of the world.

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February 23, 2015

"I love thee, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge; My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower. I will call upon Jehovah, who is worthy to be praised: So shall I be saved from mine enemies. The cords of death compassed me, And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The cords of Sheol were round about me; The snares of death came upon me. In my distress I called upon Jehovah, And cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of his temple, And my cry before him came into his ears." Psalm 18:1-6, ASV

We can do a lot of things to protect ourselves. We can install security systems on our homes. We can make sure we have plenty of fire detectors in our home and test them regularly. We can stay home when the weather is bad, as so many have experienced around the U.S. the past few weeks. We can pay attention to the world around us and watch out for danger. We can avoid doing things that might cause an accident. We can avoid eating, drinking and smoking things that can make us sick. Though we can't guarantee our life will be without trouble, all these things might help to protect us.

Now, there are dangers in this world that we just can't avoid by our own strength and power. I was once hit by a drunk driver. I was driving my car through a green arrow when the car come from the other direction and ran the red light. The driver was cited with multiple infractions, including driving with a suspended license, no insurance and several different types of drugs in his system. When he hit my car, it spun around several times, although I couldn't really tell you how many because it all happened in the blink of an eye. It was a good thing I was wearing my seatbelt because it saved my life. I am certain about this because I had an unopened can of soda on the seat which exploded when it flew forward and hit the dashboard; that could have been me.

I avoided death with the seatbelt, but there was no way for me to know that on that corner on that night I might be in an accident. We can't very well hide in our homes; we have to go out into the world. Oh, I like to avoid going out, especially on cold rainy days like today. I don't just worry about how I will handle the roads, but I worry about how others will do so. Yet, there are things that need to be done. I need to go grocery shopping. I need to meet with my Bible study group. I need to get out of the house and interact with other people. I can't do much for God's kingdom hiding behind the safety of my walls, can I?

There are other dangers that we can't even see. The spiritual warfare that goes on all around is really unavoidable. We will constantly be tempted to do things we shouldn't do and to avoid things we should. We even face the temptation to hide in our homes when we are afraid of what might happen in the world. We ignore the call of God to protect ourselves from the dangers of the world. However, we can't avoid the spiritual dangers by hiding. We can't protect ourselves; we can't trust that we'll be safe by our own power and might.

The psalmist describes God in many ways, as rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn, tower. Trust in God will not guarantee that we will be safe from drunk drivers, but He is our salvation. We are strong only because He is strong. We might not be unharmed by our enemies, but God will save us, especially in terms of the spiritual war that is being waged. The devil may tempt us, trying to lead us away from God, but God will be there beside us, calling us toward Himself. And when we fall and cry out to God for His help, He will be there to pick us up, to forgive us and to help us onto the right path.

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February 24, 2015

"Jehovah is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh, Even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell. Though a host should encamp against me, My heart shall not fear: Though war should rise against me, Even then will I be confident. One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of Jehovah, And to inquire in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion: In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me; He will lift me up upon a rock. And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me. And I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah." Psalm 27:1-6, ASV

I am happy to say that things are pretty good for us right now. I'd never call myself wealthy, but we have enough. I'm avoiding doing my taxes because I'm nearly certain that we'll have to pay this year, but we should have enough in the bank to cover the bill. We have a few debts, credit card bills, our mortgage and a car payment, but I am not worried about paying our bills on a month to month basis.

We are comfortable today, but it hasn't always been that way. We are pretty financially savvy, but sometimes you don't realize how quickly the bills can pile up. We bought a house when we moved to Texas, the first house we owned in nearly twenty years. We had been living in either rentals or in military housing, with limited financial responsibilities. A new house always comes with unexpected costs. In the first weeks of living there, we bought and signed up for numerous items and programs. We bought a water softener. We signed up for a security program. We agreed to a regular meat delivery program and bought the extra large freezer to go with it. We signed up for cable. We bought curtains for the windows and other items for the house. It was an expensive time and we realized, a little too late, that we had overextended ourselves. I struggled to pay the bills on a month to month basis, and I have to admit that I borrowed money from my children's bank accounts for a few months. We made some bad decisions and we had to learn how to better manage our money.

The doorbell rang one day and I answered the door to discover a vacuum cleaner salesman standing there. I told him that I had absolutely no money to buy an expensive vacuum cleaner. He assured me that he didn't really care if he sold one, but that he got credit for just the demonstration. "Let me in and I'll clean your floors for you." I had company coming and so I was happy to have someone do my work for me. He began his spiel, using information he'd gained by being observant of our environment. He claimed faith; he talked about literature. He complimented my style and was impressed by our home. He stayed for hours, cleaning everything from our carpets to our mattress. It eventually became obvious to him that I really was not going to give in to his amazing salesmanship; his attitude turned to disdain. He appealed to my vocation as a housewife, "Don't you want to give your husband the house he deserves?" He threatened to show my husband what a bad housewife I was. He showed me the features of the product and promised that he'd get me the best price ever; I repeatedly told him throughout his performance that I could not afford to buy the machine no matter how low the monthly payment could be. "I am stealing from my children to pay my electric bill. I can't afford it."

He called his supervisor, who was obviously not going to give up until I bought the vacuum. He started friendly, offering me the best price, which went down a few times in the ensuing conversation. I said "No" over and over again, but they didn't hear. I reminded them that I said I couldn't afford the machine and there was nothing they could do to convince me to buy it when the guy first came to my door. I reminded him that he said he got credit just for the demo, which never really cleaned my house. As a matter of fact, I had to sweep my house after they left.

They didn't believe me; they were certain that I could come up with just thirty dollars a month. The supervisor became angry and so did I. I was also starting to be afraid. These guys had wasted the whole afternoon at my house. I think they were trying to stay until my husband came home from work, but what I wouldn't tell them is that he was out of town and wouldn't be coming home at all. I told them to get out of my house, but they wouldn't until I finally threatened to call the police.

We are comfortable today, but I know that it wouldn't take much to put us back into a bad position financially. A major health issue, a lost job, a natural disaster can make life difficult again. At the best of times I remember those days when we were struggling to pay our bills, thankful for the roof over our head and enough food to keep us strong. I understood struggle because I've been there and I recognize that I could be there again. Through it all, we have to remember that we are not alone. God will not pay our bills, but we can trust that He will be with us through our struggles, that He'll help us learn the lessons that will make tomorrow better. Even when the bills seem overwhelming or our decisions are not right, Jesus will help us through. He is our refuge, our strength, our hope and our peace. If I am beginning to worry, I turn to Jesus and He calms my fears.

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February 25, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday, March 1, 2015, Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38

"And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ." Mark 8:29, ASV

We are having some electrical work done in our house. We've been slowly replacing the old lights with LED lights. The electrician is a nice guy, affordable and so far he's done good work. The only unusual thing I've noticed is that he calls me Margaret. I'm sure it is because he remembers my name from my check, but I introduced myself to him as Peggy and I use Peggy whenever I call. The funny thing is that he never knows who I am, but when I describe my situation, he says, "Oh, hello Margaret." I'm not sure why he continues to call me Margaret; perhaps he hasn't made the connection between the two names.

It is certainly a strange combination. I've had many people ask me the question, "How is Peggy a nickname for Margaret?" I've looked it up on the internet multiple times, but the answer is not very satisfactory. The consensus is simply that the more understandable nicknames like Meg and Meggy morphed into Peg and Peggy, perhaps because they rhymed. Meggy-Peggy was possibly shortened to Peggy.

During my research I discovered this anonymously written poem. "In search from A to Z they passed, And 'Marguerita' chose at last; But thought it sound far more sweet To call the baby 'Marguerite.' When grandma saw the little pet, She called her 'darling Margaret.' Next uncle Jack and cousin Aggie Sent cup and spoon to 'little Maggie.' And grandpapa the right must beg To call the lassie 'bonnie Meg.' From 'Marguerita' down to 'Meg,' And now she's simply 'little Peg.'"

There were some who were given the name Peggy from the start; Peggy is one of the few nicknames to have a life of its own. Since Margaret is my legal name, I use it on all my official documents, including my checks. It becomes a little confusing for those to who know me as Peggy, which is why I get that question. Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I am the same person no matter what name I use, but sometimes names can impact our impression of people. I went through a phase in school when I wanted to be called "PJ." It lasted long enough that I made myself a bracelet in art class using that name. PJ seemed more artsy, cooler, grown up. Most of my friends and teachers went along with the phase, although the official papers would always have my name listed as "Margaret."

Names do have meaning, although most of us don't pay much attention to it. We talked about it in our Sunday school class on Sunday. Most of the members of our group had no idea what their name means. One woman looked hers up on her phone. I happened to know mine. "Margaret" means "pearl." I am not sure what that says about me, but since I was named after my father's sister, I don't think my parents even thought about the name meaning. My husband and I didn't when we named our children.

Names mean something important in the Bible. We are often told the meaning of a name which helps us to understand the personality and the purpose of the person in God's story. We see that most importantly in the naming of our Lord. Matthew writes, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us." (Matthew 1:23, ASV)

It is obvious in today's Old Testament text that something has changed with Abram and Sarai. God has given them new names. Though the names themselves are quite similar to the names they were given by their parents, their new names show at least a difference in dialects. The scriptures tell us that the new names represent their new place in God's plan. Abram became Abraham; the childless one became the one who would be the father of many nations. Sarai became Sarah; the childless one became the one who will give rise to nations.

There is more to this name change than meets our eyes, however, and it has to do with the additional letter. The letter "h" in Hebrew is "hey" and means "to reveal" or "behold." It also represents the divine breath and revelation. In other words, God has breathed new life into Abraham and Sarah; their lives were forever different because God irrevocably intertwined with them. If we take this study of the Hebrew letter even further, we discover that ďheyĒ is a combination of two other Hebrew letters, "dalet" and "yod." "Dalet" is understood to mean "door" and represents broken humanity. "Yod" the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet means "hand" and represents the divine spark. So, in adding the "hey" to Abraham and Sarah's name, God opened their hearts, entered in and revealed His purpose for their lives. In this passage we see God offering a promise to the father and mother of many nations, but we also see Him taking hold of them and giving them everything they need to become what He planned.

His plan: that's the hardest part of this relationship with have with our God. We make plans for our lives and all too often they go astray. We map out a timeline for when we will graduate, get a job, find a mate, have children, retire and some of us even try to plan our deaths. The death part is a little harder to control, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

There's an episode from the "Big Bang Theory" where Sheldon decided that his life expectancy was too short (he would only live another sixty years, and miss out on so much.) He began his quest for old age by choosing different food, making Thursday cruciferous vegetable night rather than pizza night. Unfortunately, the bowl full of Brussels sprouts gave him gas so horrible that he thought he was going to do. He decided to take up running with Penny, but fell down the steps on the first day. Then he decided the only way to really save himself was to hid in his room with a virtual presence device out in the world. He created a robot with a video monitor that was connected to a video camera in his room. His plan posed a few problems and ultimately he realized that you can't live your life through a video screen. He has also realized, over the years, that you can't control every aspect of your life.

We try, but as we learn to trust in God we realize that He has a much better idea for our lives. He knows us better than we do. He knows us to the core of our beings. He knows our gifts because He has given them to us. He knows every step we have taken and every step we will take. He has set the path for us, and the best path we can follow is the one He has ordained. Sadly, no matter how much we trust God, we still try to go our own way, follow our own plans, do our own thing. That's when we struggle, although most of us never really learn that lesson.

Peter had a plan. Peter had great plans for Jesus. He was going to be King and save the Jews from their oppression. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he knew Jesus was the Messiah, but had it all worked out in his head how Jesus would accomplish the work of salvation. Unfortunately, his plans were not Jesus' plans. When Jesus began to speak about death and the cross, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." Jesus was not calling Peter Satan, but Peter was trying to make God fulfill his own plans - exactly what Satan tempts us to do every day. We saw him try to turn Jesus away from the path that God planned for Him, the path to the cross, by tempting Him in the wilderness. Here again, Satan was trying to tempt Jesus away from God's plan, and he was using Peter to do so.

Our plans don't always work out as we intend; they often go astray. The only thing we can truly trust is the fact that God's plans never fail, and the blessed life is the life lived in faith that God will fulfill His promises. When our plans seem to fail, we look to God knowing that He will not. This is what it means when Jesus says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." This isn't a law or a rule that says we all have to do what Jesus did. It is a promise that He will be faithful in all that He has said would happen, and we should set aside our plans to trust in Him. The best laid plans often go astray, but the Word of God is true and He is faithful to all He has promised.

In Romans, Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can love, encourages us to live in the love of God. Without a doubt, none of us could do it without God's abiding love. We could not care for others, consider others first, serve the Lord if He had not first loved us. The world knows that God is supposed to stand for love, that He is love. The hard part for the world to understand is how Christians can be so unloving.

Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with sin and though we have been changed by God's love, we still fall, we still want to be in control, to be like God and do God's work in our own way. There are many reasons why we take it upon ourselves to do God's work. Sometimes we are impatient, thinking that God is taking too long. We see the sin and pain in the world and wish He would so something to make problems end. At other times, we question whether God is taking care of the matter in the right way. Our motives are not always self-centered, but we are led by our own biases and experiences. Unfortunately, our way is always imperfect because we can't see the world as God sees it.

God does not fail. He knows the right time and the right way to accomplish His plan. He knew exactly how to overcome the sin of this world. He sent Jesus exactly when we needed Him to come, to do exactly what needed to be done. We do not understand why. We can't quite grasp the need for the cross or for Christ's blood to cleanse us from our sins. It isn't up to us to decide whether or not God did things the right way. We are called to trust in Him, to believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus wherever He might lead us. Things might not be as we hope they will be, but they will be exactly as God intends as we walk in His ways and follow His path.

See, we think that we need to be in control so that we can avoid suffering and pain. And yet sometimes it is in the very suffering that God does His best work. Look at what happened on the cross: Jesus Christ died, but in His death we find true life. Paul reminds us that we grow through our suffering, which produces perseverance, which produces character and that character produces the hope that is already within us through faith in Jesus Christ. The character that comes from deep within holds on to a hope that is real and trustworthy because it comes from faith in Christ, a hope that was given through the blood of Jesus on the cross through which we are saved.

See, God opened Abraham and Sarah's hearts, revealed His purpose for their lives; He promised them greatness and took hold of them so that He could give them everything they needed to become what He planned. He does the same for us. We might not have a name change like Abram and Sarai, and our names might not mean anything like "God with us," but we are God's and He has a plan.

God had a plan for Jesus, and it wasn't what Peter expected. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to Him, but Peter's expectations were much different. We, like Peter, might rebuke God for doing things His way, thinking that we know better. The text today asks us an important question, however. Do we know who Jesus is? When He asks us the question, "Who do you say that I am?" do we have an answer? Do we know that He is the Messiah and do we know what that means? We have the advantage of hindsight; we know the rest of the story, but that does not always guarantee that we understand how God is working in our lives. We are called to lives of trust and confidence in God's plan, knowing that only He can make things work out right.

It seems impossible that a ninety-nine year old childless man might become the father of many nations. The promise is equally impossible for Sarah who was well beyond the age of child bearing. Yet, Abraham believed God and trusted that He would be faithful. Do we live with such trust? We should. Although our names have not been changed, God has breathed His "hey" into our lives, too. We have been changed as He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, by grace, in our baptisms.

It is time to take up our cross and follow Jesus: to die and live again so that others might have life. Give the word to your neighbors. Share the Gospel with your friends; share with them the forgiveness of God. Tell them of the God that is both fearful and merciful, about the God that died so that they might live. Tell them about Jesus, so that they might be saved. Give it freely, for there is more than enough grace to go around. And do not worry about what might happen tomorrow, for God is faithful and His promises are real. He has breathed His life into your life so that you will pass it on to the world. Give glory to God and your faith will grow, even in the midst of your doubts and fears. And He will change the world.

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February 26, 2015

"Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee." Matthew 6:1-4, ASV

Author Elizabeth Gilbert is quoted as saying, "Of course money changes everything, but so does sunlight and so does food. These are powerful but neutral energy sources, neither inherently good nor evil but shaped only by the way we use them."

I found this quote while I was surfing the internet and I like what it says. It certainly makes sense in the light of the biblical understanding of money from Paul's first letter to Timothy, " 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." (1 Timothy 6:10) It is not the money that is evil, or even the people using the money that is evil, but the way the money is used can cause hurt and harm in the world.

I enjoy reading quotes from famous persons, but I wanted to know more about where Elizabeth was going with this one, so I searched for it on another site. I found it in an article about a hard life lesson she learned after coming into her wealth with the sale of her book "Eat, Pray, Love." See, Elizabeth was always a very generous person. She lived by an understanding, " If it belongs to me, don't worry: You can have it!" She was generous with everything, not just money, but everything from stuff, time and opinions, to even her body. She was not just generous, she was an over-giver, something she once thought was virtuous. She expected nothing in return, except perhaps a little praise and unconditional love forever.

She was able to control her over-giving spirit when she had little of her own, but when she made it big she was excited because she had so much more to give. She not only gave to charities, thinking that writing a check wasn't enough, she gave to people. She gave cars, paid off bills, sent kids to college. She even bought a couple houses. Sounds generous, doesn't it? This kind of generosity was so much more satisfying to her than popping off a check to a charity because it involved the people with whom she had real relationships. Her generosity also made her feel like she was balancing the unfairness of her success. She didn't understand why she had come into such wealth when so many more talented and deserving people had so much less. It made her feel good to share the wealth.

She said, "I could see (and feel!) the gratitude so personally; it was a drug-like pleasure... Finally, it was joyful and empowering: I was a dream-facilitator, an obstacle-banisher, a life-transformer! In short: Giving away money to my friends was so much goddarn fun!"

Sadly, she started losing friends. She didn't understand why at first, but she eventually realized that her generosity, her over-givingness, was actually the problem. She thought she was helping, but by jumping in and taking over the bills of her friends she actually stole from them things that money can't buy. She stole their dignity; she took away the opportunities for her friends to learn important, vital life lessons. She made her friends feel shame. Sometimes the problems her friends faced had nothing to do with money, but were rooted in feelings of inadequacy or lack of motivation. Taking away the financial problem only opened the door to deeper problems that her friends were not ready to face. She made life too easy in one sense, but extremely difficult in another.

She writes, "All I know is, those friendships withered under a cloud of mutual discomfort, and now we cross the street to avoid running into each other. Years ago, in India, a monk warned me, 'Never give anyone more than they are emotionally capable of receiving, or they will have no choice but to hate you for it.'" She thought it was ridiculous, after all she lived by the Christian ideal of charity, such as we learned from Mother Theresa, "Give until it hurts." What she realized is that she was giving until it hurt the ones she meant to help.

She realized through this experience that her over-givingness had more to do with the way it made her feel, the adrenaline rush, and less to do with what her friends really needed. She is still generous, but in a different way. She writes those big checks to charities and she helps her friends by keeping her generosity to scale and she's found ways of helping people that aren't necessarily financial. It is, perhaps, easier to pay for the house than to help a friend learn how to save and budget and choose wisely, but the real generosity is in helping the friend become the best they can be. She says that she no longer gives until it hurts; instead, she gives until it helps.

Perhaps today's scripture lesson is a little harsh when juxtaposed to this story, but I think it speaks to at least part of the lesson Elizabeth learned. She learned that her generosity, or over-givingness, was motivated by her own feelings and desires. She felt good when she did those good things for her friends and she desired a cosmic balance of wealth that she thought was out of whack. She didn't think she deserved to have such wealth and she was determined to get rid of it without regard to the real needs of others.

We are called to be generous, but we must also be careful at how we share that which God has given. What is motivating our gifts? What will they accomplish? Will this help the one to whom it is being given? How might it harm them? Is this what they really need? We should also ask the hard questions. Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to accomplish? Am I doing this because God has called me to it, or do I have a hidden agenda in my mind? We don't want to admit that our good works are harmful, but they can be, not only to those who receive our goodness but also to ourselves. See, sometimes our quest for goodness gives us the earthly reward of praise and unconditional love, which makes us lose sight of the God who has blessed us to be a blessing. We aren't called to be an overflowing bank, but to be the people through whom He can do His work in the world, to glorify Him with our lives.

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February 27, 2015

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:7-12, ASV

As I was reading through one of my daily Lenten devotions, I came across a different understanding of today's text. This text has always been, to me, a comfort in knowing that God listens and answers prayer. It is an encouragement to the Christian to seek God's grace, to look to Him for everything we need. We know this in our hearts and we trust in it with our whole beings. Yet, I imagine that I'm not the only one who daily thinks, "My problems are not that big compared to my neighbor. I won't bother to ask God to deal with this today because I can deal with it myself."

This attitude has manifested itself in the way I ask for help, or don't ask, from my neighbors. I want to be independent. I want to do it myself. I want to prove that I can do it. Sometimes, I suppose, I don't ask because I don't want to be in debt to anyone.

I remember a time when we lived in England. My mom wanted me to visit and she was willing to buy the plane ticket to get me there. I wanted to go home because both Mom and Dad were dealing with physical issues. I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her; she died just months later. I wanted to go, but I didn't know how I could do it. My husband was in the military, and it was difficult for him to guarantee that he'd be able to deal with the children. We had good friend who had children the same age as ours, but I hated to ask for help. I didn't want to inconvenience our friends just so I could go on vacation. I hesitated, but in the end everyone convinced me that I needed to go. "Go. We don't need you."

That's hard to hear, and it sounds so harsh, but it wasn't meant to be. It was said so that I would realize that I did not have to be superwoman. I didn't have to sacrifice myself and my needs for the sake of others. "We are here to help." I learned that I didn't have to do it alone. I didn't have to prove that I was the perfect mom, willing to give up everything for the sake of my kids. I didn't have to be independent because I had people around me who were more than willing to help. In the end, they survived just fine without me. Oh, they missed me, but I wasn't needed. Hard lesson? Of course, but it was also one of the most freeing lesson I've ever learned.

Ask and it shall be given to you. If our neighbors are more than willing to help, why wouldn't God? And why do we ever think that our problems don't matter to God? We think they are too small for God; after all He's got big things to deal with around the world. However God is big enough to handle even our little problems. And in this text He commands us to ask.

Yes, He commands us to ask. This is not just an encouragement or suggestion, it is a command. That's what I learned in the Lenten devotion. God says, "Ask, knock, seek. Do this." These commands come with an incredible promise: "Do this and I will answer. I will provide. I will open the door. I will be there for you." I think we want to wait to ask, knock and seek until there's something worth seeking help, but God commands us to ask, knock and seek Him for everything. "Don't wait because I am ready NOW to bless you." He knows what we need, and while we can deal with the little things ourselves, He knows that if we turn to Him for the little things we will find that He has already prepared us by His grace to deal with the harder things.

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