Welcome to the February 2019 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

Enough

Faith

People

Vocation

Buy

Time

Puzzle

Works

Fruit

Love

Temptation

Futility

Choice

Judgment

Senses

Appearance

Calling

Study

Glory

Word


A WORD FOR TODAY


Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.





A WORD FOR TODAY, February 2019





February 1, 2019

“After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A great multitude followed him, because they saw his signs which he did on those who were sick. Jesus went up into the mountain, and he sat there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?’ This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone of them may receive a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?’” John 6:1-9, WEB

What do you think when you look at a can of tuna fish? Do you think one can is enough to make a meal? I’m often tempted when I make tuna fish salad to open two cans. Surely that small amount could not be enough for one person let alone a family. When the juice is drained and the tuna is in a bowl, it almost takes on a life of its own. You just have to work it with a fork a little, add some celery or onions and then some mayonnaise and one can makes enough to make several sandwiches.

My kids didn’t even like tuna fish, so it wasn’t much of a problem. I always had other food available for them to enjoy. I worry when I am making sandwiches for a group. I once made a pile of finger sandwiches for a meeting; I had no idea how many would come, so I wanted plenty. I was sure one can would not be enough. I put generous portions on each piece of bread and as I was stacking the sandwiches I realized I had made way too much, even if we had fifty people at the meeting. It is not the first time I have learned the hard way that a little goes a very long way.

Whenever I prepare to take a dish for a potluck, I make enough to feed an army. I do not want anyone to leave hungry. I forget that every other person in that army is also bringing a dish to share. I always end up taking enough food home to feed an army. There is an almost supernatural affect on the food of a potluck dinner; there is always more than is needed.

At the end of every potluck when I am gathering my leftovers, I try to remind myself that I did not need to make so much food. I promise myself I will do better next time. Yet, the next time comes around and I do not have the faith we see in today’s story. Andrew pointed to a ridiculously small amount of food, two fish and five loaves of bread. Phillip was more realistic. They could not possibly feed so many people even if they had hundreds of denarii. Yet Andrew points out a small boy’s lunch, as if it would be enough. Did he know? Did he have any idea Jesus could do something big with so little. Did he see something in Jesus that made him believe that He could do incredible things?

I don’t think we should begin every potluck with two fish and five loaves of bread; however we should go forth in faith in all our circumstances without worrying about whether or not we have enough. This is true not only with potluck dinners, but in all things we do in faith. God has granted us gifts to be used for His glory. Though we do not always think we have enough to accomplish the work He has for us to do, we need only believe that God will do something big with our little, that He can do incredible things.

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February 2, 2019

“God said to Noah, ‘I will bring an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them and the earth. Make a ship of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ship, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch. This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels. I, even I, do bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die. But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort will come to you, to keep them alive. Take with you of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.’ Thus Noah did. He did all that God commanded him.” Genesis 6:13-22, WEB

Matt Damon played a recent widower named Benjamin Mee who needed to make a fresh start in the movie “We Bought a Zoo.” He was devastated by the loss of his wife, so he took his children to a new place to start a new thing. They bought a struggling zoo without realizing they were taking on an impossible task. The zoo was not the popular place it had once been. Some of the animals were sick. There were problems with the habitats, including a broken lock on the fence that surrounded the lion. The man’s children were not in agreement about whether this was a good idea; the youngest was extremely excited, but the teenager was disgruntled about being taken from the life he knew in their old home. Every day Benjamin discovered something else that needed to be fixed; his bank account dwindled faster than he ever expected. In the end they made all things right, but it took hard work and everything they had.

At least Benjamin started out with a zoo. God said to Noah, “You need to build a zoo from scratch. Build a boat big enough to hold two of everything, fill it with enough food for a long time and then go out and get those animals.” God helped, of course, but the task He was calling Noah to complete was ridiculous. It was impossible. I’m not sure that I would believe a voice that called me to do something so outrageous. I couldn’t imagine what it would take, and I’m sure that I don’t have the resources to do it. Benjamin thought he had more than enough until he began dealing with the details, Noah didn’t even have an example to give him an idea about what it would take to accomplish the task. Where do you even begin doing the unattainable?

Yet, Noah did. He did all that God commanded him. He had faith and trusted in God. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “By faith, Noah, being warned about things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared a ship for the saving of his house, through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews reminds us of that faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. There is a list of people who had the conviction to be obedient to God despite how ridiculous His promises seemed to them. It would take hundreds of years for the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled, but he lived by faith, anyway.

I don’t think God is telling any of us to build a zoo these days, but He still calls His people to do the ridiculous. We can’t see how we can ever really accomplish the things that He wants us to do, but faith makes us obedient despite never seeing the fulfillment. What is God asking you to do? Are you being sent to share the Gospel with an avowed atheist neighbor? Are you being asked to start a new ministry at your church? Are you being called to be active in your city government or your children’s school? Is there a book you should write or a painting you should paint or a park you should restore? Does your neighbor need help with their housework or your boss need you to take on more responsibility? You might not think that you have the resources to accomplish any of these tasks, but if God is speaking to you, then faith will take you to the end. We don’t always see the fulfillment of the promises, but God is always faithful and we can believe that He will make things right in the end.

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February 5, 2019

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:41-47, WEB

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” This is the first line of a song that Barbra Streisand sang in the movie “Funny Girl” in 1964. It has been sung by many others, including the elementary school choir to which I belonged a long time ago. The song speaks about how lucky we are to have other people in our lives. We live with our families and neighbors, working together to accomplish the daily tasks of life. Our society has been founded upon the close relationship between people. The earliest settlements in the United States would have failed if the people had not cooperated with each other to produce food and shelter.

Recently, however, we seem to be moving toward a ‘people-free’ world. It began with the development of communication technology. Today, if you try to call any major business on the telephone, you are likely to get a voice mail message directing you through a maze of options that will eventually lead you to the answer you seek. I am sure that you have had the same experience with voicemail as I have had. The voice tells us that the voice mail system was designed to make it easier to serve our needs, but none of the options are appropriate for our problems. It sometimes takes minutes of button pushing and waiting until we finally find a way to reach a real person.

In more recent years, banks, gas stations and grocery stores have gone self serve. You can visit an ATM machine to take care of most of your banking business. Some banks even charge its customers that use teller service for certain transactions. Gas stations have pumps designed with payment points for credit cards. I went to a grocery store to make a small purchase. When I found what I wanted, I approached the checkout. There was not a single clerk on a register. Three lanes were fitted with self-serve technology. I scanned the item, hit a few buttons and inserted my money. It gave me my change and receipt. I walked out of the grocery store without saying a word to another human being. At many grocery stores, you can now purchase everything you need online, drive up to a back door and have someone fill your trunk with your purchase without even entering the store.

The earliest Christians lived in a community where they shared everything. They gathered often to pray, learn and fellowship. They ate together, communed together and worshipped the Lord together. We are losing that sense of community, not only in our society but also in the church. There are mega-churches where huge groups of people gather together to worship God, and yet the individual gets lost in the crowd. On the other extreme, many Christians are choosing to have a solitary life of faith, no longer attending services at the church down the street. Televangelists have become very popular, as people sit in front of their TV to learn about the scriptures and praise God by themselves. They read and study the bible, but miss on the life of community that comes from fellowship in real life with other Christians.

I don’t care for this trend toward “people-free” living. I prefer to use a check-out lane with a human being. I prefer to go to church and wish God’s peace to those who sit near me in the pews. I even go into the bank and have a teller take care of my transaction instead of doing everything digitally. We need to interact with other people every day, to share our joys and pain. We need hugs and smiles. People need people. In the beginning, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and He created another person to be a partner with Adam. It is still not good for man or woman to be alone. I pray that today you will find someone with whom to interact. Even if you go to the bank, gas station or grocery store and are not waited on a person, seek out someone in your home or neighborhood to share a moment of the love of Christ.

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February 6, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, February 10, 2019, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

“But by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace which was given to me was not futile, but I worked more than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10, WEB

One topic of conversation between people who have just met is usually our jobs. “What do you do?” we ask one another. If the conversation goes long enough, especially if the job sounds interesting, we might even ask, “How did you get into that line of work?” Many youth ministers can point to a summer working at a camp somewhere, a job they got because it was one of the few jobs available for summer work. Many people will admit that they got into the business because of a family member. “My dad was a...” they say. Few people have miraculous stories, especially those who work in business. No one says, “God called me to this job,” when they are an accountant or plumber or mailman.

We use the word “vocation” regularly with jobs in ministry, but rarely about the fast food line chef or grocery store cashier. However, Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation goes well beyond ministry. To him, vocation was living out our faith in the world, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Martin Luther’s teaching on vocation came out of a mistaken notion that serving God in and through the Church was a higher calling. Life in a monastery or convent, being a priest or a bishop was considered more important, more spiritual and more holy than life as a farmer, carpenter, housewife or father. Luther’s doctrine of vocation went against this attitude that the religious life is more holy or pleasing to God than any ordinary life. He once said that a washerwoman and a bishop were of equal status as long as both were faithful to their calling to serve Christ and others in their daily life and work.

I have been fascinated with the life of Daniel ever since I began studying it as part of a Bible study I’m writing on the book of Revelation. We turn to his book because of the prophecies pointing toward the end time and because of the exciting stories that teach valuable lessons to children. I have found, however, that they all fit together when read in context. The stories teach us how to face the end times. The stories give us keys to the character of one who lives in hope and peace when facing difficulty. The stories teach us how to be faithful people of prayer. In his 80 plus years, Daniel had different vocations. He was a wise man, an example of faith, a prophet and encourager. In his final years, Daniel was a prayer warrior. As a government official for the Babylonians, Daniel was never in a ministerial job, but faith was always part of his life and work. He served God even in a pagan, secular position. In some ways his calling was dramatic: he was taken captive and exiled to a foreign land. The stories are incredible: near death, a fiery furnace, a lion’s den. Yet, he lived a simple life. He trusted God, did his job and in the end was greatly rewarded by God and by the kings of Babylon.

I don’t think people outside the church will have exciting stories about how they came to work in their job. As a matter of fact, most would not even consider their work a vocation in the sense of a ‘calling.’ They might have family in the business, so decide to follow a father or mother in their work. They might choose because of the availability of jobs or the financial rewards of the work. They might choose because they have a talent that would best be demonstrated through a particular job. However they come to make their career choice, it is unlikely that they have experienced some vision or miraculous call from God. It is unlikely that they would even consider it a call.

In the scriptures for this week we get a peek into the stories of some of the biblical characters that served God. Isaiah had an incredible vision. Peter witnessed a miracle. We even get a glimpse of Paul’s call in the letter to the Corinthians. These three tell amazing stories of unusual circumstances that brought them to their position and purpose in the world. Most people, however, will not have such powerful and life changing stories.

The scriptures this week do not talk about God calling people into ordinary jobs. Each one - Isaiah, Paul and Peter - were called into extraordinary situations serving God. What we do see is God calling ordinary men out of ordinary circumstances to do His work in the world. Each one did not believe they were worthy of the call. They were sinners and could not possibly be the one whom God wanted to accomplish the task. As a matter of fact, they feared for their very lives having come face to face with God.

But that’s what vocation is all about: living out our faith in the world so that we come face to face with God. As we look toward the temple in search for our identity, the world also sees the One from whom all good gifts come. The higher calling is not working in the church or becoming a minister. The higher calling is serving God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Our journey will bring us not only face to face with God, but with our unworthiness, our failures and our doubts. We will face the reality of our sinfulness, but God has a word for us. To Isaiah He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” To Peter He said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people alive.”

Throughout the history of Israel, the people turned away from God for a time to worship other gods and ally themselves with other nations, setting God aside to satisfy their own desires. Over and over again God sent prophets to speak the Word into their lives to turn them around and bring them back into His presence. Over and over again they turned back to God for a season, quickly returning to the old ways. With Isaiah God offered a new way. The people would have to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but through it all there would always be hope for restoration. This experience - the exile - was God’s way of showing His people life without His presence so that they would never want to turn to other gods again.

Isaiah had a vision that is incredible. He saw God sitting on a throne with strange beasts all around Him. Isaiah knew He was in the presence of God, a place no human truly wants to find himself. Isaiah knew he wasn’t worthy. He knew he was a sinner. He knew that if he saw the LORD face to face, he would die. “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!” The greatest moment of his life was the worst moment of his life because he knew that he did not belong there. He was a fallen man and knew that he would not survive standing in God’s glory. An angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, an act of cleansing and forgiveness. “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven.” Once cleansed, God called for a helper. “Who should we send?” Samuel answered, “Here I am. Send me!”

The Lord said to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people, ‘You hear indeed, but don’t understand; and you see indeed, but don’t perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.” God was sending Isaiah to the people not to make them turn to Him, but instead to make them turn away. His task was to make them not want to hear what God had to say. God wanted their hearts hardened so that they would not turn to Him. God’s intent was to harden their hearts for a season so they would learn to appreciate His grace.

Why would God want Isaiah to make their hearts hard? Shouldn’t the prophet be calling for repentance, for the people to turn toward God? It had been done before, many times. And though the people did turn back to God, the repentance was shallow and they quickly turned back to the old gods. Isaiah’s job was to make the rebellion and rejection so great that God could finally do the work that would make Israel’s repentance real and lasting. The threat of exile was built on the promise of restoration, healing and renewal. The task might have seemed ridiculous to Isaiah, but it was the first step of a larger plan. God wanted their hearts hardened so that they would not turn to Him. God’s intent was to harden their hearts for a season so they would learn to appreciate His grace.

Isaiah gets it, but he is uncertain about this plan. “Lord, how long?” he asked. Isaiah would preach this unbelievable message until Jerusalem no longer stood and all the people had been taken away. When everything was gone, then God could start over with His people. God is filled with promises and He does what has to be done for restoration, healing and renewal.

How do you think Isaiah felt when he found out about the work he was being sent to do? Do you think he had second thoughts? Do you think he doubted that he could do it? Do you think he thought the whole idea was ridiculous? “Why do I have to convince them to reject you? I’d much rather convince them that you are forgiving and merciful and just.”

He didn’t vocalize these doubts or misgivings, but if he’s human like you and I, he probably had them. I can sense the excitement of surviving the presence of God and responding to God’s grace with enthusiasm. But we tend to say and do things in the heat of the moment without truly thinking them through. I can’t count the number of times I’ve volunteered and quickly realized I shouldn’t have raised my hand.

I can relate to Peter. He has a similar but different experience as Isaiah. Peter spent the night fishing on the lake with his companions and they did not catch anything. It was a wasted night; they were tired and ready to go home to rest. Jesus came to them and asked to borrow their boat, so Peter took him out onto the water. From there, Jesus could preach and reach a larger group because He did not have to worry about the crowd pressing in on Him. When He was finished, He told Peter to go back out onto the lake and let down the nets. Peter was a fisherman. He knew fish and everything about fishing. He knew it was a bad day for fish. He was tired because he had already spent all night at the nets and they had gotten nothing. Jesus was not a fisherman; Peter was more qualified to decide when and where to fish. Despite this truth, Peter agreed and went back onto the lake.

They had much better luck this time. Their luck was so great that they needed a second boat, and even then they nearly sunk under the weight. Why would the haul be impossible for Peter to handle? Why would there be so many fish, probably more than they had ever seen at once? Since Peter was a fisherman, the sign had to be one that was so out of the ordinary that he would clearly see what Jesus was saying. The catch had to be bigger than anything they had ever experienced, astounding in numbers or else Peter would be able to think it was a fluke.

As it was, Peter realized that he was looking into the face of God, hearing the voice of God. Peter and Isaiah’s experiences were so astonishing so that there would be no doubt that they had stood in the presence of God. Isaiah and Peter were being called to something extraordinary.

I would probably respond much like Peter. He wasn’t unwilling to follow Jesus, he just thought he was unworthy. “Go away, Lord” Peter said, not because he did not want to be near Jesus but because he was afraid. A sinful man can’t stand in God’s presence without being changed. Isaiah thought he would die. Perhaps Peter thought so, too. But God’s grace overcomes our fear and uncertainty. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said, “I have an incredible offer for you.”

Peter and his companions dropped everything and followed. I wonder how long it was before they began to question whether they made the right decision. They believed, but they didn’t believe. They understood, but they didn’t really understand. Jesus had a powerful message of love and hope and peace, but He also spoke harshly, warning sinners of the coming judgment. The perceived promise of a position in a palace near the throne of a king was exciting, but the risks were great. How many times did they say to themselves, “What was I thinking?” It isn’t hard to see ourselves in the apostles.

Paul came to believe in Jesus in the most extraordinary way, but he never let that get to his head. Though he sometimes sounds arrogant and judgmental in his writing, he is also very humble and modest. The problem that Paul was addressing was Gnostic heresy; some had stopped believing in bodily resurrection. In Corinth there were those who were “spiritual” to the point of rejecting all things physical. They did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body. Gnostic heresy leaves no room for hope. They thought the work of the Gospel was complete in their spirits and they were already perfected. Paul reminded them of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and laid it on the line: if Jesus was not resurrected in flesh, then Christian faith is in vain.

His proof of Jesus’ resurrection lies in the witnesses who testified to seeing Him alive. Paul’s list is a long one: Peter, the Twelve, five hundred, James, all the apostles and then to Paul. These witnesses established the foundation of the Church and the faith to which we now belong. The beliefs of the Corinthians had parted from the fundamentals. It was Paul’s job to bring them back.

This could not have been an easy thing to accomplish. After all, there are still people today who would rather believe the Gnostic heresy than believe in the resurrection of the physical body. There are too many questions that we can’t answer about the afterlife. The idea of resurrection is extraordinary. For many, the promise of keeping the body we’ve had in this life is not hopeful. I’d rather exist as a spiritual being without this imperfect flesh that aches on rainy days and doesn’t fit into a decent pair of jeans anymore. I might be happy if I were resurrected with the body I had in my mid-twenties, but after two kids and old age, I think I’d rather just be spirit. But that’s not the reality; it is not the promise. Jesus was resurrected so that we, too, will be resurrected and restored to the way we were created to be in the beginning: living in the presence of God for all eternity.

Even though Paul sounds a bit superior in the beginning of his message when he says, “believe what I told you,” he reminds them that it was not his message that he was sharing. At the end of this passage he says, “I worked more than all of them.” I read this and think, “There you go again, Paul.” But Paul reminds us that he knows where it comes from, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

I get it. I’m the same way, especially about my kids. My children are terrific. They are successful, well-adapted and accomplished. People often congratulate me for their success. The idea embarrasses me because they are the ones who has put in all the work. And yet, Bruce and I did have something to do about it. We gave our children the love, encouragement, opportunities and tools they needed to grow into successful adults. I worked hard to make them what they are today, but not really. They are who they are because God created them that way. He gave me the grace to be the mother and to provide them all they need. My kids are terrific because I labored for them, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

That’s what we learn from our stories today. We are going to have doubts and uncertainty when it comes to the work God is calling us to do. Sometimes it is ridiculous. Sometimes it is impossible. Sometimes we will insist that we are the wrong person for the job. But as God calls, He also provides all we need. It is not us doing the work, but the grace of God in us and with us that is accomplishing God’s work.

When He calls out our name and asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” we need only remember that God will give us everything we need to accomplish the work. His call might not be to just an ordinary job in an ordinary workplace. Yet, the calling to live out our faith so that the entire world will see Him and come to believe is always extraordinary. Every Christian is to live out their faith in daily life using their particular gifts and talents in service to God. While it is hard to see the holiness in the ordinary, God has called us to live out our faith in the every day. No matter if you are a Bishop or housewife, do everything in faith and commit it to God and you will see Him do extraordinary things.

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February 7, 2019

“Now Ephron was sitting in the middle of the children of Heth. Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the children of Heth, even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me. I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the children of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.’ Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, ‘But if you will, please hear me. I will give the price of the field. Take it from me, and I will bury my dead there.’ Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me. What is a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver between me and you? Therefore bury your dead.’ Abraham listened to Ephron. Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named in the audience of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the current merchants’ standard. So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all of its borders, were deeded to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre (that is, Hebron), in the land of Canaan. The field, and the cave that is in it, were deeded to Abraham for a possession of a burying place by the children of Heth.” Genesis 23:10-20, WEB

I often think that if Sarah was ninety years old when Isaac was born, then she must not have had much time to enjoy her child. Yet, the scriptures tell us that she lived until she was one hundred twenty-seven years old when she died. I can’t imagine having the energy at ninety to take care of an infant, but God does not fulfill promises without providing everything we need to enjoy them.

Today’s story seems like little more than a business transaction, but it was an important moment in the history of Israel. God promised Abraham that he would possess the land, but even though his people had settled there, they did not yet possess it as their own. They were still a nomadic tribe, relying on the good will of their neighbors to allow them to keep their herds fed and watered.

When Sarah died, Abraham needed a place where he could bury her. Abraham’s neighbors were more than willing to give him the land as a gift, but Abraham insisted on paying for it. We might think to ourselves, “Hey, God is really providing for us, giving us this land through our neighbors,” and we might take advantage of the gift as the grace of God. Yet, Abraham was insistent; he refused to take the land for free. See, the neighbors would have gladly allowed the burial, but Abraham needed the deed so that the land would truly belong to Abraham and the nation that God was building through his family.

It might not be right, but gifts can be taken back. I watch enough of the television judge shows to know how often it happens. It doesn’t take much for a gift-giver to decide the receiver didn’t really deserve the gift. They then claim that the gift was nothing more than a loan and that it needed to be returned because the debt wasn’t paid. The judge can usually find the catalyst, that moment in time when the gift-giver was hurt enough to reject the receiver’s claim to the item. The same could have easily happened to Abraham if he had not bought the land and had it deeded to him.

God is often gracious to give us what we need to accomplish His work in this world, but let us always remember the importance of being an active partner in that work. Sometimes the gift is the opportunity to earn what is necessary. Abraham could easily have taken that land from Ephron and praised God for the gift, but he knew that he needed to pay for it to make it his own possession even though that very land was promised to Abraham by God. We, too, can take what seems like a free gift, but we need to remember this lesson from Abraham. God will provide everything we need to enjoy His promises, but sometimes He provides those resources through the normal business of our lives.

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February 8, 2019

“How lovely are your dwellings, Yahweh of Armies! My soul longs, and even faints for the courts of Yahweh. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Yes, the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young, near your altars, Yahweh of Armies, my King, and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house. They are always praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you; who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage. Passing through the valley of Weeping, they make it a place of springs. Yes, the autumn rain covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength. Everyone of them appears before God in Zion. Yahweh, God of Armies, hear my prayer. Listen, God of Jacob. Selah. Behold, God our shield, look at the face of your anointed. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For Yahweh God is a sun and a shield. Yahweh will give grace and glory. He withholds no good thing from those who walk blamelessly. Yahweh of Armies, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” Psalm 84, WEB

I confess that I don’t pay much attention to the time. I keep a calendar near my desk so that I will put the right date on my writing, but unless I have something planned or have to write checks, I rarely even remember what day it is. I don’t wear a watch. I pay attention to the clock only as it affects others. I make dinner when my family will want to eat, and I am rarely late for appointments; otherwise I don’t think much about time. Despite all this, I do rely on the calendar and the clock, perhaps too much.

Time is so deceiving. An hour at a park seems like no time at all, while the day before Christmas seems to last forever as we anxiously wait for the festivities. Facebook reminds us of past events and posts, and I am often shocked how long ago they happened. Time flies and it drags. It flies when we are enjoying the things we are doing; it drags when we are going through a difficult time. Our sense of time is unreliable.

Time is based on natural phenomenon; the day and seasons depend on the movement of the sun and the months depend on the moon. Yet, clocks and calendars were established by man. The hours of the day, twelve month years and the crazy number of days per month are human creations. When did time start? Every culture has its own calendar. According to different calendars the year is 1439, 2560, 4714, 5778 or even 12018. The most common calendar used internationally is the Gregorian calendar, which has the current year as 2019. Based roughly on the Birth of Christ, the Gregorian calendar was established in October of 1582 and was simply an alteration of the earlier Julian calendar. The change placed the equinoxes and solstices in a more permanent position on the calendar and assured that Easter would fall near the spring equinox each year.

Time is relative and our judgment about time is unreliable. Yet, we live by our clocks and calendars. We may not carry day runners or wear watches anymore, but we all have cell phones that include calendars and clocks. We tend to keep one eye on a clock while we are trying to accomplish too many things. We wish for another hour in the day or another day in the week, thinking maybe more time will help us. However, we will just fill that time. That’s why time flies; we are constantly busy and we never seem to have enough time to do what we need to do.

We take our addiction to time into our spiritual lives too, expecting God’s time to be like ours. We expect immediate results when we pray. Even if we pray for patience, we give God only a moment before we wonder what is taking Him so long. It is said that to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years but a day. If time is meaningless to God, why do we think He worries about our sense of time in this world?

We need to be aware of time in our world today. We have appointments to keep and things to accomplish. We can’t always leave our clocks on the bedside table or ignore our calendars because we have responsibilities that come with time constraints. Yet, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we should never think of it in terms of time as we know it in this world. There is no date that can be placed on Christ's return. There is no moment we can identify as the time of salvation. God lives outside our understanding of days, weeks and months. He lives in eternity and He has promised eternity to all who believe. We may desire to spend a thousand years in God’s presence, but it might be just one day. That day, however, will last forever.

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February 11, 2019

“There is a vanity which is done on the earth, that there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked. Again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. Then I commended mirth, because a man has no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be joyful: for that will accompany him in his labor all the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:14-15, WEB

Life is not fair.

After the death of his wife, North Carolina evangelist Vance Havner was inconsolable. In one of his last books (“Playing Marbles with Diamonds”), he described it like this: “I think of a year that started out so pleasantly for my beloved and me. We had made plans for delightful months ahead together. Instead, I sat by her bedside and watched her die of an unusual disease. She expected to be healed, but she died. Now, all hopes of a happy old age together are dashed to the ground. I plod alone with the other half of my life on the other side of death. My hand reaches for another hand now vanished and I listen at night for the sound of a voice that is still. And I am tempted a thousand times to ask, ‘My God, why...?’”

Vance Havner was an evangelist, working for the Lord in the world sharing the Gospel message with others. His wife was faithful, believing that she would be healed. Yet, in the end she died. It doesn’t make sense. People are healed every day of diseases that should lead to death and many of them are not Christians. Why would God give healing to unbelievers and let a couple that was actively serving Him be separated at just the moment when they were about to live joyfully together, serving the Lord together.

Vance’s life was not always perfect. He suffered several bouts of serious illness. After his father died, he returned home to help his mother run the family grocery store which was robbed and burned one night. He always knew that he was meant to be a preacher, although he did not do well in the pastoral role, so he became a roaming evangelist. Sara his wife would drive and Vance prayed as they went from place to place so that he could preach the Gospel. Despite the struggles of his life, Vance knew the joy of living in God’s promises. The death of his wife hit him hard, and he wondered “Why” but it lead him to write his most popular book, “Though I Walk Through the Valley” about the time with his dying wife.

Warren Wiersbe met Vance Havner once and said, “I’m sorry to hear you lost your wife.” Havner answered with a smile, “Son, when you know where something is, you haven’t lost it.” Though he struggled tremendously with the death of his wife, Havner found the peace to live in joy the rest of his days. In the book quoted above, Havner wrote, “You need never ask ‘Why?’ because Calvary covers it all. When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in fulfillment what we now believe in faith – that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry ‘My God, why?’ Instead, ‘alas’ will become ‘Alleluia,’ all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.”

The fact that life is not fair is a puzzle we cannot solve. It doesn’t make sense that the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous seem to struggle over and over again. Yet, we are reminded in today’s passage that we are called to live lives of joy despite these inequalities because whatever happens in this life, we know that the righteous will have life in eternity that the wicked will never know. This life is not fair, but we can trust in God’s promises and live in joy knowing that one day we’ll dwell forever in the presence of our God. Our question marks will be turned to exclamation points, our sorrow will be changed to singing, our pain will be lost in praise forever and ever.

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February 12, 2019

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled”; and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” James 2:14-18, WEB

I had a conversation with a friend about speaking at a women’s retreat. The friend was honored but concerned. She is not very religious. Though she is a Christian, she’s not active in a church. She admitted that she only goes to church for the big ones: Christmas and Easter, weddings and funerals. She’s had her children baptized. “I would gladly talk, but I can’t talk about faith,” she said. The reason I thought of her is because she’s lived a life of service. I can see that she has a heart for God and His people. She says she’s not motivated by faith, but I have no doubt that her generosity and love comes from a faith she doesn’t even realize is working in and through her.

I am reading a book by Scott Sauls called “Irresistable Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist.” I thought about my friend today as I read the chapter called “Treasuring the Poor.” Scott reported an excellent description of the faith we hear about in today’s passage from James by Dr. Charles McGowan. Scott writes, “Our doctrine - that is our stated scriptural beliefs about God, ourselves, our neighbor, and the world - is the ‘skeleton’ of our faith. Our doctrinal skeleton is a foundational, necessary structure around which the muscles, tendons, veins, and vital organs of faith must operate and grow. In other words, our doctrinal beliefs provide the foundation for our Scripture reading, listening to sound teaching, prayer, spiritual friendship, involvement in a local church, observance of the sacraments, and active love for our neighbors, including those most disadvantaged.” My friend, though she doesn’t realize it, has that skeleton and it shows because she lives a life that honors the God in whom she believes. There are ways I hope she will someday grow in faith and understanding, but I can see that she has a heart for God.

God gives us faith for a purpose. Through faith we know the salvation that comes from Christ. In faith we trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises. We walk in faith, living a life of obedience to God’s Word, sharing the Gospel of Christ. Though our faith rests in that which is unseen - the love and mercy of God - faith itself is not hidden. It is visible to the world through the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Works do not save; the Word of the Lord saves. It is by His power and His mercy that we have eternal life. He gives us the faith to believe and He does so with a purpose. It is through our faith that He reveals Himself to the world, in words and deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit. If there are no words or deeds, the faith is dead. The faith is not dead from lack of use, but because it is not true faith in Christ. We can have faith in many things: doctrine, our church and its traditions, other people and our selves. That faith will not save; only faith in Christ will bring us into a right and true relationship with God. Faith in Christ is active as the Holy Spirit manifests through our lives. The world sees our faith through the fruit He produces, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are things that cannot be seen except through deeds.

The only faith that will save is faith in Christ and He is active in the lives of the faithful. If there is no visible fruit as seen through deeds, then the faith is not true faith in Christ. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, receive this most valuable gift and live in the faith He has given you. God will reveal Himself to the world through the fruit you bear as they see Him in the good works that you do. My friend may not think she has something to say at the retreat because she can’t talk about faith, but her life is speaking volumes about a faith that she doesn’t even realize she has.

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February 13, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, February 17, 2019, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

“For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, who spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” Jeremiah 17:8, WEB

We love pretty, shiny things which is why many people have risked everything to chase after gold. Some dig deep into mountains, finding veins of gold running through the rock, chipping it out hour after hour with hand tools, strong arms and sweat. The gold is also found at the base of those mountains; rain, wind and snow carries it downhill in the creeks until it is dropped in the valleys and buried under silt and rocks. Some search for the gold in those running rivers, diving into the creeks at bends in the path and cracks in the ground where the gold is trapped. Others look for the places where the creeks once ran, removing the dirt until they find the deposits left behind.

Modern prospectors have expensive machines that help separate the gold from the water and dirt. Sluices are designed to let the gold fall into traps as the dirt and the water pass away. Gold is much heavier than water and dirt. As a matter of fact, gold is nineteen times heavier than water and four times heavier than black sand. The sluices are designed with precision so that the angels and speed allows for the best conditions to catch the gold. The larger operations can process tons of dirt a day and find fractions of an ounce in each cubic yard. Whether it happens naturally in the creeks, or is processed out by the prospectors, the gold is captured while the water and dirt or slurry is cast away, much like the kernels of wheat drop to the ground as the chaff is blown away. The gold and wheat matter; the chaff and slurry is useless.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law. On his law he meditates day and night.” To the world, this reliance on God’s Law may seem foolish. Yet, we learn in the same psalm that the righteous will have life that produces fruit in due season while the wicked will be driven away like the rocks and dirt in the prospector’s sluice. They will perish while the righteous will live forever. God works in our life, sending our messy lives through a “sluice” to capture the gold while the slurry is cast away, transforming us daily into someone who will glorify Him with active, living faith.

Jeremiah wrote in today’s Old Testament lesson, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man.” This seems very harsh, since we have to find some manner of trust in one another. As a matter of fact, trust between people is vital to strong relationships. However, Jeremiah was talking about priorities. The Israelites had turned their back on God; they had stopped trusting Him to meet their needs. When they saw themselves in suffering or pain, or experienced persecution from their enemies, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They turned to neighbors for help. They turned to foreign nations for their protection. They turned to the strength of men to stand up against an enemy that only God could defeat.

The Corinthians were following their own way, too. They preferred to think of salvation in purely spiritual terms. There were some in their community who taught that resurrection was only spiritual, that everything we do in this world is meaningless. The Gnostic heresy gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted. The Corinthians accepted the new faith of Christ but continued living in the ways of their pagan past, benefiting from whatever it was they thought they would get from believing. They thought they had the best of both worlds.

Paul found it odd that they believed and proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and yet denied the resurrection of the dead. It made no sense, for if there is no resurrection of the dead then even Jesus was not resurrected. If Jesus was not resurrected, then everything about the Christian faith is meaningless. Jesus was, indeed, a wonderful teacher and an excellent example of the way we should live in this world. However, it was the cross and the empty tomb that established the Christian faith as different. Pagans and people of every faith and creed can and do put their hearts and resources into service for those who suffer and for those who are poor. Many of the most successful community outreach programs are interfaith, gathering the gifts and resources of different people to do good in the world.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, then Jesus was little more than another good teacher, perhaps even a great prophet. Paul argued, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain.” He even stated that if Christ were not raised, then the preachers from whom they had received knowledge of Jesus Christ were liars, misrepresenting God.

In other words, he was saying that if there was no resurrection of the dead, they might as well return to their old ways of life, for they were nothing but false prophets. Yet, the Corinthians claimed to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that comes from faith in Christ. Paul writes, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” If there is no resurrection, then our faith is null and our life is void of all hope. Paul ends this passage with a firm statement of the Gospel. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep.” Christ has risen, so our faith is more than “spiritual.”

They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It may appear to be so, but the reality is that things are not really any better over there than in your own back yard; we just have to work hard enough to find what we need. However, there’s something fascinating and alluring about the other side that makes us desire to have it. This is most certainly true when it comes to gangs and other sorts of relationships.

If you ask a member why he or she became part of the gang you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks, they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. Unfortunately, they often find exactly what they are looking for in the gangs. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. Though the rules for belonging in a gang may not fit into the mould of what is acceptable in society, there are things by which each member must abide to be a part of the group. When they do, they experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang.

If only they had realized that they could find blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. What freedom is there found in a life of violence and fear? What blessings can really come out of relationships that depend on disobedience to one authority to be able to give obedience to another? I suppose the same is often said about Christianity by those who choose not to believe in the one true and living God. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs? However, we have to consider which grass is really greener? Is it really better to risk everything to find the pretty, shiny life we think is out there when we have everything we truly need in our own backyard? It is

The home life of the gang member may have been terrible. Some parents are not able to cope with the responsibilities and others that are filled with their own rebellion and anger which leads them to wrong decisions and actions. However, most kids have it much better at home, even if they don’t realize it. Homes with rules are not meant to be prisons, but rules are given to guide and protect the children so that they will make it to adulthood.

God has given us a set of laws. In our daily existence, many of the Levitical laws now seem useless and inappropriate. Perhaps they are. However, God’s law was given for a purpose: to help and guide His people into a long and blessed life. If we look at only the top Ten Commandments, each of those will keep us walking on the greener grass even if it appears better on the other side of the fence. Take, for instance, the command to not covet our neighbor’s spouse. We may think it is harmless to wish for their attention or desire their touch. However, the more we covet, the more we ignore that which God has given us. As we covet our neighbor’s spouse, we grow apart from our own family and our life begins to fall apart.

The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law, where there is a freedom from authority other than ourselves. However, life is not better with that kind of freedom. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God’s sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.

Think about what it must have been like for the disciples. They were following a man that was doing incredible things. A few weeks ago we saw that Jesus was gaining fame in the region because of the things He was saying and doing in their midst. Unfortunately, His hometown didn’t believe in Him; He would not prove Himself among people who did not have faith. They couldn’t accept that this hometown boy was chosen by God to do what He seemed to be saying He was sent to do. They even wanted to kill Him. Jesus passed through them and continued to share the Good News with other cities, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching in the synagogues.

A group began to follow Him everywhere and while every person of faith is important to the mission of God, Jesus knew that He needed a circle of friends to train to be leaders. In the passage before today’s Gospel text, Jesus appointed the Twelve to be His apostles. This was a special designation and the decision did not come easy for Jesus. He spent a night in prayer, seeking God’s will in the matter so that He would make the right decision. Those twelve became the center of Jesus’ ministry, the leaders to whom other disciples looked for inspiration and information. They were with Jesus all the time, at His most personal moments and in the midst of great crowds. They heard the stories, but they were also taught the deeper meaning. They received a special revelation from Jesus, not because they were special but because they were chosen to take the ministry of Jesus farther than He ever could take it.

Immediately following this commissioning, Jesus took them to a place where many people were gathering. They were coming to Jesus for His touch, for His healing. The crowds wanted Jesus to cast out their demons and cure their disease. They wanted to hear what He had to say. It was a miraculous moment. Jesus was not even dealing each person individually; the people simply touched Him and they were healed. It almost sounds as if the power were just leaving Jesus, as if being in Jesus’ presence was enough to bring transformation to a life and a body. The disciples were there in the midst of this and they were Jesus’ most important companions. They were the apostles.

It would have been very easy for them to find joy in that moment, to experience a sense of pride and haughtiness. Jesus had chosen them to carry this ministry to the world. They could have reveled in the attention and let it all go to their head. This was a very successful moment for Jesus’ ministry. It is the kind of mountain top experience that we all want to experience; we want those mountain top experiences to continue forever. Every day should be like this; success like this would surely spread Jesus’ ministry throughout the world. The apostles may have even been wondering if this success would lead to personal power and wealth. After all, they thought Jesus was meant to be king. We see moments in the scriptures when the Twelve think they have some right to positions of authority in the new kingdom that is to come. They were probably very happy as they saw the possibilities of the future. They had a good thing going, but they were still looking at the green grass on the other side of the fence. Jesus would work through the rest of His ministry to cast off the chaff and the slurry of their lives so that they would be like gold, ready to continue His work in the world.

The Kingdom of God is very different than our expectations. The world teaches us independence, material wealth and happiness. God expects us to submit to Him, to be satisfied with whatever He provides which is always just what we need. Jesus also taught us to set aside the typical feelings and ideas of this world to conform to Him. He tells us to put away silly emotions and desires. Don’t fulfill your earthly desires. Seek to stand in God’s presence, away from the expectations of this world. Let Jesus turn your world upside down, look up and see the foundation that is Christ. Rejoice in knowing the ways of our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus did turn their world upside down. “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are hated.” He told them to expect to be excluded, insulted and rejected. This was not the direction anyone wants to take with their life. I don’t think anyone world take these words of Jesus very seriously: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets.” Persecution is frightening, disappointing and disheartening. Most people will react to rejection with a change of heart. We will do whatever is necessary to be accepted and loved. We will do whatever we can to be successful like they were on that day of healing on the plain, even if it means conforming to the expectations of those around us.

Yet Jesus said, “Happy are you when you are poor, hungry, weeping and hated.” Instead of conforming to the expectations of the world, the disciples would have to choose another way. They would have to trust in God, not man. In this scripture, blessedness or happiness has nothing to do with satisfaction. Instead, it is about contentment. We can be poor and still be blessed, not because we are satisfied but because we know that God will provide everything we need. We can weep and still be happy, not because we will laugh but because our joy is founded on something beyond our circumstances. We can be hated and still rejoice because we know that there is a love that conquers the world, and that love is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. The life Jesus was giving to the apostles was not going to be one of fame, authority or power, at least not in the ways of the world. Instead, it would be one of service, humility and trust in the power of God.

We are faced this day with a choice. Which way will we go? Will we trust in the ways of men? Or will we trust in the Lord and live as He has called us to live. We, like the apostles, will experience difficulty in this life. As a matter of fact, trusting in God will offend and disappoint the world around us. We may experience persecution at their hands. However, we are called to rejoice in their hatred and rejection, not to wallow in suffering but to be content in our knowledge that God is in control. We need not be concerned that we find ourselves in poverty, hunger or mourning, for God has blessed us with all we need to overcome the sorrows of this world. Real joy is found in the hope that comes from knowing Christ and living in the life He has called us to live.

Jesus turns our world upside down. It might make more sense to live as if the promises are only spiritual so that we can do as we please and avoid the unpleasantness of Christian life. But we are reminded by today’s scriptures that we are blessed when we trust in God and cursed when we trust in man. We are reminded that God is working in us, sending our messy lives through a “sluice” to capture the gold while the slurry is cast away, transforming us daily into someone who will glorify Him with active, living faith. It won’t always be a life the world sees as blessed; it might mean that we need to be content in situations that less than comfortable. Can we really say we would be happy when we are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and persecuted?

We can because Jesus promised that He would be with us through it all. We know that there is more to our hope than happiness as the world understands. Happiness or blessedness is not about chasing the greener grass on the other side of the fence. It is hard to rejoice in suffering, and we should never seek suffering, but we truly know happiness when we are content to live and serve God with our whole hearts. We are blessed when we are content and rejoice in the life which God has given to us, serving Him with our hearts, our hands and our voices, bearing fruit that glorifies Him. Blessedness is found when we rest in God, when we trust in Him.

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February 14, 2019

“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, WEB

There are hearts everywhere. The sale ads for the stores are red and filled with items that would make perfect gifts for your sweetie. The stores have displays made up to be one-stop shopping havens for the person that does not know what to get for their loved one. There are racks filled with stuffed animals, carts filled with plants and cut flowers. The TV and radio are filled with stories of romantic fairytale love stories. It is a mushy, gushy sort of day. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is not a joy for everyone. Since the world has focused on the romantic atmosphere, those who are single find it a difficult day. It is difficult for those who have lost the love of their lives. Others are more interested in the gifts they receive than in the people who give it. Many of the gifts given on this day are out of a sense of duty or because it is expected rather than for love. Other gifts are given with the expectation of something in return.

Someone usually asks at this time of year whether Valentine’s Day is for Christians, after all it doesn’t seem very Christ-like, does it? It was once a feast day for a saint named Valentine, but the church dropped that celebration from the calendar decades ago. Now the day is focused solely on romance. It is a huge day for florists who are selling roses by the dozens. Lovers try to find time together. Restaurants will be packed full of men and women holding hands and enjoying each other. It has become a day about making the right impression, certainly not a Christian concern. There is too much pressure on everyone to prove their love.

Who was Valentine? There were actually three men named Valentine in the early years of the church. The legends surrounding St. Valentine are probably a combination of the three, though the most likely candidate was a Roman priest who died in the third century. Emperor Claudius II Gothicus had a mighty army and he decided it would stay mighty if he made marriage illegal. Valentine was beheaded when it was discovered that he and other priests continued to perform marriages. We love the happily ever after that we see in the movies, but in real life we are reminded that the relationship we seek is more than a physical bond. It is also a spiritual bond. When God created Eve for Adam in the garden, her presence made him complete, and through marriage, the two became one. The scriptures compare marriage to the union of Christ to His Church.

The Bible speaks repeatedly about the kind of love we are to give one another, a sacrificial love that is not concerned with “stuff” but rather loves despite the stuff. Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, WEB) Jesus loved His disciples and the people who followed Him. He even loved those who would try to destroy Him. He fed them, gave them God’s Word and led them in the ways of righteousness. He showed the greatest love when He laid down His life for us, even though we were enemies who sinned against God. Though we will never be called upon to die on a cross for the sake of the world, we are called to lay down our lives. Loving someone sacrificially means putting them first, not caring for our own concerns but doing whatever we can to meet their needs. Jesus loved us so that we will love others. It is His love in, with and through our lives that we can celebrate this day, to make Valentine’s Day a day for Christians.

On this Valentine’s Day, enjoy those you love, even give them flowers, candy or stuffed animals. Chase after the romance for the sake of your most important earthly relationship, but remember that there is so much more to love than we can find on the store shelves. The text from Paul for today is almost stereotypical these days as it is used in so many wedding ceremonies, but it shows us the way to live in all our relationships with love that is pure and filled with joy. The gifts and dinners on Valentine’s Day can be fun, but we need not pressure ourselves to prove our love in those ways. True love is found in the love of Christ and manifests in the way we live and love every day.

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February 15, 2019

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, produces death. Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:12-27, WEB

I like to take my photos and add cute or inspirational sayings to post onto my Facebook page to encourage my friends. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are spiritual, and sometimes they are timely. I have even found myself purposely taking pictures off center or monochrome so that they will make good backgrounds for these posts.

It isn’t always easy coming up with the words to add, though. I often pick scripture passages or quotes from poems, but I sometimes just use something out of my heart. I was working on one for Valentine’s Day using a photo I took once while wildflower hunting. I purposely used a picture of a prickly pear with a pad shaped like a heart because I wanted to focus on how hard love can be sometimes but that it is worthwhile. I typed in one thing that sounded good as I meant it to be interpreted.

However, as I looked at this cute saying I realized it was completely inappropriate. It would have definitely been taken the wrong way by most people who would have read it. It was funny, for sure, but I knew that I could not possibly post that on my page. I didn’t. I reworked the words and found a better way to say what I wanted to say. It was not as funny, but it was more wholesome and inspiring. I was tempted, but I decided to reject the inappropriate action and go with something that would uplift those who would read it. The new saying made for a better Christian witness in the world.

I read a story by Henry Ward Beecher about an encounter he had with a very ugly fellow. The man’s wife and daughter became Christians during a revival and Henry went to visit them after the event. The man became irate, threatened Henry and warned him never to enter his home again. Henry promised that he would only do so at his request. It was a small town and they two encountered one another over and over again. Despite having been so maliciously attacked, Henry treated the man with grace and compassion. He even worked to get him elected to the city council. The man didn’t understand, but eventually approached Henry for friendship. He invited Henry into his life and into his house. Henry said, “Now I might have thrown stones at him from the topmost cliffs of Mount Sinai, and hit him every time, but that would not have done him any good. Kindness killed him. I won his confidence.”

We struggle with temptation and sin every day. It is part of our human character. However, just because we are tempted does not mean we need to sin. We can stop ourselves, think twice and act in a different way. We are His witnesses, and as such we need to try to do everything in a way that will draw the world to Him. Satan doesn’t always tempt us with things that are obviously bad, but it is not enough to just avoid those things. We are called to live like Christ, to live in a way that glorifies God.

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February 18, 2019

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:16-20, WEB

Dr. Charles McCoy had been a preacher for many years at a congregation in Oyster Bay, New York when he retired at 72. He spent most of his life pursuing an education, collecting seven college degrees over the years. In the end it all seemed futile to him. “I just lie on my bed thinking that my life’s over, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I’ve been pastor of this church for so many years, but nobody really wants me much - and what have I done for Christ? I’ve spent an awful lot of time working for degrees, but I haven’t won very many people to the Lord.” I have learned over my lifetime that when we live for the Lord, He makes amazing things happen, many of which we never see. Yet, a life of faith is expected to bear the fruit of that faith.

While Dr. McCoy probably should not have felt that his life was futile, his concern led him to do become a missionary to India. He sold everything he had and went with nothing but a billfold, his Bible and his passport, all of which was stolen as soon as he arrived in Bombay. He made his way to the home of some missionaries who did not know what to do with him. After all, he was an old man. They took him in and after a day or so he announced that he was going to go to the mayor. The other missionaries told him it was fruitless; they’d tried many times and could not even get through the door. Dr. McCoy when and gave his card to the receptionist who told him to return later that day. When he arrived, he was welcomed with a grand reception. His multiple degrees, listed on his card, and his distinguished appearance gave them the impression that he was a powerful and important man. They thought he might even be from the President of the United States. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they listened politely. Though it seemed to have no impact on the gathered leaders, he was approached by a military leader who asked him to speak at his school. He eventually received many invitations to speak in many countries. He started churches in Calcutta and Hong Kong, and he traveled to Egypt and the Middle East. He served as an evangelist for sixteen years before he died.

As we look at his life we can see that God had a greater plan. He thought that his degrees were useless, futile, but they were the doorway to a great ministry in the East. The fruit of his parish ministry was not as visible as that from his later years, but there must have been fruit. A good tree can’t bear bad fruit.

We are often like Dr. McCoy, wondering about the purpose of our life. Have we done the work He has called us to do? Have we done enough? What more can we do? Did we make the right choices? Dr. McCoy was afraid in what he thought were the final moments of his life that he had wasted God’s blessings. However, those were not wasted moments. For sixteen years after he retired, Dr. McCoy continued to serve the Lord. His fruit was more visible, but not more important. He bore good fruit his whole life because he trusted God and shared his grace wherever he went.

Do you feel like your life and ministry has been fruitless? Do you feel like you haven’t accomplished what God has called you to do? Go forth in faith because in Christ you are bearing fruit you do not even know you are bearing. Perhaps one day you too will see the great work of God manifested in a way that touches many people. Perhaps you will not know the good works He has done through you until the day you meet Him face to face. Just remember, faith in Christ will bear good fruit for the sake of His Kingdom. He will make sure of it.

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February 19, 2019

“The Jews therefore did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight, and asked them, ‘Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered them, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we don’t know; or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. He is of age. Ask him. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said these things because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if any man would confess him as Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age. Ask him.’ So they called the man who was blind a second time, and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.’ He therefore answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.’” John 9:18-25, WEB

We have an advantage over those in this story, at least in the United States, that we don’t have to rely on our religious community for our daily living. We have the freedom to be involved in a church or not. We have plenty of choices as to which community we choose to join. We don’t risk starvation if we aren’t a part of a church. It was much different in the days of Jesus, not because the synagogue provided food for the congregation, but because daily life within the community controlled by the religious leaders. The parents of this man feared being kicked out not because they were so attached to the priests or the building, but because it would mean that they would be outcast from their whole world.

That was one of the problems that the congregations that received John’s Revelation were experiencing. In those days, everything was connected to religion, not only among the Christians and Jews, but also among the Romans. And it was the Roman religions that were problematic for the Christians in Asia. Religion was part of politics, particularly since the emperors thought they were divine; the people were expected to worship them. Meat from pagan sacrifices was offered during civic festivals. Eating that meat honored the various gods. Though civic festivities, they had a religious significance. Even worse, these festivals were related to social and trade associations. The Christians had to decide if they should eat the meat to be part of the society in which they lived, or should they reject it and be rejected in social and business situations. Those associations met in banquet rooms associated with pagan gods. Eating there honored the false gods. Rejection of the religious expectations could mean unemployment, starvation and ultimately death.

We aren’t there, at least not in the United States, but that doesn’t make the question any less real for us today. In today’s story from John, the man and his parents had a choice. They could honor God by being witnesses for the work of Jesus, or they could reject Jesus to remain secure in their world. That’s the choice that is given throughout the book of Revelation. Who do you choose? Do you choose God, whatever the consequences? Or do you assimilate to the culture to protect your life? The man’s parents did not outright reject God, but they refused to be a witness for what Jesus did for their son. The son, no matter how often the leaders asked, was unwilling to denounce Jesus. He didn’t even know, at that time, who had saved him, but he knew that someone had given him his life. When Jesus introduced himself, the man worshipped him. He didn’t worry about what would happen tomorrow because he trusted the God who had the power to save him.

What about you? Are you like the parents, or like those Christians in Asia, who were willing to assimilate to have a good, comfortable life? Or are you like the man, willing to confess that Jesus is Lord even if it means, like it did for the Christians in Asia, unemployment, starvation and ultimately death? Who do you choose, God or the world? It sounds like an easy question, especially in times of peace and security, but it could be the hardest question we have to answer. We love and trust God easily when there are no struggles, but are you willing to be His witness when the world threatens your very life?

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February 20, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2019, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38

“Now don’t be grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:5, WEB

One of the judge shows had a case which involved a plaintiff who ran a non-profit dedicated to her son who had been killed by gang members. The defendant was a woman who called herself a prophetess. They met to see if they could merge their ministries. Unfortunately, the meeting did not go well. The defendant posted awful things about the plaintiff and her son on social media. The plaintiff then showed up at the defendant’s church and made a scene. The defendant then called child welfare on the friend of the plaintiff. The judge was incensed at the actions of both women. How could Christian women act this way to one another? “What do you think God is thinking now?” She passed her judgment on the case, but reminded them both that they would face an even greater judgment.

The plaintiff won the case. The defendant lost her countersuit because the judge found that her losses were the consequences of her own actions. Despite losing the defendant left the courtroom with a holier-than-thou attitude and preached some word about God. We never really found out went so wrong at the first meeting, but the events that followed were less than Christian. Both were wrong, but in a court of law the judge can find in favor of one sinner over another. In God’s court, of course, we are all sinners and those who are set free are only those who trust in God. Both women reason to confess and seek God’s grace for their actions. The plaintiff seemed humble, the defendant not so much.

I thought it was interesting when the judge turned to the defendant and said something like, “You might be doing 99% good but you have done 1% evil. That’s all of us, we all sin.” She was kinder to the plaintiff, but her comments remind us all that we are sinners in need of a savior. The Gospel is our only way out of our bondage to sin and death. We might look at our neighbor and think that they are somehow worse than we are and that they deserve our wrath, but the reality is that even if we are only 0.0000001% sinner, we are still tainted and unholy. We all must remember we will face a greater judgment.

If only we could look on our enemies the way Joseph looked on his brothers. He had every right to be upset. His flesh and blood sold him off to slavery, after considering murder. They lied to their father who mourned his death. Joseph was not perfect. He was the son of his beloved wife Rachel and was given the most wonderful gifts, especially a richly ornamented robe. This love and his gifts made him a little conceited. Jacob’s other sons were jealous of the attention Jacob paid to Joseph. It is no wonder that they wanted to be rid of him.

Joseph had dreams - strange and unusual dreams that seemed to speak of his being a powerful ruler over his brothers. Another dream even put him over his mother and father. His brothers became so jealous that they schemed to rid themselves of their brother. While they were in the field grazing the sheep, Joseph went out to see if all was well. His brothers decided to throw him into a cistern and pretend a wild animal had devoured him. But Reuben convinced them to just sell him as a slave rather than kill him. Joseph ended up in Egypt. He suffered through many trials, but eventually Pharaoh put him in charge of the whole land. Pharaoh had several dreams that Joseph interpreted. They were warnings of good years of fruit from the fields followed by years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, the Egyptians saved enough grain through the good years that they were able to help feed the world during the famine.

Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase food for their family. They interacted with Joseph, but the brothers did not recognize him. The dreams were fulfilled. He invited them to dinner to learn of the fate of their father. He ensured that they had plenty to eat, and he secretly restored their money. Benjamin was the youngest of all the brothers and did not go with them on the first journey to Egypt. When the brothers left with their grain, Joseph insisted that they bring Benjamin along if they were to return. Jacob did not want to let him go, the last son of his beloved Rachel. He finally agreed.

While they were in Egypt, they met again with Joseph. This time he restored their money, but also put his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. The guards discovered the silver cup and Benjamin was held for theft. Judah pleaded with Joseph to let the boy go, to keep him instead, so that Jacob would not perish at the thought of his lost son. Joseph’s pain - his loneliness and longing to see his father - was so great that he began to weep and he revealed himself to his brothers.

Jacob and his family went to Goshen and Joseph took care of them, but when Jacob died, his brothers feared that he would take revenge. They pleaded with Joseph to be merciful, to remember their father and spare their lives. Joseph answered, “Am I God? All this happened for good.” The brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, attempting to rid themselves of his arrogance and perhaps gain some favor from their father. He could have sought revenge for their acts; he could have charged outrageous prices for the grain. Instead, he gave them more than they wanted for free. This merciful action showed the great love he held for his brothers, despite the evil he suffered at their hands. God did the same when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness to those He loves. He gives beyond measure in love and mercy.

Can we be so gracious to those who hurt us? That’s certainly what God expects from us.

Think about your life, your work, and your neighborhoods. Even the most kind and loving people know someone that drives them crazy for one reason or another. It is a fact of life; we don’t get along with everyone. Personalities clash. Unfortunately, like those ladies on the judge show, these relationships often go beyond quiet disregard and the people become enemies. They attack one another verbally, physically or emotionally, thinking this is the only way to overcome the differences.

Being a Christian is not an easy thing. We are called into a relationship with Christ not to separate ourselves from the people we do not like in this world. Rather, in Christ we are given the strength to overcome our natural tendencies so that we can live more Christ-like in the world. When our flesh wants to hate, we are commanded to love. When our mouths want to curse, we are commanded to bless. This is a difficult thing.

It is because we are Christian that we have to stand above the crowd. It may not seem fair, but the world expects more from us, and it is in walking that extra mile and in the giving of our cloak as well as our tunic that they will really see the sacrificial nature of our love. They wonder, “What is it that makes these Christians so willing to love their neighbors?” We set the example of love for the world, and that means more than loving those who are loveable. We are to love even our enemies. If we live according to the ways of the world then there will be nothing that sets us apart and they won’t be willing to listen as we tell them about Jesus. The love of God does change our hearts, and our minds, so that the life we live is different than the world.

A great and ferocious lion who ruled over all the animals of the forest lay down after a long day of unfruitful hunting. Though he was still hungry, he fell asleep. A short time later he was disturbed from his sleep by a tiny mouse that scampered across the massive form, thinking it was a rock. The lion waited patiently and at the right moment, he caught the mouse. Just as he was about to pop the mouse into his mouth, the tiny creature begged for mercy. “Please forgive me! I did not mean to disturb you. If you let me go, I promise that I will return the favor one day.” The lion laughed at the silliness of such a small creature ever being of use to him, but agreed. The mouse ran away to safety. Some time later some hunters captured the lion and tied him to a tree. The tiny mouse appeared before the lion and began gnawing through the rope. Eventually, the mouse managed to loosen the rope enough for the lion to escape. The lion showed mercy and it was returned to him.

Mercy is about being compassionate, forgiving and kind. In the story of the lion and the mouse, the lion set the mouse free even though he was hungry. If the lion had eaten the mouse, the mouse would not have been alive to chew the ropes from the lion. We deal with much greater evils. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives.

Be merciful as your heavenly Father gives you the strength, courage and wisdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the mercy that only He can give. He died for us even when we were His enemies so that we would be forgiven and set free from our lives of sin and debt to God. Begin, as you are able, with your neighbor, friend or family member who has harmed you in some way. Do not seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good to them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you give, showing your life to be one as a son of God. God was kind and merciful to each of us, sinners and enemies of God, forgiving our sin for the sake of His Son.

There always seems to be some sports personality that is bent toward misconduct. They curse and swear, push and shove, hold up the game with their ranting and try to upset their rival in every way possible. Arthur Ashe dealt with this type of opponent at a tournament in Sweden in 1975. His name was ‘Nasty’ Nastase and he was well known for his behavior on the court. Just when Arthur thought he could handle no more, he said he’d had enough and he walked off the court. When the umpire told Arthur that he would default the game, Arthur responded that he’d rather lose at tennis than lose his self-respect. The next day the committee decided that Nastase’s behavior warranted discipline and he was forced to default, making Arthur the winner. Arthur Ashe knew it wasn’t worth losing control over the antics of the other players, even if it meant that he would lose the tournament. His patience won out in the end.

I am not as strong as Arthur Ashe. I tend to get pretty upset about so many things. I have yelled at my kids. I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I would like them to go. I worry about too many things, particularly when it seems like evil will triumph over goodness and mercy. I get upset with my neighbors when I perceive they have acted against me. I want to fight, to battle against those things that bring harm. I want to vent my anger and prove my rightness. Yet, it rarely does any good. It is a commonly held belief that it is best to let out those feelings, but studies have found that the opposite is true. Telling someone off does not enhance the relationship, but rather puts it at risk, causing more anger, hurt and worry. Most happily married couples never raise their voices at each other.

The psalmist wrote, “Trust in Yahweh, and do good. Dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture. Also delight yourself in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to Yahweh. Trust also in him, and he will do this: he will make your righteousness go out as the light, and your justice as the noon day sun. Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for him. Don’t fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who makes wicked plots happen.” Arthur Ashe showed us how to be patient; he set the example to walk away rather than become angry and fretful. Though I don’t desire harm to come to my adversaries, I know that God will bless the patience of His children who manifest mercy and grace above anger and wrath.

It’s a scary world out there sometimes. Natural disaster threatens our well being. We fear for our children, with drugs and gangs abundant in cities and rural areas. We fear poverty, hunger, sickness and death. We fear accusation from the enemy. Yet, we should not fear because God is always faithful. “But the salvation of the righteous is from Yahweh. He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. Yahweh helps them, and rescues them. He rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they have taken refuge in him.”

Today as you face those things about this world that bring fear, concern, worry, anger, doubt or pain, always remember that you are a beloved child of the Most High God. Though the things you fear may touch your life, the Lord God Almighty will be your refuge and your strength. He is the only One to fear, and that fear is one of reverence and awe for what He is able to accomplish. Just as we prepare for the severe storms that come our way, by establishing an emergency plan, so too do we have a plan when we face the spiritual storms that threaten our peace. In the name and by the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, we are in the hands of God and trust in His faithfulness to see us through. It’s a scary world, but we live in another and can know true peace, hope and joy.

Those women on the judge show know that they are strangers in a foreign land, Christians living in a fallen world. They know that they have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, but their story played more like a reality show. They did not live as God has called them to live, loving their enemies and treating all their neighbors with mercy. Unfortunately, the judge was correct when she said that they’d face a greater judgment in that day. The question that all of us need to ask is whether or not we really trust in God’s salvation. Have we been transformed by His mercy? Are we living forgiven, recognizing our own sinfulness? Are we willing to forgive; are we willing to see our neighbors including our enemies through the eyes of Jesus?

It is natural for us to wonder what it will be like when we die. We who live in Christ know that we have eternal life and in that day we will see His face and live with Him forever, but we do not have a complete understanding of the life we will have in heaven. Throughout history artists and writers have tried to imagine and describe in words or pictures, but it is impossible for human means to fully portray the things of God. The glory of God cannot be put on paper or in words. Someone once explained that heaven would be like taking the best of everything in this world and magnifying it a thousand times. The love we have for our spouses and children will be magnified well beyond our human capability, because we will be living in the presence of Love Himself. The beauty of a field full of wildflowers pales in comparison to what we will see in that day. Food will taste a hundred times better than a meal created by a master chef.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they had to die to live. He said, “The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.” In this life we might suffer through intense work as God makes us new for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually we will die in the flesh, but that is not our end. We will be raised with Christ into something new, to live forever in His presence and praise Him throughout eternity. We do not have to wait, however, for that day when we will dwell with Christ because we dwell with Him today. So let’s live like Joseph, loving even our enemies even if they have done us harm because God has a plan and can use the worst of times for His purpose. He has created and redeemed us to glorify Him in this world and He is faithful to all His promises.

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February 21, 2019

“For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16, WEB

If you had to go without one of your senses, which would it be - touch, sight, smell, taste, or hearing? I often wonder, as I’m working in my studio, what I would do without my sight. How could I choose colors or paint trees? I could probably continue to write since there are plenty of technologies developed for the sight impaired on the computer, yet art would be more difficult. Losing the sense of touch is frightening and dangerous. I’ve heard stories of people with disease that left them without physical feelings and they often get hurt so badly because they don’t know they are being harmed.

Smell and taste go hand in hand and though I could possibly live without them, I would certainly miss smelling banana bread baking or tasting a piece of good chocolate. My mother was a life-long smoker which destroyed her taste buds. The irony is that when she finally gave up smoking at the end of her life, she complained that none of the food tasted right. The truth was that her smoking made everything taste different, but without the cigarettes, she was tasting food as it was meant to be tasted and thought it was terrible. I sometimes think that if I had to give up one sense, it would be hearing. As I have grown older I have come to love and appreciate silence. I turn off all the noise in my house and just enjoy the peace of quietness. However, I look forward to hearing the sound of grandchild giggles.

Our bodies are amazingly adaptive; we learn to use our other senses when we lose one or more, however as we think through questions like this one, we are reminded to be thankful for every good and perfect gift from God. We can be thankful that He has given us our senses so that we can enjoy His big, beautiful, tasty, loud, tactile world. We can be thankful for the our eyes, even when they see things we would rather not see, and our ears when they hear things we would rather not hear. We can be thankful that we can smell and taste the good things of this world. We can be thankful that our sense of touch allows us to feel the hand that is holding ours to help us through grief.

Our senses can cause us trouble. We see a sexy man or woman and we lust. We are gluttons as we devour the foods that smell so good. We hear someone speak an opinion with which we disagree and we get angry. Touch can lead us to do things that we will eventually regret. We need to be careful that we do not let our senses lead our flesh down sinful paths, but rather always act in ways that will glorify God.

Through it all, we can rest in the knowledge that God is in our midst, guiding us on the right path. There has never been a time, from before we were born, that the Lord God Almighty was not near. It is, however, when we experience difficulty that we truly realize how close He is. We see Him in the faces our neighbors. We feel Him in the touch of a hand or a desperately needed hug. We hear Him in the prayers that are spoken for our sake. We smell His grace and taste Him in the Eucharist. He knows what we need even before we do and He has provided us incredible gifts of life in our bodies.

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February 22, 2019

“Jesus answered them, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel because of it. Moses has given you circumcision (not that it is of Moses, but of the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a boy. If a boy receives circumcision on the Sabbath, that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me, because I made a man completely healthy on the Sabbath? Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.’” John 7:21-24, WEB

I watched a video that showed a man sitting in the food court of a mall eating an ice cream cone. The video also showed some women at a nearby table watching this man eat. He seemed to be staring at them while eating the ice cream cone flirtatiously. The women (a number of different vignettes because it was from one of those humorous candid camera shows) started to flirt back. At the end of the segment, we saw the response of all those women when the man put on his glasses, got up and opened the cane he used to see as he walked; he was blind and never saw the women. He was not flirting; he was simply enjoying his ice cream. They judged the book by the cover without seeing the truth of what was happening.

This scene was funny, but unfortunately we see this happening on a daily basis in society. Something happens and everyone makes a quick judgment about what it is, and then as time goes on and information is gathered, we see that it wasn’t anything that we thought it was. Everyone wants to be the first to report the event, but in doing so they make assumptions, judgments, without waiting long enough to get the facts and report the truth. These rash judgments often place the blame on the wrong party, who then need to live with the consequences of something they never did.

One of the greatest controversies in Jesus’ day was the keeping of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to the people long before Moses; it was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was a day designed to stop work and focus wholly on God. However, there were things that could be done. On several occasions, Jesus went against the burden of the Law to show the right use of God’s Law. The leaders saw these actions as being unlawful, but they were not willing to look beyond the surface to the grace of God’s mercy.

There were things allowed on the Sabbath. A man could circumcise his child. A man could water and feed his animals. He could save a horse that had fallen down a ravine. But it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. He told the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” It was the Sabbath. Jesus healed the man out of mercy and love. The Jews saw the man carrying his mat and condemned him for being disobedient to the Law.

It is hard to make a right judgment. The women in the video saw one thing and acted accordingly. It was funny for the audience to watch, but they were throwing themselves at a man who didn’t even know they were there. As for the news reports, sometimes those stories leave people suffering from very real consequences. People experience incredible losses, and though the truth eventually is revealed, it is nearly impossible to get back what had once been theirs because the cloud of the false judgment always hangs over them.

Imagine that you are the man who was healed after being an invalid for thirty-eight years. He probably didn’t even care what day it was. He probably didn’t think about what he could and could not do according to the law. He could walk. He could go home by his own power. He grabbed his mat and took off to celebrate with his family. He may have even been jumping for joy. All the leaders saw was a man being disobedient to their interpretation of the Law; they did not see a man who was praising God for His mercy and grace. Jesus teaches that we should judge according to His ways not our interpretation of God’s law. It is through Christ, in mercy and love, that we can make the right judgment. Instead of judging the book by its cover, we are to look at our neighbors through God’s eyes. Then we may just see the opportunity to serve them and glorify God with justice and truth.

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February 25, 2019

ďAs each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms.Ē 1 Peter 4:10, WEB

I have been reading ďA Year in the Gospels with Martin LutherĒ as my challenge reading this year. This book is a collection of his sermons following the lectionary; it includes sermons from Sundays, but also from other festival days throughout the year. It has been interesting to ďhearĒ his preaching five hundred years after he wrote them. It has been a challenge, too, because his shortest sermons are probably longer than most modern sermons, and some are incredibly long. Following my schedule, one sermon will take me at least three weeks to read! He is a teaching preacher, so he explains through his understanding of the texts and applies it to their world in many and various ways. He also preaches against his enemies extensively.

While it is sometimes a struggle to read these lengthy sermons, they are filled with some really good ideas and statements. Martin Luther, while quite imperfect as a man, was a brilliant theologian. He saw the text in ways I would never even consider. I confess that I donít always agree with his interpretation; I think he sometimes goes too far with the symbolism and secret meanings, often losing site of the simple understanding of the text. However, through the sermons I have read thus far, Iíve been enlightened and inspired.

This was true the other day when was reading his sermon for the Gospel for St. Johnís Day (John 21:19-24.) The disciples didnít really understand what was happening after Jesus died; they were struggling with their grief and what would happen to them next. Peter, unsure what to do, said he was going to go fishing. In the midst of his confusion, he went back to the life he knew before Jesus. That day, however, Jesus appeared to them on the beach, made the breakfast, and took Peter through a series of questions that helped him find forgiveness and peace. In the end, Jesus said to Peter, ďFollow me.Ē We know that this means that Jesus was inviting, commanding, him to sacrifice his life for the Gospel. Peter never really knew what to say, so he turned to John and asked, ďWhat about him?Ē

Jesus rebuked Peter and told him to keep his eyes on his own life and calling. Luther wrote, ďThe teaching is as follows: irrespective of the example and the lives of all the saints, everyone should attend to what is entrusted to him and pay attention to his calling.Ē He goes on to say, ďTherefore, Christ leads Peter back and says, ĎWhat is that to you, where he goes? Follow Me, and let Me deal with him. If I wanted him to remain, would you also remain? Do you think I want the same from you as from him? No, not so. You attend to what is yours and to what I say to you. He, too, will find what is his. I want to have many kinds of servants, but they will not all do the same work.Ē

This is a very valuable lesson for us all today. Do any of us feel jealous of our neighbors because they have a great job? Do we try to imitate them, or serve God exactly as they do, thinking that it must surely be the right way to follow Christ? Do we every concentrate more on the lives of others than on doing what we are called to do? Luther had a problem in his day that the clergy was looked upon as being better and more holy than the lay people. He knew, however, that every person had a calling. This did not mean that everyone was meant to become priests or monks or nuns, but that God had work for every person to do in this world. After all, thatís our calling. All are necessary to the working of Godís Kingdom in this world. God is glorified when we do what He is calling us to do, even if it seems like nothing of any importance. Martin Luther would be offended by the person who said, ďI am just a...Ē None of us are ďjust a...Ē We are all vital to Godís work in the world.

So, as you look at your life and wonder if thereís something more important that you should be doing, pray that God shows you the importance of your calling. Let God be praised in your life of obedience, doing exactly what God has prepared for you to do. He certainly does have many kinds of servants, and we all have something specific and vital to accomplish. Concentrate on your own calling and stop looking at someone else. Follow Jesus in the way He would have you go, and let your neighbor walk his or her path according to Godís good and perfect will. You follow Him and do not worry about whether it is important enough. It is, because it is Godís grace that has put you in that place to do that work for Him.

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February 26, 2019

ďNow these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Beroea also, they came there likewise, agitating the multitudes. Then the brothers immediately sent out Paul to go as far as to the sea, and Silas and Timothy still stayed there. But those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens. Receiving a commandment to Silas and Timothy that they should come to him very quickly, they departed. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who met him.Ē Acts 17:11-17, WEB

One of the things I like most about our Sunday school class is that there are a number of people who ask questions. These questions often take us on tangents, sometimes far from the topic of the day, but they are good conversations because we reason together about the scriptures and come to an understanding as a group. I know a lot about the Bible and Iím quick with many answers, but sometimes the questions leave me stumped. A question on Sunday pointed out a contradiction in what I had to say. I was perplexed at first, but together we talked through the problem and realized the answer. In the end, we all had a better understanding of the scriptures. It took us all to get there.

Paul was sent to Berea because the Jews of Thessalonica rejected the Gospel. They had a gut reaction based on their own faith perspective. They refused to even check out the scriptures to see if the message Paul was sharing was one worth considering. They were so against the good news of Jesus Christ that they threatened Paul. There were other examples of people refusing to believe, but also of people who had a shallow belief that quickly fell apart. Many of the people who followed Jesus fell away when He began to teach the deeper things. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had a shallow faith that wanted the benefit without the responsibility. They did not search the deeper things of God for the understanding and living faith that truly changes the heart.

The Bereans were much different. They heard the Gospel but they went further. They searched the scriptures to see that what Paul said was true, and Godís word cut deep into their hearts. Many people in Berea were converted to Christianity and God made a real difference in their lives. We are called as people of God to be like the Bereans. We should never accept something someone has said at face value, whether we think it is good or bad, but we should instead search Godís word to know what He has to say about it.

The challenges I get in Sunday school help me to become more confident and competent in sharing the Godís Word with the world. Godís kingdom grows when His witnesses willingly tell others about the Good News. It is difficult to be a witness, especially when we face people who have difficult questions. The more we reason together about the scriptures, the better equipped we will be

We should reason together to come to understand the scriptures and grow our faith together so that we will have the assurance to share Godís grace in the world. See, the Bereans were not willing to grasp Paulís message without studying the scriptures to see that all that Paul spoke was true. They believed because Paul did not lose the message, but gave them a solid foundation on which to build. The world needs what we have to give them, and we need enough knowledge to confidently speak the Gospel so that they can be saved. Be like the Bereans, study Godís word and reason with other Christians so that you will be ready witnesses for God.

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February 27, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, March 3, 2019, The Transfiguration of Our Lord: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

ďThey were all astonished at the majesty of God.Ē Luke 9:43, WEB

As an artist, I appreciate the work that goes into any creative piece. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how much time and energy goes into the work. Take, for instance, a quilt. Quilters spend hours measuring, cutting, piecing, sewing, trimming and finishing a piece. This does not even take into account the money that goes into the fabric, threat and batting materials. People look at the price of a quilt and wonder how the quilter could charge so much, but the reality is that they are never paid the true value of what has been created.

I have been watching several series on Netflix that revolve around baking. One, ďNailed it,Ē takes unskilled people who like to bake and gives them challenges that they could never accomplish if they had days to do so. They have to finish the challenge in a very short period of time, shorter than even professionals usually use for similar projects. In the end, most of the cakes are little more than messes. The show was created based on a reality that we find on the Internet: many people post their own failures to recreate amazing work they see in Pinterest or posted on Facebook. The professionals make everything look so easy, but it takes talent to create these works of art. It is funny for the viewer and in the end one of the three contestants takes home a lot of money.

I watched another show called ďSugar Rush.Ē In this show, four teams of professional bakers are given three hours to create a cupcake and a confection based on the theme of the day. Every minute they save of those three hours are added to the second three hours they will use to make a cake. Despite knowing the tricks of the trade these teams often run into trouble and find that the time is still not enough to do everything they want to do. One team is eliminated after the cupcakes and a second team after the confections, leaving just two teams for the cake round. After three or more exhausting hours of work, they present their masterpieces to the judges who consider the design, technique and overall appearance. Then the contestants have to cut into their work to give the judges a sample to taste.

For me, thatís the hardest part. The glory of the piece is ruined immediately because the point of a cake is to eat it. For me, it would be heartbreaking to have to destroy something that I worked so hard to do. For a brief moment the cakes, and their creators, shined. That is especially true of the winner, who received the prize. However, the glory was short lived. The next day the cakes were gone and they had nothing left to show for their work except pictures and a television show.

We do a lot of things for the glory. We compete in competitions, everything from sports, to the arts, to academics. We work hard at our jobs for that raise or promotion. We plan weddings that cost a fortune and last a few hours. We spend hours gardening to have a pretty home for a season. We purchase the current trends in fashion, technology or other material possessions to be the envy of our neighbors. But that glory fades. Like those cakes, the things that bring us glory today are gone tomorrow.

In todayís Old Testament lesson, Moses returned to his people after having an incredible experience in the presence of the Lord. This encounter left Moses transformed. His face glowed with the glory of God. He had not been made into a god, though perhaps some of the people who saw him return might have thought that to be the case. Instead, Moses was like a mirror, reflecting the light of God which he had experienced on the mountain. This other worldly light was frightening to the people, but it also gave Moses credibility. There was something very special about him, something that made it imperative that the people listen to his voice. God was with him.

The light did not last. It was a fleeting vision, so Moses covered his face with a veil. We might think that he did so because he did not want to frighten the people. However, Paul tells us that Moses covered up his face because the glory faded. The mountain top experiences of our lives are fleeting and we have to return to the real world. This does not mean that God has abandoned us or that His power is no longer with us. We must not misinterpret the difference in the face. The glory did not make Moses better than the others and the fading glory did not make him worse. The glory was simply a reflection of God, reminding His people to listen and understand what He had to say.

Moses reflected the glory of God each time he met with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. When he came out of the tent, the people could barely even look at him because the glory was so bright. Yet, that glory - a glory based on the Old Covenant - soon faded. Just as the sacrifices only worked for a time, and the priests had to return year after year to offer more, the righteousness that came from obedience to the law did not last. Today we might do everything right, but tomorrow we can fall to the temptations of the world. The glory of our earned righteousness fades.

We all know the story of Cinderella. Cinderella is a girl who finds herself in horrible circumstances, unloved and abused by the people who should care for her the most. With the help of some friends, Cinderella overcomes all the hurdles and finds her prince charming. At the end of the story we see Cinderella living happily ever after. She is on top of the mountain, reveling in the glory of her new and transformed life.

Disney made a sequel to their version of this age old story called, ďDreams Come True.Ē In this story, Cinderella finds out what it is like to live in the everyday moments of running a castle. She has to be a hostess to all the visitors, acting royal as was expected by the people in her new world. She had difficulty living up to everyoneís expectations. She could not be herself; she had to act like something different. By the end of the movie, Cinderella discovers that she must be herself to succeed.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus took some of the disciples to the top of the mountain where He was transfigured before their eyes. Shortly before this event, about eight days according to Lukeís account, Jesus told the disciples for the first time that He would have to suffer and die at the hands of all who would reject Him. These words must have been disturbing and disheartening for the disciples. On this day, however, Peter, James and John went up on the mountain with Jesus and witnessed His glorification. Surely if God would do something so miraculous, then Jesus must be more than even He thought He would be! God would not allow His Chosen One to die, right?

It is no wonder that Peter would want to build a permanent structure in which Jesus, as well as Moses and Elijah, could dwell. There on the mountaintop, in the presence of the Holy, no one could harm Jesus. However, this was not the way it was to be. Jesus had a moment of glory, but the real glory would come in a much different way. They needed to return to the real world, to the world which needed Godís mercy and grace. They needed to go back to the crowds, to the dis-ease, to the oppression and Jesus had to go back to the hatred and rejection that would send Him to the cross.

As the story continues, we see something far more real than the glory on the mountain. Godís power is not found in transfigured images or miraculous moments. It is found in the everyday opportunities we have to share Godís love and mercy with others. I am sure that the demon possessed boy must have been dirty and ugly with wounds. It must have been horrific to witness a body out of control, hurting and throwing itself on the ground. Yet, the real glory appeared when Godís grace touched the needy and brought healing and peace to a life of suffering. Just as Cinderella found real success in being herself, Jesus was most glorious when He was sharing the kingdom of God with those in need.

Paul tells us that we have a different kind of hope than the world. Our hope is not based on our ability to win or accomplish something for God. Our hope rests on the Lord Himself, who is our righteousness. We do not have to wear veils over our faces because the glory that reflects in our lives is not one that will ever fade. It will never fade because it is Jesusí glory, not our own. We are being transformed daily to become that which Christ is calling us to be. Instead of fading, the glory is ever-increasing because we are growing deeper and deeper in Spirit with each day and each new epiphany.

I read a lot. My bookshelves are covered with hundreds of books, from childrenís stories to novels to reference materials. I have books about Christmas, faith, health, history and language. I canít count the number of books about prayer or the books I havenít even read yet. I have a huge pile of books I intend to read soon. I try, but the pile just keeps getting bigger. Imagine trying to read all the books in a library! Imagine trying to gain all the knowledge in all those books. I have a general idea of what is available in my library. If someone asked to borrow a book about grace, I know which one would be good for them to read. If Iím looking for a poem or a certain personís perspective, I can usually find it. However, I canít imagine ever knowing everything that is available in all those books. Magnify it and imagine trying to learn everything in a city or university library.

It is even worse when you consider knowledge of God. A.W. Tozer, in his book ďThe Knowledge of the HolyĒ wrote, ďNeither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. Godís holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear Godís power and admire his wisdom, but his holiness he cannot even imagine.Ē

No one can know everything in every book ever written. It would be impossible for anyone to even read every book, let alone remember all the details. A librarian would have more knowledge than most people. At least she or would know where to find a book on the subject. They might even be able to suggest the right book. It is that way with the holiness of God. We can study God, know the history of His people, learn and follow His law. We can try to live according to His wisdom and His love. However, there is no way we can possibly even imagine the holiness of God. I think the thing that is most important to remember is that God, His ways, His thoughts, and His purposes are higher than human flesh can attain.

Moses witnessed God glorified in a way few people ever experience. He reflected that glory and the people of Israel were afraid. Moses had a different fear; as the glory faded, he was afraid that the people would no longer respect him as Godís worker. Peter, James and John thought they should stay on top of the mountain because there they saw the glory of God shining in a way that human beings rarely experience. They didnít want to go back down to the foot of the mountain because there was nothing but trouble in the world.

Jesus refused to stay on the mountain and in the glory because He knew the greater glory was to come. Instead of savoring that mountaintop, Jesus herded His disciples back down the mountain into the path of the real work of the kingdom. There at the foot of the mountain Jesus faced the doubt, uncertainty and fear of the people, including His disciples. He was no longer dazzling white, but was probably covered with the dirt of the road, with dusty feet and sweaty body. While Jesus was on the mountain a desperate man went to His disciples in search of a healing touch, yet they were unable to do anything without Him. They could not cast out the demon. It is a strange thing to happen since earlier in the chapter they had set out to do the very same work and they were successful. Thatís why the people went to them. They were capable. They were unable to accomplish it with this poor boy because they lost sight of the source of the glory by basking in their own.

The scriptures this week are not so much about transfiguration and glory as they are about doing the work of the kingdom. The passage is bookended by the truth of Jesusí mission among us. He came to die. On the mountain God spoke to the three disciples and said, ďThis is my beloved Son. Listen to him!Ē Jesus did not say what they wanted Him to say. He did not tell them that He was going to be King over Israel. He did not lead them into battle against their oppressors. He did not speak of Israel as a great nation. Instead, Jesus told them that He would have to die. The glory would not be found on a mountain or in a palace, but on a cross. For the work of God to be complete He, and they, would have to get down and dirty.

In Christ, we all shine His light, though perhaps there is not a physical glow about our bodies. I doubt that any of us have experienced any kind of transfiguration as was seen by Peter, James and John that day on the mountain. We have not seen a man shine like Moses did when he returned with the tablets. Yet there is something that happens when we know Jesus, something that can be seen in the way we live our lives of faith through which God shares His love with the world.

I wonder what it would have been like to be with Peter, James and John that day. Iíd like to believe that I could understand what was happening, that Jesus was giving us a preview of what was to come. The transfiguration was a brief moment in time when God showed the disciples the end of the story, that Christ was the King, the Messiah, the One who would save the world. It was all so overwhelming for those three men, though. There they stood with Elijah and Moses, while Jesus was glorified before their eyes. What did it mean? They could only think in human terms. They did not want this moment to end, because they never wanted the glory to fade.

Yet, we know now that though the Light stopped shining for a brief moment when Jesus died on the cross, the glory never faded. As a matter of fact, as we begin Lent in the coming week, we will walk toward the true moment of glory for our Lord Jesus Christ - not the Resurrection, but the Cross. It is there that Jesus did what He had been sent to do, to save men from sin and death.

We see the cross as a horrible and ugly thing, something to be passed over so that we can celebrate Easter. We are indeed Easter people, shining the light of Jesus Christ for the world to see, but Jesus was glorified when He took upon Himself the sin of the world so that we could be set free from sin and death. The beauty is in the cross, the most foolish and hardest to believe aspect of Christian faith. There could be no resurrection without death, no New Covenant unless the old one passed away. The fading glory of the Law is a joyous thing because it paves the way for the greater glory: the glory of grace in Christ Jesus. As we live in this Light and follow our Lord, the world will be blessed as Godís glory is reflected in our lives; they will be astonished at the majesty of God.

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February 28, 2019

ďFor as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesnít return there, but waters the earth, and makes it grow and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.Ē Isaiah 55:10-11, WEB

When I began writing this devotional nearly twenty years ago, I had visions of reaching thousands of people every day. I donít really know how many people read these words, but it certainly isnít thousands. The writing has reached the four corners of the world, with readers from every continent at one point or another. I donít pay attention to the numbers anymore, but I often wonder who is reading and if the words are having an impact. I will occasionally get a comment on Facebook or an email from a reader, but most of the time I send these writings out into cybersphere and pray that it will touch at least one life. The only hope I have is that God has promised that His Word will make an impact.

I am not the only one who wonders if they are having an impact. Chuck Colson once took a trip into a prison to preach the Gospel. He carefully prepared a message filled with the message of Christ to share with so many that are lost in their sin. The crowd was expected to be three hundred of the over two thousand inmates, and though Chuck would have liked to preach to every prisoner, he was excited. Several days before he was scheduled to appear, the officials had discovered hidden weapons and they locked down the entire prison. When Chuck arrived at the chapel, there were only a few men waiting to hear the message, and they were all Christians. He was discouraged and was ready to just give them men a few words of encouragement.

He noticed a video camera and thought perhaps he was being recorded for the prison library. He decided to give the entire message as planned in the hopes that one day someone might view the video and hear Godís love and forgiveness. After the visit was complete, Chuck was told that the video would be aired to all the inmates at a later time. In the end, every one of the 2200 prisoners saw the video, not just once, but as many as a dozen times. Chuck trusted that Godís Word would accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, despite the disappointing circumstances he faced.

Do you ever feel like it isnít worth the risks of sharing the Gospel because you donít think it is doing any good? After all, sharing your Christian faith can be dangerous. In some places in this world, it can mean death. For most of us, it can mean broken relationships and perhaps even financial loss. We rarely see the impact Godís word has on a life, but the reality is the word we share could be the seed that is planted in a heart that will eventually grow into something great. A friend of mine posted the obituary of a Sunday school teacher whoíd taught her the lessons of faith a decade ago. The seeds that teacher sowed have blossomed into a wonderful ministry and she is reaching many with the Gospel today.

The Gospel is an incredible promise: God loves us so much He sent His Son to die for our salvation. The seed of faith is planted in our hearts by hearing Godís Word. We may not think that we can be ministers in this world, planting the seeds of faith in our neighbors. However, it isnít up to us to make faith grow. Sometimes we are blessed to be the ones to see the harvest, to see how Godís Word has changed a life. However, sometimes we are the one who plants the seeds. Sometimes we are the one who waters or shines the light. We may never see how it comes to fruition. We are simply called to live in faith and trust that God can do His work in the hearts of those who hear.

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