You are welcome to use the writings on these pages or pass them on to others who might find a touch from God in the words. Our purpose is always to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you everything, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring these words to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom its been shared. All rights reserved. Peggy Hoppes
Christian Bible Study Pages
Travel PagesSalisbury Plain
Our Lord is so good, He grants us many blessings. We can see Him in the daily course of events, in our homes, our jobs, our lives. I pray that these words help you to grow in your faith and recognize His hand in even the most mundane circumstances.
The picture to the right is of a Celtic Chapel located in Cornwall England. This building is approximately 1700 years old, and contains a holy well known for its healing powers.
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"In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4, ASV
One of my favorite children's books is called "The Hungry Thing" and was written by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler. The pictures which are simple but adorable were created by Richard Martin. I first purchased the book through Scholastic Books when I was in Elementary School, probably first grade. I still have that copy, which is torn and brittle but in amazing shape for a well-used paperback book over forty years old. I purchased a new copy several years ago so I could continue using it when I taught preschool and then when I volunteered to read to children.
The book is about an adorable looking dinosaur monster who arrives in a village with a sign "Feed Me" on a chain around his head. The townspeople ask it what it wants to eat. The Hungry Thing answers, "Shmancakes." This confuses the townspeople. "Shmancakes? How do you eat them? What can they be?" Then several of the adult townspeople give their ridiculous theories about the food with great confidence that they know what they are saying.
Then a little boy steps up and says, "I think you're all very silly. shmancakes... sound like fancakes... sound like... pancakes to me." So the townspeople gave the Hungry Thing some and the Hungry Thing ate them all up. He wasn't quite satisfied so pointed once again to his sign. This went on for some time with the Hungry Thing asking for tickles, feetloaf, hookies and gollipops. Each time the townspeople made ridiculous claims about the food, but the little boy knew better.
You can probably figure out for yourself what the Hungry Thing wanted to eat. The children always do, which is why this is such a great book for reading to little ones. They join in the fun of figuring out the rhyme and scream out the answer at just the right moment in the story. "Sounds like Pickles to me!" And they laugh.
The townspeople fed the monster but it took too long. He didn't want the bread, tea or rice they offered him. The boy realizes that they have to offer the food as a rhyming word, so they give him foodles, smello, thread and a fanana. Finally he asked for boop with a smacker and even though they have spent the day playing the game with the Hungry Thing, they still did not understand. The boy whispered in the cook's ear "Soup with a cracker," and they gave him some. The Hungry Thing wiped his mouth and turned his sign around. The back of the sign said, "Thank You!"
I love to study the scriptures, to delve deeply into the historic and spiritual ideas, to understand the meanings of words and the possible interpretations of a text. I like to read the thoughts of learned theologians or listen to their sermons even though sometimes it makes my head hurt. If I were one of those adult townspeople, I would probably be rushing to the Internet to find a recipe for shmancakes and the rest. However, this story reminds us that sometimes it is best to find the simplest answers, like those of a child. Children do not think so highly of themselves or their ideas; they simply believe and trust. While theological study is good, Jesus wants us to always remember to think like a child, for it is that kind of faith that lead us to the answers we seek.
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Scriptures for Sunday, May 30, 2015, Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17
"Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?" John 3:9, ASV
Jesus answered Nicodemus with a question, "Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?"
I think this might be one of the worst questions that Jesus can ask, especially of those who are teachers of the word. Though a lay person, I consider myself a Bible teacher. I've taught workshops and classes, preached, and written Bible studies. Plus, I have been posting this devotional for nearly sixteen years, which often includes lessons on the scriptures alongside the inspiration and spiritual aspects. I should know and understand everything, right? I fear that if I went to Jesus with my doubts, He might ask me the same question.
This is particularly true when we come to this Sunday's focus: the Trinity. I get it, really I do. God is three in one and one in three. He is the Godhead, three persons or essences of the same One. He is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are dozens of possible analogies that get bandied about at this time of year trying to explain to our limited human minds this incredible and impossible concept. I read through the Athanasian Creed and try to grasp the seriousness of this doctrine, but I can't come up with the words that will silence the critics and nonbelievers. How do you teach something that is completely beyond our grasp so that others will receive it with faith?
"How can this be?" "Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?"
No, Jesus, I don't understand. Not fully. So much about what is happening in the world around me does not make sense. I see the issues from too many points of view. I see what you have said and what you have not said and what everyone interprets from the words you have said, but I still have doubts and concerns. I know enough to have an opinion, but not enough to be assured that it is what you truly want me to understand. Then you throw texts like todays at me with the expectation that I will know and understand what you mean.
Isn't it amazing that the most beloved of scriptures (John 3:16) would come in the midst of such a confusing text? Nicodemus wanted to understand. He knew there was something about Jesus worth pursuing, and though he was frightened he sought answers from Him. He did so at a time when the whole work of Jesus was not yet complete. He had not yet died or resurrected. He had not ascended to heaven or sent the Holy Spirit to help His disciples. He was just beginning to reveal Himself to the world and Nicodemus wanted to know more.
Jesus knew how to teach in a way that made people discover the truth. He guided the discussion with questions, asking the student to give input. Jesus' lessons were difficult because they were so different than what was expected and known in that day, but He was willing to teach those willing to learn. I don't think that we should fear this kind of conversation with our Lord, even if we are not confident in our answers because Jesus is looking for people of faith who seek the truth. We are always going to have questions; the things of God are too much for our limited human brains. The point of our life is not to find all the answers, or even to fully understand everything, but to believe, worship and pursue the God who loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.
Nicodemus was willing to listen and learn. It is difficult for us to know the tone of voice, or the intent of Nicodemus' question. Was he confused by the idea of a second birth, or was he being sarcastic? His answer,"How can a man be born from his mother's womb a second time?" It sounds mocking and yet in Nicodemus we see a glimmer of faith. Later in John, Nicodemus stands up for Jesus at His trial, and he attends to the body with Joseph of Arimathea. These are not the actions of a man who has rejected Jesus. Yet, we do not know if Nicodemus ever experienced that second birth. We don't see him at all after the burial. There are those who say that he was martyred, possibly by the leaders who disagreed with him about giving Jesus a fair trial. Other than that, we know nothing.
I suspect that many Christians, even among those reading this blog, secretly identify with a man like Nicodemus, even if we don't realize it. We believe and love God. We are active at church and we serve our neighbors. We do so, however, without wearing our faith on our sleeve. We don't talk about Jesus; most of our neighbors probably do not even know that we are Christians. Perhaps they see us leaving on a Sunday morning at about the right time, but do they see us carrying our Bibles? Do they see our joy? Are we willing to talk about Jesus when we meet them on the street? Most of us would just rather keep our faith private; after all, if we talk about it we might have to answer the tough questions we aren't confident to answer. It is easier to just leave Jesus behind our doors or in the sanctuary of our church. We simply are not willing to be bold like Peter, who tells those listening on that first Pentecost that the man named Jesus that died at their hands was the very Messiah they were waiting to come. We aren't willing to talk about sin, repentance and forgiveness. We aren't willing to make the bold claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We aren't willing to tell our neighbors about the incredible mystery that is our God, the Godhead, the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
How is the silent Christian any different than the secular volunteers in your neighborhood? Is your service any different than the guy who works for the lodge down the street or for the volunteer fire company? Does the world know that the reason you are sharing your resources, time and talent is because you love the Lord your God? You don't have to be born of the Spirit to be kind and generous. But our kindness and generosity is self-serving if we don't do it in a way that glorifies God. We might end up with nice certificates and plaques and perhaps they will name a park or building after us, but if God's name isn't praised, then our work is useless. We hear all too often, "She was a good person; she is surely going to heaven." There is no way for me to know, except that I know it isn't goodness or service that gets us into God's kingdom; faith in Christ is the only path to salvation.
This is a hard lesson; it is no wonder that Nicodemus was confused. It sounds impossible. We can't be born again from our mother's womb, but the idea of a spiritual rebirth is not tangible. How do we know? How can we be assured that God has changed us? How can we know that we have been born from above?
We try very hard to understand, to approach our questions from an intellectual point of view. The early Christians did it when they wrote the creeds of our faith. The debated. They pondered. They worked together until they put together the words that define what it means to be a Christian. Even today many Christians reject the creeds because they want to know and understand God for themselves, although this often leads to heresies or a skewed understanding of God. While it is good for us to pursue knowledge of God, we have to remember that He is greater than we can even imagine. We will never fully understand.
I often joke about all the questions I'm going to ask when I get to heaven. If you could sit down with Jesus and just listen to Him like Nicodemus, what would you ask? What issues have weighed upon your mind? What confuses you about His parables? What fears and doubts do you have? What is your, "How can this be?" question? Do you think about asking Jesus to answer? Perhaps at a bar over margaritas or under a shady tree by a babbling brook?
We can imagine this conversation and hope for it, but is that what we will experience when we do get to heaven? Will we still want to sit down with Jesus and ask the questions that have troubled us throughout our lives once we have entered through those pearly gates? Probably not. As a matter of fact, the truth is that we will be so awed by what we experience when we finally stand in the very real presence of God that we won't have any more questions. We won't care about those issues or worry about our doubts or fears. We will fall on our faces along with the multitudes that went before us to worship the God who is.
We are very much like Isaiah, concerned because we are sinners living in a sinful world. Imagine the scene: Isaiah found himself standing in the presence of the Holy One. This must have been a frightening experience. Isaiah believed that no human could stand in the presence of God, and he was a man of unclean lips. He belonged to a people of unclean lips. Isaiah knew that he was a sinner and that the people of God were not worthy of anything He might give to them. He knew that he was doomed. But he wasn't doomed. God took care of the concern: the angel burnt off the source of Isaiah's fear; He cleansed Isaiah's mouth. Then God invited Isaiah into a working relationship with Him. "Who can I send?" He asked. Isaiah could have looked at his feet, hoed and hummed and kept his now pain-filled lips shut. He could have walked away. But the mercy of God is overwhelming and we are drawn into His heart. It is amazing that God would seek the help of a lowly, sinful, human being. Yet, He does. He calls us to be actively involved in His work. He sends us into the world. He charges us with the task of telling the lost and dying about the grace of God. "Who can I send?" Isaiah answers, "Here I am, send me."
He gave Isaiah a choice. He brought Isaiah into His presence, cleansed him and then presented him an opportunity. It was not to be an opportunity for success. As a matter of fact, the message that he was to take to the people of Judah would be rejected by many. The same is true for us. The message we take into the world will be rejected and we will be rejected along with Jesus because of it. It is foolishness, especially when we describe our God in terms that are impossible to understand. The Trinity is confusing to the most gifted theologians. We don't have the answers to all their questions, and they won't accept anything less than complete understanding.
We know, however, that our life with Christ isn't one of knowledge, but of faith. The best we can do is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hope that God's Holy Spirit can break through the hard hearts with the spark of faith that will change their lives. He is a God that can't be so easily explained; but He is a God that can be loved, worshipped and held in awe.
The psalmist describes God as powerful, majestic, strong, and full of might. His voice breaks the cedars and makes the heart of the nations skip a beat. The voice of the Lord strikes like flashes of lightning and rattles the world. We see that the Lord sits enthroned over history and over the future. He is King over everything past, present and future. This same Lord has the power to bring down giants, to end nations, to turn the universe to dust. Yet, what does this Lord do? He gives strength to His people and blesses His people with peace. He can rattle all creation, but with that same voice He gives us the best news we can hear: we are loved. He is worthy of our awe because He can reduce us to nothing. Yet, we stand in awe, not out of fear, but because we have been given a vision of His glory. He might not be a God that can be fully understood, but He can be glorified with our praise and thanksgiving.
I love Trinity Sunday even though it is one of the lesser celebrated feasts of the church year. I even love that we pull out that monster of a creed named after Athanasius once a year. The Athanasian Creed is incredibly long, and to many it is a tedious confession of faith. We are so used to the point by point confessions of the shorter creeds that we have a hard time with the long, more poetic confession of the Trinity and the Nature of Christ. Even though the theology is more sophisticated, the rhyme and rhythm of the Athanasian Creed is more lyrical and perhaps less logical, especially by our modern language expectations. After all, we are a culture that has learned to speak in a hundred and forty characters. Why bother with a long, complicated circular argument like the Athanasian Creed?
The Athanasian Creed was designed to be lyrical, an almost hymn-like explanation of Christian orthodox belief. They used circular teaching by putting the facts in repetitious statements, making it easy to learn from the sing-song patterns. It was written in response to the Arian heresy that claimed that the Son of God was a subordinate entity, that he did not always exist, was a created being and is distinct from God the Father. From the late fifth or sixth century, the Athanasian Creed was probably not written by Athanasius, but was named after his orthodox Trinitarian understanding of God. It might be longer than we are used to speaking, but it is a beautiful and powerful confession of our Trinitarian faith. There is no better time than on Holy Trinity Sunday for us to confess this creed together.
No matter how well written a creed might be, we still have a great deal of difficulty grasping the concept of the Trinity. After all, this whole idea of not confounding the persons nor dividing the substance doesn't quite add up to what we know is true about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How can they be three in one and one in three, equal and coeternal, the same yet different? How can they be three uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal and yet be not three beings but one? How can they be three almighties and yet only one almighty? Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, but not three Gods, just one God. All are Lord, but not three Lords, just one Lord. How will we ever understand this important but impossible doctrine of our faith?
I think the message for this Holy Trinity Sunday is that it is ok to believe in the mystery of God even though we will never fully understand it. We don't have to explain it. We don't have to have answers to all those unanswerable questions. We don't have to worry about Jesus asking us the question, "Are you a teacher and yet do not understand?" because we have faith that Jesus will do what He has promised to do even if we can't wrap our brains around it all. Like Arias, our quest for answers might just lead us to creating a god that is lesser and within our reach than the God whose voice both thunders and blesses.
"How can these things be?" We might never really know, but that's ok. God is greater than we can imagine, thank goodness. For a God that we can imagine could never accomplish the work that the Trinity has accomplished in time, in space and in the hearts of all those who believe. We are not called to understand, but to believe and to take our faith into the world for the sake of those who need to hear the words of Jesus. God did so love the whole world that He sent His own Son to save it. This simple but powerful message is given to us to share not just in deeds but in the words that will save our neighbors so that they, too, will join us in singing God's praise for eternity.
The following links provide some specially chosen scripture that tell the stories of the Birth and Passion of our Lord as Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as a fictional perspective of the Crucifixion. Spend time in God's Word, read about His life and learn of the wonderful gifts He has for you. Know Jesus Christ and honour Him today. Thanks be to God.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain. Some scripture on this site taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
As you may be aware, I also write a weekly devotional on Wednesday called "MIDWEEK OASIS." For those of you who are familiar with lectionary scripture sources, MIDWEEK OASIS is based on the texts used by millions of Christians each Sunday. The lectionary consists of four texts: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles and a Gospel text. We are now using the lectionary for our A WORD FOR TODAY texts. This devotional is posted on Wednesday, at both A WORD FOR TODAY and at MIDWEEK OASIS.
You are welcome to use these words to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you these gifts, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring them to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom you've shared it. Peggy Hoppes