Welcome to the June 2011 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

Power

Name

Rainbow

Maturity

Two Worlds

Spirit

Temptation

Nostalgia

Witness

Good

Creation

Value

Children

Steal

Prayer

Prophet

Graciousness

Cheating

Failure

Beauty

Burden

Creatures


A WORD FOR TODAY


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





A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2011







June 1, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, May 4, 2008, Seven Easter: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

ďO God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places: The God of Israel, he giveth strength and power unto his people. Blessed be God.Ē Psalm 68:35, ASV

Have you ever been at a campfire and tried to avoid the smoke? It doesnít matter where I sit, the wind always turns in my direction. When I move, the wind blows a new way. I sometimes feel as though Iím being chased. Iím not, I know. It just seems that way. The wind might blow in a general direction, but that is never perfectly the same. It is probably better to just stay in one place because the wind will eventually blow the smoke a little to the left or a little to the right, and then someone else around the campfire will have to put up with it. It is hard to sit there, though, because the smoke burns your eyes and makes your clothes smell. The question is: can you put up with the disadvantages to have the fun that can be had around a campfire? I think, perhaps, símores are worth the hassle.

Have you ever felt like nothing will go right? I think we have all had times when our lives seem out of control, although I suspect that there are many people who feel that way right now. Theyíve lost their jobs so they canít pay their mortgages and they face foreclosure. If you add to those circumstances health issues and relationship troubles that come from the stress and uncertainty, anyone might feel like someone is out to get them. It is bad enough to face one problem, but one often leads to many and then it becomes a burden that even the strongest among us have a hard time handling.

So, you are a disciple in Jerusalem. Jesus has died, but rose again. He spent forty days teaching you everything you need to know. Then one day, when you are out praying, He tells you that thereís no way for you to know the timing of Godís plan, but that youíll be called upon to continue His work in the world. Then He suddenly disappeared, flying off into heaven on a cloud. You know that trouble awaits you in Jerusalem. The authorities are already disturbed by the events of the last forty some days, although it is likely that they were afraid to deal with Jesus.

Now, Jesus is gone. The disciples are alone. They know things, but do they know enough? How are they supposed to continue Jesusí work? How are they supposed to do the miracles, speak the words, teach the lessons that will change peopleís lives? Theyíve lost their teacher. Theyíve left their families, and in many cases canít return home because the families have rejected Jesus, the Messiah. The world is now opposed to everything they believe. How do you deal with that? Do you think those disciples felt a little like a person who canít find a place away from the smoke?

It is no wonder that the disciples stood looking at heaven after Jesus was taken up. I think, if I were one of those disciples, I would just want to go to heaven, too. I surely would not want to go back to Jerusalem to face the challenges of living without Jesus and continuing His work. It wasnít going to be easy. It was even going to be dangerous. Besides, what glory could be found in the suffering that was inevitable?

We learn in todayís Gospel lesson that glory is found in suffering. Christ was glorified, not in heaven or on earth, but on the cross. It wasnít Jesusí words or His miracles that brought Godís blessing on Him, but His willingness to face death for the sake of others. He hung on the cross and God raised Him up, as was Godís purpose all along. Jesus was never meant to try to get out of the smoke, but to stay in it so that others could live. He blocked the smoke so we can breathe.

Doesnít sound very glorious, does it? Neither does the cross. The world cannot see the glory of the cross, after all it was a weapon of torture. But God sees the world in a different way. The glory was not in the instrument, but in the one playing it. Christ was glorified, not because He died, but because He did what God sent Him to do. We will glorify God by doing just what He has sent us to do. It might not be pretty. We might find ourselves in the midst of suffering, having to sit in the smoke for the sake of another. It wonít seem very glorious. But as we live in complete obedience to Godís intention for our lives, He will be glorified. God tells us to go forward, to do His work and not to worry. Whatever the circumstances, Heíll be with us and will help us overcome.

Thatís what happened to those disciples who were watching the sky. Two angels came and said, ďDonít just stand there!Ē They went to Jerusalem to wait for the promise of power that Jesus said that they would receive. That power would give them all they would need to be His witnesses in the world. They would receive the power to tell Godís story, to tell others about Jesus. They didnít sit idle; they spent the time in prayer.

So, what are we doing with our lives? Are we standing, watching heaven for Jesusí return? We know He will come again. We want to be with Him. It is tempting to stay on that mountain to wait. But the angels are speaking to us, too. ďDonít just stand there!Ē We are called to keep moving forward, to go toward our own Jerusalem, to face both the opportunities and the problems so that weíll glorify God. There is work for us to do. There are people who need to hear Godís grace. There are too many who canít breathe because the smoke around them is too thick. They need to see Christ, to experience His mercy and receive His forgiveness.

This is disturbing to many in our world. Then again, the glory of God is disturbing to those in this world. They canít understand when a Christian rejoices in the midst of difficult circumstances. They donít see value in faith or in trusting God. The cross doesnít make sense to them, and they canít wrap their minds around the reality of Christís return.

But Christian faith means rejoicing in all circumstances and moving forward in faith. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to pray the prayer in todayís Gospel lesson? He didnít ask God to remove the cross, but for God to fulfill His promises found there. In this prayer we are reminded of all the things that Jesus has done, sharing the life and light of God with the disciples. It is, in essence, a eulogy, proclaiming the message and purpose of His life for us to hear; they were written by John so that we might know Christ. Then Jesus goes on to speak on the lives of His disciples: they will go on to continue glorifying God is the same ways.

When Jesus said those words, He wasnít just talking about the disciples; the prayer is for every generation. The prayer is for you and for me. We are called to relate the good news of what Jesus has done and proclaim that He has been glorified with God the Father to the people of our own days. Those good words become part of our lives and we become like those first disciples even though we have not lived with Jesus in the flesh. We are among those to whom Christ has been given and He prays also for us today as we shine His light to the world.

It is a message that should be easy to share despite the persecution we might face. We need only speak about the good works of God, retelling the story that brought us into a relationship with Him. Psalm 68 describes the journey of God and His people from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion. It was used in liturgical processions into the Temple. The people call God to arise while His enemies are moved by His power. The wicked will be afraid, but the righteous will rejoice in the presence of Godís glory. In the midst of this story, Godís people pray that He will continue to rule over the world and empower His people. The song ends in the sanctuary where God is glorified with the praise of the people.

The people sing the song and remember the journey because in the story of God we see His faithfulness and His power. Through the past we hold on to the hope of what will continue to be. We sing in thankfulness because God has chased the enemy away, defended the lowly, set prisoners free, and provided life-giving water to the thirsty. The hope for more of Godís power was brought forth through Jesus Christ, as He defeated death, healed the sick, set free those imprisoned by demons and spoke the life-giving Word to people who were thirsty for God. We recall that journey as we move through Easter toward Pentecost when God continues His story through us.

Who are Godís enemies? We might think of enemies in purely modern terms, as in an opposing force in war that seeks to injure, overthrow or confound God. But the enemies of God are not so easily known as an army attacking a fortress. Godís enemies are those who are against Him, those who do according to their own will rather than His own. Before Christ, we were Godís enemies. In Christ, we are His people, no longer enemies.

God still has enemies: the devil is just one among many. He is against God and he tries to lead others away from God. He tries to lead even Godís people away, tempting us to do what is against His will. The tricks of the devil are sly, as he doesnít always try to make us do what seems to be wrong. He will tempt us to do what seems right even if it is against Godís will. Many well meaning folk are doing good works that do not glorify God because they are not according to His will.

Unfortunately, we will fail. Weíll follow the wrong voice; weíll do the wrong things. We will be fooled by the tempter. Weíll stand staring at heaven, waiting for Jesus to come when we really should be praying in Jerusalem until that day. When we do fail, it is important to remember that we are responsible. Yes, the devil is a tricky character, but he can only tempt us. When we fail it is because we have not been prepared. When we fall it is because we havenít trusted God or done what He has called us to do. But we can live in the promise that God is awesome in His sanctuary and He will give us the strength to withstand and overcome. When we do fail, as the disciples did and as we do, God forgives.

It isnít up to us to worry or wonder, but to go forward and do the work that will glorify God. We may not completely understand. Even the disciples misunderstood everything Jesus taught, even to that very last moment. They asked when the kingdom of Israel would be restored. Even then, they continued to think that Jesus came to make the nation golden as it was in the golden days of David. As time passed and the Christian church saw the Gospel in a ever changing light, the understanding of Godís Kingdom and Israel also changed. It stopped being a national identity and developed into a spiritual one.

How does our thinking change over time? Do we see Godís kingdom in new ways? Do we understand Godís Word differently? This might be true, but we must be careful that we do not fall for the tempterís tricks. We must not allow our thinking to be led astray. Is everything that is new real? Is it true? Does it glorify God? These are the questions we should ask in those times of prayer as we wait for Godís power to come over us. Let us trust in God, seek His Word and do only the work that will glorify Him. We might just be surprised by the times and ways that His grace will do amazing things.

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June 2, 2011

ďAnd I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.Ē John 12:32, ASV

Surely youíve heard the name P.T. Barnum, right? Well, today is a memorable day in the history of his circus: it was the day they began its first tour of the United States. June 2, 1928 is the day Velvetta Cheese was first created. In 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was held in England. Even if you arenít a racing fan, you probably know the name Andretti. On this date in 1991, the Andretti family was victorious in that Miller 200 at Wisconsin, with three drivers coming in first, second and third. Though you may not have attributed June 2nd to any of those names, you probably have heard of them.

How about Guglielmo Marconi? You might be familiar with Marconi Airport in Italy, or the plaza in Philadelphia. Several roads around the world are named after him and there are statues or monuments placed in his honor. A train station in Somerset New Jersey was named after him which was later replaced by a Memorial Plaza. There is even a beach in Massachusetts named after him. Do you ever drive by a street, building or bridge thatís been named after someone and wonder, ďWho was Marconi?Ē Sometimes the answer is obvious because theyíve been named after someone with whom we are familiar. Reagan High School was named for Ronald Reagan. But even my kids who attended J. Frank Dobie Middle School arenít quite sure who J. Frank Dobie was.

So, who is Guglielmo Marconi, and why is June 2nd an important day in his life? Today is the day in 1896 when he applied for a patent in England for a technology that has had an incredible impact on the world: the radio. His patent for transmitting electrical signals was patented in England and the United States in July 1897. Can you imagine a world without the radio? There was, of course, some dispute over the patents of the radio technology, as several other people had similar inventions at the time. So we would have radio technology anyway, but the courts ruled in 1943 that Marconi was the first to receive a patent and his reputation as first was court ordered to remain intact.

June 2nd is Ascension Day. Most Christians are familiar with Christmas and Easter. They know Pentecost. Iím sure most of us have heard of Ascension Day, but since it always occurs on a Thursday forty days after Easter, few of us celebrate the day. If you donít know about the day, you can probably guess what why we recognize it: it was the day Jesus ascended to heaven. This might not seem very significant, particularly when considered next to Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. However, it was a necessary moment in the life of the Church. Just like Easter could not happen without Good Friday, Pentecost cannot happen without the Ascension. Jesus had to rise so that He could send the Spirit.

Would we know Jesus if He hadnít ascended into heaven? Perhaps thatís not an appropriate question, but the reality is that even His disciples did not truly understand who He was until they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If Jesus had continued to walk on earth, as He did during His ministry and for those forty days after, He would not have been able to touch nearly as many people. Even if He lived forever on earth, His impact would have been minimal since He could not possibly reach every human being born. Even with modern technology like the radio, television and Internet, Jesus might get lost among the names that are more familiar. And without His Spirit, we would never truly know Him.

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June 3, 2011

ďAs the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.Ē Ezekiel 1:28, ASV

I turned my calendar today (yes, I know Iím a couple days late.) The calendar has pictures of folk art by Eric Dowdle, an artist who portrays not only the scenery but also the people and the atmosphere of the places. One picture shows a winter scene on a farm, another has hot air balloons over a lake, yet another a waterfront with fishing boats and row homes. The scenes are seasonal, colorful, happy. The picture for June is of Noahís Ark surrounded by dozens of animals waiting to board.

The picture is especially cute because he has the animals doing some particularly human actions. The owl is reading a book. The polar bear is drinking a soda. The panda bear is playing a banjo. The penguin, in his tuxedo is acting as a butler, delivering a drink. I think I could spend hours searching the picture for the humorous and unexpected moments in that scene. Many people have portrayed that moment in time through art. Some make it very realistic, others with a touch of humor. The usual animals are almost always present: elephants, lions and cows. The most amazing part of these scenes is the proximity of animals that are rarely seen together. After all, an alligator is likely to eat the flamingo right next to its teeth and a tiger would take down a zebra in seconds.

We know the story of Noahís Ark. Noah, the only one on earth that was righteous in the eyes of God, was called to build an ark. He loaded the ark with two of every creature, his wife, his sons and their wives. When the time was right, God closed them in on the ark and it started to rain. It rained for forty days and forty nights until the water covered the entire earth. It took months for the water to recede, but when it did the ark landed on a mountain.

Eventually the animals and people were set free to reestablish the earth. When it was over, God spoke to Noah and made a lasting promise, ďAnd I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.Ē

I love to see rainbows. Unfortunately, we havenít seen a rainbow at my house for a long time. We havenít even seen rain for a long time. On the one hand, the lack of rain means that floods are unlikely. But as we go for days, weeks, months, even years without those rainbows, it is easy to wonder if God will remember the promise when it does start raining again. It is typical for our region to be dry for a long time and then to rain on and on and on when it does start again. When it begins to rain, we will face the possibility of flash flooding and then eventually rivers washing over their banks. Will God be faithful when the rain begins, even if there is no break in the storm to allow for a rainbow?

As I was pondering the story of Noah today, I decided to look through the scriptures to see whether there are rainbows mentioned any other time. I found three references, one from Ezekiel and two from Revelation, including the text for today. In each passage, the prophet describes the image of God in heaven, an image which includes a rainbow surrounding the throne of God or the Son of Man wrapped in a rainbow. In other words, though we do not see a rainbow, God does not need the reminder as we might expect. He has made it part of who He is. The rainbow, and the promise, is part of His glory, part of His majesty. Thatís why He is so faithful: He isnít separated from His promises the way human beings tend to be. He is the promise, and as such He canít fail.

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June 6, 2011

ďWherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the land which hath drunk the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receiveth blessing from God: but if it beareth thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak: for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and the love which ye showed toward his name, in that ye ministered unto the saints, and still do minister. And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fulness of hope even to the end: that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.Ē Hebrews 6:1-12, ASV

We spent the weekend focused on my son, Zachary. He graduated from High School on Saturday, and then we celebrated with a party on Sunday. It was a bittersweet weekend. On the one hand, we are so very proud of Zachary and his accomplishments, which were many. On the other hand, it means he is growing up and getting ready to go out into the world on his own, leaving us behind for something new and exciting.

The graduation ceremony was nice. With just over three hundred students, it went surprisingly fast, as each graduate walked across the stage to receive their diploma. Thankfully, the speakers were few and the speeches brief, and the words spoken were relevant and inspirational to the students. The speeches were typical of a graduation, remembering the old and looking forward to the new. They talked about going out into the real world and yet holding on to those friendships with they were sure would last forever. These are all good words, and yet not always as true as we hope.

My daughter Victoria laughed at the comment that was repeated several times about going out into the real world. Oh, some of the students will have to go get jobs and begin adulthood in Ďthe real world.í But many of those students are heading off to college, and though college requires maturity and independence, it is nothing like the real world. College students still live in a somewhat protected environment, have guidance and assistance and are responsible only for their own actions. They do not need to be accountable, except as is necessary for their own success. They donít have to worry about a home and family, bills and bosses, or even the everyday decisions like what to cook for dinner. It is a world where they can learn about responsibility while still in the safety of an enclosed world.

One friend at the party, who graduated about twenty years ago, spoke about some of her own high school friends. Facebook has somewhat changed the relationship we have with those long lost friends, because many people are reconnecting. She said that she was surprised to discover that many of her high school friends are still hanging out like they did in high school. It is not bad to continue to have friends from your youth into adulthood; I am still friends with several people Iíve known forever. However, we relate to each other in a much different way today. We now have families. We have children and jobs and adult responsibilities. We arenít partying several times a week. We get together once in awhile to share our hopes, dreams, successes, and yes, our pain.

So, while it might nice to hold on to those old friends forever, we change. We grow. We mature. We find our place in the real world, and sometimes we each have our own path we must take that separates us from our past. As the graduates move into a new phase of their life, whether it is a few years in college or right into Ďthe real world,í they have to mature. They have to change. They have to take what they have learned and apply it to their lives, following the path that is being carved out for them. If they continue returning to that old life, partying with those old friends, they can never fully be all they have been created to be.

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June 7, 2011

ďAnd the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things; and as iron that crusheth all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron doth not mingle with clay.Ē Daniel 2:40-43, ASV

So, I was on Facebook playing one of my favorite games (yes, Iím back to playing games. The whole giving it up for Lent only partially worked. Iím not playing as much, but I did quickly return to the games after Easter.) I usually look at the advertisements on the sidebar, although I rarely click anything. It would be amazing how many times those ads are appropriate to my circumstances if I didnít know that they use keywords from my statuses and other activities on Facebook. The computer knows the year I graduated from high school and thus gives me ads for pages or businesses that serve that particular age and time period. They know Iím an artist from my posts, and so give me ads for arts organizations and schools. They know Iím a Lutheran from my information, and so I get numerous ads for Lutheran churches or organizations.

I thought it was interesting, then, when one of the ads that came up on my page was for a school where I could become an addiction counselor. Now, I donít think Iím addicted to these games, but I certainly play them way too much. And I know there are people who are truly addicted to them. Anyone who spends thousands of dollars a year buying virtual gifts for virtual pets or planting virtual crops in a virtual farms, and who spends so many hours a day on the computer that they lose touch with reality is addicted. I can imagine that thereís a whole new segment of the counseling profession focused solely on the electronic media.

I thought it was funny when I saw the advertisement, because here I was getting ready to play my own favorite game. Iím not sure what it is about my profile and posts that might lead the computer to recommend this particular ad, but it seems illogical to make the recommendation if I am addicted. Now, if the ad was to get counseling, that might make sense, but can a person addicted to something counsel others out of their addictions? There is something powerful about former addicts helping others, but can the two worlds co-exist?

We live in a world filled with mixed messages. On one hand, these video games do everything they can to drag you in and keep you coming, but then theyíll remind you constantly to keep be careful about how much time you spend. I have a video game to use for exercising and my Ďtrainerí on one hand will encourage me to come more often or continue the game when I try to leave, but then will remind me not to overdo it. One day these two statements came in succession. Thatís like living in a world of clay while trying to keep it strong with steel.

As I thought about this scripture, I found the scripture for today. While this text is very particular to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and the prophecy of Daniel, thereís something about this clay and steel that makes sense in our world, especially for Christians. We try to live in both, donít we? We try to be Christian, but we continue to do some of the things that we want to do, even when those things do not quite fit into the will and purpose of God. It is like continuing with our addictions even while we are counseling others about theirs. We canít stand firmly on both clay and steel. They are two different worlds, seemingly strong but will eventually crumble.

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June 8, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, June 12, 2011, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

ďWould that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!Ē Numbers 11:29b

When asked what the opportunity means to them, many reality show contestants answer that the prize money will be life changing. During the food competitions like Chopped or Master Chef, the chefs often talk about a lifelong goal of opening a restaurant. On Cupcake Wars, the bakers want to expand their business, have greater visibility in their communities and accomplish great things. The dancing or singing shows have contestants that have always wanted to be professionals. Winning the competitions is life changing for each and every one of them.

Yet, the life changing effects are not always positive. Take, for instance, the many lottery winners who have discovered that winning the lottery is often disastrous. They find that their lives are not changed in a good way. They find every distant relative crawling out of the woodwork asking for money. Sales people wonít leave them alone. People they trust stop being trustworthy when they try to discover ways to get the most for themselves out of the prize. Plans fall apart because the winners quickly discover that everyone is willing to take advantage of them.

Some of the problems are not solely the fault of others, though. A million dollars may sound like a lot of money, but it quickly disappears. The government takes a portion for taxes. A new house, car and other material possessions can eat up the pennies faster than you might realize. Then what happens? The expensive house and car means high taxes and maintenance. When they canít afford it, they end up in debt and often lose everything they bought. They often end up in worse shape than when they started because they were not careful with the gift. It was life changing, but not in a good way.

Have you ever gotten something that was life changing? Did you get that perfect job or find the right mate? Were you ever in the right place at the right time to receive something that was life changing? You may not have even realized that you were looking for something. You may have thought that you had everything you needed, but then one day you had an opportunity to do something new or to look at the world through a new point of view. Did you take advantage of that opportunity? How did it turn out? Did it turn out for good, or was it, in the end, life changing in a negative way?

When we look at the lives of the apostles, we might wonder if it ended well. After all, they suffered horrendous persecution and most died horrible deaths. John was apparently the only one who died of old age. Peter was crucified upside down. James was put to death by Herod Agrippa I. Legends and traditions surround the deaths of the rest of the apostles, though evidence is sketchy. Despite the uncertainty around their lives and deaths, we do know that being a Christian is not an easy life to live. The Holy Spirit is life changing, but if we look at those lives through modern, secular eyes, we might think that it is not a good way to go. Who wants to be persecuted? Who wants to lose everything? Who wants to die over something like this?

The apostles received a life changing gift on that Pentecost. The promised Holy Spirit came and changed the way they see the world and the way they respond to it. It might have been easier to return to their fishing boats or tax collectorís table, but they couldnít do that once they had the Spirit. Living with Jesus might have been enough, although we did see that in the first moments after the crucifixion, they returned to their old lives. They were probably excited to have had Jesus for another forty days, but how long would that excitement have lasted after Jesus ascended to heaven if they didnít have something to keep them going?

They lasted ten days, but how long would they have gone on? When would that first disciple have said, ďHey, I canít just sit here day after day, Iím going home.Ē Do you think they would have stayed if theyíd known what was really coming? Would it have mattered? They were the ones chosen by Jesus to continue the work. Would the Holy Spirit have found them anyway?

Thatís what happened in the passage from Numbers. Moses was tired. He asked God for help with the people of Israel. He couldnít serve them all, so God agreed to anoint elders to serve as judges with Moses. While the chosen men were gathered at the tent of meeting, God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to them. When it happened, the men began to prophesy. At the same time, two men in the camp also received the Spirit of God and prophesied. Joshua, Mosesí assistant, was upset by this unexpected anointing. ďDo something!Ē he cried out to Moses. But Moses was not bothered by it. ďAnd Moses said unto him, Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!Ē

In this, Moses prophesied what God would do one day, and we know that it happened Pentecost. Jesus Christ opened the door for all Godís people to live out a real and active faith that speaks Godís Word in the world. The elders in Mosesí day were charged with doing Godís work, and so are those who receive His Holy Spirit now. It began at Pentecost and we benefit from His grace even now, as He showers His Spirit on all those who believe. This anointing is life changing.

And the anointing is necessary in this age after Christ. Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. We canít choose to be a Christian without that gift from God. Even the disciples, whoíd spent three long years learning from Jesus, could not say that Jesus is Lord without the power of the Spirit. Even to the moment Jesus was taken into heaven, they were still seeing the work of Christ through their own eyes and expectations. They were anxiously awaiting a kingdom that would not come because it was not what God intended. In those ten days while they were constantly in prayer waiting for the promised Comforter, they still did not know what to expect. It was not until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them that they could prophesy with power.

In a world where power is everything, this might seem like something toward which we should strive, but the power given by God in the Holy Spirit is much different than the power the world values. This power wonít make anyone the head of a company or get them elected to political office. This kind of power will not earn anyone respect or money or position. It will not guarantee success or promise popularity. As a matter of fact, the power given by the Holy Spirit is more likely to bring persecution and rejection. The world has rejected God and continues to reject those who serve Him.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says, ďPeace be with you.Ē Again, this peace is not as the world might expect. We talk of peace between nations and people, a world without conflict. Does having the Holy Spirit guarantee a life without conflict? No, it does not. The peace Jesus guarantees is the peace that comes from turning toward God and trusting in Him. No matter what our circumstances, we dwell in peace when we dwell in God. It doesnít matter if the world rejects us because God accepts us and loves us and fills us with His grace. By the power of Godís Spirit, we become one with Christ and part of His Church.

Paul refers to the Church as the body of Christ and Christians as the parts. ďFor as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.Ē We are made one in Christ, each with our own individual gifts. Paul also says, ďFor in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.Ē

The Spirit from which we drink is the gift Jesus promised. The work He does in this world through His Spirit is to quench the thirst of those who are thirsty for the Living Water, which is Jesus. In todayís Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the listeners to come to Him. He was in the Temple during Sukkoth, or the festival of Booths. It was a time to thank God for His abundance at the harvest. The adherents built small booths to represent Godís protection. They lived and ate in the booths for seven days.

These traditions were a part of the life of the Jews. They traveled to Jerusalem out of a sense of duty and faith. Yet, many of the rituals that accompanied the celebrations were not given to them by God. They were not originally part of the festival but became part of the celebration as the Jews embraced the practices of their neighbors. Take, for instance, the ritual of libation. In this ritual the people poured great quantities of water over the altar. The water ran off the altar, onto the floor and it flowed out of the temple into the valley below. This was not an act of faith, defined by God to be part of the celebration, but a pagan ritual that the people wanted to give them assurance that God would meet their needs. It was as if they thought God did not know they needed water to live. Jesus spoke to them on the seventh day, when the water was pouring out of the Temple. He cried, ďIf any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.Ē He was calling Godís people to look to Him for blessing rather than through rituals that had no real meaning in Godís kingdom.

Jesus then said, ďHe that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.Ē This passage finishes with the promise of the Spirit, the Spirit received at Pentecost. The Spirit comes from Jesus, into our hearts and into our lives. It is a living Spirit, like flowing water. It is not meant to be hidden away in our hearts or behind the walls of a church building. God gives us the gift of His Spirit, and the gifts that come with His presence in our lives, to be used for the sake of the world. It is living water that flows, into and out of our hearts. We are given the Holy Spirit so that we will take Him into the world so that others will also hear and believe and receive.

We might not have won a reality television show or even been in the right place at the right time to receive something life changing. But we have been changed and the world in which we live will look different to us because of it. The Holy Spirit has come upon us. We know this because we could not call Jesus our Lord without that Spirit. But has our life really been changed? Are we really living in the faith we have been given and using the gifts we have received? Are we being prophets in a world that needs to hear Godís Word more than ever?

It might be frightening to follow this reality, but we need not fear. God is with us. He has given us all we need, including that promise that no matter what happens in this world, we will spend eternity with Him in the next. We may suffer persecution. We may be rejected. It is not even out of the realm of possibility that we could die for our bold faith.

The psalmist says, ďThou sendest forth they Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.Ē God breathes on every baby born and they become living beings. Every baby born changes and renews the earth. There is no person who has been created by God that is not loved by Him and for whom He has a great and wonderful purpose. Their very existence means that the world will be a new and different place. When God sent His Spirit to rest upon the disciples on that first Pentecost, the world was changed.

Our reading from the Psalm for today does not include verse 35a. The reason for ignoring this passage is because it does not seem to be in keeping with the praise and worship of the rest of psalm. The psalmist writes, ďAnd let the wicked be no more.Ē I think we should keep it in, because it is not a condemnation of wickedness but rather a hope for sinners. If we read it in the context of the promise of Pentecost and the reality of Godís life-changing breath, we can see that when God breathes on His people, they are changed. Though they are sinners, by faith they become saints. When God transforms a person, he or she is wicked no more. We are made righteous by Godís breath, created and the earth is renewed. The world is changed because God has taken away the wickedness by which all human flesh is oppressed and makes us new to go out and glorify God by sharing His Word and His goodness with others.

You may not be a prophet, but all Christians are called and gifted to prophesy: to speak the word of God that points to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are all gifted with special talents and abilities to be used in sharing Godís grace in our own individual ways, each a part of the whole doing what we are called to do. Our lives have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, so let us go now in peace and let the Living Water flow from our hearts so that all might hear, believe and be saved.

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June 9, 2011

ďAnd he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.Ē Luke 17:1-2, ASV

We bought Zack a mylar balloon for his graduation. It has been in the living room since Saturday, providing the kitties a new and interesting object to obsess over. With the air conditioner and fan going, the living room has been the perfect place to keep it moving, blowing in the breeze. When the balloon gets caught in just the right wind movement, it bounces, moves and even bends toward them. Tigger had a great time pouncing at the balloon the other day and was quite entertaining to watch.

Unfortunately, all three kitties love to chew things, and ribbon is one of their favorites. The thin paper ribbon holding the balloon to the weight is no match for the sharp teeth of the cats. Sammy chewed through it in minutes. We told him that he would lose his toy if he chewed through the string, but he didnít listen to us. So, when he managed to get through the ribbon, the balloon flew away to the ceiling. When it first happened, I looked at the ceiling fan and thought that could be a problem if the balloon got too close, but it didnít seem to be moving, so I let it go. I didnít pay attention to it and some time later I jumped when there was a loud noise. It sounded as if the ceiling were falling down. Then I realized that it was just the balloon hitting the fan.

The noise scared the kitties, too. Delilah ran upstairs and didnít come back for hours. Tigger spent the next few hours nervously glancing at the balloon. Sammy was initially shocked, but he recovered quickly. We decided to retie the balloon to the weight, hoping that the cats had learned the lesson. They left it alone for awhile, but the next day I was sitting in another room when I suddenly heard a strange sound. It was the balloon hitting the fan again. This time I moved the balloon to another room and the kitties can no longer play with it.

I know they are cats and they do not have the memory or reasoning of human beings. I know they didnít understand when I said that chewing the string would set it free. I knew that they wouldnít learn their lesson the first time. I know that I canít blame them if I am going to tempt them with something that I know will cause them trouble. I purposely let them play with the balloon because I knew it would give us hours of entertainment, but I should have realized how they would be affected if the inevitable happened. By allowing them to chew the string, they experienced a frightening moment that made at least two of the kitties skittish for hours.

What sorts of temptations do we put in front of others? Do we insist people eat cake when we know the sugar might be bad for their health? Do we put a person that has anger management issues into situations that will make them angry? Do we allow those struggling with sexuality into circumstances that might cause them to do something that they are not emotionally, physically or even spiritually capable of handling? Do we tempt co-workers to do something that is wrong or give family members a reason to be difficult? Do we make it easy for an addict to fall or a fan to become obsessed? We may not realize we are doing so, especially if the problem is not something that tempts us. We donít understand how harmful just one sip of beer can be to an alcoholic, so taking them to a bar doesnít seem like such a big deal. But in doing so, we might just be the ones that lead them to do the very thing that could destroy them.

Jesus says we should watch ourselves, because if we cause someone to sin it is on our shoulders. We should be careful that we do not put others into situations that will prove harmful to them. We should not entice them with the temptations that might cause they to fall, even if we think those temptations are easy to overcome. The things that entice us are different than those that beguile others. So let us stand together, helping one another through this world so that we will all continue to stand firm in the Kingdom of God. Let us do what we can to keep one another from harm, encouraging each other to walk rightly so that we wonít fall or be lured down a dangerous path.

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June 10, 2011

ďAnd I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.Ē Revelation 21:1-4, ASV

I graduated from High School thirty years ago today. It seems impossible to believe that it was that long ago, and yet when I look at my life I have to admit that it is true. After graduating, I spent four years in college, three years working and living on my own and then married for nearly twenty three years. I have two grown children, and we have lived in six states and one foreign country. Weíve belonged to nine different churches. Iíve made countless dinners, thousands of chicken nuggets and enough macaroni and cheese to fill a swimming pool.

Ok, so the macaroni and cheese might be an exaggeration, thereís no way to prove it, but it seems like it could be true. A lot has happened. Iíve lost loved ones. Iíve said good-bye to friends. Iíve had a few jobs, tried a few hobbies, planted a few flowers. Iíve been hurt, laughed with joy, had my share of sickness. Iíve watched too much television, voted in elections, gone to see many good movies and a few bad ones. I canít even think how many books Iíve read. Iíve had sleepless nights, worried about unimportant things and done things I probably should not have done. Iíve watched my family accomplish great things. Thirty years is a long time.

The world has changed significantly since I graduated from High School. Can you imagine a world without the Internet? Mobile phones? DNA testing? Fiber optics? Digital photography? Bar codes and scanners? ATM machines? LCD? These innovations are among many in a list put out in 2009 by the PBS program ďNightly Business Report.Ē They asked viewers to suggest innovations that have shaped the world in the past thirty years. They received 1200 suggestions, so your Ďcanít live withoutí advancement might not be on the list. Some suggestions that didnít make the list are GPS, the mute button and rolling luggage. What would you put on that list?

We are moving forward technologically at a pace that is beyond contemplation. Weíve all seen those emails about things that you might not know if you were born after a certain age. How many teenagers have ever even seen a rotary phone or a television with knobs? We might laugh at the prospect of having an eight track player, but most children donít even know about cassettes, and the youngest among us wonít even have a CD player. I still have hundreds of vinyl albums out of nostalgia even though I know that I could fit all of that music onto an mp3 player the size of my thumb.

I remember having to load all those albums into my car to take them to the parties where I was a DJ. Mobile disc jockeys today donít need all to do all that work; they have everything digitally and so need far less equipment. The equipment even does most of the work, so that they can actually preprogram a party and never worry about changing the music. These innovations have certainly made life easier. A remote control means we can go through two hundred stations in a matter of minutes. Thirty years ago we didnít have two hundred stations. Maybe life isnít that much easier.

Would I go back to the day I graduated? I donít think so. I have enjoyed my life, I love my family, and every experience has made me who I am today. Iím not perfect, but I like what Iíve become and I look forward to thirty more years of innovation. Weíll go through good times and bad, weíll become nostalgic over the things we remember way back when, but in time weíll come to appreciate and enjoy the changes yet to come. In the next thirty years Iím looking forward to grandchildren, European cruises with Bruce, gallery shows and book signings. And maybe in thirty years from today Iíll be pondering all that happened in the sixty years since I graduated from High School, thinking about the innovations and changes we have experienced.

Or maybe, by then, weíll have experienced the great coming of our Lord and weíll be spending eternity in heaven, no longer counting the days. Until that day, life will go on. The world will change. In thirty years there just may be a new earth, or at least a world that does not look like our world today. We will go forth in faith, trusting in God, experiencing each change with hope for what we know is to come, knowing that good or bad, God is with us through it all and that He has promised something even greater one day.

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June 13, 2011

ďFor the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things! But they did not all hearken to the glad tidings. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.Ē Romans 10:11-17, ASV

One of the contestants on this seasonís ďThe Next Food Network StarĒ is from the Midwest, and thus has a slightly different accent than what the judges are used to hearing. In a way, her Ďaccentí is less an accent than a lack of an accent, compared to many of the other Food Network stars. When the judges commented, not negatively bur curious about where she was from, the contestant became upset and flustered. She was afraid to speak for fear of disturbing the judges with her voice. I think she misunderstood their curiosity, and it affected the way she did later tasks.

In particular, the contestants were given the task of making trailers for their new television show, designed to get viewers to watch. The activity was given early in the game, even while these contestants are still trying to figure out what they are and what they will do, but it was meant to help the judges see how they deal with stress and work under pressure. Could they speak with eloquence, make their point and work with others? How do they look and act on camera? Are they able to get their point across quickly and effectively?

This contestant was so frightened by the judgesí impression of her voice that she tried to fake a better voice. In doing so, however, she spoke so quietly that the microphone could not pick it up. There is no point of speaking if the words canít be heard. Alton Brown, who was working a director of the commercials, told her not to worry about the accent, that it was as normal as they come and that she shouldnít let it upset her. He told her to speak loud enough to be heard. She did. In further comments, the judges were far less concerned about her Ďaccentí than they were about how personally she took the original comment and how she did not deal with her fears with courage. She fell apart, and the team wasted twenty minutes while she got herself back together.

I donít think her problem is all that unusual. Most of us do not care what others think of our accents or lack of an accent, but we are worried about what we say. Will our words be hurtful? Will we appear to be angry, dull, or intolerant? Will we say something that is wrong or will our words lead to an argument? We often prefer to keep our mouths shut than speak and appear foolish. This is especially true in our era when it comes to the things of faith. How many of us are willing to tell our neighbor about Jesus? How many of us are bold enough to talk about the saving grace of Christ?

We are good people. We do good works, and because we help our neighbor, God is pleased. There is no doubt about that. However, God is not glorified by our works, even if we are doing it for His sake. The world must know that we are doing it in His name, and they cannot know that unless we speak His Word into their lives. They might be able to figure out by the rest of our lifeóour church attendance, the Bible on our coffee table, the crosses on our wallóthat we are Christians. But without the words, those acts and symbols are nothing but props. It is all well and good to say that we are sharing the Gospel by helping our neighbor, but salvation comes when Godís grace is proclaimed, for those who hear and believe will be saved.

So, letís not let fear get in the way of doing what God has called us to do. Proclaim His Word boldly and loudly to the world in words as well as deeds. To let your good works speak for themselves is a cop out and glorifies only yourself. Speak so that the world might hear the Good News because you have been sent as a witness so that the world might hear and be saved.

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June 14, 2011

ďAnd God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Ē Genesis 1:27-31

Iíve started playing a new game on Facebook. It is called ďGardens of Time.Ē In this hidden picture game, the player is sent on quests throughout history to find items in messed up scenes. In each scene you might find items that do not belong, like disco balls in a London pub or airplanes in an ancient dinosaur forest. You have a limited amount of time to find the items and get bonuses for being fast. You win coins that can be used to decorate your garden with artifacts, buildings and decorations for all those time periods. Building items in your garden also gets you points and you can get points by visiting friends and doing other puzzles. Different quests require certain items to be placed, and with enough work you get to place ďwondersĒ which are special items earned by finishing each chapter of the story.

It is, like all the other games, terribly addicting. I want to finish every quest as it is given. I want to play the new scenes as they are available, but hate waiting until I have the right amount of points. I enjoy the puzzles, and love decorating my garden. Iím having fun making the pieces fit, making the garden beautiful. Unfortunately, as soon as I think I have it right, Iím given a new quest to complete which requires placing another new item in the garden. I have to add space to make everything fit, and that means moving everything so that it fits properly in the new space.

I could spend hours placing the items in my garden. It can get frustrating because the requirements to move on in the game mean that I have to place items I might not want in my garden. I love having large grassy areas, but they arenít worth very much, especially compared to some of the artifacts. If I want to finish the quests, I need to use artifacts, and that means putting multiples of some things that I might not want to use. Through it all, I want it to make sense, to appear to be a real garden someone might want to visit. It doesnít make sense to me to put a dozen identical statues even though thatís the easy way to make points. So, I spend too much time rearranging things so to make room for the things that help my quest while giving it purpose in the garden. I know: get a life.

Not that Iím God, but isnít that the way God continues to create in His World? God created the world and said it was good. Everything has a purpose. We may not understand the reason, after all there are many things in this world that just donít make sense to us. Which of us like mosquitoes or cockroaches? They seem to have no purpose except to annoy and harm us. Yet, God created them and they are good and He continues to create and recreate His world according to His good and perfect will.

If mosquitoes and cockroaches are good and have been created for a purpose, so are you. Donít let anyone make you think you are worthless. You may not know your purpose at this moment, but God did not create you for nothing. He has placed you in His garden exactly where He wants you to be. What do you see? What opportunities are there for you to help your neighbor? What gifts do you have that you can use in this moment? You have a purpose, and God will use your willing heart to do good things in His garden.

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June 15, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, June 19, 2011, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4b; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

ďAnd God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.Ē Genesis 1:31a

Our water heater broke about a year ago. Luckily we caught it fairly early, so the heater didnít leak into the garage. When the plumber came to repair the system, he discovered that it was irreparable; it needed to be replaced. To do so, the plumber had to empty the water that was still in the container, so he ran a hose into the yard and let it drain into the grass. This would have not have been a problem, except that we have a water softener that uses salt, and so the water draining into the grass was salt water. I learned a long time ago that you canít use salt water to water plants because the salt kills the plant. So, weíve had this patch of lawn that was not only dead, it was dirt. The salt killed the grass and the extreme drought burned even the dead grass into dust.

A few weeks ago I began watering this patch of lawn. We have to be careful about watering because we are in heavy restrictions due to the drought, but we can hand water on a regular basis. I fill the dirt patch with water and spray the grass around the edge. This not only encourages the grass into new growth but also gives it a place to grasp. So, day by day I have noticed that the patch is being restored. You can still tell where the grass had died, but the patch is getting smaller. It is not all that surprising that weíve been able to turn this problem around: grass was designed by God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Not that it matters much. The drought in Texas means that most of us donít have much of a lawn anyway. But then, as a friend recently reminded me, we live in an arid state, a nearly desert region. We are on the edge, to the south and east is a coastal and more humid and thus greener landscape. To the west and north is desert. We sit between the two, so when it is dry, we are like a desert, but when we are wet, the landscape is lush and green. Unfortunately, we try to keep it lush and green even when it is dry. Weíve replaced the natural grasses with lawn, and even if those lawns are drought resistant, they arenít necessarily what is meant to grow in our ground.

This reminds me of a joke. It is a conversation between God and St. Francis.

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar FROM the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and REPLACE them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them INTO great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It's a real stupid movie about....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole plot FROM St. Francis.

I love my neighborhood. The people are wonderful and it is comfortable, clean and beautiful. But as I look down my street, I see the same green/brown lawns and two trees in every front yard. A few people have made minor changes. Theyíve added a bush or two, stone or brick rings around the trees, flowers in the flower bed. It is a typical housing development, like every other one popping up on the landscape of our nation. The houses are different but the same. The cars are similar. We are all individuals, but weíve created something new and different in this desert-like area. Though I love our neighborhood, I canít help but wonder what has been lost of Godís design by the creation of our own little world. Have we tried, like those Suburbanites, to take creation out of Godís hands and put it into our own?

Yet, it is so amazing to hear once again the story of Godís work of creation. It is beautiful in its simplicity and yet so very real in its description. Whatever you think about the science answers to the questions about the origins of life, the Bible and the scientific records tell basically the same story. The only difference is that science says it is all a great coincidence, and the Bible says that it was God. But think about the chronology of the Biblical account. Genesis says that God created sky and water, land and sea, plants that bear seed and fruit, trees, the sun, moon and stars, living creatures in the sea and sky, animals that crawl on the ground both wild and those to be domesticated, and then man and woman.

I remember reading the book ďHawaiiĒ by James Michener. In the first hundred pages (it seemed that long), Michener described the creation of the islands. First an underground volcano exploded, sending forth lava that set down a foundation. Over and over again that volcano exploded, setting down more foundation to the mountain until the mountain peak poked out of the water. Eventually the mountain peak was large enough to contain life. Erosion created soil. Birds brought seeds from other islands which grew into plants. Animals found their way to the land. And then man arrived. We might not agree that the first amoeba eventually became man, but we can see how creation progressed from the smallest beings at the beginning of time to the birth of Godís crown, man.

I love verse 20, ďAnd God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.Ē I donít much like swarms, particularly those pesky swarms of gnats that fly around ones head on a hot humid evening, but the language is interesting in this context. God wants the world to be full of life, to congregate in multitudes, to be a great number constantly in motion. The world He created was not meant to stop, but to keep going on and on and on.

The other thing I find fascinating about this passage is how often we see that God created everything living thing to keep creating more. Plants bear seeds to make more plants. The fish, birds and animals are blessed with the command to be fruitful and multiply, even the sea monsters. And then God created man and woman, giving them the same command. We were created in His image to continue creating, filling the earth with swarming new life. In this account of the beginning, God provides His creation, from the smallest amoeba to the greatest man with everything it needs to survive and He blessed the world with the command to continue. And it was good.

You might have noticed, as I was working through the story of the creation, I missed the first day. On that day God created Light. Now, Light can mean the kind of light we know, although we know from this account that the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. Day and night were created with this Light and the lack thereof, but does that represent the kind of days we know? Is that Light the light that brightens the world or the Light?

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator spoke and transformed that formless and dark void into something new. He said, ďLet there be lightĒ and there was Light. In His Word, in His Voice, He became more than God. He revealed Himself as the Godhead, the Trinity. We see that He is Creator, Redeemer and the Force that keeps all things moving.

In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the next day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated in a way that would provide all that the plants would need to survive. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live. And He created man at the end, so that he would have a world over which to rule. When all was ready, God brought forth human life in His image to care for the life He created, to keep the world from becoming chaotic and a dark void as it was in the beginning.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, ďPut things in order.Ē (NRSV) It must have been chaotic in those first few moments of Christianity. Peter and Paul, perhaps the greatest of all the Apostles, were at odds about details. Other evangelists had made their way into the countryside to share the Light, Christ, with the world. They didnít always preach the Gospel fully. Some wanted to force gentiles to become Jews first. Others wanted to demand certain festivals or foods. Others insisted on doing things only a certain way. There was argument and confusion. Who do you believe: Paul or Peter? What sort of Baptism is right? How do we share the body of Christ? What color should the carpet be?

Ok, so that last question brings the chaos into our modern world. We might think that we are unique in our disagreements over the way to do Church, but we arenít. Every generation has had their dilemmas. Some generations have faced far worse problems. We have ours, and the carpet is not really the elephant in the room. We all know the issues that have created chaos in our lives. And at times, I think, we worry that we have reached the end of what God intended for His people.

But God is not so easily destroyed. And neither is His Church. He brought Light out of darkness and Life out of death. He is Creator, not only in that time so long ago when He brought forth with His voice the entire universe and all life. He is Redeemer, not only in that moment when He brought order out of chaos, or when He raised Christ from death to life, but today when we fail to be everything He has created us to be. And He has given us His Spirit so that we will continue to swarm and fill the earth with life.

So, letís deal with the tough question for this Sunday. What is the Holy Trinity? The Trinity is one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable? Some theologians in the sixth century set out to explain the Trinity in language which the common man could understand and it took approximately seven hundred words. The Athanasian Creed, which is often used in churches on Trinity Sunday, seems to go around and around in circles dividing the persons of the Trinity while holding them together. It is a long creed to recite and generally brings a sigh of annoyance from the congregation whenever it is said. And yet, is a powerful reminder of the incredible nature of the God we worship. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He Is.

The concept of trinity is found in other aspects of life. Each individual is a trinity: body, soul and spirit. These aspects of our being are separate but cannot exist without each other. Our bodies are broken and frail, but it is our flesh that gives us a place in this world which God has created. Our spirit is the aspect that connects us to the divine. Our soul, or our personality, also known as our heart, brings our flesh and spirit together. We cannot be who God has created us to be without our body, soul and spirit.

Three is a good number. Most of our chairs have four legs, but have you ever thought about how much better it would be if they only had three? A chair with four legs must set perfectly flat on the floor or it wobbles. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair wobbles. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs just sits in a hole or on a bump, the chair wobbles. However, if the chair has only three legs, even if there is some imperfection in the legs or the floor, the chair stands firm.

In a committee of three, there is usually no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two are against one another, the third can acts as a peacemaker. If two are overly passionate about something, the third can act as a stabilizer. In a triangle, each side has a relationship with the other two sides; this is not always true with groups with more than three people. While many organizations need more than three to accomplish the work, most organizations require three people in leadership: a president, a secretary and a treasurer. These three keep one another in balance. No one person has to be responsible for everything. No one person can be blamed if something goes wrong. No one person gets the credit when something goes right. Maybe that is why Jesus kept the three disciples (Peter, James and John) close to Him, so that they might balance and support each other. I suppose thatís why the founding fathers of our nation chose to create a government with three branches. Each balances the other and keeps each other accountable.

God is greater than His creation. He is wiser than the wisest man. He is more loving than the most loving mother. He is worthy of our praise and worship. We might be like those Suburbanites, creating our own little world in the midst of the world, weíll never be God. Yet, God has made us the crown of His creation. He has made us sons and daughters. He has given us dominion over all that He has created. It is a tremendous responsibility. Through it all, however, let us never forget about God and the fact that His hand is in the midst of everything that we have done, are doing and will do.

How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling because all that happened in the beginning happened at the hand of a great and powerful God. The Creator made order out of chaos and brought life out of the dark void. He is worthy of our awe. Though we respond with fear and trembling, we know from this story that we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need.

How do we respond to the story of Creation? We are humbled by the reality that the God who brought all things to life has chosen to continue His work with our hands. He is wise, but we might wonder how wise He could be to choose such imperfect beings to rule over His creation. But He is wise, and it shows in the creation. How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March of every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? How does grass grow where the earth has been destroyed by salted water? It grows because God has created it to be fruitful and multiply. It might take time for it to recover, but the earth is resilient because God has made it so. Everything is according to Godís plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose.

We can say that intellectually, but how many times do we wonder about it all. In our drought, we wonder if it will ever rain. Did God really intend for our lawns to die for lack of water? Does God not hear our pleas for rain? We wonder if what we believe about Jesus and the Spirit are true. If we canít understand it, how can the Trinity be real? We might even wonder if we are really saved, after all thereís no way for us to know without a doubt that we will spend eternity with Christ. Shouldnít the chaos in our lives be settled? Shouldnít our faith be strong enough?

Yet, we are no different than those disciples in Jesusí day. After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days giving the disciples His final instructions, showing them the scriptures from a new perspective: from this side of the cross. Everything was different because now Jesus had gone through death and the grave and was raised to new life. The world was changed on that one weekend and all of God's good creation was redeemed. Yet, despite the risen presence of Christ, the disciples still were unsure about what was happening to them. Jesus told them to go to a mountain and they followed. Matthew also tells us that they worshipped Him, "but some doubted.Ē

I don't think the disciples doubted that Jesus was the Messiah or that He would do what He said He would do. But we are comforted by the reality that even those disciples who were with Jesus had their own doubts. They couldnít believe that He was leaving them and commanding them to continue the work. How could they accomplish such great things? They were ordinary men from an ordinary place. They didn't have any authority. They had no education, except that which Jesus had given to them. They had no position which would be respected. And their leader, Jesus, did not even have the respect of the world in which they were being sent. No wonder they doubted.

Yet, Jesus said to them, ďAll authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.Ē The only one able to give such authority, the authority in heaven and on earth is the One who created it all. We see His goodness in our Old Testament lesson where the story of the Creation is laid out so poetically. We see how He takes nothing but chaos and transforms it into the light and the dark, the sky and the water, the land and the sea, the plants and the animals. Then God spoke mankind into existence, making him in His image. Man was created last, not because he was to be the least of all, but because he was to have dominion over all of the creation. God blessed them, made them part of the whole creative process and gave them the authority to care for the earth.

He knew, even then, that weíd disappoint Him. He knew weíd be imperfect. He knew we would fail. But He calls us into a relationship with Himself, the Trinity, to be transformed by His grace to move together as one body, like a swarm, to continue transforming the world.

When we were created, we were given the authority to take care of the entire world, to continue the creative work of the Father. In Christ, through our baptism, we are given a new authority: the authority to bring forgiveness and grace into the lives of those who are living in darkness. We are called to continue the redemptive work of Christ, to make disciples and teach them all that He commanded.

In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to ďBaptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.Ē Our faith in Christ brings us more fully into our identity in the image of God. The world is not as God intended. Sin and death were not what He wanted for His creation. The Creator was separated from the creation He loved and He was the only One who could remove the chasm that had formed between heaven and earth. Just as He created the world out of nothing, He brought order out of the chaos it had become. When the time was right, Jesus came in flesh to bring redemption and reconciliation. And He has called us to be part of His creative and redemptive work, not to change the world but to continue what God first started because what God created is good.

So, letís go forth in faith, without doubt, knowing that God is with us, doing that which we were created in His image to do, so that the chaos will be ordered and the darkness will be swallowed by the Light.

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June 16, 2011

ďFor the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.Ē Romans 1:20-23, ASV

When we first moved into our house in Texas, I was convinced that I needed some cast iron geckos to decorate the outside. I thought it would be fun, and it has turned out to be a source for conversation. We discovered that our house is a landmark when we were going door to door to sell something for scouts or school. The neighbor at the door asked, ďWhere do you live?Ē and we answered, the house with the geckos. They would inevitably answer, ďOh I tell my friends to turn at your house.Ē

I wanted the cast iron geckos because this is the first house where we have lived with geckos and they are so cute. Also, cast iron is very popular around here, so I thought it would be an easy quest to find some geckos. I tried everywhere, but didnít have any luck. I couldnít find geckos at the cast iron places or even in the Mexican market in town, where several dealers specialize in that type of decoration. It was as if geckos didnít exist. I finally turned to the place where you can find anything: ebay.

I havenít shopped ebay much, but I know that there are people who spend many hours scanning the pages and bidding on auctions. For them, ebay is a game and getting their item is like winning. I donít know what they do with all the things they purchase, although Iíve seen some people on those housecleaning shows that have piles of things that theyíve bought online. Ebay is like going to yard sales without leaving the house. Though I donít buy much, it is nice to know thereís a place where I might find that unusual and impossible to find item.

Jay Leno does a regular bit where they show items theyíve found on ebay. They donít bid, but they do watch to see if the items will sell. They find strange and crazy items then ask the audience if they think the item sold. Theyíve shown items like a tissue from a singer, chewing gum of a basketball star, and cheese sandwiches with strange pictures burned into the crust. It is amazing how many of those items sell and how much the seller gets. Who would pay $960 dollars for a pair of fuzzy socks a girl wore for two years? Who would try to sell their used socks for the bidding start at $9.99?

Jay Lenoís bit usually includes one item that sells way too much and another item that seems like it should be worth something to someone that does not sell or sells for very little. Jay usually follows the second item with a comment about the ridiculousness of peopleís choices. On last nightís episode, Jay showed an auction put on ebay by a man offering to be a friend for a year. The friendship would include Facebook, birthday greetings and a listening ear. The man listed his friendship with a starting bid of 99cents. Iím sure he expected people would bid up the price, and they did. Unfortunately his friendship sold for just $1.25.

The other item was a refurbished post-it note. The previous writing on this piece of paper was covered by white out, not very well done, and the paper was wrinkled. The seller made a point of tell possible bidders that the glue on the post-it note would probably not stick as well as it used to when it was new. The audience was absolutely certain that this post-it note would not sell, but they were wrong. It sold for $10.75. Jay followed this item with the question, ďHow does that guy feel?Ē Someone was willing to pay more than $9.00 more for a used piece of paper than to be his friend.

What kind of world do we live in where junkóused socks and unusable post-it notesóare more valuable than a relationship with a human being? Granted, I find it particularly odd that anyone is willing to sell themselves on ebay, but then I canít understand the mindset of a person willing to scam people out of their good money for garbage or recycling. Unfortunately, this mindset is found in many other places in our world. Too many people view human beings as nothing more than animals or machines. They have forgotten that we have been created in the image of God. They have put things before people, and their own personal purposes above God.

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June 17, 2011

ďHe was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.Ē John 1:10-13, ASV

In the movie ďThe Princess Diaries,Ē Mia was the daughter of a single mom, and she was about to turn sixteen years old. Her father, long since gone, was apparently wealthy as he provided an excellent education for her. She didnít fit in very well at her school because she came from a different world than the rich families who sent their kids to that school. She was smart, a bit clumsy and happily invisible. She did have a few very good friends, but was shy and afraid of everything. Mia was especially afraid of public speaking, and though she daydreamed about the popular boy in class, she knew that it was an impossible dream.

It was impossible until the day she met her fatherís mother. That was the day she learned that she was a princess of the kingdom of Genovia, and Clarisse, her grandmother, was queen. The queen came to America to tell Mia that he father had died, and she was the sole heir to the throne. The invisible, shy Mia was suddenly thrown into the spotlight. The people at school who ignored her were suddenly interested in being her friends. The popular boy wanted to be her boyfriend.

What Mia did not realize is that her new friends only want to use her. They wanted their fifteen minutes of fame and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. The boy invited Mia to the beach party and during the evening the popular kids pushed Mia into a bad situation. The paparazzi caught her in a compromising circumstances and her picture ended up in the newspaper. Her choice to go to the beach party also hurt her real friends who were counting on her to be with them that evening. The next day Queen Clarisse met with Mia and they agreed that Mia should not become princess. Mia was so afraid sheíd do something to hurt Genovia and the queen agreed that it might be best if Mia did not even try.

Joseph, the queenís bodyguard, did not agree. When Mia left, Joseph said, ďThat didnít go well, did it?Ē His point was not that the queen was wrong about accepting Miaís decision, but that as Miaís grandmother she should have been more compassionate about her sixteen year old granddaughter who was caught in a bad situation. He reminded Clarisse that Mia took the queenís chastisement graciously. They both agreed that Mia could be the princess and that all she needed was time.

Clarisse visited Mia and apologized for being unsympathetic and told her that she thought Mia would make a wonderful leader for Genovia. Mia appreciated the trust, but said that she didnít think she should. It wasnít until she read a final letter her father had written to her, encouraging her to be courageous. Sheís touched by his trust in her and decides to become the princess. Despite her failures, Princess Mia is welcomed by Queen Clarisse and the people of Genovia.

A freak accident made Mia the future ruler of Genovia, but it was love that made her Mia. First it was through the love of her mother and father that she was born. They did not split because of a lack of love but because of the impossible circumstances. It was love that kept Miaís father in touch with his daughter, providing for her care and education and sending gifts on her birthday. It was love that penned the letter that changed Miaís life. Despite Miaís failures to act like a princess, it was love that kept the relationships going. Mia was loved not because of what she did but who she is. The same is true for us. God loves us not for what we do but for who we are: His children. We will fail. Weíll be foolish and uncertain and too frightened to do what we know we should do. Weíll make the wrong decisions. And while we might have to face chastisement for our failures, God always treats us with graciousness out of love because we are His children.

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June 20, 2011

ďThou shalt not steal.Ē Exodus 20:15, ASV

I was reading an article about dumb things, like people who are foolish or laws that are ridiculous. A number of the clips are statements from dumb celebrities or the antics of dumb criminals. You wouldnít be surprised to learn that there are stories about dumb governments, lawsuits or husbands. One section is about dumb diets, another about dumb holiday cards, and yet another about dumb warning labels. When I read this type of article I just shake my head and wonder, ďAre people really that dumb?Ē

The final section of this article is called ďDumb Ideas, Smart Results.Ē We can all think of some things from the past that have seemed like really dumb ideas that have turned out to be very successful. I think one of the most obvious ones is the Pet Rock. Who would have thought you could put a river rock into a box and charge four bucks a piece in 1975 and have millions of people clamoring to have one! The profit margin on these things was about a thousand percent. How ridiculous is it that people are willing to pay four dollars for a rock in a box when they could just as easily found one in during a walk in the park or in their own back yard?

At least with the Pet Rock, the buyer has something to show for their money. The latest in dumb ideas gone right are on the Internet. Take, for instance, the guy who wanted to earn a million dollars quickly and without much work, so he sold pixels for a dollar a piece to advertisers on a website. The page is filled with tiny ads that are at least ten by ten pixels, each attached to a link that will send you to the advertiserís webpages. He made a million dollars in a matter of months. Another person didnít even try to give the people anything for their money. She simply decided to beg people to help her pay her credit card bills. She started a webpage and asked people to send her whatever they could, and in a matter of weeks she received $13,000.

Though I appreciate the sense of entrepreneurship of all these people, I question the integrity of those making a living in this way. Is it good stewardship of peopleís charity dollars to save a girl who likes the finer things she canít afford by sending her money to pay her credit card bills? Is it good use of advertising dollars to buy a tiny ad on a website that is lost among hundreds or thousands of others?

Even worse than these propositions, I think, is the woman who is making a fortune selling virtual property. We all know how addictive those internet games can be, and how much people can end up spending on them. Iíve written before about the pet game that asks players to purchase virtual items for a virtual pet with real money. You can even get gift cards to give to friends for the farm and other games. Should we be using our valuable resources for something that has literally no value? One player decided years ago to buy a lot of property on a virtual game, and then when she had enough she subdivided the property and sold it off to other players for real cash at a hefty profit. The article says that she even charged property tax.

In the real world, real estate can be an expensive and risky business. It takes hard work to become successful in the business. But this woman is now known as the Donald Trump of that particular game, a real millionaire made by virtual sales. The author of the article thought this was brilliant, but I was disturbed by this story and I think it is wrong. How much of that property did she Ďbuyí with virtual money and then sell to others for real cash? She didnít even do anything to help with the design or creation of the game. What did she do to earn that money? This might be legal, but is it right?

Perhaps these people did not steal, as a criminal might be found guilty of stealing, but are they being true to the intent of Godís Law by doing what they do? Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism, ďWe should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor's money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business [that his means are preserved and his condition is improved].Ē Is it stealing to sell someone something that does not exist? Are we helping our neighbor by offering to sell them something that is pointless or dumb? Are we smart by taking advantage of people who are willing to respond to dumb ideas? Do we fear and love God when we willingly take money our neighbors seem willing to waste, or should we honor God by helping them see better ways of using their resources for His glory?

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June 21, 2011

ďAnswer me when I call, O God of my righteousness; Thou hast set me at large when I was in distress: Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. O ye sons of men, how long shall my glory be turned into dishonor? How long will ye love vanity, and seek after falsehood? Selah But know that Jehovah hath set apart for himself him that is godly: Jehovah will hear when I call unto him. Stand in awe, and sin not: Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in Jehovah. Many there are that say, Who will show us any good? Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, More than they have when their grain and their new wine are increased. In peace will I both lay me down and sleep; For thou, Jehovah, alone makest me dwell in safety.Ē Psalm 4, ASV

I was at the store today and needed an item that was out of reach. This particular store is going through some renovation, and the merchandise is being reset according to the new plan. Unfortunately, whenever a store is going through changes, some items get lost in the process. Fortunately, the item I needed was available, it was just unreachable. I was in the pet department and needed cat box deodorizer. The box isnít very big, so usually takes up only a few inches on the shelf and it is easy to get lost, particularly since that particular department uses large warehouse style shelves. They are very deep to give room for the large bags of food and litter.

I looked around the whole department and was about to leave when I noticed that there were boxes of deodorizer on the top shelf toward the very back. This problem could not even be solved by a tall person. I needed a worker with a ladder to help me. I found someone who was feeling rushed because she was busy working on the remodel, but she understands that customer service is more important. She went to the back, got a ladder and reached my boxes for me. That was a lot of work for a couple items, but I was thankful.

Now, having worked in retail I said, ďNow you can just get them all and put them in their place.Ē After all, sheíd gone to so much trouble to get my items. ďIíll just move a couple. I donít have time to do anything else because Iím busy with the remodel.Ē Now, there were less than a dozen of these boxes on the shelf. It would have taken her very little time to complete the task. Instead, she decided it would be easier to leave all those items way in the back. She put too within reach, but what happens to the third customer? Sheíll require another worker to go get the ladder to climb up to reach them. Wouldnít have made more sense to use thirty seconds to just take care of it right then and there rather than waste another five minutes later?

Sadly, she wonít get back to it, and theyíll lose sales because other customers wonít bother to find an employee who can, or will, reach the items. The customers might even walk away because they donít notice the boxes that are out of place as I did. Another problem is that the person who does product orders will see the empty shelf and will order more, even though there are plenty of boxes on the shelf. Those boxes will sit there for a long time, and eventually will be found, covered in dust and unsellable. Those boxes will end up on the clearance rack and the store will lose money.

Is there ever a good time to do a job halfway? Perhaps the priorities for the day were set by the management, but how do you think they would have reacted if they discovered she used so much time and didnít finish the job? If I were one of the store managers, I would have a talk with that employee about time management, customer service and sales. The remodels are important, but keeping the store in good order while the renovation is underway is vital to the satisfaction of the customers and the future of the store.

Maybe we donít normally do our usual work halfway, as the employee in the store did today, but as I was thinking about this experience I thought about our prayers. Do we ever pray halfway? Do we start praying but then move on to other projects or activities before we have time to actually listen to what God might have to say? Do we think that the other things are more important and that we can just get back to our prayers later? Will we get back to it later? Isnít it ultimately better to take the time to pray and wonít we be better off in the long run if we do?

Iím sure many of us are really good at sending out those quick prayers for needs as we hear of them. I often stop briefly when Iím working on the computer if someone posts a prayer request. I pray a quick prayer when I hear sirens or see an accident on the road. I often pray briefly when I think of a friend or hear some news that demands Godís attention. These prayers are good. But I have to wonder if they are enough? Is that like doing the job halfway? Granted, if we are driving the car, we have to continue driving the car. But what about those moments when we can stop and spend time with God? Do we? Do we give him everything and finish the task before moving on to our other tasks? Can we hear God when He answers if we do not give Him our attention?

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June 22, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, June 26, 2011, Lectionary 13A: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

ďI will sing of the lovingkindness of Jehovah for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.Ē Psalm 89:1, ASV

Poor Zack. I think he feels a little like a slave this summer. He just graduated from High School and is looking forward to going to college in just a couple months. Heís tried for weeks to get a job, just a part time summer gig to earn some money to take with him, but the job situation is impossible. Heís applied to dozens of places and has heard from only one. He was told his application wasnít even being considered at the one place we thought was a guarantee. His one interview went very well, but they decided to go with someone else. The jobs typically given to teenagers for summer work have been taken by older workers who have to fall back on part time work in a market where there are none in their fields. College graduates are working in fast food and retail because there simply is nowhere else for them to go.

So, because he wasnít able to find a job, we have been relying on him to do more around the house. I find small jobs that I would normally accomplish, but I give them to him so that heís not just sitting around on the computer all day. Iíve also told him that he must apply for at least one scholarship a day. Unfortunately, the scholarship situation has been hard, too. There just doesnít seem to be any money available. Even the one scholarship we thought was a done deal didnít come through. Since Zack didnít get a job, heís also volunteering and will compete in a couple of city golf tournaments, but every day I find work for him to do. In the morning I give him a list and depend on him to get those tasks done.

Iím sure heíd rather just hang out. Iím sure he is frustrated by having to clean the cat box and take out the garbage and do those other tasks I find for him. I know heís tired of cleaning his room. Iím sure he feels like a slave because heís doing all this work for no pay and feels trapped by his disappointment and lack of job. Thatís not like the slavery that haunts our American consciousness, but in many ways it is similar to the slavery many have suffered. Too many people work for little pay and too many hours, and the work is often beneath their talents and abilities. Imagine what it must be like, perhaps some of you know, to be a college graduate who has had to take that job at McDonaldís until the job market gets better. It feels like slavery, especially to those of us that live in a country where people have the freedom to follow their dreams. After applying for dozens of jobs, hope fades and job hunters settle for whatever they can get. That lack of hope is what it must feel like to a slave. And too many are trapped in lives where there is no hope.

Of course, the person working at McDonaldís is not really a slave, but people are still being bought and sold in our world. Millions of people are being held against their will and forced to do things they would not do. This happens, even in America.

Personal stories of people who have been forced into slavery are told in the ďTrafficking in Persons Report 2010Ē put out by the US State Department. Here is one, ďKatya, a student athlete in an Eastern European capital city, dreamed of learning English and visiting the United States. Her opportunity came in the form of a student visa program, through which international students can work temporarily in the United States. But when she got to America, rather than being taken to a job at a beach resort, the people who met her put her on a bus to Detroit, Michigan. They took her passport away, and forced her and her friends to dance in strip clubs for the traffickersí profit. They controlled the girlsí movement and travel, kept keys to the girlsí apartment, and listened in on phone calls the girls made to their parents. After a year of enslavement, Katya and her friend were able to reach federal authorities with the help of a patron of the strip club in whom they had confided. Due to their bravery, six other victims were identified and rescued. Katya now has immigration status under the U.S. trafficking law. She works in a health club and hopes to finish her degree in kinesiology. The traffickers are in federal prison.Ē

And another, ďA recruiter in Jamaica promised Sheldon a visa through the U.S. federal H-2B seasonal worker program. The processing fee was hefty, but the prospect of working in America seemed worth it. Sheldon arrived in Kansas City eager to work, but he ended up at the mercy of human traffickers. Along with other workers from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines, Sheldon cleaned rooms at some of the best-known hotels in Kansas City. The traffickers kept Sheldon in debt, constantly charging him fees for uniforms, transportation, and rent in overcrowded apartments. Often, his paychecks would show negative earnings. When Sheldon refused to work, the traffickers threatened to cancel his immigration status, and which would render him illegal in an instant. In May 2009, a federal grand jury indicted the leaders of this trafficking ring Ė including eight nationals of Uzbekistan Ė on charges related to forced labor in 14 states.Ē

And one more, ďIn 1991, a 6-year-old boy was working parttime as a house boy for a fisheries officer. The officer was reassigned to a different region and promised the boy an education if he accompanied him. But instead of being enrolled in school, the boy was forced to tend cattle and serve as the homesteadís security guard. The officer changed the boyís name to Charles and over time, the boy forgot his native language. Charles, now 26, still works for the fisheries officer but has never received payment and relies on the officer for everything. When Charles requested a piece of land to build a house so he could marry, the man instead forced him to work as a fisherman and turn over the profits. With the help of a local anti-trafficking committee, Charles moved into a rented room in a nearby town but continues to be abused by his trafficker. Charles does not know who or where his family is.Ē

Our experience is not slavery, although that sense of hopelessness can become part of any personís life. People live in relationships with people that rip away their freedom. Work can be overwhelming if we feel there is no way out. Many people are slaves to the debts we owe, slaves to homes that cost too much, slaves to even the leisure activities in which we choose to participate. Of course, we arenít really slaves, because most of our bondage is caused by our own choices. Slavery is being forced to do or be something beyond our will.

Slavery was common in the Roman world of Jesus, Peter and Paul. Of all the ancient nations, the Romans held the most slaves. Some people became slaves because of debts. Many slaves were taken as prisoners of war, as was the case of the Jews in Babylon. Since the Romans were fighters and occupiers, they had many prisoners from vanquished nations who could serve in their homes, businesses and even the army.

Highly trained and intelligent slaves were worth the most money and often served as singers, scribes, jewelers and doctors. Slavery often meant a better life than they could ever have lived in freedom. The slaves were usually well cared for, often treated as family. Female slaves were often very close to their mistresses, serving as advisors and confidents as well as servants. Most military men were slaves. Treasurers were often slaves. Condemned criminals were sent as slaves into the mines since that job was so dangerous it meant early death.

Life didnít always have to end in slavery. In Rome a slave could be freed at the mercy of the master. He or she could buy his or her way out of slavery with money they have saved, so at least some slaves were given a salary or gifts. Though they had no rights as citizens, they were acceptable witnesses in court. They were not allowed to enter into public buildings such as the bath house, but were not held prisoner. They had the freedom to move about the city, especially the domestic servants who went to the market and did other errands for the house. The Roman economy depended on slavery, but most of the slaves were well treated and many were able to get out and live as a citizen again. I suppose in many ways, the conditions in Rome were much like the conditions of our world today.

Many of the people hearing Paulís words were probably slaves. The early Christians were the oppressed and poor, and the gospel message spoke to their difficulties. The slaves were at the bottom of the class structure and so were the Christians, since they refused to live and worship as the Romans. For many slaves, the Christian message was one of hope, one of equality, one of grace even for them. So, slaves found comfort in Jesus Christ and believed wholeheartedly in the Way.

The message of the Gospel speaks of a new kind of slavery. It isnít a slavery to people or jobs or material possessions, but slavery to God. Slavery in Godís kingdom is like that of the best relationships of master and slave in the Roman world. The Good Master treats the slave well, like family, giving the slave more than enough to dwell in peace and joy. The relationship between a good master and slave needs not be without hope and the Gospel message gives us that freedom to live bound to our God and His kingdom.

Jeremiah was bound to God. In Jeremiah 27:2, Jeremiah tells the people that God has instructed him to wear a yoke like the oxen wear. Jeremiah was then to tell the nations that God was sending Nebuchadnezzar to rule over all people, and that they were called to live under his yoke. Jeremiah warned that prophets would tell the people of good times ahead and promise that they would not be slaves to Babylon, but Jeremiah told the people not to believe those prophets. Those who obey this word would be free. But those who believed the words of a prophet that promised freedom would be bound.

To prove his point, Hananiah broke the yoke that Jeremiah wore saying that God would break the yoke of Babylon. In todayís passage, Jeremiah addresses Hananiahís peace prophecy. He says, ďAmen! I hope it is true!Ē But he reminds the people of Godís Word about Babylon and tells them that the prophet who truly speaks Godís word will be proven. If a prophetís word of peace comes true, then it truly came from God. Unfortunately, Hananiah died within months, proving that Jeremiah speaks the Word of God.

Jeremiah most certainly would have preferred speaking a word of peace to His people. Who wants to tell anyone that they will be enslaved? But Jeremiah willingly allowed himself to be yoked to Godís Word, to speak Godís Word to the people so that they might be free. Jeremiah had to speak the truth and in doing so he earned a prophetís reward.

The reward is not financial or the admiration of the world. As a matter of fact, prophets often suffer rejection and hardship. The prophetís reward is a right relationship with God. That relationship is based on trust and hope, peace and joy in the reality of Godís blessing. The life of a prophet might not seem blessed, but when God has you in His hands, the blessings are abundant and real. When we belief the word of the prophet, we will experience the same blessings. If the people believed Jeremiah and received the word he gave to them, they might know a moment of suffering and hardship under Nebuchadnezzarís rule, but they would also experience true peace and the hope of Godís promise of freedom. He is faithful and He will bring His Word to fruition.

I said that the slavery we experience in our modern world is often caused by our own decision making. We are burdened by debt because we choose to buy things beyond our means. We are burdened by our homes because we purchase houses that are more expensive than we can afford. We are burdened by our activities because we set unrealistic priorities and expectations. But when we are Godís slaves, we experience the freedom that comes with good choices and right priorities. To put God in front of everything is freedom. To put everything ahead of God is sin.

We have been set free. We no longer need be slave to sin. We have been given a much better choice, to willingly serve the Lord. We are still slaves, but we have been welcomed by a Master that will treat us well. As slaves to sin, we are bound to suffer the consequences of our sin. As slaves to righteousness, we will receive the fruit of His grace. As we live in His household, we grow closer to our Master and are transformedósanctifiedóinto the kind of servant He has ordained us to be.

I think the passage from Matthew for today is interesting in its point of view. Jesus is speaking to the disciples just as He is about to send them out on their first missionary journeys. He told them not to take anything with them, to rely on the graciousness and mercy of those to whom they are sent. They are to find a home in each town that welcomes them, that deserves to receive Godís peace. And then at the end of His instructions, He gives them these words, ďNone of these will lose their reward.Ē

Now, I have to admit that Iíve always read these instructions from the point of view of someone who is being told to welcome people as if Iím welcoming Jesus, to receive a prophet as if I am receiving a prophet of God and to embrace a righteous person as if I am embracing someone who is in a right relationship with God. Yet, the passage is being directed to the disciples, the prophets and the righteous ones. He is telling these disciples that those who welcome them will receive their reward. He is calling us the prophets and righteous ones. Those who serve us will not lose their reward.

How do we receive this Word? We have accepted our place as servants of God, recognized our calling and said ďYesĒ to Godís work. And now He tells us that those to whom we are sent, at least the ones that welcome us, will receive our reward. And all they have to do is give us a cup of cold water.

I wonder if we can look at this from the perspective of those who are trained to be employed in good jobs, those who have just graduated from college but need to settle into a less than appropriate job. We want to be the prophet, the righteous man, but what if we are called to simply give a glass of water? Will we feel it is beneath us? And if that is all we receive, will we believe that Godís promises are true for those who have given it to us? Do we want more? Do we demand more? Do we expect more?

And yet, we can also ask, ďDo we allow others to serve us?Ē Iím a Ďgivingí person. I donít accept help from anyone because I can handle everything. I serve others. They donít have to serve me. But I have learned through experience that sometimes you have to rely on others. And through those experiences, I have also learned how great the reward is for others to have the experiences of serving. If I do everything, then there is fewer opportunities for others to serve. By stepping back, not becoming lazy but allowing others the opportunity, then they get to share in the rewards of grace.

The gifts of God, the blessings of faith, are not ours to give. God is gracious and merciful to all those who believe His Word. To receive a prophet and a righteous man means receiving a reward, but not a trophy or medal. It means gaining a stronger and more personal relationship with the God to whom they are bound. This is more valuable than any gold or silver, it is an eternal gift, one that will last forever. Receiving the prophet and righteous man is a manifestation of the faith which God gives, the faith which saves. The reward, the assurance of true faith, is priceless.

The psalmist sings, ďI will sing of the lovingkindness of Jehovah for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.Ē Can we sing of Godís grace when we are suffering for our obedience to His Word? Can we praise God even when we are rejected and persecuted and experiencing rough times? Can we proclaim Godís faithfulness when it seems we have no future or no hope? The hope of faith is not based on what we have in this world but in Godís promises. His promises are not necessary of peace. His promise is for freedom, freedom from sin and the grave. Happy are not those who have everything they want, but those who rejoice in what they have in God. Even when our lot seems impossible, our hopes seem dashed, our dreams unattainable, God has promised and He is faithful. We have so much for which to be thankful. So, letís drink that cold glass of water and thank God for the person who has welcomed us and heard what we have to say.

How much better will the world be as all come to share in the reward of faith, the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ?

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June 23, 2011

ďFinally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Ē Philippians 4:8, ASV

After I dropped Zack at the golf course this morning, I had to travel through a rough neighborhood to get to the highway. This particular neighborhood has houses covered with graffiti, bars or plywood over the windows and doors, weeds in the tiny yards and paint faded or chipping off the siding. The area I had to drive through was not very large, just a block or two. The next neighborhood borders the army base in town, the historic and most beautiful part of the base. It is an amazing difference from one block to the next.

Iíve often wondered, as I have driven through that neighborhood, what it might do for those families if someone invested in the families that live there by renovating those houses. I donít mean a change like they do on ďExtreme Home Makeover,Ē but simple renovations that would make those homes livable and give pride to the neighborhood. It would take some money, and the payback would not be financial, but it could be an extraordinary gift to some families who probably are trapped in homes they hate without the resources to make them homes they love.

As I was thinking about this, I passed one house that was an absolute disaster. It was much larger than the rest of the homes, which were probably built in the minimal traditional style for soldier families between the world wars. This other home is much larger, two stories, with plenty of beautiful windows, a porch and a large yard with a fence. It must have been a beautiful house in its heyday. Now it looks like a haunted house and probably needs to be torn down rather than renovated. The porch looks dangerous, as if the wood decking would break if someone walked on it. Most of the windows were broken; a few were covered by plywood. The roof almost certainly leaked, and the large lawn was covered with weeds. It is the kind of home a do-it-yourself-er might have a great time fixing up if it were financially worth fixing in that neighborhood. I certainly would not choose to live in the house as it was.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed a for rent sign in the front yard. I realize that this home, as bad as it might be, could be the difference between a roof over oneís head and living on the streets. The rent most surely must be cheap, although I suspect that anyone willing to rent out a house in such horrible shape is willing to take advantage of desperate people. I suspect that the landlord has no concern for the people who might be the tenants.

We might assume that the landlord is some rich fat cat, but the reality is heís probably not in much better financial shape than the tenants. Iím sure selling the property is out of the question, and Iím sure he probably does not have the resources to make the necessary repairs. Renting the house as is might just be his only option. Yet, I canít help but wonder whether it is right to rent a broken and dangerous house.

I canít possibly judge the circumstances of the landlord or those who might rent the house; I do not know anything about them. I doubt that most of my readers are in the position to take advantage of people by renting a broken and dangerous house. So, what does this story mean for us? Perhaps we arenít landlords, but in what ways might we do the same thing to those less fortunate? Should we give expired food to the food bank? Should we give away our old and worn out clothing to the homeless shelter? Isnít something better than nothing? Isnít it better to give it to someone rather than throw it out? These are hard questions that we canít answer for others, but should answer for ourselves.

Will we give less than the best to our neighbor in need because they have no other choice or donít know any better? We are called to serve our neighbor, to do right by them. When we do so, we are commanded to do it with grace and mercy and righteousness. Instead of giving that old food from the pantry or that shirt thatís falling apart, wouldnít it be more honorable to share the best we have with our needy neighbors?

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June 24, 2011

ďThe proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction; To discern the words of understanding; To receive instruction in wise dealing, In righteousness and justice and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion: That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning; And that the man of understanding may attain unto sound counsels: To understand a proverb, and a figure, The words of the wise, and their dark sayings.Ē Proverbs 1:1-6, ASV

During a job search a few years ago, I looked into jobs that I could do from my home, giving me the freedom to work when I wanted and to be available for the kids and Bruce when I was needed. There are certainly some options available, although the job hunter must be careful to check into organizations that claim to provide astounding pay. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is not a good deal. Most of those jobs require the worker to recruit other workers, and pay is based on number of workers in your team. To make the kind of money promised, the worker must spend at least as much time getting friends and family members involved as they do actually doing the work of the job.

When I was doing this job search, I looked into some writing jobs. One site has a listing of assignments, often articles for blogs or websites. The writer is paid by the word and you can choose assignments that are posted on the site or you can write articles and list them for sale. You can also post photographs to sell. The writer has choices, like how much to charge and the limits on usage and can write one or a hundred articles a day. I sold a couple articles, but havenít visited the site for awhile. Perhaps I should try again.

I was hired by a second site, but decided not to provide my services there. It was after I was accepted as a writer that I discovered what they sold: mostly essays and papers for students. The site worked much the same as the other one. Writers visited regularly to find out about assignments, wrote them by the deadline and got paid per word by the student who requested the job. I was shocked when I discovered the kinds of assignments available on the site. One student wanted a book report, another a research paper and yet another a college application essay.

I was bothered by the fact that these students were not writing their own essays, but I have to admit that it was the request for a scholarship essay that bothered me the most. As I was looking into this job, my daughter was filling out scholarship applications. I realized that she was completing not against other students, but often against professional writers who were paid to write those essays. How many scholarships did she lose because her essays were not as developed or proficient as those that were bought?

I read an article in Readerís Digest this week about one of the writers who work for that type of web-based business. Names and details were changed to protect the students who purchased his work, but what I read was unbelievable. This writer reported that heís done twelve graduate theses as well as thousands of pages of other essays and papers for college students. Heís even written for masterís degrees and PhDs. He says in the article that the students are wildly incompetent when it comes to writing, misspelling simple words and destroying grammar. They need help but are not getting it. Instead, they are paying others to write their papers and graduating without the education that they need to succeed in the working world.

The writer suggests that there are three types of people who use his service: English-as-second-language, hopelessly deficient students, and lazy rich kids. How sad is it that these students are getting through college on the backs of others, while not truly learning what they need to know. It is bad enough that the students who do what is right are in competition with these students who are buying the work, but how are those students learning what they need to know for their future careers? Perhaps a doctor does not need to know how to spell the word ďcalendarĒ but do you want a doctor who could not graduate without buying essays and papers from another person? What knowledge did that doctor miss because he or she had someone else write that research paper?

Who is to blame for this cheating? The blame lies on both the student and the writer. But as he says in his article, the blame also lies on the professors and colleges that do not stop the practice. Do they have any idea that the students are cheating in this way? I donít see how they can possibly miss it. One student, for whom the writer produced 160-page graduate thesis on business ethics, wrote this in her thank you note: ďthanx so much for uhelp ican going to gradate to now.Ē Really? This person canít even communicate a thank you in a competent manner and is now competing against others who have worked hard to produce the work for graduation for the few jobs that are available. Someone has failed the people who will rely on those studentsí work. All three have failed: the student, the teacher and the writer.

College is meant to build a person, to help them mature and grow, to give them the foundation of what they will need to succeed in the world. It doesnít help to let them fly through school, leaving them unprepared for the real world. Thatís why I couldnít do the job when I had the chance. It wasnít fair to the students who did their own work, but it also isnít fair to the student who relies on others to do the work because they miss out on the knowledge learned in the process.

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June 27, 2011

ďI thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.Ē 1 Timothy 1:12-17, ASV

I was at the nursery one day looking for plants to grace my garden, when I noticed a cart with something new and different. I donít usually get plants that produce fruit or vegetables because it is just too hard in our yard to keep them alive, particularly in a time of drought like we are experiencing these days. But this plant sounded exotic and exciting. It was a bhut jolokia or ghost chili plant. These chilies are said to be the hottest available, with Scoville heat units that make you cringe just thinking about it: one million or more. I bought one of the plants for three dollars.

When I brought it home, everyone thought I was insane. ďWhat are you going to do with those chilies?Ē they asked. It is a frightening thought if you donít like overly spicey food. Even my friends who like it hot were questioning my sanity. I didnít know what Iíd do with the chilies, but I thought I could at least try to do something. Really, I paid three dollars for the plant, and it is pretty when it is covered with ripening chilies. Thatís a pretty cheap experiment, if you ask me.

I wanted to make gazpacho, which is a cold Spanish tomato-based raw vegetable soup. We had some when we went to brunch for Easter at a fancy restaurant, and Iíve been fascinated by the idea ever since. I didnít know what I was doing, but I typically donít follow recipes. I like to create food out of ingredients, figuring it out for myself. There are times when I need recipes, but I like to ad-lib soup. So, when I harvested my first chilies, I started the long process of pulling the liquid out of the tomatoes and spicing it up with the chili. Knowing the heat rating made me cautious and I began with a very small amount of the chili. I carefully cleaned it, removing everything said to burn, and then added less than half of a chili. I patiently waited for it to work together, added a few other ingredients and finally tasted my creation.

It was awful. I mean really, really bad. And it didnít even have any sense of the spiciness we expected. I let everyone try a bite, and we agreed. It was terrible. So I threw it away. When you have such a stupendous failure, it is hard to try again. My disappointment was not only in the soup, but also in the chili. What happened? Should I try again? Will they eat it if I try again? Will they like it?

I decided that I had to try again. I cut another pepper and tested it, only to discover that they are not nearly as hot as I expected. I ate a seed, which is generally accepted to be the hottest part of the chili, and it had a bite, but not unbearable. I nibbled a larger part of a chili, and it was not inedible. I must have grown duds. Perhaps the soil is not right. Perhaps I didnít leave them on the plant long enough. Perhaps these chilies are not really as bad as everyone makes them out to be. But I knew that I needed to use more than just a sliver of the chili.

I also checked the Internet for recipes, and though I didnít like any that I read, I did learn some points that would help me create the soup I wanted in a much better way. I found out what I was doing wrong, and I tried again. The second batch was light, refreshing and delicious. It still wasnít very spicy, but that was ok, it seemed to have just the right bite for our comfort level. Now that I know what to do, I can make it again using my own chilies or with chilies I buy at the store. Who knows? I might just find chilies that arenít duds, and will give the soup a really spicy taste.

Paul knew what it was like to fail to be right with God. After all, in the beginning of the Church, he didnít follow Jesus, he persecuted Christians. Then, on his way to do more work against the Way, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Emmaus. There Paul realized how he had failed, and he turned to Christ. He discovered the reality of faith and become one of the most incredible prophets and evangelists of the Church. As Timothyís mentor, Paul encouraged Timothy to live in the forgiveness of Christ, to live in the salvation that Christ gives with grace and mercy. Our mistakes wonít all be as unimportant as whether or not I can make gazpacho or grow chilies. Weíll make horrible mistakes, failing in our own relationship with God. But we go forward, like Paul, knowing that Christ came to save us, to forgive us, and to encourage us to take this message of grace to the world.

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June 28, 2011

ďAnd Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise skilful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship.Ē Exodus 31:1-5, ASV

I make these projects that are like a cross between a scrapbook page and a shadowbox collection. I usually make these frames filled with memories for those special moments of lifeís transitions. The center of the picture is a collage of photos from the life of the person, and then I include items, stickers, quotes and other things that are reminiscent of their favorite things. I did one for each of my kids for their graduation, and the frames are delightful reminders of their life until that moment.

I made one of these frames for my husbandís niece for her wedding. That particular frame included pictures of the bride and groom and then also pictures of them together. The items in the frame included individual accomplishments and enjoyments as well as the things they liked to do together. The point was that even though they were to become one through marriage, they were also still individuals with unique gifts and talents. The bride and groom loved the gift, put it up at the wedding and now has it displayed in their home.

The frame was rather large, and turned out to be much more expensive than Iíd ever expected. Shipping the frame cost a lot of money, too. As I worked through the project, I couldnít help but think that the money spent on the frame could probably have gone to something practical, like appliances or gift cards for items they would need. And yet, I donít think they would trade the gift for anything. Sometimes we need a touch of beauty in our lives along with the practical things.

Throughout history, the church has gone through periods of time when we asked the same questions. Should we spend money building a beautiful cathedral when there are more practical uses for our money? Does art have a purpose? Is it useful? Is it important? The truth is that art does have a purpose. Art moves us. Art engages us. Art helps us see the world through new eyes. Art allows humans the opportunity to create for Godís sake. Art comes in many forms: music, literature, architecture, furnishings, media as well as sculpture, weaving and painting.

God created, and He didnít just make His creation practical. He also made it beautiful. He made the flowers more than pollen factories and gave birds bright and colorful feathers. He gave the leopard spots and the tiger stripes. He carved the mountains and the rock formations, directed the rivers and paints a rainbow in the heavens when it rains. He make the world in which we live beautiful for the sake of beauty. Should we not do the same for Him?

God did not simply call a man who could organize the building of a building for His Temple. He called a man who was gifted in the arts and crafts. Bezalel was appointed to build a place where God is honored by the wonderful things that can be created by human hands. It wasnít meant to be strictly practical. It was designed to move us, engage us and help us see the world through new eyes.

We may not be talented like Bezalel, but we are each gifted with some ability to make the world beautiful. There may be more practical ways of using our gifts, but sometimes God calls us to move beyond what is sensible to what is beautiful. Yes, the gold might be used to feed the poor, but we must learn to find the balance between body and spirit, to do what feeds both with the resources we have. Who knows? That art might just be the thing that moves us, engages us and helps us see the world through those new eyes that will lead us into new actions that will change the world.

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June 29, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, July 3, 2011, Lectionary 14A: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

ďFor my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Ē Matthew 11:30, ASV

I have a love/hate relationship with yard sales. I love picking through other peopleís junk, looking for that perfect thing. I usually go when Iím in search for something in particular, especially those things I canít find in a store. It is so exciting to find that perfect item, that thing desired. It is especially satisfying to find it for a good price. I hate when Iíve spent a morning searching through piles of junk and donít find anything. That happens more often than I like. As much as I like the quest, I have to admit that I donít spend much money at the yard sales. Sometimes I find several items, because another personís junk is my treasure.

However, they often still consider it treasure, and they put a kingís ransom price on their items. Those items are not worth that much to me. Just the other day I found a set of starter golf clubs at a yard sale. Zack didnít need that particular set of clubs, but Iíll often buy golf clubs I find at yard sales and donate them to the First Tee. Unfortunately, they wanted $50 for the set. This particular set was surely not worth that much. Starter sets tend to begin rather affordable, and this particular set was well worn with few clubs. I didnít want to spend that much money, so I told the sellers about the First Tee, and suggested that if the clubs did not sell that they could donate them. A woman told me that she doubted her grandson would be willing to take less than the marked price. Thatís too bad, because it is doubtful that heíll ever get that much for the clubs.

I see this all the time on the judge shows on television. People often sue each other for damages to items, and when they do they try to get as much out of the defendant as possible. If a computer is ruined, they want a new computer. If a dress gets ripped, they want a new dress. If a table gets scratched, they want a new table. But the judge always rules differently. He, or she, sees the item for its actual worth, not perceived worth. That computer is not new, it is well used and probably worth a fraction of the original cost. A dress can be sewn, so the judge will rule for the plaintiff, but they amount will likely be the cost of a seamstress. A scratched table can be repainted much more cheaply than replaced.

I understand. I put a much higher value on my own things. My love/hate relationship with yard sales is true in my own driveway. I like my junk, too. I want to get as much out of my junk, too. I usually find myself stuck with items because I never managed to sell anything for the price Iíve marked. I know intellectually that you should price items at about eight percent of original cost, and sometimes even that is too high. I know it is true, but I see so much more value in it. That dress I wore once is still in perfect condition. Shouldnít it be worth at least half the cost? Those craft items are still in the packages, unopened, with price tags! Canít I sell those for more? People donít go to a yard sale to buy items they can get new in a store. They want a bargain. They want something for nothing. I do, too. And I want to get every penny out of my stuff, even though I know that it would be better to just give my things to a charity to use in their thrift shops.

But alas, I do what I donít want to do and I donít do what I know I should do. Sound familiar? I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure. And in doing so, encourages us to recognize and confess our own failures.

The text this week calls us to lives of humility. Even the promised Messiah is described as one who is humble and gentle. Does that mean that the King to come is weak? Absolutely not! Humility is a state of the heart, and is a position of obedience, recognizing that there is one greater who controls the world and the circumstances of our life.

When we try so hard to do what we want, we discover that it is a much harder burden to bear. Anyone who has had a yard sale knows how hard it is. You spend hours collecting and pricing the junk. Then you spend all day setting up, waiting, selling and then tearing it all down. In the end, I rarely have more than a few dollars for my time, and a day wasted. Iím disappointed and end up taking the leftovers to the charity anyway. If I just donate my junk to a thrift shop, I do half the work, avoid the disappointment and have the joy of knowing that someone will be able to use my treasures and a charity will benefit, too. Giving it away means touching lives in ways Iíll never see, while expecting someone to value my junk more than I do will lead to disappointment. Which is the heavier burden?

I know this. In my heart I recognize the value of giving it away. In my mind I think about all the things I could do with the money I might get. I always say that Iíll give it away, but end up collecting enough to try, just one more time, to have a yard sale. I do what I know I shouldnít do, and donít do what I know I should. When all is said and done, I end up with a heavier burden.

Jesus says, ďCome unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Ē This is an awesome promise. We all would like to have someone take our burden away from us. We want to walk free, to be free, to have no worries or cares and to do what we think is best.

But we donít always know what is best, do we? Sometimes what we want is not the best thing for us.

Jesus follows this promise with a command, ďTake my yoke upon you, and learn of me.Ē Wait. He wants to give us rest, and to receive that rest, we must take up a yoke? Isnít that an oxymoron? How can we both rest and carry a burden? The point Jesus is making is that we will carry a burden, whether it is one of our making or His. Which is easier? Which is the best for us? Jesus says, ďI am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Ē Following a humble king will show us a way of living that will be peaceful, joyous, faithful.

The prophecy from Jeremiah shows us what time of King we should expect. Of course, the people were still looking for a military leader, one who would conquer the Romans and set them free from oppression and rule. They were looking for a new King David, a return to their golden age. The image in Jeremiah might not quite fit that expectation. How can there be peace with a king who humbly rides a donkey? Shouldnít the king ride with power and authority in a chariot drawn by a magnificent horse? This picture of a Messiah is not at all what the people expected. Yet, we saw this prophecy fulfilled the day Jesus rode humbly on the donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus got the peopleís attention not with a loud voice and awesome military power, but with words of hope and miraculous deeds that changed the lives of those who met.

There is reason to rejoice in this King who comes on a donkey because His burden is light. He will not burden the people as a military leader, because He doesnít seek to be greater with more wealth and property. The king that rides the donkey seeks the best for His people while the king in a chariot must burden the people with war, taxes and slavery. The burden of the humble king is one that shares the load. The king in a chariot lays the burden on the people. Jesus says, ďTake my burden because I will carry it with you, and it is light and easy because weíll do it together.Ē Which one would you rather have as king?

Yet, we always choose the bigger, the stronger, the seemingly better leader. We always seek more; we go the direction that we think will help us get ahead. We chase after money and stuff and we do not even realize how heavy our burdens have become.

We are saved by the grace of Christ. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We fail. We say things we know we shouldnít but the words come out of our mouths even before we realize we are thinking about them. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We donít do what is right and do not even realize it until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.

There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, ďsimul justus et peccatorĒ which means ďsimultaneously saint and sinner.Ē We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints who God has created and ordained us to be. But it is a process that takes a lifetime. While we still live in these bodies of flesh we will fail. I think that this is why Christianity is confusing to those who do not believe in Christ. They expect Christians to be perfect as Christ was perfect. They see our failure as hypocrisy instead of the reality of our human flesh. They do not realize that the Church is not a place where perfect people gather, but a place for imperfect people to be forgiven, healed and transformed. I suppose we are part of the problem because too many Christians refuse to accept their own frailty.

Jesus is in Galilee when He spoke the words in todayís Gospel lesson. He was probably hanging out in the marketplace, because that was where people gathered. He asked the question, ďBut whereunto shall I liken this generation?Ē and chose to compare it to children whining in the store. ďWe want this! We want that!Ē John led an unsullied life and he was rejected because he didnít eat and drink. Jesus ate and drank with the people, and He was rejected as a glutton and drunkard. What do they want? They didnít really know what was good for them, just like we donít know. They were chasing after a dream, but one they couldnít identify.

He was speaking these words to a wide variety of people. The marketplace was the courtroom and the forum. It was the place where people gathered for recreation. The unemployed loafed in the marketplace, and the proud showed off their success. The people got into debates, made deals, shared recipes, arranged marriages, and spread gossip. They bought food and other things they needed. They may have even bought a few things they didnít. Iím sure, even in those ancient days, one manís junk was probably another manís treasure. And Iím sure in those days, they put great value on their own treasures and little value on the treasures of others.

But when we rejoice in our King, who comes victorious on a donkey, we take upon ourselves His character, carrying the yoke of seeing value in others more than ourselves. We are set free from the prison that keeps us chasing after the wrong things, encouraging us to do turn aside from sin and live in peace. Who has control of your life? Is it God, whose burden is light and easy? Or is it sin, which burdens us with disappointment and the heaviness of self-centeredness? The waterless pit is a trap, dug by our own hands, that keeps us from living the life of joy that God promises to those who follow Him and bear His yoke.

Our work, as Christians, is not to rule the world with power and might. It is not to chase after the best or accumulate great quantities of stuff. The world will see Godís lovingkindness through the compassion given by those who have experienced it. Christians who have heard the Word and have seen the light are Godís instruments of His grace and compassion. Through us, all men will know of Godís mighty acts, the splendor of His kingdom. The psalmist praised God so that others might hear of the acts of the One from whom we receive the unmerited favor of His blessings. We, His saints, are called to sing His praise, to speak of the glory of His kingdom. We speak these words not only to praise God, but so that others might hear and believe.

Lovingkindness is proactive. The Lord God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, has shown the most incredible compassion to all. His goodness is for all He has made. His love is for everyone. Christ died for sinners even before we knew we were sinners. He died for us even before we were born. Godís lovingkindness is proactive, coming to us long before we even knew we needed it. Even now that are many in our world who do not know they need the mercy and grace of God. They do not accept the forgiveness that comes from faith because they do not believe they have anything to be forgiven. But Godís Kingdom has come for them, too. By Godís grace, we have become the manifestation of His lovingkindness, as we take His Word into the world. Thatís a burden we can carry, because it is easy and light and because our Lord carries it with us.

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June 30, 2011

ďAnd God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all the nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.Ē 1 Kings 4:29-34, ASV

I was at the golf course, waiting for Zack as he played a round with a friend the other day. I sat at a table in the clubhouse, working and finding other ways to pass the time. My table was right next to a wall of windows, so I could see the comings and goings of the players.

At one point, a man and his son came from the course for a break. They dropped off their clubs near the window and came into the clubhouse to have a drink and rest for a few minutes. I noticed a squirrel run up toward the golf bags, but he ended up just out of view. He reappeared a few minutes later carrying something, although at first I could not figure out what it was. He ran into the bushes, clumsily carrying this thing that seemed to be a piece of paper. He was very excited, stopping occasionally to take a nibble. A few minutes later, the man and his son went out to get their golf clubs to continue on the course. They stopped short, and said something I couldnít hear, then grabbed their clubs and left. It was then I saw what they saw.

There was a muffin of some sort spread all over the sidewalk. Apparently the squirrel found the muffin in the boyís golf bag and stole it. He was probably trying to take the whole thing with him, but it was too hard to carry. So, he began by hiding his muffin paper. Eventually he returned, taking the rest of the muffin, piece by piece. He had a difficult time carrying the pieces, not always because they were too big for him, but because he had to eat it along the way. One piece didnít even make it to the bushes. At the same time, several birds discovered the treat and stole their share. Within minutes, there was no sign left of the muffin.

The animals had to be sneaky, because people were constantly walking along the sidewalk. I enjoyed watching them. When all was clear, the squirrel quickly appeared, grabbed a bit and then ran off into his hiding place. At one point, he was on the sidewalk when a person appeared. He dropped flat on the ground, legs pointing straight out from his body and his head low to the ground. It was as if he thought he could disappear into the sidewalk. He was amazingly flat, but not invisible.

Meanwhile, the birds were being cute, too. It seemed as though they were pretending to not be interested in the muffin. I donít know if the act was for the people or the squirrel, but they took their time getting to the muffin. Theyíd rush toward it, but then stop, turn away and mosey in another direction, occasionally looking back to see if the crumbs were still there. Then theyíd rush a little closer and then turn and mosey again. They walked around the pile, jumped over the pile, moved away and came back, over and over again. Finally, they made it to the crumbs and savored their treat.

I love watching the animals. I purposely have bird feeders by my window so I can see their antics. I love watching squirrels and rabbits, and even our kitties. One of my favorite places to go is the zoo, so I can see the animals and how they act. What lessons might we learn from the animals, particularly that squirrel and those birds? We have so much to learn from them. Solomon knew that truth. In his wisdom, Solomon used the stories of animals and his knowledge about their lives to teach the people about God. Let us thank God today for the animals, and seek the knowledge and wisdom we may receive from their lives and their antics in the world.

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