Welcome to the June 2018 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

Evangelism

Knowledge

Natural

Impossible

Peace

Money

Bible

Toilet Paper

Hope

Trust

Family

Direction


A WORD FOR TODAY


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





A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2018







June 1, 2018

“He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning God’s Kingdom. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 19:8-10, WEB

I love to visit yard sales. As they say, “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” Some of my greatest purchases were found at yard sales. I have a twelve-place setting of milk glass luncheon plates and cups that I found at two separate sales in two different states. I have found some great toys and clothes for the kids. You never know what sort of treasure might be found at the house next door.

I don’t like having a sale nearly as much as I like visiting others. You work hard to gather together a mess of stuff that might be treasures for other people, put it on display with prices you think they might be willing to pay. The funny thing is that when it is your own sale and stuff, it isn’t so much junk, but just things you no longer need or have room to keep. It’s hard to watch treasures sold for a dime or a quarter.

After you work hard to set up your sale, you sit and wait. All day long people wander in. There’s always a guy on your doorstep before you are even ready asking to buy at ridiculously low prices. Some people buy. Some people don’t. Some people even whisper that there is nothing but junk on the tables or grumble about prices. After a few hours, you realize that even though you have made a few dollars, it really wasn’t worth the time or energy. For a long time, I packed all the leftovers in a box to save for the next sale. After a few sales, when the same items were packed in the box over and over again, I realized that it was pointless to keep it. So, now we give it away so that it will help someone else.

There comes a time in most things when you simply have to learn to move on. This is particularly true when it comes to sharing our faith. It is good, right and true to tell the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ with all those who pass us on our journey. It is pointless, however, to try to force our faith on anyone else. We simply speak the forgiveness and salvation that is found in Christ, then we let God do the work. Sometimes we find someone interested, someone who is willing to continue the conversation, asking questions, seeking more. At other times, they reject what we say and refuse to believe. Paul experienced this often in his missionary journeys and he knew when to move on.

We know there is still value in the things we want to sell and we don’t like rejection, so we keep trying to sell the things in the hope that we might get something out of it. There is even greater hope in our witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We know the deep and wonderful value of God’s love and all those who refuse to believe make us sad. Paul knew that it was pointless to keep sharing the Gospel with those who outright reject the Gospel. He moved on to share the Gospel with others.

Paul did not give up on those who rejected him. He kept them in prayer, trusting that God is able to accomplish His work in their lives and hoping that one day they would hear and believe. In the meantime, God used Paul elsewhere and many heard the word of the Lord. As we share the Gospel today, let us remember that we can never force faith on anyone. Speak God’s Word then move on and pray. It’s the best we can do.

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June 4, 2018

“In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the middle of them, and said, ‘Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” Matthew 18:1-4, WEB

Aristotle is credited with saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” It is easy to think when you are young that you have enough knowledge to take over the world. Usually, however, those young people really have a lot to learn. I saw a show with a young lady who was certain she knew better than her parents how to live her life. She was a drug addict, although she claimed she could stop any time she wanted. “I know what my body can handle better than anyone,” she said. She didn’t believe the doctors who showed her the damage she was doing to her body with those drugs. She didn’t care that the drugs might kill her. “I’ve done it twenty times and seen it done many more and everyone is fine.” She thought her experience was enough to give her the knowledge she needs to make good decisions.

Parents have long dealt with the brilliance of teenagers. They think they know everything and believe their parents are clueless. They scoff at the advice of their mom and dad and make decisions that ultimately turn disastrous. It is often years later that those same children realize how much they didn’t know. I remember calling my mom when my daughter was just a few years old. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I would say. She would answer, “What did your daughter do now?” she would ask. The more my children grew, the more I realized how little I knew as a teenager. Even now, I have so much advice for these young adults, but though they are good kids, they still have to learn the lesson that they really don’t know anything.

The people who attend my Sunday school class often joke about how I know it all. I laugh along with them, not because I think it is true but because I know it isn’t. The more I read and learn and grow in my faith, the more I know I don’t really know. It used to be so easy to define the Trinity because I used the typical analogies. Now I struggle with those same analogies because they are so inadequate to describe the incredible mystery that is the Trinity. The more I know about God, the more I know I don’t really know Him.

That’s where faith comes in. Unfortunately, some people study the scriptures to the point that they stop believing. They leave their intellect get in the way of faith. They discover the reality that God can’t be explained with human words and instead of accepting the truth that God is more than our human brains can ever really understand, they reject religion as being nothing more than a story or fairytale.

It is good to study the scriptures, to learn more, to gain in knowledge. It is good to listen to teachers, to read commentaries and to struggle over the texts in the Bible so that their meaning is made plain to us. However, we must always remember as we are on that quest for knowledge that we’ll never know it all. We should embrace the reality that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. We must embrace the truth that some things have to be taken with faith. Jesus did not encourage His disciples to become like little children who do not know anything, but to be humble and curious and trusting as a child. We will never fully know God; He wouldn’t be much of a God if we could. It is when we recognize our own weakness that we can truly trust in God.

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June 5, 2018

“Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do. But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be patient toward all. See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, for one another, and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t despise prophesies. Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil. ” 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22, WEB

I helped with the devotions at a craft retreat I attended a few years ago. The focus was on creativity and how we are made in the image of our creative God. Now, a group of women at a craft retreat definitely know they are creative, but this is a concept that is hard for those who do not pursue any arts. They don’t realize that creativity is not just found in the obvious like arts and crafts, but that everything we do has an element of creativity.

The final devotion at the retreat a few years ago was to teach the ladies how to make an origami butterfly. I am very good at making these folded paper delights, but I quickly learned that it was much harder to teach the craft. I worked hard to plan the lesson, carefully planning every step of the process. I chose to use a very large piece of paper so that it would be readily visible to all the ladies. Unfortunately, we were a large group and we were not sitting at tables. It was hard for me to check everyone’s progress. Many of the ladies folded as they saw it, but it was backwards because I was standing in front of them. I thought I carefully considered each aspect of the task but in the end the devotion did not work as hoped. I knew what to do because I had done it so often, but the other ladies were confused and were not able to accomplish the same task.

As we grow in our faith in Jesus Christ, the Fruit of the Spirit and His works, which are manifest in our lives, become natural. We love because God first loved us, and that love we share happens without a thought. Our joy is made complete in Christ Jesus, so we are naturally joyful. As we are sanctified for God and by His work in us, the Fruit becomes such a part of our lives that we do not to work to make them happen. We do not always understand why others can’t do (or won’t) do or see things the way we do, forgetting that we are in a different place in our spiritual journey.

In his first letter to Thessalonica, Paul gave specific instructions for living a life in Christ Jesus. These actions had become a natural part of his existence, and his faith showed clearly by his life. He understood that each Christian is at a different point of faith. He deemed it necessary to establish every step of the process for us to follow.

It isn’t easy to follow his commands. Rejoice always? You have got to be kidding. Pray without ceasing? I have a hard time finding five minutes in my day to focus on prayer. Give thanks for everything? I’m thankful for sure, but do I really need to be thankful for the splinter in my finger or the roll of toilet paper in my bathroom? Those hurtful and trivial things don’t seem so important.

The point is to become the kind of Christian whose life of faith happens without thought, like the origami butterfly in my hands. I ended up making butterflies for some of the ladies, but I also was able to spend some time helping others learn. We can encourage faith in our brothers and sisters in Christ, helping one another grow into the kind of Christians God has created and redeemed us to be. The more we practice these steps together, the more naturally the Fruit of God’s Holy Spirit will manifest in our lives. We will soon realize that we are rejoicing, praying and encouraging without thought as it becomes a natural part of our daily lives.

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June 6, 2018

Scriptures for Sunday, June 10, 2018, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17); Mark 4:26-34

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, WEB

I took a trip to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. One of the adventures I took was to drive to the top of Mount Evans. The road leading to the peak is the highest paved road in America. This road is a steep and windy road that takes the visitor up more than four thousand feet (it begins around ten thousand feet and ends at around fourteen thousand feet) through the different landscapes that grow on the mountain. It passes lovely mountain lakes and meadows with wildflowers, through evergreen covered hillsides and past the tree line to the tundra.

The views are spectacular; except for cars of the visitors and an occasional park building it is completely void of human impact. The road is only open about three months out of the year as the area is completely uninhabitable for most of it. I recall thinking, as I looked down at the mountain valleys with green pastures and cool clean mountain lakes, what an idyllic setting it would be for a farm or ranch. Then I realized that there were no roads leading to those valleys. Besides, as I drove to the top of the mountain in mid-July, I saw that there were still places covered in snow. The amount of snowfall in those lovely valleys could cover a house.

What I found most amazing was the stark contrast between the wooded areas at the lower elevations and the sudden change at the tree line. It seems impossible to think that the environment could be so different in such a short space. Why could the trees grow in one place and not another? There are, perhaps, several reasons, not the least of which is the temperature. It was 95 in Denver the day I drove to the top of Mount Evans, and it was less than 50 at the top of the mountain, just thirty miles away. The weather is unpredictable, too. It can snow throughout the year. Scientists suggest that the lack of trees is not simply the cold, but because it is cold too many days of the year. There is not enough warmth for a tree to build up the cell structure necessary to grow to great heights. That’s why there are scrubs and tundra grasses at the top of the mountain, but not trees. They simply do not have the time to grow and establish roots before the weather kills off the tender shoots.

We don’t think of Israel being a mountainous place, but there are mountains in the vicinity. Mount Hermon, a cluster of mountain peaks, is part of a larger range that is situated between Syria, Lebanon and extends into Israel. A peak in the Israeli controlled area of the Golan Heights is 7,336 feet high. It snows on this mountain and is the site of a ski resort. As with other mountains, trees do not grow at the top of Mount Hermon.

Today’s Old Testament passage is a promise to do the impossible. Israel had turned away from God. The kings had lost their way. The people were no longer worshipping only the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living as God intended them to live. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem and take the king captive. The king made a vow with Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians did not destroy Jerusalem. But the king thought he could be unfaithful to the covenant he made with Nebuchadnezzar, so he sought the help of Egypt. Egypt did not help Israel. As a matter of fact, Egypt helped with the destruction of what little was left. God allowed this to happen because the king was not faithful to the vow he made in God’s name.

So, the parable found in Ezekiel 17 tells the story of this time in the life of Israel. Our passage takes this story in a new and unexpected way. God will take a shoot and make it grow where it can never grow. Can anyone really take a cutting from the highest branches of a cedar tree and put in the rocky soil at the intemperate top of a mountain and expect it to grow? According to tree experts, cedar trees can be propagated, but it is not an easy process. It is much easier to grow new trees from seeds. If you or I would try to plant a cedar tree on the top of Mount Hermon, we would fail; we certainly could not make it bear fruit.

Yet God will do this thing. The people in Ezekiel’s day needed to hear that there is a promise for new life. They were like that twig that had been cut off the top of the tree, although it seems as if it wasn’t God doing the cutting. They were in exile. They had been taken from their home and were living in the midst of strangers, pagans. They had lost it all; they had even lost their connection to God. They felt abandoned. While it might seem like Nebuchadnezzar was the one doing the plucking and planting, it was God. He took that remnant and placed it in a place that seemed impossible for growth. And yet, He made it grow. God spoke and did it. God used Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart. He can bring life to that which should be dead. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.

Parables are not always understood by those who hear it. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, did not understand what He was saying. He had to explain it to them later, in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? I think parables are meant to make people think, to make us reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows by itself? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? It is in thinking about these questions that we draw near to God.

Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul writes, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I a seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the kingdom of God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves into a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible.

It is interesting that in the Gospel lesson we don’t really hear that it is God doing the work. The kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. We see in the first parable that the man who cast the seed does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows to be something big enough for birds to dwell. This happens without the help of any man.

Seeds can be cultivated by nature. Seeds are spread by the wind. They drop into the ground. Plants in the wild die, but new plants grow in their place. In these stories, though, the seeds are planted. What is amazing about this is that we know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. He can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions, He can make His Kingdom grow without our help. But He wants our help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues.

Paul invites us to live pleasing to God always. Paul faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who would have preferred for his ministry to fail. He was attacked, not only about his faith but also personally. People in Corinth were trying to undermine his ministry and the seeds he had planted. But Paul did not give up. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He would have preferred experiencing the promised life in the eternal presence of God. He wanted to be with Jesus. But he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He had established here and now. The kingdom of God might be something we will experience in the future, but it is also right now.

Paul writes, “Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do: planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom.

I enjoyed my trip up Mount Evans and I still recall the beauty through my photos and memories. The grass was truly greener in those valleys than they are at my house right now. Our drought stricken lawns are struggling to stay alive, let alone green. Yet, I wouldn’t want to live there. Life isn’t always better where the grass is greener.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.” We tend to shy away from words of law, preferring to focus on God’s grace. After all, it is in grace that we have the freedom to truly be what God has created and redeemed us to be. Yet, we learn from the psalmist that the righteous will live the fruitful life in God’s kingdom. Paul reminds us, “For we must all be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God; and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences.”

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

Sadly, those requirements are often harsh and dangerous. They never realized that they could find true blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. They were afraid of their homes, but they find a new kind of fear in the gang. They think that the grass is greener in the “love” of the gang, but they quickly learn that it is mixed with blood. Then they are trapped in a prison (sometimes literally) from which there is no escape. They thought they had gained freedom, but are they really free? What blessings can really come out of the fear and obedience that demands rejection of home, family and true authority?

I suppose that those outside the Christian faith might ask the same question. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs? Which grass is really greener?

There are very real issues in the neighborhoods where gangs roam. Some parents are not able to cope with the responsibilities. Others are consumed with their own rebellion and anger which leads them to wrong decisions and actions. The authorities do not always offer justice. The struggles have gone on so long in those communities that they don’t see a better way. Even so, life is never better when we chase after our desires; that pursuit leads us to less freedom.

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

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

God sees the world much differently that we do. He sees it through love, through mercy and through grace. God can see goodness in the midst of darkness, He can see potential where there seems to be none. He can take a tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He sees differently because He sees beyond the surface and into the heart of man. He sees beyond the moment. He sees His creation without the cloak of sin and death. In Christ we are given a vision of what God sees in us and in others. We are called to see the world through eyes of faith, to see it with love, mercy and grace and to act accordingly. We are invited to live as if we are the tabernacle of God, a dwelling place for Christ in this world so that His love, mercy and grace might be seen by others.

As Christians, the world sees us as foolish. Faith to the non-believer is nothing more than a crutch that keeps us from our human potential. The world thinks we are trapped in a prison because we are afraid of the freedom we could have pursuing our own desires. However, seeing the world through faith is a gift, an incredible blessing because we can see a bit of eternity through the eyes of God in the midst of this world that is covered in sin and darkness.

God is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can make nothing something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible. He did it in and through Jesus. He is still making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is taking the seeds that we have planted and He is bringing them to life. He is also making the seeds in our hearts grow. We are a new creation in Christ, called to live in the freedom of His Kingdom, partners with Him in the salvation of the world.

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June 7, 2018

“‘No more will there be an infant who only lives a few days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child will die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old will be accursed. They will build houses, and inhabit them. They will plant vineyards, and eat their fruit They will not build, and another inhabit. They will not plant, and another eat: for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor give birth for calamity; for they are the offspring[a] of Yahweh’s blessed, and their descendants with them. It will happen that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Dust will be the serpent’s food. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says Yahweh.” Isaiah 65:20-25, WEB

I love to visit the zoo. We have a wonderful zoo in San Antonio with a great variety of animals. There are those who do not like zoos because they see them as cruel to the animals imprisoned. The zoo here has undergone years of battles in court with groups determined to shut them down. They don’t realize the amazing work that is being done in breeding and research. The current director is doing a fantastic job, especially with those programs and renovating the habitats for the animals. He’s made some hard decisions that will benefit the animals and it shows in the impact they are having not only locally, but internationally.

The first modern zoo was that of the Royal Zoological Society, located in Regent’s Park London. It was established in 1826. The 19th century was a time of scientific discovery. The British Empire stretched to the four corners of the earth, and the nobility were very interested in the natural sciences. Explorers were sent all over the world to gather new species of plant and animal life to study here in England. The specimens were often brought back stuffed, so that the intellectuals of the day could study them. The country homes which were quite popular through the Regency and Victorian eras are filled with examples of every sort of bird and insect life, as well as animals of every shape and form.

In many cases, the animals were brought back live, and placed in cages so that they could be studied. Leeds Castle in Kent has a lovely aviary, which was created out of the owner’s desire to study tropical birds. The zoological parks became a place of wonder and amazement, where every day folk could see animals from all over the world. Children learn so much by seeing the animals from distant lands up close.

Unfortunately, in the early days, the designers of the zoos were unconcerned about the welfare of the animals. The cages were small and uncomfortable. This has been true until the last few decades of the twentieth century, when conservationists began to realize the importance of protecting the animals from harm. Zoos are once again zoological parks, where the animals are studied in the hope of understanding how to protect them in the wild.

In the beginning, the whole world lived in harmony. Man was created to rule over the rest of creation. When sin entered the world through the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, the original harmony of creation was upset. Through the ages, sin increased until the days of Noah, when God saw that man could not live as He intended. He commanded Noah to build the ark and organize the first zoo – a floating zoo – to guard and protect the created from harm. The rains came; the earth was destroyed except for those who were on board the ark. After the flood, God established a new order. The harmony had been broken; the flesh of animals became acceptable as sustenance for man and beast alike. Humankind still had dominion over the animals, there was no longer peace on the earth between man and beast.

However, the day will come when the world will be restored to its former glory.

The day is coming when the whole world will live in peace again. Zoos will not need cages because the lion will lay with the lamb, and man will once again rule creation as it was intended. Jesus Christ died on the cross to restore the harmony of creation on earth and in heaven. That harmony can begin today, with us, as we live according to the will and purpose of God our Father, in the name of Jesus our Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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June 8, 2018

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10, WEB

If you really read the Bible, you will discover that the topic of money is extremely important. As a matter of fact, ten percent of the verses in the Gospels are about money. Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables talk about how to handle money and possession. There are four times as many verses on many than faith. It is an important topic, and the focus is often on our treatment of the poor and needy. We have been blessed to be a blessing, and our blessedness is most obvious in the way we use our resources. God calls us to share everything with others so that He will be glorified.

Treatment of the poor and needy is not the only reason why money is so heavily discussed in the Bible. Our lives revolve around money. We need money to pay for our shelter whether it is a mortgage or rent. We need money to pay for food. Even farmers who tend cattle and grow grain and vegetables need to purchase some staples for living. In American society, we need to pay for electricity and other utilities so that our water will be delivered to our faucets and our waste sent far away. We don’t go a day without spending money in some way. Though things may have changed over the millennia, things are not much different than they were then. Money has always been necessary for life.

We are unfortunately quite wasteful with our financial resources. We buy many things we really do not need and throw away the excess. I once visited the Heifer International Ranch, and I became very uncomfortable with what a poor steward I am of the wonderful things God has given to me. My family is not rich, but we have so much more than we need. We enjoy collecting pretty things. We enjoy going places and doing things together. Unfortunately we spend too many hours a week working to pay off our credit card bills. Or to pay for the ‘nice-essities’ of life. Or to maintain the lifestyle we’ve built.

While I am sure there are people who are striving to get rich, most of us just laugh at that thought. We are wearing ourselves out just to get by. “Rich? I’ll be lucky if I can pay my bills this month.” We strive to make life better for our kids, to give them the things we never had. We want to be comfortable and happy. So, while we think that we aren’t striving to be rich, I have to wonder if we could be content living in a small hut with little or no possessions. I don’t think it is necessary for us to give up the blessed lives we’ve been given to move to a third world country, but the scriptures offer good council for those of us who live in today’s world. Are we working too hard to keep up a lifestyle far exceeding the blessing of God?

God has not necessarily asked us to give up the wonderful gifts He has given, or the life with which we have been blessed. He simply asks that we be content, satisfied with what we have. Working for a living is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the Bible is very clear that sluggards and lazy people will not find God’s blessings. But we should not seek to be rich or work to live in excess.

Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all evil.” He did not say money is evil. He is asking us to have restraint, to be satisfied with enough. We find it much easier to be generous when we are satisfied with enough. It is when we desire more than enough that we fall into error, easily deceived and led astray. In today’s world, it is necessary to pay the rent, have a car and purchase our food from the grocery store, but God also wants us to share what we have with others. May God help us do so as good stewards of the resources He has given so that we might live so content and happy that we can bless those in need with our blessings.

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June 11, 2018

“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power; in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:6-15, WEB

Our Sunday school class has a tendency of going off on tangents. We don’t pick through the Bible willy nilly, but we don’t follow a published Bible study so it is easy for us to end up talking about something completely different than the plan. That happened to us yesterday. We are just beginning a new study on Psalm 119, and the conversation veered onto the topic of Bible translations and study notes. The members of the group use a variety of different versions, which has the advantage of seeing the text in new and different ways. The study notes differ, too, and through them we see the text from different points of view.

This led to the inevitable question which I get often: “Which Bible should I buy?” I recently walked into a discount Christian gifts store and spent a few minutes in the Bible department. If you have done the same in any Christian bookstore, you will know how overwhelming it can be. This store had sections for at least six different versions, plus a section for miscellaneous versions. Other stores carry even more. It is a daunting exercise. How do you choose? Do you want a study Bible? Do you want a Bible that is more literal in translation or one that is a paraphrase? Why are you buying the Bible; do you want it just to read or do you want to do in depth study? Do you want it in modern language or do you prefer the more classical translations?

Each section had a variety of printings of the versions. There were Bibles designed for women and for men. There were Bibles that focused on archeology or theology. There were books with large print and others that were designed to fit into a purse or suitcase for easy carry. Some were in leather, others in hard cover or paper back. There are Bibles with wide margins for notes or graphics for coloring. Once you decide on a version, then you have to pick through all these choices. I’m not sure I am the best person to answer the question “Which Bible should I buy?” because if you look at my bookshelf you’ll see that I have one of each. Well, that is an exaggeration, but I certainly have purchased many Bibles in my life and I use many different ones in my study.

I have my favorites, of course. I have certain Bibles I use for specific purposes. I am reading through the Bible this year using the New Living Translation, which is fascinating because it is like reading the scriptures for the first time. I use the World English Bible for this writing because it is public domain. I do most of my study with the English Standard Version, though I tend to check word choice in other versions, including Greek for New Testament studies. I love the language of the New Jerusalem Bible. I sometimes reference The Message, for the uniqueness of its paraphrases choices. (You will only find this in The Message: “If you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli.” Romans 14)

I have several different study Bibles even though they are the same translation. The notes in each of these Bibles come from a different perspective. They generally agree about the basic understanding of the texts, but there is often a unique point they want to make. One Bible was put out by a Lutheran publisher and so has quotes from Martin Luther and other confessional documents. Another one comes from a broader evangelical Protestant perspective. Both have valuable information and have helped me with my studies.

My answer to the members in my class about which Bible was probably a cop-out: my answer was to give no answer. I told them that the best thing to do is to go to those Bible departments and look through different versions. I suggested that they pick a favorite passage and read it in different versions. But I also offered a warning: Bible translations and study notes will always have the bias of the people involved in the project. Those notes are not canon; they aren’t the words of God. They help, for sure, but we must beware of relying so much on the notes that we do not hear God’s voice in the text.

Whatever your choice, Paul reminds us in today’s passage to keep Jesus Christ as the center of our spiritual and religious life. It is too easy to get caught up in the philosophies of men or to lose sight of Jesus as we follow their words. The Bible is given to us by God to draw us ever nearer to Him, to guide is in the right way and to build our lives on a solid foundation. We have, indeed, been buried with Christ Jesus in His death and by His grace we can triumph over those who would lead us astray.

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June 12, 2018

“If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain - these three. The greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, WEB

There is a chain of gas station rest stops in Texas called Buc-ee’s that are like a haven for any weary traveler. You know when one is coming as they advertise on billboards for miles in advance. The advertising is creative, with a cute beaver who guarantees cheap ice, a sweet treat called beaver nuggets and fabulous rest rooms. The ads are true: the restrooms are fabulous. They are clean with dozens of stalls. I’ve never had to wait in line or worry about whether or not I will be able to find plenty of toilet paper.

Anyone who has taken a road trip will understand the frustration of finding a clean, pleasant rest room on the road. Unfortunately, we can’t always find a Buc-ee’s, especially when we travel outside of Texas. Of course there are other places that can claim to have fabulous restrooms, but we are not always able to wait for such a place. All too often, our stops require us to use the toilets in busy, dirty gas stations and other questionable places. The greatest problem that is faced when using such facilities, besides the filth, is the lack of toilet paper.

We have all been there, of course. There was an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine was in a women’s restroom when she discovered the toilet paper holder was empty. She begged for help from a woman in the next stall. “I can’t spare a square” the woman answered. The conversation went on for a long time as Elaine begged and the other woman rejected her request. It is funny on a sitcom, but not so funny when you are in a filthy restroom on the road far from home. It was a particularly difficult thing on one road trip when it seemed that there was no toilet paper anywhere I went.

I decided that I should ensure that I am prepared on future trips. You can buy handy little pocket packs of toilet paper to carry in your purse. I bought several of these and had them handy whenever I went to the rest room on my next trip. Well, I had them with me almost every time. The one time I did not carry my purse, the only time it was not within my reach, was the one time that there was no toilet paper in the stall I picked. Luckily a woman in the restroom was not like the woman in the episode of Seinfeld. She shared from another stall, but I thought it was funny that the one time I was not prepared was the one time I needed to be.

The scriptures tell us that we are to be constantly aware, always prepared, continually in prayer. I don’t know about you, but I find this at times very difficult to do. My heart, my mind, and my body get caught up in the everyday issues I face. I work hard to be ready, but it never fails - the one time I am not prepared is the one time I am caught off guard. I am a sinner, unable to live perfectly as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I spend a great deal of time in prayer, in Bible Study and in worship in the hopes that I will be ready when an opportunity arises to witness for the Lord or serve one of His children. I often fail, however, not ready with that word of comfort or prepared to give my resources or my time to those in need. I get angry when I should be sympathetic, I get tired when I should be energized.

The scriptures are often hard for us to take. We read text like this one from Paul and wonder how we could ever possibly live up to the expectations. How can we “always love.” Love is to be a part of all we do, but the reality is that only the Lord loves without fail. We are sinners, sinners in need of a Savior. He is faithful. So, when we are not prepared, Jesus will be like the person in the next stall, offering us the toilet paper we need to clean up our messes. He abides in us through faith by His grace. His love flows into our hearts and then on to the world. His mercy cleanses our lives, gives us faith and hope. In Him, though we fail, love continues.

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June 13, 2018

Scriptures for Sunday, June 17, 2018, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

“Therefore we don’t faint, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, WEB

I saw an interview with several women who were cruel, and perhaps even abusive, mothers. Though they were not physical, they yelled all the time at their children, saying things that no mother should ever say to their babies such as “I hate you,” or “I wish you had never been born.” One mother threatened to drop her daughter off with the homeless men on the street corner. Neither understood why they acted the way they did. “She drives me crazy, I don’t know how to deal with her.” The women both had men in their lives, not the biological fathers, but step dads to the children. The interviewer asked what they were doing about it. The men didn’t know what to do, though they knew they needed to do something. “Our daughter looks at her mother with fear in her eyes. A daughter should never be afraid of her mother.”

A child should never be afraid of a parent. Parents need to provide discipline, but there is a line that should never be crossed. Sadly, too many children deal with abuse; the abuse can be verbal, physical or sexual. All abuse, whether word or deed is emotionally abusive. It changes a child. It makes a child fear; fear leads to rebellion and hatred which leads to dangerous actions. Children who are abused are more likely to abuse others. Children who are abused have a greater risk to end up in gangs or in prison. Children who are abused never find healthy relationships. A parent is gifted and made responsible for that young life; it is in the home where all children should feel most safe, secure and love.

God loved Adam and Eve. He walked with them and He talked with them. As the song says, He told them that they were His own. One day, however, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent caused Eve and Adam to doubt the Word of God. “Did God really say...?” the serpent asked. Eve thought about it, and the words of the serpent sounded good. She didn’t hear the twist in the message. God hadn’t really said what the serpent repeated, but his words sounded better than the twisted truth. God did not keep the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve because He wanted to keep anything from them. He forbade it because He knew it would cause them to think that they were not worthy to be in the presence of their Father. That’s exactly what happened; when they ate the fruit, they became afraid of God.

Many of the abused children are removed from those homes and placed in foster care. While there are many struggles in the system, the reality is that the child can’t live in a home where he or she is afraid of those in whom they must trust. The same was true of Adam and Eve. God did not kick them out of the Garden of Eden as a punishment for disobedience. He sent them away so that they would not continue to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life and live forever in the presence of a Father they feared. The world outside the garden was harsh. They worked hard, they knew pain, they died. Yet even while God’s people had to struggle outside paradise, God had a plan.

God said to the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” This is the first promise of the Gospel. The offspring that ends the reign of the serpent will be Jesus Christ. Death that entered the world when Adam and Eve trusted the twisted word will be defeated. What the first Adam did, Jesus the New Adam will undo and God’s people will be restored to a right relationship with Him. We will no longer have to fear walking in paradise with our Father.

We aren’t there yet. Though Jesus has defeated death, the world in which we live is still fallen. We still struggle. We still have to work hard. We still know pain. We still die. Yet, in Christ we have eternal life. We are in a period of now but not yet. We are still sinners even while we are already saints.

I once heard a story about a man who had been recently paroled from prison. He quickly returned to his old ways, breaking in to a house to rob the owners of just enough to get a case of beer or a bottle of cheap booze. As he searched the home, he found a bottle of Crown Royal and decided to take a few sips. The owners later came in to find this man passed out drunk on a chair. He was arrested and returned to prison. When he found the Crown Royal, he no longer needed any cash. He was living in darkness and fell further and further from the Light. Left to continue his life in this manner would lead him to worse behavior, perhaps even violence.

Most of us aren’t robbing our neighbors but we all sin. We struggle in a broken world and often find ourselves failing to live up to the expectations of our God. We do not always treat people with love or respect. We get angry with our children and our spouses, gossip about others, take things that are not ours. We fall to the temptations this world has to offer. We sin against God and our neighbor in our thoughts, words and deeds by what we do and what we fail to do. Despite our failure, God still wants a relationship with us. Like the psalmist, we can cry out to Him and He will hear us. He doesn’t keep a record of our sin, but forgives and forgets. “If you, Yah, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” We can’t stand, but we can have peace.

The paroled man thought he could find peace in all the wrong places. He thought stealing would help him get a new start on life. Then he thought drinking would help him through. However, he got caught in his sin and instead of beginning anew he was sent back to prison, bound by the consequences of his sin. The correctional facility released him on parole with the expectation that he would stop leading a life of crime; he was returned to the world and given a new chance on life. When he failed, his past failures were recalled and he was punished more severely for his crime.

Our life in Christ is different. We don’t have to walk in darkness because we have the light of our Lord Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. We know by faith that even when we fail, we can turn to Him for forgiveness and help through our troubled times. When we fail and turn to God for forgiveness, He not only grants that forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus, but He also forgets our sin. We don’t have a record or else we would become buried in the prison of our sinful nature. As we live in this hope, we find ourselves walking in the light of Christ, covered by the unfailing love of God and reconciled to Him by His own blood. When we wait for the Lord and watch for Him, we are less likely to fall into the temptations of this world. We will still sin, but we can trust in the Lord and rest in His forgiveness because He never fails.

He never fails because He is faithful and knows what needs to be done. Even in the beginning, He already prepared to send a Redeemer to make things right, even knowing we would never be able to hold up our end of the bargain.

We can all identify people in our lives that only seem to come to us when they are in need. The telephone rings and the voice on the other end says, “Hi!” and you sink into your chair thinking, “What does she want now?” Perhaps at times we are like that ourselves, only calling certain people when there is something they can do for us. We need someone to fill a slot on a committee so we call the one person who we know will say yes. Yet we never think to call them to just say hello. These one way street relationships are difficult because we eventually realize that they don’t really care for us; they only see us as someone who can fulfill their needs. Meanwhile, we continue in love and friendship, never having it returned. How often does our relationship with God look the same way? We go to Him constantly when we are in need but we rarely call on Him when we are living blessed lives. When we get sick, tired, hungry or cold we get on our knees and cry out to Him for help. When we are hurt and angry we cry for vengeance. When we are sad and afraid we ask Him to give us comfort and peace. Yet, when we are healthy and full, happy and safe, we rarely even think about Him. We don’t often think about witnessing about the blessings of God when we are living that blessed life.

God made the promise of the Gospel knowing that we would continue to fail Him. He grants us many blessings, knowing that we’ll forget to be thankful and to live in the life He has called us to live. He continues to forgive even though we continue to disobey. Yet, He desires so much more from us. He hopes that our love and thankfulness will be so great that we cannot stay silent. He hopes that we will live in His light and walk according to His ways. God hopes? Yes, because hope is not about wishes and dreams; hope is expectation. God our Father hopes, expects, that we will live as we are called to live, because Christ is in us and we are in Christ. It is because we believe that we can and will speak. As we grow in faith, that faith will overflow so others will come to know the truth and believe.

It isn’t easy, especially when Jesus doesn’t act according to our expectations. Even His mother had trouble. Mary and Jesus’ brothers were concerned because Jesus was not taking care of Himself. He had been transformed by His wilderness experience and was doing the work of His Father. He had a ministry to do; there were people who needed to hear His words and feel His touch. Mary and His brothers came to take Him home, to give Him time to rest. He refused because He knew He was doing His Father’s work.

We struggle with this story because we don’t understand why Mary would be so against Jesus’ ministry, after all, she knew from the beginning that He was born for something incredible. She even pondered it all in her heart. She was His mother and saw that He was so consumed with His work that she thought He must be overwhelmed. He was dragging the disciples with Him. Mary was concerned about His well-being and perhaps she only wanted to take Him away for a moment so that He could find renewal and refreshment. The scribes saw a whole different problem. They thought Jesus was possessed by the devil. He refuted their claims by reminding them that Satan would not work against himself.

Jesus’ family and the scribes, though for very different reasons, wanted Jesus to stop doing what He was called to do. Jesus answered the accusations of the scribes by telling them not to give credit to Satan for the work that He is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. And though His answer to His mother and brothers might seem harsh, we are reminded that Jesus is calling us to trust in Him. He knows what He is doing, just as God knew in the beginning what Adam and Eve needed.

We will have opposition to the work we will do in the world, even from those closest to us. Some, perhaps, will even suggest that we are doing the work of the devil, especially when we preach a word they do not want to hear. It is hard being a disciple, not only hard work, but also difficult because we will be tempted to conform to the world though Christ calls us to a life that conforms to Him. Jesus’ family thought he was out of His mind and the teachers of the law thought He received His power from Beelzebub, the prince of demons? If they could think these things about Jesus, how much more will they think it about us?

We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, as much for the sake of the sinner as for those who will be harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There are truth and lies. These are things that matter. Words might sound good, but if they are twisted, then they will lead us away from trusting God.

I was reading a book when I realized a connection I’d never seen previously. When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden to live life away from the Tree that would provide them with everlasting life, He told them that the ground would be cursed and that it would yield thorns and thistles. In the end, when Jesus was crucified, those thorns were used to adorn His head as a crown. Even as we live in this decaying world caused by the curse of Adam and Eve, we also live in the promise of the Gospel. God’s story leads us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin, the restoration of our relationship with God and eternal life in His Kingdom.

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June 14, 2018

“Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ; not in the way of service only when eyes are on you, as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is bound or free.” Ephesians 6:5-8

San Antonio, Texas is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding on May 5, 1718 this year. The city has presented many different events. The art museums have had special exhibits. The usual festivities and parades have been enhanced. Everyone wants to show their love for this wonderful city and we are benefiting from all the excitement.

While the city was founded officially on that date, the name San Antonio was actually given twenty seven years earlier. The region was inhabited by indigenous people, most especially the Payaya Indians. There were early explorers like Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1536 as well as other expeditions of the Spanish who recognized the strategic importance of the area. One such expedition left the Convent of Queretaro in 1675 to seek a place to settle beyond the Rio Grande. On June 13, 1691, a group of explorers and missionaries came upon a river with a Native American settlement. Since it was the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, they named the area San Antonio. Settlement of the city would not happen for many years when the first mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) and Presidio San Antonio de Bexar were established in early May 1718.

Saint Anthony is a little known saint whose work took him to missionize in Italy. He was a powerful preacher, and his ambition was to convert Moslems to Christianity. When he arrived in Morocco to begin his work, he became quite sick and was forced to return home. His ship was blown off course and landed on Sicily where he lived as a hermit for some time. One day, he preached a sermon for a group of Franciscan monks who were so impressed by his ability that he was quickly sent into mission work in Tuscany. He was eventually assigned to a hermitage because of ill health and lived in a cave, spending time in prayer and study.

An occasion occurred in 1222 when the Franciscans were holding an ordination to which Dominican friars were invited. The Franciscans thought that one of the Dominican friars would give the homily because they were famous for their preaching. They were unprepared assuming the Franciscans would give the pulpit to one of their men. The head of the hermitage called on Saint Anthony who was probably the most qualified. “Speak whatever the Holy Spirit puts in your mouth,” the leader said. Though he objected, Saint Anthony gave the homily, impressing everyone with his voice, his knowledge and his eloquence.

He moved several more times, even helping Saint Francis of Assisi establish his order. Saint Francis was not moved by theological studies, thinking that such depth of learning kept the faithful from living a committed life of poverty. Saint Anthony impressed him, however, and became a teacher for the friars in the care of St. Francis. He did other work for the church and was given the title of Evangelical Doctor by Pope Pius the XII in 1946. He died on June 13 in the year 1231, at the age of 36.

Saint Anthony set out on his life of faith with an expectation of accomplishing something specific, but his health did not allow for it to happen. He thought he knew what God intended, but discovered a much different ministry as he lived his faith. Isn’t that the way it is for all of us, though? We often set out on a task thinking we are doing God’s work, only to be sent in another direction. How do we react to this change? We do not always enjoy the task we’ve been called to do, however when done in faith and obedience, we find peace and joy in our work. When our path leads in a different direction, the best we can do is to trust in God, to pray for clarity and to commit to His will rather than our own. Are you in a place you’d rather not be? Do you feel like a slave to your job or your home life? Do not grumble about the task, but do it in faith and obedience to God’s Will, and you’ll find joy and peace.

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June 15, 2018

“Sing to God! Sing praises to his name! Extol him who rides on the clouds: to Yah, his name! Rejoice before him! A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God sets the lonely in families. He brings out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68, WEB

One of the hardest parts of being a military family was being so far from home. Bruce had been in the military for a dozen years when we got married, so he was used to the distance. Our first home together was three thousand miles from my mom and dad. This was before the Internet, email and free long distance. I could not just call my mom every time I needed some advice or was lonely. It was even worse when we were in England. Though we did have the Internet at that point, it was very expensive to be in contact with home. Even worse, the kids did not have the opportunity to get to know their grandparents.

The military life can be very lonely. It doesn’t help that it seems like new orders come just as the family gets used to being in one place. They say it is a small world, but it doesn’t seem so small when everyone you love is on the other end of the earth. Unfortunately, this caused problems for many families. Divorce was more likely during overseas assignments. The loneliness is unbearable, especially if the military member is regularly sent away on temporary duty. The sacrifices are often too much to bear.

I read Psalm 68 as part of my scripture reading this week. I was taken by the verse, “God sets the lonely in families.” It made me think about all those times when we moved to a new place. The kids had to get used to a new school. We had to find a new church. We had to meet and get to know our new neighbors. It was all part of the process. The process continued constantly as changes occurred in the lives of those who became our schoolmates, brothers and sisters in Christ and neighbors. We weren’t always the one to move. We said too many good-byes, shed too many tears and made too many promises to “keep in touch.” All too often we lost touch with those friends, but new ones came into our lives. “God sets the lonely in families.”

Are you lonely? We live in a more transient world. You don’t have to be in the military to end up thousands of miles from family. Trust in God. Know that first and foremost God is your family. He is Father to the fatherless and defender of those left alone. He provides people in your life to be your family. He is able to free you from that imprisons you and make the world around you a lovely and fruitful place. It might seem like you are all alone, but you aren’t. Your mother and father may be far away, but there are others who can be there for you. Elderly neighbors can be like grandparents for your children. Neighbors can fill our hearts and diminish our loneliness. This is especially true in our Christian fellowship. That is where God most clearly sets us in families. How can you be lonely in the midst of your brothers and sisters in Christ?

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June 18, 2018

“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:1-8, WEB

Clem Sohn was an American air show dare-devil who was an expert at a sort of game that the dare-devils played. These men would jump out of an airplane and wait until the very last moment to pull the rip cord on their parachute. The dare-devil who waited the longest “won” the contest. Unfortunately, too many received death as their prize. Clem was not satisfied with the thrill of the freefall or to glide through the air; he wanted to fly like the birds. He also wanted to do more than the other dare-devils, to be the star of those air shows. Clem performed his tricks as a young man in the 1930’s.

Clem was certainly not the first in history to try to find a way to fly. Leonardo DaVinci sketched plans for a glider, but winged men tried to fly in China, England, Greece, Spain and Turkey, too. The Wright Brothers succeeded in sustained air flight early in the twentieth century and began the age of aviation which saw incredible changes in technology. Like those who searched before, Clem studied nature to figure out a way to create wings so he could fly. Unlike many of those early inventors, Clem didn’t look to the birds for his ideas. He studied flying mammals instead. Flying squirrels and bats have anatomy much more similar to humans; they have wrists and elbows. So, Clem looked to them for the design of his wings.

Clem used airplane fabric and metal tubing, fastening them between his arms and the side of his jumpsuit. He sewed a tail fin between his legs. The wings were designed so that they would not open out too far and rip his arms from their sockets. The result was a bizarre looking suit that weighed just eight pounds. Believe it or not, the wings worked. Clem made his test flight a very public event. Hundreds of people were on-hand to see him jump out of his plane and fly. The crowds weren’t sure what was happening and feared for his life, but at the right moment, Clem opened his wings and he flew. He was able to control his flight; he somersaulted, banked left and right, leveled off, dove, and pulled up again. He pulled the cord on his parachute at just the right moment and landed safely on the ground.

He came to be known as Batman. The other dare-devils tried to copy his design and the batmen became the sights to see at those air shows. As a matter of fact, his suit is still the model for modern day wingsuits. Unfortunately, many of the dare-devils in those days lost their lives performing their tricks, including Clem. On April 25, 1937 at the age of 26 years old, Clem’s parachute did not open and then his back up parachute got tangled in his wings. He plummeted to his death.

I suppose there are many lessons we can learn from Clem’s life, but the thing that struck me is that after centuries of inventors looking at birds for their wings, Clem found the answer by looking at creatures that were similar in some ways to human beings. Those flying squirrels and bats had the proper foundation for human wings. By creating bat wings instead of bird wings, Clem was able to make the dream come true that inventors pursued for centuries made the dream.

As Christians, we need to ensure that we are looking at the right source to guide our lives in this world. We need the right foundation. Too many people, including Christians, conform to the world. This leads us on the wrong path; we end up on the road to destruction rather than the highway to heaven. God has called us to be like Him, to be perfect as He is perfect. We’ll never reach that goal in this life, but by constantly seeking Him and laying our lives on the right foundation, we’ll keep moving toward eternity. Yes, the ways of the world are very appealing. They seem to be right. They look like they will make us fly. It is only when we seek the ways of God that we’ll truly be blessed and He will be glorified as we take flight.

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