Welcome to the May 2010 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

Fragrance

Belonging

Praise

Growth

Ordinary

Inevitable

Holy

Unity

Promise

St. Matthias

Debt

Memory

Pentecost

Ordinary

Prayer

Spirit

Sight

Trinity

Children

Simplicity

Remembrance


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, May 2010





May 3, 2010

ďBe ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. Ephesians 5:1-2, ASV

We have lived in Texas for over six years and though we have seen plenty of wildflowers in that time, this was the first year we really went looking for them. In a good year, the flowers are plentiful even in the populated parts of our region. There is a house down the street that is always covered in bluebonnets and a farmerís field nearby that goes brilliant yellow every year. The side of every road has patches of color from the pinks of primroses to the white of prickly poppy to the yellows and reds of Indian blankets. It doesnít take a trip into the country to see the beauty of spring in Texas.

Since we have only really experienced the wildflowers in small patches or brief glimpses, I never thought about the fact that they would be fragrant. I know the wildflowers have a nice scent; after all, some of them are used in perfumes and air freshening products. But we usually focus on the color and beauty of the flowers rather than the smell because there are so few or we see them from such a distance.

The other day, however, we went on an adventure into the hill country to search for wildflowers. Weíd heard about a place where the bluebonnets were spectacular, and so we went even though it was a long drive. The path took us into the hills, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, along a dirt road that is usually accessed by the people who live there. Spectacular doesnít even describe the reality of this place. Long time residents claim this year was the best show in many years. Bluebonnets were everywhere. We didnít see small patches, we saw entire fields. Rivers of blue flowed between groves of trees. The hills were blue with life.

But even more striking was the scent. While it might be difficult to smell the fragrance of a dozen bluebonnets on the side of the road, the smell is unmistakable when you are standing in the midst of a million of them. We commented several times how lovely it smelled, and even wondered how we might bottle the fragrance to take it home with us. I could still smell the bluebonnets a day or so later, in my memory.

The Altar of Incense is describe in the book of Exodus. The acacia wood altar was covered with pure gold and placed before the curtain in the Temple which covers the Ark of the Covenant. It was at this altar where God would meet with the priests. The incense was to be burnt regularly before God, every morning and every evening. The smoke that rose from the altar represented the prayers of Godís people being lifted to God. The incense used was very special, produced only for use on the altar. No one was to produce the incense for personal use. No one was to share in the fragrance of that particular gift to God.

But at the death and resurrection of Christ, some things changed in the relationship between God and His people. He was no longer hidden behind a curtain, approachable only by the priests. God ripped the Temple curtain, anointed all Godís people with His Spirit, and now dwells among the people of faith in this world. We now serve as His hands in the world, His light in the darkness and His voice for all those who will hear. We are now the altar of incense; our prayers are a fragrant scent wafting to heaven, pleasing God. But we are not hidden away. We dwell in the world, for the world to see and hear and experience.

Do our neighbors experience the fragrance of our praise? Do they know we are here, seeking Godís grace for them? Do they smell the incense of our relationship with God? Perhaps it is difficult when we are alone in our praise and prayer, or gathered with a small group, like those patches of bluebonnets on the side of the road. We might be noticed and our neighbors might see the grace of God. But how much more would the world know about our God if we loved as He loves and were unified in our prayers and praise?

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May 4, 2010

ďBut ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; And the birds of the heavens, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee; And the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these, That the hand of Jehovah hath wrought this, In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?Ē Job 12:7-10, ASV

We have a bush in front of our house, and we keep a birdfeeder hanging just above it. The birdfeeder is just outside a window that is near my computer. Under the window we have a bookshelf that makes the perfect kitty resting spot. We have a pair of mourning doves that have built a nest in the tree nearby, and a number of finches and sparrows that visit the birdfeeder. The smaller birds sit on the feeder, enjoying the seed. They also kick some to the ground. Iím not sure if they intend to share that seed with the turtle doves, but the pair definitely benefit from the recklessness of the finches and sparrows.

Needless to say, the kitties donít get much sleep when they are lying on the shelf. They sit and intently stare at the birds, paying attention to every move they make. It is funny when two of them are on the shelf together, because whenever a bird makes a major move they follow it in sync: heads turn, tails wag, ears perk. Sometimes they will make a noise that almost sounds like a meow, and theyíll look at me with the hope that I might do something to make it possible for them to play with their friends.

The birds seem to know they are safe. It is possible that they arenít aware the kitties are only a few feet from them, after all they are separated by a window and it might be difficult for them to see through the screen. But, they do react when I stand up and look out the window. They kitties are silent, except for that almost meow, and Iím sure they canít be heard on the other side. They canít smell the danger through the window, so they do not worry about the kitties.

As a matter of fact, sometimes I am sure they know the kitties are watching them. There is a small sill on the outside of the window, a perfect place for the small birds to sit and rest. The seeds cast out of the birdfeeder sometimes land on the sill, making it even more tempting to the birds. They drive the kitties insane when they sit on the sill because they are only inches away from their noses. I often see the birds face toward the window, turn their heads as if contemplating what they see and then move their beaks as if they are talking. Are they heckling the kitties or do they just see themselves in the window?

I donít know, but the kitties certainly see them. They become very tense. Their tales begin to wag like crazy. They start to make that noise. They even begin to wiggle their tush, a sign that they are about to pounce. Now, you and I know that they canít get to the bird, no matter how close it is. There is a window in the way. But, they still attack, smashing their heads into the window. I donít want to laugh because I know it would hurt if I hit my head that hard. But it is funny.

Everything about the kitties in the window is fun to watch. I could spend hours watching them as they spend hours watching the birds. I know there is nothing worthwhile about watching them. I donít accomplish anything in the activity. Nothing is produced. It doesnít make life in our home any more comfortable; it doesnít get supper cooked or floors vacuumed. But it is a simple pleasure that I enjoy.

There is a great deal to accomplish every day. We have to work. We have to produce something and earn the money to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. But I wonder if we spend so much time chasing after the things we think will satisfy our needs that we miss the things that will really bring us joy. We are stressed, frustrated and worried. We feel guilty when we donít get enough accomplished.

My kitties will never catch those birds. They sit day after day in the window watching the birds. They donít worry about the time they are wasting. They donít dwell on their failure to capture the birds. They watch the birds and then sleep. Then they watch the birds again. Though we canít live like the kitties, whose needs are met by us humans, we can learn that there is value to those times when we just stop and watch the birds, or the kitties, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We might find our lives a little less stressed. We might just see the Creator manifest in the seemingly unimportant moments of life. After all, He created them, too, and they belong to Him.

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May 5, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, May 9, 2010, Six Easter: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

ďLet the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee.Ē Psalm 67:3, ASV

They say that fish will only grow as large as their habitat will allow them. A fish in a fishbowl will not get as big as that same fish in an aquarium. Many churches take this to heart when considering a building program. It is generally understood that people become uncomfortable when a sanctuary gets too crowded, so visitors do not return. ďIf we make it bigger, they will come,Ē is the battle cry. Bigger is better in our world. This isnít something new; after all, the medieval cathedrals of Europe are massive structures that reach to the sky.

But such large buildings are impractical for some communities of faith. There are those churches that canít afford to build; some canít even find enough land for a building. They find other ways to gather. Storefront churches are a practical solution to the problem. The congregation is able to use a building that already exists, pay rent that fits into their financial ability and use their energy to offer ministries that touch the lives of those who pass by on the street. House churches serve a different type of community. Some congregations share a building, though they have separate and unique ministries. Though it might be right for a congregation to building a new building to grow their congregation, it is good to remember that God blesses all those fellowships where two or more are gathered.

There is something particularly special about that group of believers that gathers despite the roadblocks they face. Do you give up worship because your numbers are small or you have no place to gather? Unfortunately this is a question some churches are asking, and for many of them the right answer is to let go. It is heartbreaking to see a congregation close, but when the resources and energy can be better used elsewhere, it is sometimes the right choice. It isnít easy closing a dying congregation, but sometimes it is easier to close it than to find a way to keep it alive. They key is discovering Godís will in the situation for He is able to both heal and bring new life out of death.

In todayís first lesson we see a fellowship of believers that is making the best of their situation. Paul was visiting Philippi, following a vision from God. Philippi was a Roman city with few Jews and Jewish believers. It was generally easy for the apostles to find the believers when they traveled to a new city because they had a place to meet. But, the Jewish community at Philippi was not large enough for a Temple or even a synagogue. On the Sabbath, Paul went searching for a place to worship.

Paul went to the river. The Jews that lived in communities like Philippi often met by the river to pray and worship. He went there on the Sabbath because he expected to find other believers. It is not surprising that they might like meeting by the river; there is something very peaceful about worshipping where there is flowing water. The sound is calming, but it is also an image that reminds the people of Godís presence among them. Moving water was considered living water, and rightly so. It is not surprising that Godís Spirit would be likened to a river because it is clean, clear and fresh. It is constantly changing and yet always the same.

At the river, Paul met a group of women who were praying. We donít know much about these women. Were they of Jewish heritage or were they proselyte? Where were the men of their community? Luke tells us that one woman, Lydia, was a worshipper of God, which likely means she had faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What do you think they thought when Paul and his companions joined them in their worship?

How did Paul come to be in Philippi? He had a vision. He saw a man calling him to Macedonia and he left immediately as if the call came from God. They were convinced this was God. They traveled for a few days, through a few cities and eventually stopped in Philippi. What made them stop then and there? We arenít told about another vision, they did not find the man in the vision. Yet, they decided to stay a few days in Philippi. It turned out to be a good choice, because they were able to meet with Lydia and her friends, share the Gospel message and establish a new point from which the Gospel would grow.

Paul wasnít concerned that this was such a small gathering. He didnít need crowded hillsides to share the story of Jesus. He simply spoke to a willing heart. We donít even know if the other women stayed to listen. This story is about Lydia, and how the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly. She heard the Lordís voice and obeyed, being baptized along with her entire household. Then she invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home. She wanted to know more.

It all began with a small gathering of women praying by the river. We know the fellowship grew from Paulís letter sometime after this visit. But in the beginning, they met in Lydiaís home. They probably continued to gather by the river, also.

One of my favorite travel memories was from a trip we took when we lived in England. We were in Cornwall, the southwestern corner of the country. On the day I like to call ďClimb a Hill, Look at a Rock Day,Ē we wandered the tiny country roads in search of ancient sites. The last place we visited was listed on the map and street signs as a Celtic Chapel. The information suggested that the place was probably built in the fourth century, as Christianity was just beginning to find its place on the island. The chapel was built in a forest that had long been a site of pilgrimage because a well there was known for its healing properties. The Christians transformed this holy place into one dedicated to the Lord Jesus.

The chapel is little more than four walls covered in vines. The roof is long gone, although the altar, font and perimeter seating is still there. A well was built into the corner, which was used for healing. There are a number of stories from the place. The building is smaller than my living room, a tiny space that is big enough for only a few dozen believers. Within a few miles of the site there are several very large churches with active congregations, including a cathedral. Yet, despite the fact that there has not been a congregation meeting at this place for a very long time, it was one of the most special, and I might even say holy, places I have ever been.

Perhaps it is special because this was where the few gathered. They were going against the religion of their time, facing the questions of what it means to be a Christian in the world. They had to figure out Godís will with little help. We have plenty of references: the Bible, the historic understanding of the scriptures, the traditions and rituals of the Church. We have stories of the mistakes, examples of the successes and the lives of the saints to give us encouragement and guidance. Though those Celtic Christians had the stories and knowledge brought by missionaries, but they were living at the end of the known world. It is unlikely that they even had copies of the letters or Gospels.

So, how do you know what to do? How did Paul know that his vision meant he should go to Philippi? Is God as clear for us as He seemed to be for those early Christians? Do we miss His voice? I canít tell you how many times Iíve wished God would be clearer about His will in my life. Perhaps if He was, we wouldnít be so divided over the issues that threaten the Church today.

We have been blessed for a purpose. God sent Paul to Lydia so that the Church might take hold in Philippi. God sent someone to Cornwall so that the Church might take hold there. And God continues to send believers out into the world so that everyone will hear the Gospel message and join in the fellowship. We are among those sent out to speak Godís word to those whose hearts have been opened to eagerly listen. There are issues that need our attention, just as there were for all the early Christian churches. We are just like them: we need to hear Godís word and obey.

It begins with praise. The psalmist calls the believers to be glad and sing for joy at the just and merciful works of God. Whether we are just two or three or hundreds gathered, our ministry begins with worship. This psalm is not limited to just those who are in our fellowship today. It is for all people. Will they praise God if they do not know Him? This is the very reason we are sent: so that they will know Him and join in the song.

When asked why we believe, our thoughts generally turn to eternal life. We believe so that we can go to heaven. We are baptized so that weíll be welcome in heaven. We attend worship so that there wonít be reason for God to keep us out of heaven. The passage from Revelation is a vision of what will be. We will return to the Garden, but in that day it will be a city with a river running through it. The Tree of Life is available so that all can eat of the fruit that gives life. The people who live in this city, whose names are found in the Lambís book of life, will share in the glory of God for eternity and live in His presence. It is as God intended His creation to be, in fellowship with Him and each other for all time, worshipping God with praise and thanksgiving.

While heaven is part of the promise, Godís grace brings us into a relationship with God that is now and forever. We can live in hope and expectation for what we hear in Revelation, but we are given today for a reason. We are given Godís power to continue the work of healing and reconciliation that Jesus began so long ago. Yet, we often find it difficult to know what it is we are supposed to do. We second-guess ourselves.

We donít even know what we expect from God! We donít want to seem demanding or ask too much. Take, for example, the man in todayís lesson from John 5. Jesus asked, ďDo you want to be made well?Ē The man has been disappointed for such a long time, unable to get into the healing waters at just the right time, left in the wake of those who could get into the water more quickly. He answered Jesus by telling him that he has no way of getting well. Jesus answered with a command to get up and go. He believed Jesus and rose.

He was looking for healing in the wrong place. He knew the stories of the pool and tried for a very long time to receive the blessing. When he was face to face with God, he didnít know what to do. He didnít know what to ask. He complained that life is unfair. Jesus showed him that there is a way to be healed. We donít have to rely on luck, or others. We will be healed if we rely on God.

It is hard, though. They had Jesus living in their midst. They heard His voice and saw His actions. They were there when people were healed and changed. But, He wasnít going to be with the disciples forever, and He spent so much time teaching them to do Godís work in the world. In John 14, Jesus told the disciples that the day would come when He would have to leave them, but they would not be left alone. He would send an advocate to continue to teach and reveal God to them. The Paraclete, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would speak on behalf of Jesus to and through the disciples to give them power and peace. He even suggested that they should rejoice that He was leaving. If Jesus stayed, they would never be given the gift of the Holy Spirit by which they have the assurance of Godís promises dwelling in their hearts. Jesus had to go so that they could go on to do His work in this world.

Could Lydia have believed so easily without the Holy Spirit? Would Paul have followed that vision with such immediacy or joined the women at the river if the Holy Spirit had not been guiding Him? I can honestly say that I donít always trust the voices I hear. I am never convinced that I hear God as clearly as Paul and the others. When dealing with those issues of our time, I can see the value of other points of view. I know that people with opposing opinions believe theyíve heard Godís voice. How do we know which one is right? How do we know that we are really doing Godís will?

The key to our living in this world is to keep God in front of us at all times. He will do what He intends. Living faithfully means trusting that even when we make errors in the way we do things that God and His Spirit will ensure that all is well. The Philippians did not do Church perfectly. Paul had to write to correct their errors and encourage their successes. The Celtic Christians surely made their own mistakes. We, too, make mistakes daily in the way we go about doing what God has called us to do.

And so we obey as best we can, knowing that Godís Spirit accompanies us on our journey. We might wish that Jesus were still dwelling among us, but the reality is that He couldnít be everywhere at all times. The Spirit can. And so we gather together, by the river or in a cathedral, praising God and praying for His guidance. Wherever we are and whatever we do in faith, God will be with us. We might have to change the way we think about the things of faith, answering the questions God asks instead of speaking the complaints of our hearts. As we keep our eyes on Him, weíll see and hear His voice more clearly and act with assurance and peace.

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May 6, 2010

ďHaving therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly on the end of that which was passing away: but their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.Ē 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, ASV

It is field trip season for the schools. Zack is taking a trip tomorrow to go to Six Flags Fiesta Texas with the physics classes. Certain grades take a trip to the Holocaust museum. Others go to the water park. The Alamo is packed with classes learning Texas history. Younger classes will make trips to local parks to play. Iím sure a number of schools will go to the hands-on museum to check out the dinosaur exhibition they currently have. Others will look for art, yet others will take the students for a play. It is fun for the students, but it is also a chance to reward them for their hard work all year. The students are less attentive as the temperatures get warm. The teachers have covered most of the work, and some students are taking their final exams. Thatís why they do these fieldtrips at the end of the year. Hopefully the students will learn something, but for most of the children it is a fun day away from school.

Weíve had students from many schools visit Morganís Wonderland since the grand opening. Thousands of students have gone through the front door to play on the activities and ride the rides. The park has given the schools special pricing this spring, and so most of the schools have taken advantage of the opportunity. Some of the groups are entirely special needs students and their caregivers. Other schools have brought entire classes. We receive a mad rush of buses first thing in the morning, as hundreds of children are brought to the park.

We canít allow the groups to enter the park until ever person has an identification bracelet. This is a safety precaution, an important part of what makes Morganís Wonderland so special. It is impossible, however, to put these bracelets on every person at once. So, we have to greet everyone one class at a time. In the process, someone has to wait. Weíve tried different ways of doing this so that everyone will be allowed in the park quickly and safely. It has taken time to come up with the right policy.

I only work one morning a week, so I canít speak to what happens on the other days. It is interesting to see the changes that have taken place since the last time I was there. Each day we figure out something new. Weíve discovered things that work and things that donít work. We have streamlined the process and established regulations that will help us get everyone into the park quickly. We are getting better, but there is still work to do. I made some recommendations today that I think will make a difference the next time, and hopefully weíll have it perfect some day.

Iím not sure weíll ever have it perfect. Thereís always a new volunteer who doesnít know what is happening. Schools and sponsors will always make a mistake with a name and parents will always decide last minute that they want to go with the class. We will always face a dozen buses first thing in the morning, with hundreds of children who are anxious to get into the park. We will not be ready for every situation that might occur, but weíll keep working to make everything right.

In faith we live on the edge of the ďalreadyĒ and the ďnot yet.Ē We are saints and yet still sinners. We are being perfected daily, but we are not yet perfect. We reflect the glory of God, but as each new day dawns we will reflect His light a little more brightly. Day by day, week by week, year by year we are being changed into what we were meant to be. It will take time: a lifetime. But God has given us His Spirit today to walk in His ways and do the best that we can, living in His forgiveness and the hope of His promises.

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May 7, 2010

ďOh give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known among the peoples his doings. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvelous works. Glory ye in his holy name: Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah. Seek ye Jehovah and his strength; Seek his face evermore.Ē Psalm 105:1-4, ASV

A few weeks ago, the fields of Texas were blazing in brilliant color: reds, yellows, blues, purples and whites. Those first flowers were short, only a few inches tall, and the color overwhelmed the green of the grasses and leaves. Now, as wildflower season seems to be drawing to a close, the fields are no longer colorful. They are covered in tall green grasses that dance in the breeze.

There are still wildflowers in those fields, although they are getting hard to see. The early flowers are going to seed, and important process in the life of the plants. When we were out a few weeks ago, we found some bluebonnets that were past their prime. They had become stalks with green outshoots that looked like furry peapods. Those pods will burst open and drop seeds on the ground which will eventually become bluebonnets in another season. What had once been a brilliant blue flower had become a small green plant, lost in a field of green.

Yet, as I was driving by some fields today, I realized that the wildflowers arenít finished. At first glance it might seem like the fields are covered in grasses, but as you look more closely you realize that there are still flowers. Now the plants are tall, the stems are long and the flowers are tiny. Today I saw puffballs of purple and a grass-like plant with red feathery tops; stems of lavendula look like purple brushes. White prickly poppies peak their delicate white flowers above the other plants in the fields. I saw some very tall but skinny green plants peppered through the fields. There are still clusters of late blooming brightly colored wildflowers at the sides of the road, but after the brilliant spring display, most of the landscape is now seems boring and ordinary.

Isnít that the way it is with our lives, though? We might have those incredible moments when everything is bright and extraordinary. We have special days that stand out, such as graduation, wedding or the birth of our children. We rejoice over the days when we get a promotion or accomplish something spectacular. But most of the time, our lives are boring and ordinary. Like those fields of green that replaced the brilliant colors, our everyday lives seem monochrome. There is nothing to get excited about, so we go through the days doing what it is we have to do.

Our lives are like those fields of green, but we have to look more closely at what is in that field. There are bright spots, unusual plants and flowers that smell sweet. So, too, with our daily lives: we can find Godís grace in the tiny blessings, brief glimpses of His love and mercy and forgiveness. We take so many moments for granted, not realizing how special they really are, like that family dinner conversation or that playtime at the park. To us, those every day encounters arenít worth noticing because they are so ordinary. But God created that green field with the same love and care as the brightly colored field. Let us rejoice in our ordinary days because God is in the midst of those moments when there seems to be nothing to be excited about.

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May 10, 2010

ďAnd we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.Ē Romans 8:28-30, ASV

On this day, in 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, Leland Stanford drove a ceremonial spike into the transcontinental railroad that changed the United States forever. From that day, travel from coast to coast that once took six months only took eight days. The cost of travel was only $65. Even though that was a great deal of money in the nineteenth century, it was still substantially less expensive than the cost of wagon train or stagecoach. After all, which of us can afford to support ourselves during a six month trip without any source of income? Those making the trip had to ensure that they had enough resources to pay for the travel, hotels, food and other expenses. And if they were moving to a new place, they had to have enough to establish a new home in the new city.

The transcontinental railroad transformed the country in other ways. The older routes, followed by the wagon trains and stage coaches, were left abandoned. The cities and homesteads established along those routes were deserted as people moved nearer the railroad. Those from the higher classes of society started moving west as the cities had more culture and comfort to offer. Travel was safer and more comfortable.

Information traveled more quickly. Before the railroad, it could take weeks or even months for a letter to find its final destination. Iím not sure we can imagine what it would have been like in that day. We can receive information instantly. As soon as something happens, we see it on the television or we receive an email with the news. With Facebook and Twitter, we even know the very moment our friends from far away get home from work or make pizza for supper. We can watch events like graduations and weddings via webcast on the computer even if we canít be there in person. Those living in 1869 might not hear about the death of a loved one for months or even years if the news was sent in a letter.

They did have the telegraph, so some news traveled quickly. As a matter of fact, the news of the completion of the railroad was actually the first instance of mass communication. Every hammer stroke was sent as a click to the stations nationwide. As soon as the ceremony was over, the message ďDONEĒ was sent to every station, and celebration broke out around the nation. I think that it is interesting that the ceremonial spike was not even a real spike. There were four special spikes that were removed and replaced. One of the golden spikes is on display in a museum. The message was not sent until after the real spikes were in place.

I think transcontinental travel was inevitable, but imagine what our nation might be like if that railroad was never built? Certain cities might not exist, while other areas might have grown into the centers of culture and society. The regional profiles of the west might be quite different as the northern European Americans might not have moved west in such large numbers, leaving the western states to be more populated by Spanish, Native and Asian Americans.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad was a key moment in the history of America. We donít know what our nation would look like without it, but Iím sure it would be different. There are similar moments in the history of our faith. What would Christianity look like today if we had missed those moments? Where would we be if Paul had not preached the Gospel to the Gentiles? What if Thomas or John had been given Peterís position? What would we look like if the leaders did not meet together for the Council of Nicaea? What would be different if men like Martin Luther hadnít questioned the practices of the Church in his day? What would be different in your life and in the life of the Church if someone had not shared the Gospel message with you?

Things might be different in the United States and in our life of faith if these things hadnít happened, but we need not be concerned that it might have been better or worse. It is as it is. As for our life, we know that God has a plan, and that God is in control. Even if it hadnít been Paul or Peter or Martin, God would have called, gifted and sent someone to do His will in this world. He knows what is best and sees all from a perspective we canít imagine. So, we live in trust, knowing that even if we make the wrong decision or go the wrong way, God will use it for good.

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May 11, 2010

ďAnd Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God: and he said unto Moses, I, thy father-in-law Jethro, am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him: and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent. And Moses told his father-in-law all that Jehovah had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how Jehovah delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which Jehovah had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.Ē Exodus 18:5-9, ASV

My dad knew everyone. Or at least it seemed as though he knew everyone. We would go out to dinner and several people would approach our table and chat with him. Weíd be walking around at the fair and heíd be greeted by lots of passersby. Heís was bound to run into an acquaintance at the grocery story. It didnít matter where we went in our town or in the neighboring towns: he knew someone. His job required dealing with many different people and he was active in a fraternal organization, so there were plenty of opportunities to meet new people. I was always impressed with how easily he remembered the speaker.

Iím not that good. I ran into a woman in the grocery store the other day and I recognized her. I smiled and gave a quick greeting, all the while scanning through my memory to try to figure out where I would have met her. She walked over to me and we began to chat. She asked about Bruce and the kids and wondered what I was up to. She was delighted to hear about everyoneís good news. I asked her the same questions, and as she talked I realized she was a neighbor who used to live near us but moved to another neighborhood a few years ago. I was then able to ask more specific questions about her family and their life. Though there had been some health issues, I was happy to hear everything was going well for them.

I love those chance meetings at the grocery store, when we get the chance to catch up with old friends we may not see every day. Though I donít usually have such a difficult time remembering those I meet, I do find myself searching for the right things to say. Was there health issues about which I should inquire? What are the childrenís names? Did they recently change jobs or move or experience some life changing moment? Has there been something in particular about which I have been praying for this friend? These chance meetings are more than chance: they are opportunities to share the love and grace of God with one another.

I was struck as I was reading through a few chapters of Exodus last night by this encounter with Mosesí father-in-law. In the New Living Translation, verse 7c reads, ďThey asked about each otherís health and then went to Mosesí tent to talk further.Ē I was struck because this seemed like such an ordinary moment in the midst of such an extraordinary experience. Moses was leading the people out of Egypt into a land which God had promised to His people four hundred years earlier. Jethro knew his son-in-law was a unique individual; after all, Jethro and his family saw the impact of Mosesí encounter with God on the mountain that sent him to Egypt.

Then, Jethro approached this multitude of people in the desert: perhaps a million men, women and children, along with all their possessions and livestock. This man they had welcomed into their community was now the leader over a nation, a prophet of a very powerful God. This wasnít just a chance encounter. Jethro was purposeful in his approach to his son-in-law, sending word ahead of his visit. It seems like this encounter should be more formal, somehow ceremonial. Yet, in the middle of this story we hear, ďThey asked about each otherís health.Ē

Perhaps we should not think of those moments as ordinary. As Moses told his father-in-law Jethro about all the wonderful things God had done for His people, Jethro came to know this God who has power and authority over even the Egyptians. He praised God and offered a sacrifice in thanksgiving. We might just find that during those chance meetings in the grocery store that God can speak through us to those who need to see His power and mercy and grace so that they might also believe.

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May 12, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, May 16, 2010, Seven Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

ďBehold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is.Ē Revelation 22:12, ASV

I wonder what would happen if: a church council in a small town gets into a rip-roaring fight over some issue that is happening in the church. Things get so bad that the police are called. They canít make sense of the whole thing, so they drag the whole group to prison. The police throw them into the cell and leave them there overnight. They even chain the group together, hoping that they would find a way to work things out. An earthquake rattles the earth during the night, and the walls of the prison fall down around the church council members. Everyone is safe, but they are still chained together. What would they do?

Some will interpret the earthquake and the fallen walls as a sign from God that they should leave. ďGod did this to save us!Ē Others will say that running would only make matters worse. They believe it would be better to wait for the morning. With the state of many churches in our world today, I canít imagine them having the same reaction to the events of the day as Paul and his companions in todayís lesson from Acts. Sadly, Iím not even sure that many of them would even face the imprisonment with songs and prayers. I sometimes wonder if weíll argue and debate our way to the judgment seat of God!

In other words, unity is not something that is visible in the church today. There may be individual churches that do well to work together and do Godís works in the world, but even those churches have broken relationships with other Christians. The church is divided in too many ways. The reasons for division are many, from ridiculous to absurd to unreasonable. We look at our neighborsóother Christiansóand think their divisions are unimportant and easily overcome. We encourage them find a way to get along, even if it means giving up the things that matter to us most. Yet, we are unmovable when it comes to our own passions and opinions. Sadly, many of you reading todayís devotional are probably dealing with some sort of division in your churches, whether locally or on a larger scale.

I donít have any answers, although we may be able to use todayís scriptures to talk about the problems we face. Paul and his companions werenít thrown in jail for the reason Iíve used in the hypothetical situation above, but the early churches were no more perfect than us today. We should have the advantage because we have two thousand years of tradition, interpretation and Godís Spirit to help us get it right, but the reality is that we are still trying to understand what God is saying to us through the scriptures and creation and one another.

There are battles to fight. There have always been battles to fight. Heresy has a way of working itself into our understanding of Godís grace. This is not true only of Christians. You will see that Godís people from the very beginning have disagreed: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and Israel, the judges and the people, Saul and David, the prophets and the kings. The disciples disagreed. Peter and Paul did not agree. The letters to the churches were written because there was division. Conflict has always been a part of the relationship between Godís people because we are fallible human beings. We make mistakes. We refuse to see the other point of view. We have trouble recognizing our faults and admitting our failures. We are not very good at forgiving.

Paul was in prison because he was being persecuted. He was in Macedonia, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the ministry was not going smoothly. Iím sure the disciples had to constantly deal with hecklers and others interrupting their work. In this case, it was a girl with a spirit that gave her the gift to supernaturally understand matters beyond her ability. She was a slave and her owners financially took advantage of her gift. They were making a fortune by her soothsaying. By this spirit, the girl knew that Paul and Silas were servants of God. She made a nuisance of herself by following the disciples, crying out about them. She was probably not telling her neighbors that they should follow Paul. The spirit within her was speaking the truthóthey were servants of the Most High Godóhowever, the terminology she used was not typical of the time or place in which they lived. Perhaps the demon was using it as a form of disrespect. Perhaps her cries were making it difficult for Paul to even speak or maybe her cries were sarcastic and mocking.

Whatever she was doing annoyed Paul that he cast the spirit out of the girl. His action wasnít purposeful. The healing was not intentional. He responded to the nuisance with frustration and power. Iím not even sure that God intended for that girl to be healed on that day. It was a life-changing moment for her. She was free from the spirit. Although, I have to wonder what happened to her afterwards. She was of no use to her masters and yet still a slave. Did God intend for that spirit to be cast out, and what happened to the girl in the end? We will never know. We do know that God can make good come out of our failures and we can trust that God took care of the girl even if she was rejected by her masters and the community.

The girlís masters were not happy with the exorcism because they could no longer count on the financial benefits of their slave. She was useless to them. They took Paul and Silas to the authorities and accused them of doing things that were unlawful in Roman society. The crowds agreed, perhaps because the girl was no longer of use to them, either. She had been giving them readings, telling their fortunes, and now they had no one on whom they could rely for such services. They were beaten and thrown into prison. The jailer, to ensure that the prisoners would not escape, put them in the innermost cell and chained their feet.

Can you imagine the trust and faith of these men? They did not worry or complain. They did not fight to be set free. Paul, being a Roman citizen, could have demanded a proper trial, but he allowed them to do what they chose to do. Instead of dwelling in their discomfort, they prayed and sang hymns together. The other prisoners listened to them.

In the middle of their worship, an earthquake hit, causing the prison to fall down around them. Even the chains were let loose. Donít you think this seems like an act of God? Why did Paul and Silas stay in the prison after they were freed? We might understand Paul and Silas having mercy on the jailer, but why did the other prisoners stay? They werenít believers; they were lawbreakers who happened to hear the Gospel in prayer and song. Something about Godís grace touched them, and they stayed together even though they had been set free.

It is interesting that in the first story, Paul seems to act outside the intentions of Godís plan, but God made a good thing happen. Then, in the second story, what seems like an intentional act of God is ignored and God made a good thing happen. God is able to use our human frailty and foolishness to do good things in the world.

When the jailer realized that the prisoners were free, he thought to kill himself rather than suffer the humiliation of failure, but Paul cried out in the night, ďStop, we are all here!Ē The jailer was amazed by their mercy and he asked what he must do to be saved. ďBelieve on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.Ē They told them about Jesus and his whole household was saved. He took care of them, washed their wounds and gave them food to eat. The jailer and his house were all baptized.

Now, the jailerís baptism did more than just save one household. Since the jailer was a man of authority and power, his conversion to Christianity gave the message of Christ that had been brought to Philippi by Paul and Silas a measure of credibility. His conversion led to the conversion of many others in the town and the Church of Philippi grew. This sequence of events began with the offhanded response of Paul to the annoying cries of a servant girl who was possessed by a spirit.

If only such great things would come out of our own failures. Perhaps they do, but we do not notice. We donít seem to have the same sense of urgency as those in Paulís day. The early church thought that they would see the completion of Jesusí words. Though we know that Jesusí words are as true for us today, we have been waiting a very long time. It doesnít seem critical. We have known for two thousand years that Jesus is coming, and we have become complacent.

In the book of Revelation, John gives us the final words of Christ and His promise. Jesus says, ďBehold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is.Ē It is no wonder that the people thought that Jesusí return was imminent. The language of Jesus and the prophets insisted that the time is short. Jesus is coming! It is no wonder that they went about the business of the church with passion and immediacy. We are assured of the truth of this message because this testimony comes from Jesus Christ: the root and the offspring of David and the bright morning star. It is also no wonder that after two thousand years we have lost that sense of urgency.

Sadly, I think the way they chose to divide the passage from Revelation in the lectionary doesnít help matters. We read the good parts, the promises, but we ignore the warnings. Jesus says, ďWithout are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.Ē Weíd rather not hear that there are those who will not benefit from the grace of God. Weíd rather not know that some will be left outside. We would rather ignore the reality that some will not appreciate the good things that the power and authority of God can do. They benefit from their wicked ways and will never see how Godís mercy can make the world a much better place.

This is why it is so important that we take to heart the prayer of Jesus. He asks God to bless all those who believe, and then turns to those who will believe because of the work we do in His name in the world. It is hard for us to hear Him pray for unity because we know we have failed so badly to be of one mind and one voice. There are many who refuse to believe because they see the differences that divide us; they reject the faith because they see our imperfection.

But does unity mean that we have to agree about everything? While I wish that everyone agreed with me about every aspect of faith, I fully recognize that it is as easy to believe exactly the opposite about so many of the issues that divide us today. Scriptures, pulled out of context, can mean anything we want them to mean. We can prove our doctrine. We can point to Godís hand in our lives, and interpret the signs to mean that God is blessing us. So can those who disagree. Will we ever agree 100% with other Christians about the things that divide us? Even those who walked with Jesus couldnít agree. How can we expect to do so?

So, what did Jesus mean when He prayed for unity? When Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers, He was praying for themóand usóto be of one mind. That mind is not our own, or the mind of our leaders. That mind is Christís. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus set down how we could be unified. We are called to love one another with an active love. In service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will see that we are one and will know that God is the Lord Almighty. They will see our unity and will that God does exist in and through our lives. The sign of Godís power is not a group of people who agree about everything, but that we can love one another even though we disagree. Loving each other is the hard part, especially since we are still sinners, imperfect in our knowledge and in our action.

Our testimony of the Gospel, through which Christ is glorified, is manifested in the unity of believers. We share in the glory of God by witnessing together to the remission of sins that is given to all who believe through the blood Jesus shed on the cross. This is our command, our mission. This is what we are called to do. Jesus will bless those who have taken the forgiveness of sins to those who are dying in their sin. He will share His glory with those who invite the thirsty to partake of the water of life: Jesus.

I do think it is interesting that despite the fact that we so often disagree about so many things, within our local churches and between other Christians, that the one thing that is true about all Christians is that we know we are sinners in need of a savior and that Jesus is the source of our forgiveness. We may do it our own way, understand it differently, perceive it with our own points of view, but we agree we are blessed so that others will hear the Good News and believe.

There seems to be little connection between the stories in todayís Gospel lesson, except for the fact that they happened sequentially. Yet, if Paul had not been annoyed by that servant girlís cries, the jailer may have never believed in Jesus Christ, and Philippi might have never become a center of Christian faith. It may have not been intended for the girl to stop being a fortune-teller when Paul lashed out at her that day. But, in the end we see that Godís goodness overcomes all types of evil. The spirit was not from God and the girl was being used in a way that was not uplifting to anyone.

The psalmist writes that God is good, and that He loves those who hate evil. We may not like hearing that some will be left outside the gates, but we are reminded to avoid those things which God deems evil. The list is very specificósorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and liars. The point of the Revelation text is to draw the believerís attention to that which will come when Jesus returns so that they will be prepared in that day. The day will come when we least expect it, and Johnís language is urgent. ďBehold, I come quickly.Ē

John is encouraging his readers to act now. ďDonít wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late.Ē We are given the power and authority of God to call those lost in the ways of darkness and evil to faith. We are sent to call the world to repentance, so that they can join us with washed robes in the promise of eternal life. It is our task to invite people into the fellowship of believers so that they, too, will share in the fruit of the tree of life.

We are the witnesses whose words they will hear and by the faith given in the Word turn to God. Though we may have to wait another two thousand years before Jesus returns, there are those today who need to hear the Good News of Jesus. They need to be healed. They need to have their demons cast out. They need to be baptized with water and spirit so that they too can become part of the unity that we have in Christ Jesus. The need is still urgent, the mission still immediate. Jesus is coming. Soon. Let us continue to live in the expectation of the promise, knowing that God will make good come from all we do, even when we seem to fail.

Do we do this for a reward? Do we do this because we think weíll have some benefit? The psalmist tells us that those who trust in the Lord will be safe from the wicked. Yet, we know from the stories of Godís people, like Paul, that safe doesnít always mean weíll escape hard times. Will we have wealth? Will we stay healthy? Will we always be happy? This is not part of the promise. We might be taken to prison. We might suffer. We might have to bear the consequences of our failure. But we will share in His glory and dwell with Him for all eternity. When Christ comes again, He will restore everything as it was created to be. Heaven and earth will be renewed, relationships will be reconciled. We will return to paradise, as God meant us to live. Weíll eat again from the tree of life and walk in the presence of God. This is truly Good News: now is the time to share it.

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May 13, 2010

ďFor as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: for I know your readiness, of which I glory on your behalf to them of Macedonia, that Achaia hath been prepared for a year past; and your zeal hath stirred up very many of them. But I have sent the brethren, that our glorying on your behalf may not be made void in this respect; that, even as I said, ye may be prepared: lest by any means, if there come with me any of Macedonia and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be put to shame in this confidence. I thought it necessary therefore to entreat the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your aforepromised bounty, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty, and not of extortion.Ē 2 Corinthians 9:1-5, ASV

I took my car to the auto repair place down the street yesterday because I had a coupon for a air conditioner check-up. It canít hurt to make sure that everything is in good working order here in Texas as the temperatures start rising for summer. I also had a rather noisy screeching noise that seemed connected to the air conditioning, so I was hoping the check would find a simple loose belt or a moving part that needed some oil. The mechanics found my problems, but they were a little more extensive than I expected. My bill was much higher than the cost on the coupon. My car runs perfectly now, and I am happy that it is in good shape for the coming vacation months. It is always a little surprising, though, when we see the bill.

We never know when an emergency will arise. We think we have plenty of money to cover our expenses and perhaps a little more to do something special. We make plans, make promises, and then something gets in our way. The car breaks down, the plumbing leaks, someone gets sick. We have to cut back to make ends meet, and then there is nothing leftover for our plans or our promises.

This is true not only of money, but our other resources, including time. Have you ever planned to have lunch with a friend only to cancel because a child is sick? Or promise to volunteer for an organization but have to renege because your boss is demanding overtime at work? Have you ever told your child that youíd go to his favorite restaurant for dinner, but never find the time to do so? Things get in the way. We want to make good on the commitments we make, but it doesnít always come out the way we hope.

The trouble is: sometimes we use those unexpected situations as an excuse to break our promises and ignore our commitments. We do have a tendency of making boasts about all the great things we can do with our money and our time, but then when the time comes for us to make good on our boasts, we come up with some excuse that will keep us from doing it.

Paul is writing to the Corinthians because he knows that things get in the way. They were enthusiastic about helping other Christians who needed their help, and were ready to collect an offering to send to them. Paul heard about their generosity and shared their promise with other Christians, who followed their example and took collections to help. Paul had not yet received the offering, though, and he was preparing to visit the congregation. He didnít want them to be embarrassed when his companions looked for the promised offering.

Paulís letter is not meant to guilt the Corinthians into giving an offering they can not afford. He is calling their attention to the promise they made and reminding them that theyíve had plenty of time to collect the gift. God does not mean for gifts to be forced: Heís looking for believers who willingly and cheerfully give as they are able. The trouble comes when we boast about all we can do for others and then never get around to it. Yes, things get in the way, and God will forgive when we simply canít keep our promises or make our commitments. However, He wonít accept our excuses. He wants us to give everything with joy and peace, and gives us every opportunity to do so.

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May 14, 2010

ďAnd in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty), Brethren, it was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and received his portion in this ministry. (Now this man obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch that in their language that field was called Akeldama, that is, The field of blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be made desolate, And let no man dwell therein: and, His office let another take. Of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place. And they gave lots for them; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.Ē Acts 1:15-26, ASV

We know nothing about Matthias. Well, we know a few things, but these few details are unreliable. The early church fathers quoted Matthias, but there is some confusion about whether or not the quotes really belong to him or to the apostle Matthew. Deuterocanonical writings have been attributed to Matthias, but some experts believe that they were written much later by others espousing a different idea of Christianity. The stories of his life are numerous and conflicting. He may have preached, been imprisoned and crucified in Ethiopia. But there are also stories of his martyrdom in Rome. The scriptures do not mention him beyond this passage.

The lack of information has made it difficult to give him a date on the calendar of the saints. He has been commemorated on February 24th, and some churches still use that date. That may have been thought to be the date of his death, but we have not proof. Others have moved his festival to May 14th, to place it nearer the time when he would have become an Apostle. May 14th often falls between Ascension and Pentecost, which is when he was chosen to serve.

I donít like very much about this story. First of all, the description of Judasí demise is not very pleasant, although it is understandable that Luke, the doctor, would have given a medical point of view about what happened to Judas. It is confusing to us, since other reports tell us that Judas hung himself. This could still be true, and the description of Judas falling and exploding might describe what happened after his body had decomposed on the tree.

Another thing that bothers me is the use of scriptures to justify the selection of another apostle. Iíve read the two passages (Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8) and it seems like Peter was proof-texting. We know that proof-texting is a dangerous practice because it is so easy to take a verse out of the middle of a passage and make it mean whatever we want it to mean. And, in the versions Iíve referenced, the first Psalm doesnít refer to a Ďhe,í but a Ďthey.í

Finally, Iím bothered by the fact that they cast lots to decide which of the two would become the replacement for Judas. Arenít we told that we should not depend on luck or divination? I have heard some suggest that Matthias should not have been given a place among the twelve; there are those who believe that Paul was meant to have that place. The apostles did not wait until Pentecost, until they had the Holy Spirit, to make a major decision pertaining to the church.

Yet, despite these questions, I have no doubt that God still had his hand in the midst of this moment. The apostles did not make the decision lightly. They prayed earnestly over what to do. They chose men who had been in their company from the beginning. They knew Jesus. Theyíd seen His work. Theyíd heard His preaching. Matthias is remembered among the saints. Paul was never made a part of the central organization in Jerusalem. The story of Matthias has a place in the story of Godís church. After all, the story was written into the sacred scriptures. Regardless of the uncertainty, Matthias was there in the beginning, with Jesus and the disciples, establishing the Church we know today.

As we remember Saint Matthias, perhaps we should think about the decisions we make and how we make them. Are we really listening to God, or are we doing our own thing? Are we praying over the questions of faith, or are we rushing into action for the sake of change? And while we are considering these questions, we are reminded that even when we do fail, God is with those who walk in faith, making good things come out of our bad decisions. Matthias had a purpose according to Godís good will. We may not completely understand it because we do not have all the information. When we make decisions, whether good or bad, God will ultimately use our lives as He intends, to build and grow the church. If we make the wrong ones, Heíll limit the impact and turn it around to His glory.

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May 17, 2010

ďOwe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law. Ē Romans 13:8-10, ASV

Iíve recently done a very good job at paying off my credit card bills. We still have some debt: a car payment, a mortgage, and I havenít stopped using the credit cards. But we have certainly worked to strengthen our financial position in the past few years, and weíll continue to make the payments necessary to work toward paying off the debts we do have. Iíve even decided to work on saving while paying off the car: I send a little extra to be put into the Credit Union account. We should have enough for a down payment on a new car by the time the debt is paid if I can keep it up.

One of the problems that many people have with debt is that they do not do everything they can to pay it off. They use their cards to their limits and then only pay the required payment. Unfortunately, the minimum payments donít do much for getting rid of the debt. It is barely more than the interest that is charged each month. The debt on a credit card, if tackled with only the minimum payment, will last forever. Iíve always tried to pay at least double the minimum, because then I actually see the principle dwindle.

The financial experts encourage people to pay off their debts. For every month that the debt continues, the item purchased costs more. Take, for instance, that dinner at the steak house last weekend. It may have seemed like a good deal when you used the coupon to get half off the appetizer, but if you put that bill on a credit card, and pay only the minimum payment, youíll end up paying interest on food long after it is gone. At least with a mortgage there is a chance to build some equity and with a car payment you get to use the car for a long time. But that steak is barely even a memory by the time the bill arrives in the mail.

You know, sometimes we treat our relationships like our credit cards. If a neighbor invites us to dinner, we feel like we need to reciprocate. If a friend buys us a present, we rush out to buy something for them. If we take advantage of their hospitality, we insist that there must be something we can do for them. It is as if we are constantly trying to pay off debts between people. But are these debts and can they really be paid off?

Paul writes, ďOwe no man anything, save to love one another.Ē The Zondervan NIV Study Bible has this in the notes, ďTo love is the one debt that is never paid off. No matter how much people have loved, they are under obligation to keep on loving one another.Ē Unfortunately, we tend to pay off the debt of love like we pay off those high credit card bills: just enough. We donít go above and beyond expectations. If our neighbor gives us a loaf of bread, we give back a loaf of bread. We should really be inviting them to a grand feast. We donít do this, however, because we doubt that they can reciprocate. So, we give just enough. It is a vicious circle.

But, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We may not receive in return the kind of love we give, but we are loved with an even greater love: Godís. There is nothing we can do for our neighbor that is as great as the gift God has given us. There is no feast as grand as the one we receive in faith. There is no human love that can stand up to all that God has already done for us. So, we live in that love, letting it flow to our neighbors whether or not it flows back our way. The debt we owe is because God has first loved us. As we live in that love, we will not hold back on the payment, giving freely and fully to those whom God has sent our way.

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May 18, 2010

ďTrain up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.Ē Proverbs 22:6, ASV

I read an article in Readerís Digest about stingy people. The stories were not about your average penny pinchers. Many of the money saving ideas were on the margin of criminal. Take, for example, the many people who apparently keep McDonaldís coffee cups in their car and pop into a store for a free refill whenever they need a caffeine boost. Thatís bad enough, but the worst was probably the guy who walks into a movie theater with his glasses raised above his head yelling, ďI found them in the car.Ē He then sits down and watches the movie without ever paying. There was one idea that I liked, however. One couple makes a stop at the card store as part of their anniversary celebration. Instead of buying one another cards, they stand in the store reading cards to one another, sharing the sentiments without paying the price. Granted, the card stores would never last if everyone did this, but I sometimes wonder if greeting cards are an expensive waste of money.

The writers do have a way of saying the right thing in a concise and attractive way; as I writer, I appreciate this talent. So, I know it is important to support the artists and writers. I do buy greeting cards, especially for those who live far away, but I usually wonder if it is worth the money. I do have to admit, however, that a recent commercial on television made me think twice about the whole greeting card question.

The scene began with three generations of women on the front porch of a house, mother and child leaving after a visit with grandma. Grandma has a card in her hand. After waving good-bye to the mother and child, she takes the card to her desk, takes down a pretty wooden box and opens it to reveal a pile of Motherís Day cards. She picks up each card and looks inside, remembering the child throughout her life. The first cards have the name written in crayon or early cursive writing. One year the little girl wrote a novel inside the card. In later years, the writing is more developed. Then the card is from the daughter and her husband. Finally, the newest card includes the name of the grandchild. That mother kept every motherís day card, and each year reminisces about the growth and changes in her childís life.

I usually throw them away. I like the cards. I like the sentiments that have been chosen to share with me on those special days. But I have never felt the need to keep those cards forever. I have other things by which I remember my children when they were young: photos, videos, school projects, pictures they drew. I have a box of papers from elementary school that is tucked away in a closet. Despite the wonderful words and beautiful artwork, thereís just no reason to keep those cards around my house.

So, as I watched the commercial during the weeks before Motherís Day, I had a sense of regret that I could not look through a box filled with my childrenís motherís day cards. I suppose it has to do with the fact that they are growing up. They arenít around as much as they used to be. Victoria is well into her college years and Zack is getting close. Soon they will be out on their own, getting married and having their own children. Iíll have to watch as they drive away after a lovely Motherís Day visit.

While it might be nice to have those memories at those times when Iím feeling lonely in my empty nest, I know that I donít need the cards to keep my children close to my heart. The better remembrance will be in seeing them grow into faithful, successful adults with lives of their own. In these days of transition, as the children Iíve raised become the adults I hope they will be, I can trust that Godís word is true: they will not wander from the way of righteousness because God is with them and will lead them down the path He intends.

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May 19, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, May 23, 2010, Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17

ďThe Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.Ē Romans 8:16-17, ASV

I think new technology is absolutely fascinating. I donít necessarily run out and purchase every new gadget, but I enjoy hearing about the things they can do. We have made the conscious decision to keep our cell phones as cell phones, but I have to admit there are moments when I think having a blackberry or Iphone might be convenient. Iíve ogled over the IPad and wondered if I shouldnít invest in a digital reader. I like to pretend Iím a book snob, but I know that it would be so much more convenient, especially when I need several different books, to keep them all nicely stored in one electronic book.

Iím really fascinated by the technology we see on the crime dramas on television. N.C.I.S. is one of my favorite shows. The Navy Criminal Investigation Service seems to have state of the art everything, and the ability to use their equipment to find any information they need. Now, certainly we are dealing with a fictional story, where conflicts are resolved much too easily. Yet, I imagine the technology is possible: if it is not available now, it will be in the very near future.

These investigators can dig into computer information that most of us do not even know exists. They have databases and programs to get through firewalls and passwords. Sometimes it takes time to go through the millions or billions of possibilities, but they always find the answer just in time.

In the movie ďNational Treasure,Ē the characters Ben Gates and Riley Poole are trying to get into a highly secure area in the National Archives to Ďstealí the Declaration of Independence so that the bad guy canít get it. They manipulated the circumstances (a little too conveniently, but it is fiction) to get the letters of the passcode into the room. Ben reads the marks on the keys to Riley, who is at the ready by a computer that can rearrange the letters into a password that makes sense. Meanwhile, Ben is thinking about the letters, puzzling through the problem, and he realizes that one letter is repeated, a fact that the computer would not consider. He comes up with the answer, types it in and gets into the room with little difficulty.

Technology is always in motion. As soon as the criminals come up with a way to get around todayís security, the developers are coming up with something new. They are constantly confusing the Ďlanguageí to keep those who are not welcome from gaining access. My husband once had a digital key which gave him access to a computer at an office in another state. This Ďkeyí changed code every few minutes, making it impossible for someone to steal the password from a remote location. Impossible? Perhaps not. Someone is already trying to discover a new way of overcoming that technology.

Human beings have always strived to become better. Being motivated to improve life, make it more convenient, keeping our bodies healthier and happier is a good thing. Think of all the inventions that we take for granted these days, like the cell phone, the microwave, the washing machine and the wheel. Even back to the very earliest days of human existence, men and women have used Godís creation to create new and better things. The problem with human invention is that we tend to take it too far. We donít just strive to become better: we strive to become God.

This has been true of every generation of humans. We have all inherited the same tendency as Adam and Eve displayed in the Garden of Eden. That tendency continued with the people of Babel, whose common language made it possible for them to build an incredibly tall tower. The nomadic people of ancient times finally settled into a community, built a city and then turned their creative juices into doing something greater. They were aiming toward heaven, which we know is impossible with bricks and mortar. But they werenít just trying to reach God; they were seeking god-like status. Just like the hackers that work to get into every new system, the earliest people (and every generation since) sought to be like God. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent the people to the four corners of the world.

Remember, this happened before God had revealed Himself to Abraham. He has always been manifest in His creation and in the experience of the created, but He had not manifest Himself as a personal diety interested in the individual lives of His people. He had not yet chosen for Himself a people. All creation was His; His hand moved the heavens and earth. His voice brought reality to His ideas and His breath brought life to all.

A lot of history has happened since those first people were confused and separated. We havenít stopped striving to be better. We have learned to get along, to speak each otherís languages, to build great big towers. But, though Godís chosen people were given His Word and promises to live by, even they continued to turn from God and go their own way. The problem of human sin runs across all lines; it knows no boundaries.

But so does Godís grace. And thatís what Pentecost is all about. Jesus came to take care of the problem of human beings trying to get to God: God came to man. The kingdom of God was brought to earth and the people were restored to their intended place in Godís presence. Jesus dwelt among the disciples and taught them everything they would need to know to continue to take the reality of God to the world. Though the people were confused and separated at Babel, God meant for His people to be one in thought and mind. We heard this in the prayer of Jesus last week, and the promise is made true in our stories this week.

It is interesting that the name Babel has come to mean to Ďconfuseí or Ďmixí based on the biblical story. However, the word actually means ďGate of God.Ē The people of Babel thought that they could build a gate that would lead them to Godís presence. But mankind can never reach that high on our own. We need Godís help. We need Godís grace. We need Godís Spirit.

So, Jesus came to teach the disciples and then take care of the problem of sin. We are broken and separated from God by our desire to be like Him, but Jesus breaks the walls, giving us the freedom to dwell in the presence of God without having to become a god. He restored us to our place in the Garden, walking with our Lord. The twelve disciples and the other followers enjoyed that kind of intimate relationship with Jesus, and in doing so also abided in the presence of God.

They didnít really know it, though. In the Gospel lesson, Philip asks Jesus, ďShow us the Father.Ē Philip wanted to see God the way Adam and Eve saw Him. He wanted to walk with Him, talk with Him, and experience Him with his flesh and blood. Jesus answered, ďHave I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?Ē Everything that Jesus did was the Father, because the Father abided in Jesus and Jesus abided in the Father. He went on to tell the disciples that when He abides in them and they abide in Him, they will do all that He had done.

This is an incredible promise, one Iím sure most of us can not say has been fulfilled. He restored families, changed lives, and provided hope to a confused and separated world. I suppose we can think of examples of ways we have done these things. Iím sure most of us can say we have fed the poor and hungry, but Jesus did the miraculous. Have you healed a leper? Or made a paralytic walk? Or cast out any demons lately? Have you raised anyone from the dead lately? How can we do anything greater than Jesus?

We canít, on our own. We can with the power of the Holy Spirit, because our task is to bring reconciliation and peace to the world. Just as we have been restored to a relationship with God through the blood of Christ, we can invite others to join us in the Garden. The gift we have been given transcends all bounds. The gifts are given to all types. The message is heard by all the nations. What was once a world divided, is now made whole and one again with Godís grace.

But Jesus could not done it by Himself. He accomplished an amazing amount of work in the 33 years of His life. He saved people, not only from demons and illness, but from their own sinfulness. He gave them a reason to live and work to do. But He did this for a relatively small number of people in a world full of people in need. It is estimated that there were two hundred million people living on earth, from Israel to the ends of the earth (much of which was unknown to the people of Jesusí time.) It has been two thousand years since Jesus roamed as a man, and the population is nearly seven billion. How could human flesh, even though He was God, possibly meet and help every human being that lived?

Thatís why we have Pentecost. Jesus said to His disciples, ďAnd whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do.Ē He will do it: in, with and through us. We are now His body. We, the Church, are His flesh and blood. We are His messengers. We are His workers. We have been gifted to continue that which He started so long ago. The gift was given at Pentecost. On that day the Gate of God was opened so that all flesh could dwell in the presence of God. There is no longer a need to climb to heaven, for God has come to us. There is no longer a need to strive toward God because He has given Himself freely to His people. We have seen the Father, for He is manifest in Jesus and then in the Church through every generation.

Jesus tells His disciples that the world canít see Him, and this is true. He is no longer flesh and blood dwelling in our community, walking on our dirt. And if He had stayed, we would not have had the power or authority to do what Heís called us to do. Have you ever wondered about the disciples? They lived with Jesus, heard the scriptures explained from His own mouth, experienced the power of Godís Spirit, and yet they still did not understand. We see in the stories, even in the first lessons of the book of Acts, that the disciples continued to look for an earthly explanation to all that had happened. They still wanted the Kingdom of Israel to be restored as it had been in the days of David. Did they not listen to anything Jesus said?

But it is impossible for human flesh to understand the ways of God without His aid. Jesus had to leave so that the Comforter would come and fill them. They were told to wait for the coming power. They had to wait for ten days. What do you think was going through their minds during those days? They took the time to pray and to elect Matthias, but ten days is a long time when you are filled with excitement, anxiety, fear, hope and confusion. Did they feel abandoned? Did they worry that theyíd missed Godís signal? Did they want to get out into the field and begin their ministry?

It was an exciting time in Jerusalem. People from all over the world were gathered to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This festival for the Jews had several purposes. First of all it was the feast of weeksóa celebration of the first fruits. The people went to the temple to offer the first grain from their harvest. The timing of the festival mattered because it was also connected to the Law given at Sinai. They believed that it took Moses and the Hebrews fifty days to get to Mount Sinai, so the festival occurred fifty days following the Passover. Pentecost was an agricultural festival, but it was also a festival about Godís Word.

They had a message to tell and a city full of people to whom they could tell it. I suspect that they were anxious to get out there into the city and begin this work. Yet, Jesus told them to wait. It is a good thing, too, because they could not have accomplished anything without the Spirit. The Word would have been spoken to deaf ears. They message would have been lost to those unwilling hearts. On that day, when the wind blew and the fire came, everything was changed. Jesus was no longer gone from them. The Kingdom was no longer far away. They were part of it. They were one with God and He was one with them. They were one with each other.

When they began to speak, the people heard what they had to say. Despite the confusion of so many languages, despite the impossible nature of this event, the disciples spoke and the people heard Godís message of grace. Some of those present were confused. They thought, perhaps, that the disciples had a little too much new wine. But that festival would not take place for another fifty days. Something else was happening.

At that moment, God reversed what He did at Babel. There He confused the language and sent people to the four corners of the earth. At Pentecost, He gave the world a language that everyone could understand. Peter stood up and quoted the book of Joel, ďAnd it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.Ē

Pentecost for modern Christians is not an agricultural celebration or to remember the giving of the Divine Law at Sinai, but it is about first fruits and words. It is about God giving His Holy Spirit to His chosen people and laying His Word upon their hearts. It is about renewing a people who were dying in their own sin, giving them new life and calling them to take that life into the world so that others might see God glorified in their lives and believe.

As we look at the psalm for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to ďplay in the sea.Ē We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reasonóto glorify God.

Half of a verse is left out of the psalm in the lectionary for today, but it is worth hearing. ďLet sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more.Ē We ignore statements like this because it sounds so harsh and so unloving. Why would God consume anyone or destroy His creation? We find it impossible to accept a God of wrath.

But, isnít this just what happened at Pentecost? Godís grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment and into all time, all those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God, to abide in Him and do His work in this world. We are welcomed back into the Garden, and dwell once again at the Gate of God. Here, we glorify Him by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by Godís grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.

We may still try to build our tours to heaven. Take a look at the majestic skyscrapers that are gracing the skyline all over the world. They are spectacular! We even continue to fail in seeking God as we should. We put ourselves on pedestals and act like we are more important than we really are. Yet, we have been given everything we need to do His work in the world, including the forgiveness and reconciliation that gives us the freedom to be the body of Christ in the world. We certainly do not become God, but everything we do in His name makes Him visible to those who are dead in their sin.

The old sin is gone, the sinners are consumed by the power of Godís Spirit, by His breath. He breathes new life into His people, through the words and work we do. We now live in a new covenant, one that has no borders, that is not divided by distance or differences. We all stand at the Gate of God, but the language is no longer confused. We sing the same songs, we speak the same grace, by His power.

Paul writes, ďFor as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.Ē It is as sons of God that we will do the greater things. Those greater things are not always grand and miraculous. We may not ever raise the dead or heal a leper. We may not cast out demons or make a paralytic walk. We do not have to strive to do those things. If that is the work God is calling us to do, Heíll give us the power and the opportunity to do so. Our task, first and foremost, is to invite the world back into the Garden: to speak forgiveness into their life so that they will be restored to God and drawn into His presence so that they will also become children of God. These are the greater things and in these works will we share in the glory of God.

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May 20, 2010

ďAnd straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her: and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with demons. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth. And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.Ē Mark 1:29-39, ASV

Isnít this extraordinary? Jesus went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons. Earlier in the passage, He healed many that were sick with diverse diseases. He not only cast out the demons, but He commanded them to be silent! The Gospels are filled with story after story of extraordinary things that Jesus did. How could we ever accomplish everything Jesus did on our own? We arenít meant to do it alone. We are meant to do it in community. God gifts every person with the abilities to do what they are called to do. We just donít think it is very extraordinary. It looks like ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Take, for example, the doctors who heal. They donít tell the paraplegic to get up and carry their mat, but they use their knowledge and the technology available to do incredible things. We live near Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the home of the Center for the Intrepid. This center provides care for fallen warriors, military men and women who have suffered injuries during warfare. They do incredible work: grafting skin, building mechanical body parts, teaching the wounded how to deal with the changes in their bodies after their injuries. There is nothing extraordinary about any of the people who work in the Center, but together they do amazing work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things: thatís how God works. In the end, it is extraordinary.

I love this story about Jesus, because Iím just like Simonís mother-in-law. Someone asked me today, ďWhat do you do?Ē I answered, ďIím a mom.Ē I do other things. I paint, take pictures, write. I have a degree in education and Iím very organized. I have always volunteered somewhere, doing ordinary things that make a difference for the people that are served by the organizations. Iíve helped at military chapels, churches, schools. I mentored a young lady in Arkansas and work regularly at Morganís Wonderland. There is nothing extraordinary about any part of my life.

And yet, all my ordinary tasks have been part of something bigger, and have been part of something extraordinary. Simonís mother-in-law is unnamed. We know absolutely nothing about her, even less about her daughter, the wife of Simon Peter. All we know is that she was sick, Jesus made her well and she got up to serve them. We might think she was worthless, why would Jesus bother? She had no great job, and yet Jesus restored her to her place in her community, to her place in her home. He gave her the gift of life again to do what she was meant to do. It was not a special day or a special place. This story shows us how Jesus did extraordinary things for ordinary people in ordinary places on ordinary days. Jesus can, and does, the same for us as we live our ordinary lives in this world. And we are called to continue to do that work.

One of the things that I think is so very unique about the Christian faith, is that God is able to use ordinary people, places and things to do those extraordinary works. The water of baptism is nothing special: most churches use normal tap water. Yet, those who are taken to the font are made children of God. The wine and bread might be specially chosen for the Eucharist, and yet it is nothing more than wine and bread. In the Communion supper, however, we are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, a reminder of the forgiveness we receive in the body and blood of Christ. In the end, we learn there is a fine line between the ordinary and extraordinary, and it is faith. God makes everything extraordinary, even a mother-in-law whose vocation is to serve the people she loves.

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May 21, 2010

ďAnd pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.Ē Ephesians 6:18, NIV

I pray in the car. Now, this is especially true when I am driving in an area I donít know or that I donít like to drive, or when the weather is inclement. I pray that we get to our destination safely, and I pray for all the other travelers on the road. We take our freedom to get around for granted, jumping into our car to go down the street or across the country, not always appreciating the risks of each and every trip. It isnít until we hear about a fatal car accident that we remember that our vehicles can be dangerous. We can get hurt if we donít take care or if we are unaware of the other drivers around us. It doesnít take much to cause two cars to collide. So, it is good to pray every time we get behind the wheel of our automobile.

I donít only pray about the driving. Have you ever thought about how many people you pass every day in your car? You pass other drivers, sure. But I often see ambulances on the road and other emergency vehicles. Even if those people arenít on their way to an emergency, it is good to pray for them and the work they do. If the lights are on and the sirens blaring, then there are people in need of help. Along the way, it is likely that you also pass hospitals, fire and police stations. It is good to pray every time we see a reminder of these important workers in our society, because they help those who are in need of Godís mercy.

I canít get anywhere without passing a half dozen schools or child care centers. I often pass playgrounds filled with children playing, or see busses on the road. One school bus can hold four dozen children, all of which have some sort of need. Some are dealing with family problems. Some have health issues. Some are lonely, or scared, or confused. Others are bullies who treat their fellow classmates with ridicule and exploitation. Some are hungry; some canít afford proper clothes or supplies. Some need to know that God loves them. It is good to pray for the children.

I canít name the number of churches I pass each day, from every possible denomination. Each one has a ministry to offer, each one is doing Godís work in the world. We may not agree with the policies and practices of every other church along the way, but we can trust that God is working in their midst just as He is working in the midst of our own lives of faith. We all have questions of faith, errors in the way we think and biases that keep us from fully relying on God. We are all sinners even as we have been made saints. It is good to pray for all the churches, and all those who seek Godís grace.

I live in a housing development with 777 houses. Our development is next to other developments with many houses. My car passes dozens of homes in the few short blocks to the main road. Along the way I pass stores, gas stations, hair stylists, restaurants, office buildings, car washes, movie theaters and funeral homes. There are several nursing homes along the way. I canít count the number of fast food places nearby. Nearly every foot of roadway takes me past someoneís home, entertainment, work. I imagine a simple trip to the grocery store just three miles away takes me past hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people who are also going about their normal days. It is good to pray for every one of them.

Seems a bit overwhelming? Perhaps it is overwhelming to think about praying for all those people, especially when spelled out so clearly. We canít possibly know every personís name, or what they need. In the flash of a moment, we canít expect to know every childís life and troubles. We donít know if the fire truck is on its way to a fire or just out testing the breaks. We donít know if a store is crowded with customers or suffering from a lack of business. It would be dangerous to try praying for every person we see, every car we pass, every building along our path because we wouldnít pay attention to the road. However, we donít always need to know the particulars; we just need to remember that God is listening.

Weíll never know if our prayers are answered, but weíll know they are heard: through faith. When we do not know what to say, when we do not even know what needs to take to the Lord, the Holy Spirit will do our praying. It is our task simply to be in contact with Him every moment of our day. Our minds might not move fast enough to pray for each business and car, but as we drive, keeping our thoughts on Godís mercy and grace, Heíll know what needs to be said and done. It is our task to be alert, not only for the dangers we face on the road, but also for the people in the world around us, at every moment, praying as we are able, asking the Holy Spirit to fill in the details we will never know.

Who knows, at that very moment, someone just might be praying for you, too.

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May 24, 2010

ďNo man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us.Ē 1 John 4:12-19, ASV

We had some rain storms a couple weeks ago that were sudden and severe. Some places received rainfall at five inches per hour, and the storms seemed to last for a long time. The lightning was extreme and the thunder booming. I was supposed to go out in the morning, but decided to stay close to home, which was a good decision. Large hail and flooded roads made the driving dangerous.

We survived the storm without any damage, although we heard a few stories of flood damage and at least one house was damaged by fire because it had been struck by lightning. Later that week some local car dealers were offering hail sales. The road in front of our house looked like a flowing river during the storms, but once the rain stopped the water disappeared. I noticed that we had a large pile of silt that gathered in front of our driveway, where the road (and the river) turned. It wasnít until I drove out of our development that I really saw signs of the previous dayís rain.

Down the center of a road a few blocks from our house were bits and pieces of trees and bushes, perhaps torn off in the wind. Scattered amongst the branches were also scraps of paper, as if someoneís trash had floated down the river and been left behind as the water receded. The roadway was a mess, although it all settled down the center line. Iím not sure what happened to all the garbage. I suppose someone might have cleaned it up, but I suspect that as the paper dried it just blew away. The drainage ditches and green belts have been filled with all sorts of garbage ever since that storm.

Rain, wind and fire are forces that are generally beyond our control. Oh, we have found some ways to catch the power of wind, fire and water and use it for our benefit, but we canít stop the rain from falling or the wind from blowing. Fire can quickly get away from us. We canít make a tornado go where we want it to go or guarantee that there will never be floods. We have to put a lot of effort into stopping a forest fire, and then it is often nature herself that stops that destruction. When something falls in the water or is caught by fire or wind, it will go where it is taken. It may seem impossible for a an object as heavy as a car to be destroyed, but it can be carried away if caught in a river or tornado and a fire will make it unusable in minutes. A bit of paper or piece of a bush doesnít stand a chance. We canít even guess what will happen when it is caught in the force of the fire, wind and rain.

Isnít it interesting that God is often described in terms of water, fire and wind? If we canít control the creation, how can we ever think we can control the Creator? He is beyond our control. We may be able to find ways of using His power to our benefit, but we canít guarantee that we can keep Him from moving as He wants to move or doing what He intends to do..

Yesterday was Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of Godís Holy Spirit. Fire, wind and water are all referenced in the work of the Spirit. At Pentecost, a sound like wind and tongues of fire was the form by which God gifted the disciples with the Spirit. It is in baptism that we are given the same gift. The Spirit is not a force which we can control. We can take advantage of the gifts He has given, for the sake of others and to do the work God has called us to do, but we donít always know what will be moved by His fire, wind and water. Our bodies are washed, sin is destroyed, and God breathes life into our flesh. By the power of Godís Holy Spirit, the world is transformed.

The process may sometimes seem out of control, but God knows what He is doing. Will there be garbage left in the middle of the path? Not in the way that the storm left a mess, but Godís work isnít always neat and clean. Sometimes we find our lives upset and chaotic because of the work He has done in us. Yet, in the end we are made better by His wind, fire and water, so that we can move into the world and share His grace with others.

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May 25, 2010

ďRemember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise.Ē Isaiah 43:18-21, ASV

The San Antonio Zoo is located in the same park where Zack takes golf lessons, and I had a few hours to pass while waiting for him, so I decided to spend the time wandering around the zoo with my camera. I have been trying to better understand my camera, all the bells and whistles. It is easy to use even the most advanced cameras with automatic settings, but the photographer can get so much more creative if he or she knows about the other settings.

My assignment was to try to take photos with the subject off-center. I tend to center the animals in the middle of the photo, to record the animal. This type of photograph focuses on the features or something interesting about the animal. By offsetting the subject, the picture becomes more interesting because it tells a story. The negative space is more important; as are the direction of the animalís gaze and stance. The background becomes part of the story, causing us to look and wonder what the animal sees, hears or wants to do.

I also decided to take all the photos in black and white. Color plays such an important role in creating emotion, depth and interest, the photographer has to be far more observant of the technical aspects of the photographs if using a monochrome setting. Black and white photos appear flat, so the background is more important. Lighting and exposure help define the shades of gray, and so each must be set properly. Where is the sun? What is surrounding the subject? What lines and shapes will distract from the subject? It is amazing how much more visible out of place lines appear in a black and white photograph.

Some of my favorite animals to photograph at the zoo are the birds. We have a large collection of flamingos and a bunch of scarlet ibis, which are spectacular shades of pink. There are also a couple of macaws, one scarlet and one blue. These birds are located in habitats that make photographing the birds easy. There are no bars or panes of glass to get in the way. The backgrounds are simple, colorless (stone and trees), so the bright colors of the foliage really stand out. It is difficult to take a bad photo of these birds.

But as I was taking pictures with my camera set to monochrome, I wondered whether it made any sense at all. The whole point of flamingos is their beautiful feathers. They are gangly, ungraceful birds when confined to the ground. They bunch up in groups so tight that it is hard to tell which legs and necks belong to which animal. It is humorous to watch them mingle with one another, as if they are constantly at a cocktail party in search of the right conversation. I wasnít sure how that would photograph in black and white. I wasnít thrilled with most of those photos, but I did find one or two that were interesting. The black and white certainly emphasizes the fact that flamingos are all neck and leg!

The scarlet ibis is a smaller bird, but even brighter than the flamingo. They arenít quite as interesting, though, because the flamingo has some variation in feather color, the scarlet ibis seems to be solid neon pink. Again, I wondered if they would translate into black and white. What I discovered is that the feathers are more varied than you can tell in color. The beak is also more noticeable when we are not distracted by the incredible color of the bird. One subject was busy fishing for a bite to eat in the pond where they live, and I managed to get a picture with an amazing ripple in the water. Though Iím sure I have taken similar pictures of the scarlet ibis, I donít think Iíve ever noticed that type of detail.

We look through the world with a very narrow point of view; we see things as we want to see them. Just like the photographer must try to see the world through a different lens, sometimes we need to challenge ourselves to see things differently. We know by faith that there is something greater beyond our own little corner of the world. We canít see God, but we know He is with us. We canít hear God with our ears, but we know He is talking to us. We canít experience Jesus as the disciples did two thousand years ago, but we know the Holy Spirit has taken us into Godís heart and that we are even closer to Him than they had been. But how often do we see the world through those eyes? We look out our windows and see our neighbors, but do we see how God is working in their lives? Or, even more so, do we see how we can introduce Jesus into their lives? By changing our point of view, we might just see details that are lost in the way we experience the world around us, causing us to share Godís grace in a whole new way.

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May 26, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, May 30, 2010, Holy Trinity: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31: Psalm 8: Romans 5:1-5: John 16:12-15

ďAnd not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.Ē Romans 5:3-5, ASV

Morganís Wonderland is an ultra-accessible park that has been specially designed to meet the needs of special needs children and adults. Every inch of the park has taken their special requirements to heart, creating a place where those who are disabled can experience the world with the freedom of a butterfly. The rides have special seats for wheelchairs, there are six different types of swings and the play areas are safe with activities that will make anyone happy.

Gordon Hartman, a former builder in San Antonio, retired from his work to begin a foundation that gives grants to organizations that serve the special needs community. He has a reason: his daughter Morgan is autistic, and so heís familiar with the challenges of living with disabilities and the joys that are found in overcoming those challenges. Mr. Hartman thought of the idea after watching his little girl try to play with a group of children at a hotel pool a few years ago. The children wanted to play, also, but they did understand Morganís unique distress in unfamiliar circumstances. The relationship never occurred.

Mr. Hartman thought that it would be a good idea to have a place where the special needs of these children can be met while offering an opportunity for kids without disabilities to learn how to share time, space and fun with these unique individuals. Everyone is welcome at Morganís Wonderland, and everyone leaves with a feeling of peace and understanding.

I have talked about Morganís Wonderland in the past, but I thought about it as I was reading through the scriptures for this week. Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, the last special festival before we enter into the ordinary time of the Pentecost season. In the next few months, weíll hear scriptures that help us to understand the God we worship, the place of the Church in the world and the work we are called to do. The next few months are given to us to help us learn what it means to be a disciple. What is the cost? What is the responsibility? What is the reward?

With this Sundayís scriptures, we begin the quest of understanding the God we worship. We are beginning at one of the most challenging of all ideas. What is the Trinity? Theologians for generations have tried to understand what seems obvious while at the same time beyond our grasp. Weíve come up with analogies, human experiences that can help explain the divine, but none are truly accurate. No example will ever be completely accurate because God is greater than the creation.

Yet, as I was thinking about the scriptures for this week, I began to see some parallels between the creation of the world and the creation of Morganís Wonderland. Gordon Hartman is certainly not God, Morgan is not Jesus, but we can see similarities in their relationships. Mr. Hartman is the one who has done the work; it is beyond Morganís ability and resources to accomplish such a great feat. Yet, she was there at the inception of the idea. She was the force behind the creation of the park. It was done with her special needs in mind. It was done out of love for her. In his speeches, Mr. Hartman gives Morgan the glory. She is the face of the park, the flesh and blood reason for its existence, and the one after whom it has been named. See any parallels yet?

It is interesting to be at the park when Mr. Hartman stops by. We (everyone: staff, volunteers, visitors) seem to look at him with a sense of awe. He is not worshipped by any means, but we wonder at the love heís given to his daughter and put into this park. He cares about everyone. No matter how busy he might be, he stops to talk to anyone. He asks us if we are well, thanks us for being there. He is admired and often held at a distance not out of fear but wonder. Who is this man who would do something so wonderful? Yet, he does not keep himself separated from those who enjoy his creation. See another parallel?

When we talk about the creation, we know that Christ was there from the beginning. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul says that it is by Him all things were created, and all things were created by and for Him. He is the first and in Him all things are held together. John tells us that Christ is the Logos, the Word and that He was there at the beginning. Whatever God spoke came to be, His voice spoke His ideas and they became manifest in all of Creation, including the human beings who were specially chosen to be Godís reflection on earth. When the time was right, God spoke again, and Christ came in the flesh of Jesus, to restore Godís people to Himself. He was there in the beginning. He is before everything. Without Him, nothing would exist.

Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. In Proverbs 8 we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Jesus, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. Godís attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is an attributeóa unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. We have certainly heard that recently in the Gospel readings from John, ďThe Father is in me and I am in the Father.Ē Jesus existed before He was incarnated at His birth. The Spirit existed before being given to the people of God. They were, and are, always part of God.

Wisdom existed before it was expressed in the voice of God at creation. When God spoke and wisdom was made manifest, then creation was given life and it is in that voice that we can know God. Finding Wisdom, knowing Jesus, brings life. It is not enough to believe in some unknown and unknowable Ďgodí. Life, salvation, is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, ďI am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.Ē Wisdom took pleasure in men, took the nature of men, dwelt among us and filled us with unspeakable treasures. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.

Wisdom does not mean that we will know everything. Sometimes the wise man does not seek to explain the unexplainable. Though it is helpful to put to words our ideas about God, can we really expect to use words to describe that which is indescribable? I suppose it can be daunting to think about serving a God that we do not fully understand, particularly in this modern age when we can study the smallest microscopic things of this world and the largest suns in the universe. We do not want to believe that there is a mystery we will not solve. It troubles us, leaves us without peace. But the purpose of discovering God is not to know everything, but to experience His love and find the peace that He gives.

God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. He is greater than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest see, larger than the universe and farther from the furthest sun. Yet, we can know Him intimately. We are nothing, yet we are the crown of His creation. We are given dominion over all that He has created, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that He has. In the reality of our place in Godís Kingdom, we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine.

Yet, we are called to live out our faith in this world, to continue the work of Christ in the world, to be the visible manifestation of Godís love to our neighbor. To do this, we begin with wisdom. We begin by knowing Christ. How do you describe faith? How do you define hope? What is the peace that Jesus promises? What is the love of God? What happens at baptism or at the communion table? Who is the Father, the Son, the Spirit? How do you explain the Trinity? When we have answers to these questions, then we can take the Christ we know into the world. Will we have all the answers? Will we be able to explain the mysteries of God? Part of our quest for understanding is the discovery that wisdom does not necessarily equal knowledge. Wisdom comes with faith.

It is not through reason that we are justified. We arenít saved by knowing how to define faith or how to explain the doctrines of our faith. We donít have to be a theologian and write theses on Church history or doctrine to be wise in Godís Kingdom. We donít get closer to God by having an intellectual understanding of His character. We are saved by faith, faith that comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. In faith weíll do what God has called us to do. He has called us to live as He would live, to take care of the Creation He created, to serve our neighbors in love and mercy and grace.

We may never have the words to explain the Trinity or what it means to be a Christian, but we are called to share our faith with the world. It need not be a lengthy dissertation on the meaning of the great doctrines of Christianity. We need only share our experiences of God with others so that He might work in their lives to spark the faith that will make them part of Godís kingdom on earth. Isnít it amazing that God has made us part of this process? The psalmist asks, ďWhat is man, that thou art mindful of him?Ē Not only does God care about everyone and everything He has created, He has made man the crown of His creation and given us authority over everything.

With that authority, however, it is our responsibility to treat it as God would treat it. The wise man is one who will not abuse or waste what God has made. The wise man is the one who will seek to understand what God intends for the Creation and to use it to His glory. The wise man will go forth in faith and share the reality of Godís sovereignty and majesty with the world. It wonít be easy. We are tempted to do what we want with what we have been given. We face situations that leave us questioning what God would do. We donít always understand what God intends, and we fail. Sin plays a role in everything we do, no matter how much we try to avoid sinful behavior. Though saved by grace and sanctified by the Spirit, we are still sinners who make mistakes.

And we will be disciplined. Now, I know that many do not like the word discipline, because it often focuses on punishment and suffering. We would rather not worship a disciplinary God. Yet, discipline is not just punishment; discipline is training. We gain wisdom by studying and experiencing the world.

Morganís Wonderland was started as a simple park with some ramps and wide sidewalks to make it more accessible for those in wheelchairs. As the park was being built, however, they realized that they could do something extraordinary. The swing sets were expanded to include a specially designed swing for wheelchairs. A train and carousel was added, specially designed to be wheelchair accessible. Every detail was considered: color, sound, comfort, accessibility. As activities were created, guests were invited to try them. Problems were solved, changes were made. Even now, after the park has been open for several months, we are still trying to make the processes and programs work for the best interests of all our visitors. We make mistakes.

But through it all, we are getting better at doing the work that Mr. Hartman intended when he started building the park. The guests experience a sense of peace that theyíve never had at a park. They leave with joy and excitement, hopeful for their next visit. Our trials lead us to the right path, help us to gain wisdom so that weíll do better the next time. And next time, we hope weíll provide an even better experience for our guests.

Paul writes, ďAnd not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.Ē As we do the work of God in faith, weíll have experiences that are not pleasant. The trials we face are not discipline in the sense of punishment, but are useful to God to help us learn and grow. Wisdom comes from those experiences and we develop fortitude. Fortitude produces character, and character produces hope. It is all part of the journey we take when we become part of the body of Christ and helpers for God in this world.

We celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday as we enter into the Pentecost season because we need to see that God is more than just the Father, just the Son and just the Spirit. We need the whole Godhead to do what He has called us to do. We are reminded in the Gospel lesson that we could not have done anything if the whole plan of God had not come to be. The disciples would not have accomplished anything as the Church if Jesus had not gone to heaven and sent the Spirit. The disciples could not bear what was to come without the wisdom and strength that comes from having the Holy Spirit dwell within and amongst Godís people.

We donít tell people news until we know they are ready. If it is bad news we say, ďSit down, I have something to tell you.Ē If it is good news we get a glass of champagne to celebrate. The disciples could not bear everything that Christ had to say, so He sent the Spirit to continue teaching the disciples. It is by His power that we have faith. It is by His grace we have wisdom. It is in His strength that we can glorify Christ Jesus by living the life He started when He came in the flesh by serving our neighbor and sharing Godís love. We might not be ready today to do everything God is asking of us, but he will give us all we need to do His work. We need only walk by faith, knowing that God is sovereign over all of His creation. With us as His crown, we can be a part of something incredible: Godís Kingdom on earth, where all people can know Him and live in His love.

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May 27, 2010

ďAnd he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me: But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.Ē Matthew 19:2-6, ASV

Art Linkletter died yesterday. He was 97 years old, and is known for having been able to make people so comfortable in his presence that they were willing to be themselves, which is often when people are the most humorous. I canít say that I remember the details of his shows or books, although I can still see the faces of the children who often appeared with him. I also remember laughing whenever he was on, because people are funny when they are at ease. They arenít worried about what people think; they donít put on that mask that often disguises the real person.

I think it is interesting that in the obituary published in the New York Times, writer William Grimes says, ďTelevision critics and intellectuals found the Linkletter persona bland and his popularity unfathomable. ĎThere is nothing greatly impressive, one way or the other, about his appearance, mannerisms, or his small talk,í one news paper critic wrote. Another referred to his Ďimperishable banality.íĒ Yet, Mr. Linkletter was exceptionally popular with the American public. He was well known for what he did; Iím sure there were few people who had to ask, ďWho is Art LinkletterĒ when the news broke yesterday about his death. Say, ďArt LinkletterĒ and almost everyone thinks, ďKids say the darndest things.Ē

He was good at what he did because he was willing to go eye to eye with whomever he was dealing with. I can see him sitting in a small room with a short table and childrenís chairs, Art sitting right next to the children. He listened. He got into the dirt. He played with the toys. He did whatever it took to make his guest (or victim) feel like he was their friend. When he asked his questions, they were ready and willing to answer.

In the obituary, Mr. Grimes quotes Mr. Linkletter, ďI know enough about a lot of things to be interesting, but Iím not interesting enough in any one thing to be boring. Iím like everybodyís next door neighbor, only a little bit smarter.Ē He led an interesting life. His story tells of adventures on freight trains, hitchhiking, jobs wherever he happened to stop, and times as a merchant seaman. He went to a teacherís college, planning to become an English teacher, but discovered radio during his last year. He worked as a spot reporter at the California Pacific International Exhibition in San Diego and at other fairs. He learned to work without a script, filling time with whatever entertaining person happened his way. He made mistakes, but found his nitch; heíll always be remembered for his way with people.

Jesus had a way with people, too. They flocked to hear Him speak, sought Him out for healing and trusted that He would provide for their needs. The stories of Jesusí meetings often mention children. When He fed the five thousand, that number didnít include the women and children. There were children when He fed the four thousand. In the New International Version, the word child is referenced 113 times just in the Gospels and Acts. I can just see the children running around. As parents sat listening to the teacher, the children were finding things to keep them occupied: games with other children, bugs on the ground, hills to roll down. Iím sure Jesus didnít stop them from being themselves, although the disciples didnít much like the children.

Jesus called a child and said, ďBe like this child.Ē Children believe. They donít need a lot of explanations, although they are likely to ask a million questions. They just want to know that you are willing to listen, to hear them, to be with them, to know them. Art Linkletter was willing, and because he was, they were willing to share with them. Perhaps if we were a little more willing to spend time with those who cross our path, they may be a little more willing to be real with us. It is when the masks are off that we can truly see each other and share the grace of God.

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May 28, 2010

ďBless Jehovah, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy desire with good things, So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle.Ē Psalm 103:1-5

I was on my way out this morning when I passed the school right around the corner. Out in the yard, I saw a large bouncy slide, more than two stories high. On my way home, I noticed there was also a dunking booth on the playground. Iím not sure what was happening, but I suppose it is time for Field Day. With the last day of school less than a week away, most of the teachers are filling the time with fun and stress-free activities. There will be tests next week, final exams so that the teachers can report the childís progress. It is hard for the children to keep focused, so during these final days they plan plenty of fun activities: field trips, parties and field day.

I remember Field Day when I was a kid. We played kickball and had races. Some students won prizes for their efforts, ribbons for first place and even trophies. Lunch was always special on Field Day: a picnic on the playground with grilled hotdogs and chips. All the students were expected to participate in some way, but there was little pressure. Though there was competition, the day was about fun.

I donít remember have such fun activities as a two story bouncy slide or a dunking booth. Of course, these things didnít exist, in my day. Now it is possible for not only for a large organization like a school to rent these items, we could get it for a party at our own house! They arenít very expensive: for a hundred dollars, anyone can have a blow up castle in their backyard for a day.

Isnít it amazing how much things change from generation to generation? Iím sure that my parentís generation didnít even have the kind of equipment we had when I was in school. They may have done some special field day, a day for playing outside, running races and taking time to run wild in the midst of the final days of school. But, they ran around on the lawn next to school, which most likely wasnít developed into a baseball diamond. They probably had balls to play games, but they didnít have yellow cones to divide the racing tracks. Todayís generation has even better equipment to make the day fun.

Iím not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it is sad to me that the kids need a big equipment to have a good time. We could find joy in a roll down a hill. We didnít need hundred dollar shoes or special balls to get up a good game. On the other hand, technology has made it possible for our kids to have it much better than us. If it is possible to have a fun activity like a two story bouncy slide, shouldnít we take advantage of the opportunity for our kids? If they can learn to play baseball with good bats and balls, shouldnít we give it to them?

My parents didnít have a microwave when they were growing up. I didnít get my first one until I was out of college. Now Victoria has one that she takes to school. I enjoy food made on the stove or in the oven or on a grill, but I have to admit that I donít know what I would do without a microwave. The microwave makes cooking convenient when Iím busy with other things. Which of us could get through the day without our cell phones? Or our automobiles? Or our dishwashers?

As with the fun Field Day equipment, we can remember the past and think that it was better that way, but the reality of our world is that we are always changing. There is always something new that makes life more interesting. For a time, we wonder if those things are necessary. In reality, we know they arenít. Generations before us have survived without them. However, in another generation weíll wonder what we did without them. And the new generation will be complaining that they didnít need the new fangled gadgets when they were young. That generation will have all the reasons why those items are unnecessary or even distracting, but even they will learn how wonderful and convenient the new technology can be.

The problem with all this is that in the end we think we need all this stuff. I know I canít live without things that I am sure I do not really need. We make our lives more complicated even while they are making our lives easier. We worked harder a hundred years ago, and we had had less time for leisure. We werenít likely to have a wall full of bookshelves filled with books, but we appreciated the few books we did have. We didnít have a car to get to a grocery store, but we grew our own food and had fresh tomatoes that tasted good when they were in season. We like our technology, but now we are never alone. We can never stop to smell the roses or breathe in the fresh air, because someone is always looking for us.

It is not bad that we have developed this technology, but let us remember that we donít need any of it. We need food for our bodies, air to breathe, a roof over our heads and clothes to keep us warm. We need to live within a community of people who care about us and will help us in our times of need, giving us the opportunity to help them, too. Modern technology is good. But so is the simple life. We just need to keep everything in perspective. We can live without the microwave and the two story high slide. We may not have to live without them, but letís never become so dependent on anything that we forget thereís only one thing we really need: God.

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May 31, 2010

ďOh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; with the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein; Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together Before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.Ē Psalm 98, ASV

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. We will spend a few moments today thinking about those who died, and then spend the rest of the day at picnics or parades with our family. Weíll laugh and play, sing and eat ourselves into oblivion.

I began the day by searching the Bible for forms of the word ďrememberĒ and I found this psalm. Memorial Day is not really a happy time; it is a time for recalling the lives of those who have died in service to others. I think it is good to take a moment on this day to think about the God we worship, to thank Him for the lives of those He has given us for such great service and to praise Him for the good things He has done in, with and through them.

We wonít forget the men and women whose day it is. Ceremonies are planned, the news will report all the events being staged in their honor. Our neighborhood is filled with the sight of red, white and blue flags as our neighbors remember in their own way. The names of those who died have been read out loud, because naming the names means that those brave men and women will not be forgotten. Through it all, though, we will move on to live our lives in the fullest. The best we can do for them, aside from keeping their memory alive in word and monument, is to thank God for their lives and praise Him for the work He gave them to do.

We may not always understand the purpose of war: we may think that such death is in vain. But God even calls the warrior to his work, giving him or her the gifts needed to do what is right and good and true. It is sad, very sad, that anyone has to die for the sake of another, but we see in their lives the reflection of the One who died for us all. We may not always understand the good that has come out of the work they have done, but God does make all things good for those who love Him. Who knows what the world might be like if those we remember today had not been created by God for their great and unselfish work.

So, today weíll mourn and weíll party, but let us also praise God and thank Him along with the whole of creation, because even if we do not realize the good in the midst of the bad, Godís work is always good. He has done great things and He is worthy of the joyful noise we make!

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