Welcome to the November 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

Saints

Prayer

All Saints Day

Mystery

Heart

Help

Darkness

Reality

Forgiveness

Learn

Contentment

Traditions

King

Choice

Rejoice

Insignificant

Generosity

Journey

Thanksgiving

Gratitude

Unity

Count


A WORD FOR TODAY


Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version





A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2010





November 1, 2010

"I love Jehovah, because he heareth My voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, Therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The cords of death compassed me, And the pains of Sheol gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of Jehovah: O Jehovah, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is Jehovah, and righteous; Yea, our God is merciful. Jehovah preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he saved me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; For Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, Mine eyes from tears, And my feet from falling. I will walk before Jehovah In the land of the living. I believe, for I will speak: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, All men are liars. What shall I render unto Jehovah For all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of Jehovah Is the death of his saints. O Jehovah, truly I am thy servant: I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people, In the courts of Jehovah's house, In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Jehovah." Psalm 116, ASV

We will celebrate All Saints next Sunday, November 7th, so I will probably look through the lectionary text for the day on Wednesday. But since today is All Saints Day, it is a good day to talk about the saints. Now, we could tell stories about those who have been named by the Church as people who are remembered for having particularly special faith. The apostles are all saints, as are the early church fathers and mothers. Throughout history there have been men and women who have willingly died for the Gospel or sacrificed in extraordinary ways to share the love of Christ with the world.

We will remember those we love who have passed from life into death, especially those who have died in the past year. We will lay aside time during our worship next Sunday to name the names of those we have loved and lost, lifted their lives in thanksgiving before God. We will tell stories of their lives, their faith and the impact they had on our world, both personal and the world at large.

But All Saints Day is also a time to consider our own place in the great cloud of witnesses that have been called by God to be faithful in this world. We are saints, along with all those who have passed, and we are beloved of God.

I love verse 15, "Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints." The word "precious" here seems odd, since we usually use it in terms of something that is highly valuable or enchanting. Babies are precious. Silver and gemstones are precious. Toddlers in ballerina or princess costumes are precious. How can death be precious? But the word "precious" in this passage means "important and no light matter" (according to the Amplified Bible) and so we see that God is concerned about every one of His saints, even into death. He cares. He cries. He knows the very moment we pass from life into death. We are watched over even in that moment when it seems as if God has abandoned us.

So, on All Saints Day, even while we are celebrating the lives of the Saints that have passed, let us remember that we are part of that great assembly, even if we are still bound by the reality of time and space. We join with the Saints as they celebrate the great feast and as they sing praises to God because we know that one day we will join them for eternity. And until that moment, we can rest in God's grace, knowing that He is with us at every moment, especially when it seems like the enemy (death) has won. He is there to welcome us into the assembly, to cry with those left behind and to rejoice with those who have been waiting in the great beyond.

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November 2, 2010

"I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:1-4, ASV

Someone is going to be disappointed today. A lot of someone's are going to be disappointed today. For every winner in the elections, there will be at least one loser. In some races, there will be more than one loser. I don't claim to be politically erudite, so I can't make a prediction about what will happen today. I made sure I was informed about the races in which my vote would count, but beyond my local I can only guess. Whatever happens today, tomorrow will be a new day and our leaders will be charged with doing what is right for our nation and her people.

We might differ on what is right, and this is obvious in the political debates and advertisements this year. We see the world in different ways, have different expectations and have different solutions to the problems. There are passionate, intelligent and virtuous people on every side of the issues, although at times it might seem like this is a matter of good verses bad. Of course, the good side depends on your point of view.

Whatever happens today, the American people can do something. If you are disappointed, you can pray. If you are victorious, you can pray. We can all pray together, even though we have different and opposing expectations of the future of our nation. We must be careful, however, to watch our prayers. Are we praying for God's will or are we praying an agenda? Are we praying for the health and safety of every leader, no matter what their point of view? Are we praying for one another, even for those who are on the other side of the issues?

I don't mean that we should be praying for them to change their mind. That is, of course, the kind of prayer we tend to pray. We ask God to make everyone else think like us and to work toward the outcome that we desire. We might be right. We might have the best ideas. We might have the real solutions. But we might be wrong. There is only one who is absolutely right and that is God Himself. He knows the future, where we will go and how to get there.

And we should not assume that if we are victorious that it is because God has answered our prayers above the prayers of our neighbors. God is not necessarily on our side, just because the guy we like is the winner. We don't know how God intends to get us from today to tomorrow. Throught the history of His people and His Church, God has sometimes allowed hard times to fall upon His people so that they will turn all the more faithfully to Him.

So, no matter what happens today let us all join together in prayer that God's plan will be accomplished in our land. Let us turn to God, seek His face and trust in His faithfulness. He knows what He is doing. Meanwhile, we are called to pray for all our leaders, to ask God's blessing on their lives so that they will be strengthened and encouraged to do His work. Even if we think they are on the wrong side of the issues, let us live in the knowledge that God can use a donkey* (or an elephant?) to speak wisdom and do justice in the world.

*Read the story of Balaam's donkey in Numbers 22

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November 3, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, November 7, 2010, All Saints Sunday: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

"For Jehovah taketh pleasure in his people: He will beautify the meek with salvation." Psalm 149:4, ASV

I suppose it is the atmosphere of the past few weeks, and the focus we've had on the leadership of our country, that causes me to think politically as I read the text of the day. Well, I'm not trying to put our national elections into some sort of eschatological event that has been predicted in the scriptures. Even the visions and dreams of Daniel, which are often interpreted into a modern context, do not foretell what happened in the elections last night. Besides, we are going to interpret the meaning of those signs differently. Some will see what happened yesterday as good. Others will see it bad.

And Christianity does not fall on one side or the other. There are Christians from every end of the political spectrum. Some Christians experienced victory yesterday, while others saw defeat. Does that mean God loves some Christians more than others? Of course He does not. Though God has His hand in every aspect of our world, His answers to our prayers are not always what we expect. We don't know the future. We may try to interpret the events in light of the scriptures, but it is likely that we'll put a spin on that interpretation based on our point of view. Two people will come up with exactly opposite understandings. We can only truly know as we look back on the events of yesterday what failed and what succeeded. Even then, God can use our failures and successes to do His will in the world.

So, for many it seems like the world has been turned upside down today. Those who were waiting for this sort of change are exuberant today. Those who were afraid of what might happen are disappointed. The winners see their election as a rise into power. The losers see the events of yesterday like a bad dream, as if beasts have come out of the great sea. Some see it as good, while others see it as bad, which is why it is so difficult for us to interpret the scriptures from our point of view. We have to look beyond a literal understanding. The images in Daniel's vision are frightening, and the idea of great empires devouring the people even more so. And we can see it happening generation after generation. Every generation can point to a ruler or authority who has risen out of the earth who has been terrifying.

This is especially true when the leadership affects institutions we love. Whether it is our nation, our city, our organizations or even our church, we look at those who stand against our ideas and principles as great beasts that rise out of the sea. We are afraid that they will destroy what we love. We are afraid that the destruction of our expectations will destroy us, too. Can we survive in a world with leaders that tyrannize the people?

The angel in Daniel's vision says, "Yes." Do not be afraid. Whatever powers and authorities are raised up in your world, God can not be beaten back. He is sovereign no matter what we see around us. His kingdom can not fall. His rule is eternal. And the holy ones of God will rule with Him forever. Whatever happens in this world will pass, but God's kingdom is eternal. Our world may be turned upside down for a season, but everything will be right in the end.

Jesus had a way of making his followers look at the world from new point of view. It often seemed as though He was turning it upside. After all, we don't expect good things to come out of bad or blessing to come out of curses. In todayís Gospel lesson, Jesus wants the disciples to see the world as God sees it. Poverty, loneliness, criticism and humiliation are all things we would prefer to avoid. How could Jesus think these are good? Wealth, satisfaction, laughter and approval are all things we seek. How could these be bad?

The Gospel text for today is Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount; it is known as the Sermon on the Plain. There are differences, of course. Matthew focuses on righteousness and Luke the poor. Luke has written his report in groupings of four: four blessings for the poor, four threats to the rich, four sayings about how to respond to our enemies and four examples of how others might treat us poorly.

Jesus tells the disciples to love their enemies and do good to them. This is not the way we do things because we think that if we appear weak we will accomplish nothing. We want to hold power by wielding a sword. In this year's political process, the sword was often nasty campaign ads. There are even rumblings of voter fraud in some of the races. Now that the election is over, there are many who would like to use the outcome to their advantage. Everyone wants to make everything right from their point of view, seek revenge where necessary and overcome what has been done wrong.

The psalmist says that a two-edged sword will execute vengeance upon the nations, punish the people, bind the kings and capture the nobles with fetters of iron. The psalmist sings that it up to the saints and it is their honor to cast judgment on the beasts which have risen out of the sea or the earth. But is that really what God intends?

The double-edged sword is not necessarily steel, it is not any sort of earthly revenge. There is a sword even greater: the Word of God. What greater vengeance could we meet out to our enemies then to give them the Word of God so that they might believe and become our brother? It is much better to wield a sword that will save a life than one that will take it.

On this day, as we celebrate All Saints Day, we ask the question, "Who are these holy ones? Who are those that stand in the presence of God and rule with Him? Who are these who are given the authority to draw two-edged swords for the sake of God's praise? Who are these saints?"

Many saints lived holy and upright lives. We are thankful for those who have been godly examples for us. They are the men and women who shared the Gospel of Jesus with us, and with the world. They are the ones who made a real difference in the world, who brought light and hope to those who are weak, hungry, sad, humiliated and lonely. On Sunday we will celebrate the lives of those saints who have passed during the past year and remember all those who have had a positive impact on our lives.

But saints are not just those who have died in Christ; saints are also those who live in Christ. A saint is one who has the abiding Word, which is Christ, dwelling in their heart. We are blessed when we live in the hope of the Kingdom that has come even though the world does not meet our expectations. Each of us is called by Jesus to live the life of a saint. It is unlikely that any of us will suffer or become martyrs as the saints of the past. We probably will not be remembered beyond the tiny corner of the world that we've touched. But we can trust that our flesh is temporary and our difficulties short-lived. All our troubles will be overcome when God's promises are fulfilled. We live through the topsy-turvy times with the hope of the true life that awaits us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the lesson from Ephesians, Paul tells us that those who have heard the word of truth and believed are among the many who will inherit this kingdom that God has promised. The hope for which we live is not a utopia. It has nothing to do with who won yesterday's elections or who will serve in the future. This world is upside down, no matter how we look at it. We see with a skewed perception, our eyes blurred by our sinful nature. But in Christ we are given an understanding and Jesus-colored glasses that help us to see the world through God's eyes. Paul prays for the people, "Öthat the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saintsÖ"

In Him we look at the world in a whole new way, knowing that disappointment and death are a part of living in the flesh, but when our time in flesh is over, we've just reached the beginning of our true life, a life that will last forever with great riches beyond our imaginations. As saints, we are called to live in thanksgiving and praise to God no matter what we face in this world, knowing that we'll dwell forever in His glory.

"For Jehovah taketh pleasure in his people: He will beautify the meek with salvation." Isn't this the most wonderful statement? God takes pleasure in His people. He delights in His saints. We may not always feel like it when the world around us seems to be falling apart, but Jesus reminds us that we are blessed, even in the hard times. And then He calls us to live that blessed life.

We tend to think of the saints as men and women who are recognized for outstanding service to the Lord. Some of the saints were martyred for their faith. Others made a powerful impact on the world in which they lived. The men and women who are specifically named saints seem to be extraordinary people. Their life stories come with accounts of divine intervention, miracles and unusual experiences. However, saints are not only those who have died, but those who live in Christ today.

We, too, are saints, but we need not be intimidated. The saints were not extraordinary. They were ordinary people through whom God made extraordinary things happen. Whatever happens today, whether we win or lose, we will among the holy ones who inherit the kingdom of God. We will possess the Kingdom forever and ever, dwelling with the God who delights in us. Until that day, let us dwell in His Kingdom on earth as Christ commanded, turning the world around us upside down with His Word. Who knows? Perhaps our enemies will become our friends. Perhaps our opponents will join with us in doing the work of justice and peace. Perhaps the topsy-turvy world will be turned upright, and all will experience God's delight and sing His praise.

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November 4, 2010

"Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; his lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations." Psalm 100, ASV

I walked into a grocery store the other day and there was a ten foot tall fully decorated Christmas tree on display. I know, it is too early to start talking about Christmas, which is still fifty-one days away. It is hard to ignore a huge Christmas tree standing in your path as you walk into the store, however. I also noticed that the Halloween displays are being replaced by Christmas merchandise. The stores are ready to begin the Christmas shopping season, even though it doesn't "officially" begin until the day after Thanksgiving.

I put the word "officially" in quotes because Black Friday has not been the first day of Christmas shopping season for years. I remember when my mom worked at the mall; she didn't put anything Christmas out on her sales floor until Black Friday. The mall employees worked overtime on Wednesday night, putting up the tinsel and other decorations so that they could be ready to reveal the Christmas world on Friday. There were always special celebrations, welcoming Santa Claus to the mall and then opening the doors for everyone to shop. In those days the mall did not open at 4:00 a.m. They opened at normal hours and received the rush of customers ready to find those special values being offered.

I heard just the other day that a few stores are offering "Black Friday Deals" now. The stores are taking advantage of the public's desire to get the best deal. We are willing to run out today to get that video camera or new computer at the "lowest price of the season." Yet, despite the great looking deals, we know that someone, somewhere will have a better price. The question is: will we get to the store in time to get that deal, or will we miss it because we are late?

One of the best parts of the Black Friday shopping experience for me has always been sitting down with the newspaper on Thanksgiving Day to see what the stores are offering. But you don't have to wait until the Thanksgiving Day newspaper to find out what is in the ads. I found a link today to a website that has scans of the ads that have been "leaked." Now you can plan your Black Friday shopping trip well in advance, and you generally have to have a plan if you are going to accomplish your goals. There is so much pressure on shoppers to get the right toys, the right electronics, the trendy gift of the year. Unfortunately, the "perfect" gift is often poorly supplied and in high demand. Which parent hasn't desperately tried to get that hot toy that a child expects to receive from Santa Claus?

Now, I'm not complaining about the commercialization of Christmas or the much too early appearance of the holiday in this devotion, although I'm sure I'll have my moments over the next fifty-one days. No, I'm sad that so much of the magic of the season has disappeared. People worked hard to make it happen, but I loved how everything seemed to happen overnight. I'm sure there was preparation in advance: sets designed, decorations cleaned, repaired and replaced, extra employees hired and merchandise received. But for the child or even the adult who loves Christmas, the sudden appearance on that Friday after Thanksgiving of twinkling lights and Christmas green is a mystery. How did it happen so fast? Where did it all come from? We've lost the spirit of surprise from the season.

Sadly, I think the same is true of the Church. While I think it is good that we've thought about God from an intellectual perspective, reasoned our faith and studied the text in academic terms, we've put too much focus on our brains and forgotten that God is so far beyond anything our mind can comprehend. The Israelites tried to lock God into a curtained room in a Temple in Jerusalem, but we've tried to lock Him up by defining Him in terms we can understand. The problem with the loss of mystery in our relationship with God is that we've made Him so much like us that it is a wonder whether He's even worthy of praise. So, while it is good for us to seek knowledge of God and know Him, let us always remember that we will never fully know God, but He always knows us. We might not always understand how or why He does what He does, that's the mystery, but we can always trust that we are loved.

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November 5, 2010

"And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah; and he wrought that which was good and right and faithful before Jehovah his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered." 2 Chronicles 31:20-21, ASV

Hezekiah became king in 715 B.C., when he was just twenty-five years old. He took the throne after King Ahaz, who turned from God as the nation was being destroyed by her enemies. Ahaz trusted in flesh, allied with foreign kings. If only he had turned back to God and been an example of faithfulness, Judah would have known the protection and blessing of God. He even plundered the Temple and shut the doors, rejecting God altogether. A nation followers her king, and Judah followed Ahaz to her destruction.

Then Hezekiah became king. It might seem hard to imagine one person making a difference, but Hezekiah had a heart for God. As soon as he was made king, he reopened the doors of the Temple. He called together the priests and the Levites and commanded them to consecrate themselves. Then they cleaned the Temple, removing all that defiled the sanctuary. Once the Temple was purified, Hezekiah offered sacrifices according to the ways of the Lord, seeking atonement for the sins of the kings and the people. As I read this story in 2 Chronicles 29-31, I was taken by how quickly one man's passion and love for the Lord was contagious.

Once the rituals to restore the Temple were complete, Hezekiah called the people to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover again. The messengers were faced with people who laughed and ridiculed them, but some from those places humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. A very large crowd gathered and destroyed all the pagan shines in the city. Then they celebrated the Feast together. Some of the celebrants were not consecrated, but Hezekiah prayed to God for mercy and God accepted his prayers. God saw that Hezekiah was trying to bring the people back into a right relationship with him. When the festival was over, the people went out in the country and destroyed the pagan shrines that had replaced the worship of the one true God.

As for offerings to the Temple, Hezekiah served as an excellent example to the people. He gave generously of his herds and flocks so that the priests could restore the daily ceremonies of sacrifice. Other officials joined in the gifting. The people were then asked to share their gifts of first fruits. They willingly did so, giving so much that storehouses had to be built. Hezekiah returned everything that had been taken out of the Temple and the people gave new wealth to support the work of the sanctuary. So much was given that the gifts could be passed on to those who were meant to receive those gifts according to the covenant and law of God. In a short manner of time, the Lord's design was restored to Jerusalem and the people felt the peace that comes when we trust the Lord.

Ahaz didn't do all the damage alone. God's people were never very faithful and even when the kings did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, the people supported the shrines of the other gods. But in the reign of Hezekiah, God's people returned with hope and passion into a relationship with God.

We might think that we can't possibly make a difference with our faith, but we can see in the story of Hezekiah is that it takes just one heart for God to turn a whole nation. Perhaps we don't have the power or authority of a king, but we can turn our homes, our neighborhoods and possibly even further by living the life of trust and confidence in God. When we give generously, others will follow, and soon we'll have more than we can possibly need. If we purify our own temples, the people will come to worship. If we turn to God, others will turn, too, and God will be glorified. As God is glorified, His blessings fall abundantly on His people. And it all begins with just one heart.

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November 8, 2010

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:10-12, ASV

I like to work alone. It isn't that I don't like to be with people, or that I don't think they can do the tasks. I just find that it is easier to do things myself than to try to explain how I want something done. This is especially true in the kitchen. I am a planner, so I work out the schedule of things to be done before I begin. In most cases, it would detrimental to have someone trying to help me. I can't think of things for others to do because it will upset the pattern of my plan.

For example, a few years ago I was working on an open house at our house and we have family staying with us. I had everything organized, planned down to the minute the party was to start. We managed to get most of our family out of the house, taken on an adventure downtown to do a little shopping. But not everyone wanted to go. One stayed back, insisting that I needed help. I spent more time trying to think of things for her to do than I actually had things for her to do!

Now, I may have had that particular event worked out, but I can't always do everything in the kitchen by myself. Sometimes I need help. I often make a large amount of special mashed potatoes for pot luck events. When I make these large amounts, I end up using a huge stock pot to cook the potatoes. When the pot is filled with water and potatoes, it becomes too heavy for me to lift. The pot is also unwieldy, and it takes two to pour out the water without losing the potatoes in the sink. The task is much harder and takes much longer when I try to do it alone.

So, perhaps there are times when it is better to work alone, but the wisdom from the teacher is worth learning. Two are better than one, and three is unbreakable. I saw this recently as I watched the Food Network show "Challenge." The challenge was to make a flying machine out of sugar, which is a ridiculous quest since sugar sculptures are very fragile. Any movement can cause the whole thing to collapse. The tiniest crack can destroy the whole thing.

One contestant found a crack in a very important part of the sculpture, the base of the flying machine. She didn't know what to do. She was even ready to give up. Her partner, a mentor and friend, encouraged her to keep going, to add a block of sugar beneath the crack, to make the base twice as thick. It worked. The piece was beautiful, and though the artist did not win the challenge, she won because she finished the project. But she didn't win alone: she won along side her partner, who helped her through. This story shows us the power of helping one another not only in the example of the sugar having greater strength with the extra block, but also in the artistic partnership. When the contestant fell, her partner picked her up and they finished together.

We might like to think we are islands, but the world is not a better place with a lot of independent people running around. What one person can do alone, two can do even better. Three people don't produce three times as much; they produce an even higher multiple because there is greater strength and more gifts in the mix of three. So, when we are tempted to go at everything alone, let's remember that God has made man to be in community, to join together with others in the work we are called to do. We'll find that our work will be blessed beyond measure and God will be glorified.

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November 9, 2010

"But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:9-12, ASV

On this date in 1965, the Northeast experienced a huge disruption to the electric supply, with 30 million people affected. The blackout covered a space of 80,000 square miles, in seven states and parts of Canada. The lights were out in New York for approximately twelve hours. It took authorities six days to discover the reason for the disruption. In the end, it was an error by one guy.

A few days before the blackout, a repairman reset a safety relay too low. This safety was designed to triggers the lines to stop transmitting if the current is too high. On a particularly cold night, when the electrical lines were working overtime, the low setting tripped the relay and the main line was disabled. The electricity was then sent to other lines, which could not handle the extra power, and tripped their protective relays. Eventually the power stations shut down since there was nowhere for the power to go. One by one, areas were sent into darkness as this series of shut-downs stopped the electricity from flowing. Isn't it amazing that one person's simple mistake can make such an incredible impact on such a large area?

Then again, isn't it one man's (or two people's) failure to believe God's word that sent us all into darkness? When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they believed the serpent instead of God. When he asked if God really said they would really die, he convinced them that they wouldn't die for desiring knowledge. He convinced them that they would be like God if they ate from the tree. They were cast out of the garden for trusting the word of the serpent above God, and every generation of man has been stuck in the darkness of that world outside the garden.

But, we don't have to stay there. We are called out of the darkness back into the light by Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns over a new Garden. We are people of God, no longer separated by our sin and failure, but brought into the Kingdom by God's mercy. As we live in that light, we are encouraged to live accordingly, not taking advantage of the darkness of the world around us to do what we want, but to shine the light of God's holiness to those who are still wandering outside His grace. In Christ we live like Christ so that others will know Him.

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November 10, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, November 14, 2010, Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 33: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." Luke 21:17, ASV

I am always amazed at the hard work and resources that go into the making of a cake. If you watch any the cake competitions on the food networks, you'll see the artists put in hours and hours of work to create just one cake. On "Challenge" the contestants are usually given eight hours to create their masterpiece, but the reality is they've already put in many hours before hand. They have to bake the cakes, prepare the icing, and gather together enough fondant and other materials. In some case, they've premade some decorations or molds. On another show, a cake artist said that the flowers on a magnificent wedding cake equaled a thousand man hours of work!

All this work is put into the making of a masterpiece that won't last more than a few days. A cake is made to be eaten. The recipients of those cakes often say, "It is too beautiful to be eaten" but that doesn't stop them from cutting into the tiers. The artists know that their work will last only in a memory and a picture. They know that what they are making will be destroyed quickly.

A developer approaches his work from a completely different perspective. Someone building a building wants it to last for a very long time. They design the building and choose materials to hold up against the probable conditions. Wood shingles are not used in a forest that might burn. Flat top roofs are not used on mountain tops. Basements are not built in buildings that are at low altitudes or near water. Certain specifications are used to make a building strong in an earthquake zone. Others are used where hurricanes threaten. Stilts are used to raise a building above possible flood waters and windows are carefully placed so that they will not be broken by damaging winds. An architect and the builder work together to plan carefully so that the building will last a very long time.

We spent four years living in England, and I was often amazed at the architecture. We visited one building, a simple one room chapel, which was built in 300 A.D. The building was only about 15' by 20' and had no roof or door. But the walls still stood and benches were still strong enough to hold visitors. The building was probably not used for a thousand years, but somehow the ivy covered walls were still there. Despite the longevity of this particular building, the reality is that it will not last forever. One day those stones will fall, or will be pushed down.

I visited another place, an old abbey. A few walls still stood, but most of the abbey was gone. The visitor can still see where the walls belonged, as the foundations are still visible in the lawn. The stones from the walls were often stolen by the townspeople. Look at other buildings or the walls that divide properties in the town, and it is likely that you'll find stone from the abbey. The materials used for the abbey were much better than anything the townspeople could afford, so when the building began to turn into ruins, they helped themselves to the stone. That's why there is so little left of many of the ruins in England-not because the buildings weren't built to last, but because someone destroyed it.

Cakes get eaten and buildings fall down, that is the reality. But, we still hope. We see buildings like that little chapel in England and think that our walls can certainly last for a long time. What were they feeling in Jerusalem, in the shadow of the Temple? I can only imagine what the Temple during Jesusí day must have looked like to the people living in Jerusalem and to all the pilgrims who went there to worship. I have never visited the site, but I have heard that they have a scaled model of the Temple to visit while you are in Jerusalem. There are also virtual tours available on the Internet. If we look at pictures of people praying at the Wailing Wall, we can see how massive the entire structure must have been.

Though these pictures and re-creations give us an idea of its beauty and size, they canít even come close to the reality of what it would have been like. You just can't really understand the reality unless you've experienced it yourself, like the giant redwood trees in the Northwest. You can see a million pictures of them, but you canít really understand how big and beautiful they are unless you stand at the foot of one.

So, the disciples are wandering around the Temple, commenting on its size and beauty, like any visitor might. They were amazed at the gifts dedicated to God by the faithful pilgrims that came to make their offerings. We do the same thing when we tour Westminster Abbey in London or Notre Dame in Paris. We even do so in our own churches, marveling over the latest gift given to glorify God in memory of a loved one. When looking at the Temple from this point of view, it is easy to imagine that it will never fall. After all, it belongs to God! Would God allow His house to fall?

It must have been shocking, then, to hear Jesus say, "As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." They have certainly come to believe what Jesus has to say, because they didn't reject the idea. They didn't even ask why? They respond with another question, "When?" Did they want to know so they could try to stop the destruction? Did they want to avoid the danger?

Jesus didn't answer the question, but instead gave them a warning, "Do not be fooled." The scriptures for today are not pleasant. Malachi talks about the day of the Lord, when the arrogant and evildoers will be burned. Paul warns those who are idly waiting for Christ's return, because they will starve. Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple and the danger to the believers. Even the psalmist talks about vindication and judgment. When the world around us is confused and without hope, it is easy to be fooled. We listen to every voice that speaks the good words and ignore the words that can make us afraid. Jesus knew that there would be those who would claim to be from God, offering promises they could not ensure. He warned them not to believe every charismatic speaker who promised prosperity and wealth. Since they would use the natural occurrences in the world to prove their own power, it would be easy to fall for their lies.

Then He told them what life would really be like for those who follow Him. It isn't a life we would pursue. He spoke of war, natural disasters, and unnatural signs in nature. The disciples would face judges and prisons and violence for speaking the name of Jesus. Jesus says, "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." We don't want to be hated. We want what we create to stand. We want the world to be a garden full of roses. And while we will be blessed by our faith in Christ, it won't be a garden of roses.

But, Jesus promises the disciples that despite this hatred, no a hair on their head will perish. This is where the text becomes very difficult for us, because we know that many Christians have been killed over the Gospel. Of the Twelve, only one died of old age. The lives of the Saints are filled with stories of beheadings, burnings and other violence. In some places, cutting the hair is an insult. Our hair falls out due to the natural process of health and aging. What about the cancer patient that loses their hair? Is he or she any less faithful because their hair has perished?

Again, though we want our bodies to last as long as the things we build, our flesh is perishable. The promise is not for eternal flesh but for the endurance of our souls. When we understand that God doesn't promise us a rose garden on earth, but an eternity with Him, then we'll realize that the fears of catastrophe are nothing about which we should worry.

God builds a different kind of Temple. He builds a different kind of body. That Temple, that body, is made up of souls rather than bricks. The building might fall, but the body of Christ will last forever.

The lessons speak about the end of the age, and we might focus on that aspect particularly since we are living in a time when it seems like everything is really happening. There are false prophets touting their goods in the public squares these days. There are reasons why we might be afraid. This warning seems to be meant for us in this time and place. Will our walls come tumbling down?

But there is grace in this message. And hope. Jesus reminds us that we have a purpose in this life, and worrying about the end times will not make anything happen and it will not make anything better. Our purpose is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be His witnesses in this world, no matter what the world thinks about us. Whether or not our hair perishes does not matter, because the reality of God's promises is true even when the reality of the world seems to say something else. As we endure through the trials of life, we'll experience the reality of God's kingdom on earth. We might not survive in flesh, but we'll spend eternity receiving the fulfillment of God's promises. As Malachi says, "But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings."

God is faithful, and because He is faithful, we have all we need to live and work in His promises. The psalmist calls us to make a joyful noise and sing praises to God. Paul encourages us to be active, working to make our own living in this day so that we'll have enough for ourselves and for those who can not provide for themselves. Though it seems like the world is about to end, we should not be idle. Each member of the community should do their part. The fellowship of believers is like a family, brothers and sisters in Christ. When everyone does their part, everything works well. Paulís instruction goes beyond the work of the church. He encourages all Christians to be active participants in the world around them, working to provide for their own needs and for the needs of the community. He encourages the able bodied to do their share so that the resources can be available for those who are truly in need.

I drew the short straw this week and I have to give the children's sermon on Sunday. When I first read the scriptures I wondered how I would speak about the end times with four year olds. What I realized, though, is that though the end times are definitely a part of this message, the real message is that though the world in which we live is perishable, the Church is not. God has bound us together not just for today but forever. And when the world does perish, we'll still be together for eternity, serving God and one another in joy and peace.

I plan to take a pile of blocks with me to church on Sunday and have the kids help me build a building. Then Iím going to knock it down. We'll talk about the disappointment that the thing we build fell. Then I'll say, "But we can build again, because we're still together." The walls of our Temples might come tumbling down, but God doesn't dwell in those buildings, He dwells in the hearts of believers. So even if the walls are gone, God is still there in the body. All that's left of the Temple in Jerusalem where the faith go to pray. God is still there among His people, because they believe, not because there's a cushy house in which He might dwell.

In Christ we can have our cake and eat it too, because God doesn't just dwell in the physical realm of our world. He dwells in our hearts. And so, we can enjoy what we have today, do the work we are called to do, and when it falls, we can live in the promise that we'll be with God for eternity.

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November 11, 2010

"And Jehovah spake to Manasseh, and to his people; but they gave no heed. Wherefore Jehovah brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he besought Jehovah his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto him; and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah he was God." 2 Chronicles 33:10-13, ASV

Manasseh became king of Judah when he was just twelve years old. The scriptures tell us that Manasseh did what was evil in God's sight, having restored the altars to pagan gods that his father had torn down. He even sacrificed some of his children in the fires. The chronicler tells us that he even built pagan altars and placed a graven idol in the Temple of God. He was among the most evil of the kings, turning from God quickly and thoroughly. His evil was so great and his effect on the people of Judah so complete, that God even abandoned His people despite the promises to their forefathers.

God tried. He spoke to His people and called them back into His presence, but they were enjoying their life of pagan living. They rejected Him completely. So, God sent the Assyrian king to take His people into exile, to teach them a lesson about His jealousy. King Manasseh was bound with chains and the captors even put a ring through his nose. He was taken to Babylon. It would seem that there was no hope for Manasseh and the people of Judah.

But Manasseh humbled himself and prayed. God heard the prayer and answered by restoring Manasseh as king in Jerusalem. We do not know how much time passed in the four verses in today's passage, but it seems to be a very sudden and complete transformation. The rest of the chapter describes how Manasseh rebuilt the walls of the city and removed the foreign gods. He restored the altar of God in the Temple and returned to the ways of his father.

He is now remembered for his prayer to God, the moment when he saw the reality of God's grace and experienced His forgiveness. Do you feel like your sin is unforgivable? Do you think it would be impossible for God to restore you? Then you need to read the prayer, to experience Manasseh's humility and realize that no one is worthy of God's grace, but God offers His mercy based on His faithfulness and promises, not on our righteousness. There is nothing you can do that will cause God to completely abandon you.

The Prayer of Manasseh is found in the Apocrypha. "O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable; for thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee: and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot life up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations, and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquites. Be not angry with me for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me thou wilt shew all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise thee for ever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen."

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November 12, 2010

"All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:27-30, ASV

I read this joke today. "A young boy and his dad went out fishing one fine morning. After a few quiet hours out in the boat, the boy became curious about the world around him. He looked up at his dad and asked 'How do fish breath under water?' His dad thought about it for a moment, then replied, 'I really don't know, son.' The boy sat quietly from another moment, then turned back to his dad and asked, 'How does our boat float on the water?' Once again his dad replied, 'Donít know, son.' Pondering his thoughts again, a short while later, the boy asks 'Why is the sky blue?' Again, his dad replied. 'Donít know, son.' The inquisitive boy, worried he was annoying his father, asks this time 'Dad, do you mind that I'm asking you all of these questions?' 'Of course not son.' replied his dad, 'How else are you ever going to learn anything?'"

Our kids ask a lot of questions, some of which we can't answer. Sometimes we can find the answers by searching the Internet or asking someone who might know, but sometimes we just have to say "I don't know." Some questions don't need an answer. Do we really need to know how the fish breathe, the boats float or why the sky is blue? These are interesting questions that do have answers, but is our life any better for that particular knowledge?

Now, I don't think that we should just ignore the questions or end every conversation with "I don't know." The quest for the answers might just be a great way of spending time with your kids. Besides, searching for answers is a great way of learning. You can learn so many other things while trying to answer one question.

Do you have any questions that you can't seem to answer? Who do you go to for answers? Perhaps you search the Internet, which can be helpful or frustrating. Do you have any friends who might have the answer? What about those deeper questions, about life, death and forgiveness? Do you go to God with those questions? Have you heard any answers? I doubt that God will say, "I don't know," to the questions we have to ask, but I sometimes wonder if He's even trying to answer. But that is no reason to stop asking the questions, because it is in the quest that we learn about ourselves and about our God. We may never find the answer to questions like "why am I here?" but we'll learn more about Jesus and in His life we'll find peace.

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November 15, 2010

"Behold, that which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor-this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart." Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, ASV

I often ask Bruce, "Do you still like your job?" Or, "Are you happy at work?" These may seem like very insignificant questions. After all, we work to pay our bills and so that we have a good life, right? While it may be true that we work to keep a roof over our heads and so that we can have the resources to do the things we enjoy, it is important to be happy in our work. It is certainly not the time to quit a job to go chasing after a whim, but dissatisfaction at work is the root of many problems. Our health suffers if we are stressed or frustrated. Our families can be affected if we come home grumbling after a bad day every day.

I think there is another reason that is even more important to consider. If we hate our job there is a very good chance we are not doing what we are meant to do, what we have be called and gifted to do. After all, God has created us for a purpose, and if we are not fulfilling that purpose, we will not know the joy that we experience as we live in the grace of God. We are blessed when we are obedient to the call of God. That blessing is not necessarily financial. But we will be happy. We will be content. We will experience blessedness in our relationships, in our body, and in our hearts.

So, I ask Bruce if he is happy because I know that we will be better off if he enjoys what he does. I'm even willing to change our lifestyle if necessary. We don't need a big house or the best meat on our table. We don't need to have every new movie that is released on DVD or a copy of every bestseller. This attitude may seem un-American, but is the American dream really about chasing after material goods? The Declaration of Independence that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We might think happiness is found in the stuff we own, but does it? Or is happiness found in doing a job well and sharing our gifts with others?

The book of Ecclesiastes can be a bit of a downer to the reader, if we approach our lives from the attitude that wealth is the destination of our journey and the purpose of our work. Over and over again the teacher says, "This is meaningless." Those who hate their jobs end up feeling that their lives are meaningless. Their unhappiness pours out into their lives, into their homes and relationships. Instead of being content, they become discontent with everything, including their spouses and children. The food even tastes bad because they are not satisfied that they've had to settle with less.

Finding our calling and doing the work that has been given to us by God to do is where we'll find true joy and happiness. We might find that it requires a change in circumstances. We may have to move to another city or live in a smaller house. We may have to eat more hamburgers and buy fewer things, but we'll be happy because we are living in the gift we have been given by God. As we are chase after God's heart rather than wealth, we'll be content and experience true happiness.

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November 16, 2010

"I waited patiently for Jehovah; And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay; And he set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, And shall trust in Jehovah. Blessed is the man that maketh Jehovah his trust, And respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Jehovah my God, are the wonderful works which thou hast done, And thy thoughts which are to us-ward; They cannot be set in order unto thee; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered." Psalm 40:1-5, ASV

I was watching a cooking show about Thanksgiving last night and I really liked some of the recipes the chef was sharing. They were simple and looked absolutely delicious. I found myself thinking about the people who will be present at our family Thanksgiving dinner and wondering, "Would they like that?" I'm going to try one or two of the recipes and perhaps I'll offer them to the smorgasbord.

The thing I didn't like about this particular show was how simple it was to make exactly the same dinner. The chef included a shopping list, a full menu and even a timeline for preparing the dinner. She made it possible for everyone to make her Thanksgiving meal for their gathering. I've seen enough Thanksgiving situation comedies to know that there are people out there that do not have a clue how to deal with such a big and complicated meal. After all, though a turkey is not that difficult to make, it is important to get things right. If the turkey is not cooked enough it is dangerous to eat. If it is cooked too long, it becomes dry and inedible. It is good to listen to the experts, to learn the tips for making the centerpiece of the dinner deliciously perfect.

I remember in one sit-com, the hostess discovered last minute that she had company coming. She had planned to get frozen turkey dinners for her family, but once she knew that others would be at the table, she panicked and went on a quest for supplies. She had no idea what she might need, so she followed another woman around the store, putting the same items into her cart. The problem with this system is that she had no idea what to do with those ingredients. She didn't know what to do with the mushrooms and marshmallows. So, she asked the woman for her recipes. Of course, the stranger was protective of her secrets and refused. So, the rest of the shopping trip was a quest to steal the ideas.

Though there might be those who do not have a clue and are thankful for the television chefs who share their secrets, I can't imagine cooking someone else's menu for my family meal. After all, we have our favorites, too. Would my kids ever forgive me if I didn't make my special mashed potatoes? No matter how good that fresh made cranberry chutney looked, I still have to have canned cranberry sauce on the table. We have our own tastes and traditions, some of which go back to our ancestors and I hope that my kids will continue those even as they develop their own new traditions. There is a place for both the memories from our heritage and the new ideas that come modern living.

God has put a new song in the heart of the psalmist, but the psalmist does not reject or forget the past. Our faith is not based just one God's promises, but we trust in God because of what He has done. How would we know He is faithful if we didn't remember the stories of His faithfulness to His people in days gone by? So, too, we can look forward to the future, create new traditions and try new foods, but let us never forget those who have brought us to this time and place or the ways they have impacted our lives, for what would we be without them?

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November 17, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, November 21, 2010, Christ the King: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge." Psalm 46:10-11, ASV

I have been part of a group reading through the bible in a year, using a schedule found on the Internet. Instead of reading the book from the first page to the last page, this program reads a portion of each section of the bible each day. On Sunday we read from the Epistles. Monday is from the books of Moses. Tuesday is from the History books. Wednesday we read the Psalms. Thursday is for the Poetry and Literature books. Friday we tackle the Prophets. And Saturday is for reading the Gospels and Acts. This makes it a little easier to read through the entire bible because the reader is not stuck reading through those difficult sections day after day after day. That's when most people lose interest in reading through the entire text, because it is so hard to get through those long genealogies and lists of laws.

The other advantage to this program is that you quickly see how the books of the entire bible relate to one another. Though it is not specifically designed to have common threads through a week, it often works out that way. It is always amazing when we read Paul referencing a story we read in an Old Testament book. We have become so much more aware of the parallels between old and new, God and Christ, the ancient peoples and us.

It is striking to read the stories of the kings which repeat the same thing over and over again. One king is good, and does what is right in the eyes of God. He is lifted up for his obedience to God's ways and his heart for God. But it never takes more than a generation for the kings to fail. The sons and grandsons of those good kings did evil in the eyes of God, turning to pagan gods and destroying God's people. After a few generations of evil, another good king came along to restore the people to their God. The cycle is never ending; over and over again the kings fail to be the kind of leaders that God has called them to be. Even the good kings made mistakes, failing to care for the people in their kingdoms. (re: Uriah the Hittite in David's reign.)

Jeremiah was probably written with a specific time and kingdom in mind, perhaps Zedekiah and his nobles, but our passage for today shows a pattern that has happened over and over again. Jeremiah describes the leaders as shepherds, which was a typical description of both kings and priests. The shepherds are the leaders who care for the flock. When the human kings gain too much power over the people, they do not do what is good or right for them. They turn from God and turn the hearts of the people from God, but can not or will not care for them.

When the human shepherds fail to care for the sheep, God promises to take care of the shepherds. The irony here is that the same word is used in two very different ways. God expects His shepherds to do what is right for His people; if they don't, they'll be dealt with. When Saul failed to be the king God intended, God took away the spirit. When Zedekiah rejected God and sought alliance with Egypt, Jerusalem fell and the people were carried into exile.

In another play with words, God says, "You have driven my people away" and then promises to return the remnant He drove away. So, who did the driving? The better question is, where were the people driven to? Zedekiah, and leaders throughout the ages, drove God's people away from Him. They were driven to the worship of other gods. They were driven to the reliance of human strength. They were driven to a life of living in a kingdom that was bound to fail and fail them. But God drove them away from failure, back into His loving arms.

Exile in Babylon might not seem like a place where God is in control, but that was the way God chose to deal with Zedekiah and the other leaders. He removed their power and authority, and gave it to another. In His time, He reconciled with His people, returned them to their homes, and restored their city. Then He appointed new leaders to serve them as shepherds of His flock. Of course, the pattern of failure continued over and over again, as new generations returned to the ways of the past leaders, turning the people away from God and relying on human strength. In Jeremiah, God promises that He will one day raise a righteous branch, one that is not only good and does what is right, but that kingdom will last forever.

We tend to turn to human strength to get us through our times of trouble and to praise human strength when we succeed. Unfortunately, humans will follow the same pattern, turning away from God and choosing human leaders. Assigned by man, shepherds will always fail because man chooses based on human traits. Assigned by God, shepherds will faithfully serve the people, because God looks at the heart and chooses those who are right with Him. The one who will serve according to God's ways is called, as Jeremiah writes, "The LORD is our righteousness."

That promise has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the Good Shepherd, the One who will care for us. He is the King, the priest, the One who will restore us to God. And that is what we celebrate on the last Sunday of the church year. This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday.

Yet the Gospel lesson seems to be such an odd choice, if we consider a king from our human perspective. We don't see Jesus on a throne, but on a cross. We don't see Jesus in glory but suffering. We don't see Him being honored by the people. Instead, Jesus is condemned, ridiculed and rejected. What sort of king is that?

In Luke's story, though, he shows that someone gets it. One of the criminals joins in the derision, but the other rebukes him. "Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." Then, He asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom. He may not totally understand what is happening, but he knows that Jesus is truly the king and for that faith he receives the promise. "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."

Once again we see a contrast in human ways and God's ways. The first criminal and the others mocking Jesus, could not see a kingdom or a promise in the dying man on the cross. They wanted Jesus to prove His power in earthly and physical ways. They wanted to be saved from that moment in time, from their deserved punishment, from the immediate consequences of their faults. The second criminal looked to Jesus for salvation in a whole new way: a salvation that was not temporary, but permanent and eternal.

Paul asks the question, "Where do we look for our salvation?" Do we look to human kings or priests or shepherds? Do we seek help from foreign gods or allies? Why do we look for mortal answers to our questions when we have a God who can overcome even death and the grave? We do it because it is our natural state of being. We are no different than Saul or Zedekiah or the other shepherds who failed to take care of God's flock. We are no different than the first criminal who can't see the reality of God's glory and throne on that cross. We can't do it on our own. Jesus died so that we might live. It might seem odd that we would end the church year with Jesus on the cross, but His death is the culmination of our entire year. He was born to die so we can live. That is how God dealt with the failed shepherds and how He will take care of His people forever.

We can look to man for our salvation, but man will always fail us in some way. We can look to earthly kings to lead us and take care of us, but they'll fail us, too. We can appoint those who appear to be strong and intelligent and powerful, but their authority is limited and they will always tend to lead God's people away from Him. That's why Paul makes the point that Jesus is something other than man. He certainly was human, was born, lived and died. We see His life and His ministry as we journey through the church year. But Jesus was something else. He is God. In Him is the fullness of God, and through Him all things exist. He is the force that holds the world together and He is the one who saved us from ourselves.

So, let us look toward the One who can truly save us. As the psalmist sings, "God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble." We may suffer the failings of our earthly shepherds, but God's promises continue to be true. He will, He has, established a King that will not fail us. He has appointed His Son to rule over our lives. Our circumstances may seem out of control. We may find ourselves in exile or hanging on a cross. But we can rest in the knowledge that God is the driving force behind our lives. When our leaders fail, and when we are led astray, God has not forgotten His promises. He is faithful even when we can not be. Be still and know. He is God and He is with us. And He has appointed the King who will not fail, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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November 18, 2010

"Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:8-11, ASV

I decided a few months ago that I might enjoy having an e-reader. I usually carry a book with me when I am going to have to wait for something. This isn't difficult when I'm in the middle of a paperback book, but I often read hardcover books that don't fit in my purse. When I travel, I usually carry an extra book and my bible. How much space would I save if I had only a small e-reader with all my books?

I have suggested it as a possible Christmas present from my family, and that might have been an excellent idea a year ago when there were not very many choices. They were more expensive than we usually spend on Christmas presents, but I expected that the price would drop dramatically as more companies create their own versions. I had no idea how difficult it would then become to choose the right e-reader.

I know my husband has been listening because the other day he asked about an e-reader he saw advertised in a Sunday ad. I explained that everyone has their own version now, and that it is so much harder to choose because they all have different advantages and disadvantages. Each person must decide which features are most important, because there is no e-reader that is perfect for everyone.

There may never be a perfect e-reader, but there are certainly enough choices that everyone should be able to find something suitable. I did some research yesterday and was shocked by how many different possibilities exist. I knew there were a few, but there are dozens. Some of those e-readers fall into an affordable price range, but the low end e-readers don't have some of the features I wanted to have. And I'm still trying to decide which features that I think are important. It doesn't help that I change my mind on a daily basis. This might not be the right time to make that purchase as a Christmas present.

I know it is a little early to be talking about Christmas, but it is a good time to think about what we want with the upcoming shopping season. Do we want the piles of presents under the tree and the bills to go with them, or do we want a simpler Christmas? Do we want to focus on what we can get out of the holiday or on what God has already given? I know these are questions we ask every year, but is this the year we finally let go of the material focus and use our resources to glorify God? Do we run after the things we want and agonize over the choices we can make, or do we choose to know Christ more fully?

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November 19, 2010

"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity." Ecclesiastes 11:7-10, ASV

More about choices.

I went to a store the other day. It was a "super" store, the kind that has a full service grocery store attached to what used to be a dry goods retailer. I had never shopped that particular store before, and I was in the neighborhood, so I decided to stop. I needed a few groceries and I wanted to walk around the rest of the store. The groceries I needed were specific to the dinner I planned to cook, but I didn't think I'd have any trouble finding those items.

Now, I usually complain in the grocery store that there are entirely too many choices. Even if you want to purchase a specific brand of some item, they often have a dozen choices. Have you shopped the toothpaste aisle lately? We used to have to choose between few brands, but now every brand has toothpaste that has whitener, mouthwash, healthy mouth benefits, mild flavors, minty flavors, gel, paste or stripes. There's a cough syrup for every ailment, but how do you choose if you have symptoms that don't match the bottles? I remember writing about drain cleaner a few years ago. There used to be one type of drain cleaner to buy, but on that day I discovered that there are now six feet of drain cleaners to choose from. I could use fewer choices.

But I do like certain items, and I would hate if my favorite grocery store didn't carry those items. I get frustrated when I can't find the soup I like or that special cookie. In the case of my shopping trip the other day, I was looking for a very specific cut of meat. I discovered that even though this store has a full service grocery store, they did not carry the variety of my regular store. They had about half the cuts of meat. I had a few different selections, just in case they didn't have something I wanted, but they didn't have any of my choices! I settled for something different, usable but not really what I wanted.

And then I had to laugh at myself. After complaining all these years about having too many choices, I was frustrated by the lack of choice. I'm just not satisfied unless they have exactly what I want! I even though to myself, "They should design a store that has only the brands and types of groceries I like, then I wouldnít have to choose, but I'd be able to get what I want." Pretty selfish, I know.

Our dinner was delicious. I survived without my favorite cut of meat. My family was content with the food. The lesson here is that whether we have too many choices or not enough, we should be content with our circumstances and thankful for what we have. A life of thankfulness knows the blessing of being able to make choices and having the ability to buy whatever we need. The world is filled with people who can't even get to a grocery store, even in our own backyards. The teacher tells us to be content, to be happy, every day no matter what we face, knowing that there are far worse things that can happen. Whether we get the meat we want or find the right drain cleaner won't matter tomorrow. What does matter is that God is glorified by the way we live our lives. So, rejoice in your choices and lack of choices. Just rejoice in God's grace and be thankful, for every experience is a blessing from God.

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November 22, 2010

"Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the God of gods; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the Lord of lords; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him who alone doeth great wonders; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that by understanding made the heavens; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that spread forth the earth above the waters; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that made great lights; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever; The moon and stars to rule by night; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever." Psalm 136:1-9

I have some friends who have been doing this thing on Facebook. They have been posting in their status something for which they are thankful each day of this month. I did this last year, and it was fun, but I have to admit that it was hard to think of specific things after a few days. The first few are easy: family, friends, home, job, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Some of the other ideas I've read this year include church family, school, and specific people.

This should be an easy exercise. After all, I can see a dozen things for which I should be thankful just from the seat where I am sitting. And I am thankful for these things: my computer, the books in my library, the money I have to purchase the books in my library, my kitties, the radio that brings me music and news, the television that brings me entertainment and information, fans, lights, moisturizing cream. I am thankful for these things, but doesn't it seem silly saying it?

God didn't go out and buy my books. I'm not even certain that He'd approve of some of the books in my library! I like to read one of those Christmas themed romance novels at this time of year. I don't know why; that's my guilty pleasure. There's nothing of any value in those books, and you might even make the case that the relationships found within are harmful because they are often built on lies and lusts. But after spending a year reading a lot of important books for learning and growth, I like to read just one romance a year, just for the sheer pleasure of reading a book that has nothing important to say. And the Christmas stories usually end up with redemption and forgiveness in the end, which is always a good theme at Christmastime.

So, it might seem silly to thank God for romance novels, but God is not indifferent about the things that make us happy. He wants us to be happy and at peace. He wants us to enjoy our life so that we'll live every moment to the fullest. Perhaps we should praise God for the very things that do not remind us of Him, because it is in the most insignificant corners of our life that God wants to be. It is there that He lingers, hoping to build a deeper relationship with us.

We can certainly thank God for the big things like our houses, our food and our families. We can thank Him for creation, for the sun and the moon and all the stars. We can thank Him for our jobs and the opportunities we have to share His mercy and grace. The whole world is thankful for the big things. But we'll truly be a witness for God when we thank Him for the insignificant facets of our lives. When we thank God for the things that we have worked hard to earn and have gone to great trouble to purchase and collect, we show the world that He provides even those things which we have gained by our own sweat. They will see that God is not just some great Creator who set the world to move and then let it go. They will see that He is a personal God who cares about the minuscule details of our lives.

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November 23, 2010

"For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:12-15, ASV

Even while we are busy thinking about ways to spend our resources on presents for our family, we are thinking about ways of sharing our blessings with those who are less fortunate. Many organizations have begun their holiday drives for financial and in-kind good donations. Food banks are making appeals for food to fill their shelves. Toy boxes are stationed near the doors of the stores for donations of toys for kids. Social service organizations are matching gift givers with gift receivers so that families who might not have a happy Christmas can celebrate with us. Charities are making end of the year petitions for money to support the work they do year round.

It might be harder for most of us this year because so many are suffering. The food banks are especially empty because even those who normally stock the shelves are dealing with higher prices and less resources. If we don't have as much money, we can't share as much as our neighbor. We don't give as much if we are concerned about tomorrow, leaving the organizations that depend on our gifts short of the funds they need.

In the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to encourage God's people to be generous. He reminds them, and us, that scrooges get exactly what they've given: nothing! Jesus showed us an example of incredible generosity in the story of the widow at the Temple, who gave her last pennies in thanksgiving to God. It was all she had, and she trusted that God would provide for her tomorrow, so she gave everything.

It is easy for us to wait until tomorrow to be generous, hoping that we'll have that extra few dollars we can give to others. While it might not be practical in our time and place for everyone to give everything away, we need to think about our thankfulness and generosity through faith. Perhaps we can't give a hundred dollars to our favorite charity this year, but we can trust God and still give something. Perhaps we can't give a whole turkey dinner to our neighbor, but we can share something.

The thing about faith giving is that it shows praise and thanksgiving to God in multiple ways. First, we praise God by trusting that He will provide everything we need, even if we give everything away. He is glorified in our confidence in His grace. Then, those who receive the gifts we give praise God for fulfilling their own needs. By living our faith, we show God that we understand the reality of His Gospel message, not only for us but for the world. Christian life means sharing what we have with our neighbor, giving of ourselves as Christ gave to us. The final advantage of faith and faithful giving is that the recipients of our gifts will pray for us, asking God to continue to bless us. We benefit, not in more material possessions, but more opportunities to be obedient to the calling of God. This is indeed an incredible gift.

So live thankfully today, not only by singing God's praises, but also by acting in faith to glorify God. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to glorify Him this holiday season. There are plenty of people who need to see God's grace in the hands and faith of His people. So praise God by serving your neighbor, sharing everything you have with them.

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November 24, 2010

Scriptures for Sunday, November 28, 2010, First Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

"And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem." Isaiah 2:3, ASV

Let's go! It seems like I'm always off and running to one place or another, and it can get a little frustrating when I'm waiting for someone who's going along. This morning I wanted to get out of the house early enough to get my errands done so that I'd have plenty of time to accomplish the work left at home to do. I was ready and hollered, "Let's go!" "I'm coming," someone answered and yet it still seemed like forever until they were ready to leave.

Not that I have a right to complain, since I'm often the one who is holding up the journey. "Let's go," someone will say and we begin to gather our things. I'm usually the one who needs to run to the restroom, or put on my shoes, or find my keys. "I'm coming," I answer, and it still takes minutes to be ready to go.

There are different things that can hold us up. We don't need much for a quick trip to the grocery store, but we might be held up by a phone call or a problem. We are more careful when leaving on a long journey, checking our lists and ensuring that we have everything we need, because we won't be able to come home for it. We are more anxious to get going on those journeys, because they usually lead to something far more exciting than the grocery store.

Imagine what it must have been like preparing for the journey to Jerusalem! For those pilgrims traveling long distances, the trip could mean weeks away from home. They didn't have a McDonald's on every corner, so they had to carry food and water for everyone. The probably didn't pack enough clothes for every day of the week, but they needed more than the clothes on their backs. They also needed the gifts and offerings they planned to make at the Temple. Someone calling "Let's go," was probably filled with as much excitement and exasperation as it is for us today.

We go on many types of journeys. We journey on a daily basis from home to school or work. We journey to the store or to our leisure activities. We journey to a neighbor. We usually don't think of those trips as journeys, and yet each step takes us to a new place, even if we travel the same journey over and over again. Is work the same day after day? It might seem like it, but each day is unique. Is school the same thing over and over again? I hope we learn something new each day. So, though those small journeys might seem insignificant, we can see them as opportunities to share God's grace and grow in faith.

We go on longer journeys, too. We travel on vacation, take business trips and return home for holidays. The season we are about to enter is filled with those types of trips. I'm sure many of my readers are preparing to visit someone, or have someone visit, for Thanksgiving. In the next few weeks, college students will return home for a long winter break. Snowbirds will move south for the winter. Families will gather together to share the joy of the season. I can still hear my dad calling, "Let's go" as we prepared to visit Grandma's house for one of those gatherings.

But we don't move from place to place on all our journeys. We journey through life, from childhood to adulthood, moving from one age to the next. We journey through our education, from Kindergarten to graduation day, learning and growing and changing every step along the way. We journey through our faith, walking with Christ from the moment we first heard His voice to the day we will hear Him calling us into eternal life for ever. These journeys don't take us to a place on a map, and they are often harder to identify. Sometimes we don't realize we are moving forward, or backward. We don't see how we are growing or changing. We may even think we are standing still, or even worse, that the journey we are on is pointless or insignificant, much like the trip to the grocery store.

The scriptures for this week are for the first Sunday in Advent, that period of time when we journey toward the manger. These four weeks may not seem very important, and they certainly get lost in the hustle and bustle of our quest for a perfect holiday. But in chasing after that perfection, we forget that we are beginning a journey toward the Temple in Jerusalem where we will worship the Living God. We haven't made it to Christmas, yet. The Temple is Christ Jesus, our Lord, and for the next four weeks we are meant to look forward to His coming even while we know He has already been here.

So, come, let's go. Are you ready? I'm not asking if you have all the presents for the tree or the invitations to your open house printed. Are you ready to spend the next four weeks looking forward to Christ? It might seem odd, since we just celebrated Christ as King, to return to the idea that He has not yet been born, but that's what advent is about. We begin again in darkness, with only the promise of what will come. We'll probably hear the same scriptures and the same music. The world around us will look much the same as those reusable trees and decorations are brought back out of the attic. The banners will look the same, the Chrismons have not changed. Yet, we are beginning a new journey, a new advent, a new time of looking forward to the coming Christ.

How will you make this trip worthwhile? How will you make it different? How will you make it worthwhile? What opportunity will you grab along the way to grow in faith and share God's grace?

The beginning of Advent brings us passages looking forward to the end of days. Paul says that salvation is nearer now than when they became believers. We might wonder about that; so much time has passed since they knew Christ Jesus. How was it any closer? Yet, each day that goes by brings us closer to the day when Christ will come again. So, as we look forward to the birth of the King, we remember that the King will come again. We live between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Until that day, we are called to live in Christ, who is as present now as He was then and as He will be in that day.

I have to admit that sometimes I wish we were at that time when Christ will come again. As a matter of fact, as I look at the world around me, I think that the coming of Christ would be the best solution to all our troubles. The fear would end, the evil would no longer have a hold on us. Our worries about tomorrow would be unnecessary because Jesus has taken care of eternity for us. When someone tells me that the end of days is December 21, 2012, I think to myself: good, only two more years.

Yet, we can't live as if today is that day. Jesus said that no one will know the hour or the day, not even the angels. There's no reason for us to sit around waiting for that moment. There's too much left to do. We still have a journey to travel; we haven't made it to the Temple, yet. But we are reminded to be aware, to be on guard, to keep watch, for He is coming. We don't want to be caught unawares. We don't want to miss those opportunities we are given to shine the light of Christ in the world. Who knows, that opportunity might just happen at the grocery store.

The end will come. The birth of Christ was just the beginning, and in the next four weeks we'll look forward to Christmas day. But let's not get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that we miss God along the way. You never know what moment Christ will come.

Perhaps that's what Jesus meant when He talked about the two men in the field. He said, "Then shall two man be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left." This passage is interpreted in terms of the rapture, when Christ will come and take away the faithful. However, isn't this also how it is on our every day journeys? Don't some of us see Christ in our neighbors and others completely miss those opportunities? Don't some of us have faith and others just go about our days, step by step toward an unknown end? Don't some of us live in darkness while others have seen the light?

So, which are you? Are you ready for Christ to come, for Christ to rule as King forever? Or are you just ready to celebrate just another Christmas? Are you ready to go on this journey of hope, or have you already arrived at the manger? This journey is just beginning, so let's go! Let's go together to see what God has waiting for us along the way. We might just find, in the midst of the ordinariness of another Advent, that Jesus has some surprises for us. Be ready, for He is coming, not just on Christmas Day or in some future end of all days, but in our everyday life. Be ready to share God's peace with the world. We are headed toward the mountain, we are headed toward the Temple, but there's a long journey in between now and then.

Let's go, let's learn, let's walk in God's light and grow in faith so that we'll be ready on the day Christ comes.

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November 25, 2010

As I was looking for passages about thanksgiving earlier this week, I found this one and knew it was appropriate for today. It is a psalm of praise sung by David at an historic moment in the history of Israel. The ark of God had been stolen during the reign of King Saul. The Philistines tried to use its power to defeat God's people. Unfortunately for them, the power fell against them because they did not know God. So, the ark was returned to Israel. However, it never made it to Jerusalem. It was left in the house of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim, guarded by Abinadab's son Eleasar for years. When Saul died and David became King, the second thing he did was return the ark to Jerusalem; his first task was to capture Jerusalem. There was no Temple in the City of David at that point, but David pitched a tent for it. The move was not easy; but the people finally had the ark again in their midst. It was at this moment that David praised God with this song.

"O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known his doings among the peoples. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvellous 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. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, O ye seed of Israel his servant, Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones. He is Jehovah our God; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember his covenant for ever, The word which he commanded to a thousand generations, The covenant which he made with Abraham, And his oath unto Isaac, And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, The lot of your inheritance; When ye were but a few men in number, Yea, very few, and sojourners in it; And they went about from nation to nation, And from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones, And do my prophets no harm. Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols: But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and gladness are in his place. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength; Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come before him: Worship Jehovah in holy array. Tremble before him, all the earth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; For he cometh to judge the earth. O give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us together and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks unto thy holy name, And to triumph in thy praise. Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah." 1 Chronicles 16:8-36, ASV

Our lives are not easy, and too many of us are going through difficulties that seem insurmountable. But we are reminded on this day that God is in our midst; He is our Creator, Redeemer and Lord. Whatever our circumstances, we are meant to live in praise and thanksgiving every day, not just on those special and holy days. So, let us give thanks today as we gather with family and friends. But let us live in thanksgiving every day of our lives, praising God in all our circumstances, for God's promises are not just for one day. They are for eternity. Thanks be to God.

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November 26, 2010

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:15-17, ASV

Well, we did it. We went out on Black Friday and braved the shopping madness. Of course, we always do, but each year we wonder if it is really worth the trouble. This year we decided not to get up at 3:00 a.m., we waited to leave home until about 7:30 a.m. By that late in the morning the crowds had dissipated and most of the presents we wanted to purchase were still available. We found that by leaving later in the morning we had more energy and lasted much longer into the day. We missed a few of the bargains, but managed to find affordable, and perhaps better, alternatives.

I needed to find a jacket for one of the angel tree children, and one of the stores had the perfect jacket at an even more perfect price. I got there too late. I specifically asked one of the workers where I might find that jacket, but she said they were already sold out. I was surprised; of all the things I was trying to buy I thought the clothing would make it until late in the morning. We finished our shopping in that store and moved onto the next. I found another jacket, a little bit more expensive, but according to my daughter, exactly the brand the kids were looking to have this year.

When we left for the stores this morning, we went with the attitude that we'd have a good day, no matter what. We would not let the disappointments make us anxious or frustrated. We knew that we'd miss some bargains since we were starting hours late, but we didn't care. If we didn't get one bargain, we'd find something else. We went with the intention of being happy, even if everyone else around us were angry or rushed. Amazingly, it seemed as though everyone was in a good mood. The lines were short. The cashiers were a bit tired, but relieved that the swarm of shoppers was gone. I even went to an express check-out with a few extra items because the girl didn't have any customers!

With Christmas looming, we will hear a lot of talk about peace on earth and good will toward men. Unfortunately, the frustrations of the season often get in the way of that peace and good will. I've already seen one story about a mob crowd at a store that rushed to get 'the deals.' I'm not sure if anyone was hurt, but that is just one example of how we get caught up in the wrong attitudes during this time of year. If we look at the world through the eyes of God, living as Christ lived, we'll find that it is our own attitude toward our circumstances that is the difference between peace and anxiety. If we expect the world to fulfill our every desire, we'll be disappointed, but if we trust in God, we'll find that there is peace even in the midst of chaos.

I had to laugh when my daughter said that the jacket was perfect. Perhaps God made sure that the cheap coat was not available so that I'd go get the right one. I said, "I bet they found a box of those jackets in the back room as soon as we left!" Even if they did, I'm happy with the gift because I'm sure that the child will be happy. Let us face all our circumstances with this attitude of gratitude, and we'll know the peace of Christ in our hearts.

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November 29, 2010

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that came down upon the skirt of his garments; like the dew of Hermon, that cometh down upon the mountains of Zion: for there Jehovah commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Psalm 133, ASV

We woke up today to a wet world. Bruce even said, "It looks like it rained without raining." The air was so heavy with water that it fell to the ground, not only as dew on the grass but also as puddles on the driveway. It was refreshing, although I would have preferred a nice steady rain. My car was dripping wet, but the dew didn't wash the dust and dirt off and I was left with dimple dew marks all over. This type of dew is the type of dew that described in today's psalm. It has been written by travelers in the region that the dew is so bountiful on tents that it seems like it has rained all night. This type of dew can make a dry place fresh and life sustaining.

As the dew falls on the land, so too the oil falls on Aaron's head, flowing down to cover his hair, face and even his robe. The oil, which was an expensive offering, was abundantly and graciously poured over the priest to anoint him for the ministry of God. The ointment was powerfully fragrant, strong enough to reach the noses of those who were near, so the experience was shared with the community.

In this psalm we see God's gracious generosity in both the natural and spiritual worlds. The gifts may not seem like much. After all, dew is not a rainfall and the bottle of oil was not large, but they both fall in such abundance that they reach well beyond the mountain and the priest. As a matter of fact, Mount Hermon is miles away from Zion, and the rich blessings of that dew benefit both.

Most of us are getting back into the swing of things after a long holiday weekend. How was your holiday celebration? Did you eat turkey and pie until you couldn't eat any more? Did you hang out in front of the television watching football all day? Did you spend time in the presence of those you love? Was it a pleasant experience? Did everyone benefit from the love and togetherness?

I know that some family celebrations can be difficult. I've heard stories of brothers and sisters that just can't get along. Or there are in-laws that are demanding and spoiled children that throw tantrums. I know that some families can't even bring up certain topics of conversation without getting into arguments. Others fight over life situations, disappointments and plans. Those family gatherings are not always pleasant experiences.

But how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity! Does this mean that they will agree about everything? The blessing does not come from within, it comes from without. It comes from another source. The dew comes from Hermon, the oil from a bottle. The blessing comes from God. When we live within the love and grace of God, the affects are far reaching. We benefit, but so do those around us. As we head into the holiday season, with many gatherings of friends and family, let's remember that unity does not necessarily mean that we'll always get along, but instead live in His grace and mercy with one another so that the world will see how He blesses His people.

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November 30, 2010

"Jehovah, make me to know mine end, And the measure of my days, what it is; let me know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as handbreadths; and my life-time is as nothing before thee: surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. Selah." Psalm 39: 4-5, ASV

The first thing that is taken out of our Christmas boxes is the Advent wreath. We have it out even before we are ready to start decorating for Christmas. I usually have to move it a few times as I decide where it will stay for the season, but it has to be out and ready by the first Sunday, which was this past Sunday.

I have a stack of books to use for the Advent season with devotions for families or individuals. We've had one book that we used for years, but as the kids have gotten older we have tried other devotions. I have to admit that it has been much harder in these past few years, with Victoria off at school. Still, we try to keep up the tradition, at least by having the wreath as a visible reminder that this is a different season of the year. I always choose a new book for my personal devotional time, and we have a few fun things that we like to do.

We each have a Divine Chocolate Advent calendar, so we get a delicious piece of chocolate each day until Christmas. We also have a Christmas tree banner that gets a new ornament every day. We've used sticker calendars and calendars with doors to open each day. One calendar we've used over the years is a collection of book ornaments that tell the story of the first Christmas. When the kids were young, we often had paper chains to take apart that they made in school or Sunday school. Every year I look to see what fun ways we can count down the days to Christmas. While we certainly make sure that we are remembering that Christmas is all about Jesus, we also enjoy those fun ways of looking forward to the special day.

I have noticed that there are more Advent calendars available. Even Lego has gotten into the business by offering several different types of Advent 'calendars'; each day the child gets a new piece of Lego. Banners with pockets give parents a chance to choose the items the children get each day, which they fill with small toys or candy. The devotional books available are many, with everything from the Jesse Tree (following the story of God from Genesis to Jesus), to devotions written for children, families and adults. Some devotions are very brief. Others are longer stories with hymns to sing and scripture to read. Some are specifically spiritual; others look at the holiday from global point of view.

I've selected a book this year called, "Everything Christmas." The description of the books says, " "'Everything Christmas' offers you a potpourri of Christmas delights. Imagine being able to read favorite classic stories, learn the histories of our favorite Christmas traditions and new ways to celebrate them, and enjoy the words to treasured hymns and carols--complete with the stories behind them. You will be fascinated to discover how Christmas is celebrated at dinner tables around the world and to be introduced to new holiday recipes for your family get-togethers. You will find ideas for gift giving and seasonal crafts you can do alone or with little helpers--and even something to tickle your funny bone. All this is in addition to inspiring quotes, Scriptures, poems and special Christmas remembrances." The book is lengthy. Each chapter (twenty-four of them) is about a dozen pages long, filled with all things Christmas.

For the next twenty-five days, I'm going to share my devotional time with you. I don't know where this idea will lead me, or what we'll experience together. I may choose one idea from the devotion and expand upon it, or I may quote some of my favorite readings. I will write every day of Advent, so expect to see mail in your box on the weekends as well as weekdays. I hope that during this busy season as we take the time to stop our business to think about why we do all this. Why do we give presents? Why do we eat Christmas cookies? Why do we sing Jingle Bells?

Muhammad Ali once said, "Don't count the days, make the days count." I think that's excellent advice, especially as we are entering into the Advent season. Most of us will use some sort of calendar or devotional to count down the days to Christmas, but let's remember as we do so that it is better to make each of these days count than to watch our time whither away. May God help us remember that each day will pass more quickly than we want. Our time is limited, not only the time until Christmas, but also our time on earth. Let's take advantage of every minute, not rushing around, trying to get things done, but enjoying everything that God has given.

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