Welcome to the April 2007 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
























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

A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2007

April 2, 2007

Scriptures for April 8, 2007: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

1 Corinthians 15:19-26 If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ's, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death.

It is interesting that Paul uses the word "pitiable" in this passage because for many non-Christians we are to be pitied. However, they think we should be pitied because we believe in these myths or fairy tales about Jesus of Nazareth being raised from the dead. They think that we should be pitied because we believe in heaven, in eternal life with our Lord Jesus Christ. For many people, faith is about how we live today – and that should be a part of our life in this world. Our faith brings a very real, tangible response to God's love. That response includes good deeds and right living. And yet, it does not take faith in God, or in Jesus, to bring about good deeds and right living. Many people who are not followers of Jesus Christ do good deeds and live rightly in this world.

But Christianity is unique in that we do believe in something more, something beyond this life. It seems odd that Paul would call us the most pitiable, but then think about the world in which the Corinthians lived – and the world in which we live. It was a pagan world, a world where there were dozens of gods available for human consumption. You could take a pilgrimage to any of the larger cities and find massive temples in honor of those gods as well as all the tourist trappings to help make your trip more enjoyable. You could enjoy the physical pleasures of that religion – the food, the wine and the prostitutes. Christianity has always set a different standard, a standard of moderation and of self-control. Based on the moral code established by God through the Hebrews, Christianity has a moral code that defines the actions of the believer – both behavior that they should not do and behavior that they should.

For many people, Christianity is to be pitied because they prefer to live for the satisfaction of their hedonistic desires, which the religions of Paul's world satisfied. Unfortunately many today have the same expectations within their belief system – even some Christians. Faith, to them, is about feeling good, about self-satisfaction, to be better. And though the Christian response to God's grace often brings about good feelings, satisfaction and a transformation into something new and better, Christ never promised that our life with Him would be easy. As a matter of fact, Christian faith is hard. The Christians in Paul's day were persecuted because they did not live according to the societal expectations. Even though they had faith, Christians got sick and they died. Though there were those in the community of faith who had wealth, many of the Christians were less wealthy because they had been outcast – from both the Jewish community and the pagan – for their unusual beliefs. Christians truly are to be pitied, if you expect faith to be rewarded in this life.

If there is no heaven, if there is no eternal life, then we are indeed to be pitied. But in Christ we are not to be pitied, because we have a hope that goes beyond today. The non-Christian who pities a Christian for faith in some heaven or afterlife sees no purpose of living beyond the here and now. They want their reward immediately. We know that Jesus Christ was the first of many, the first born of the dead. He rose and through faith we will rise with Him. Those without faith in Christ can't see the point of it. A person recently told me that Jesus is dead, get over it. But we know that Christ lives and in Him we live also. This is our hope and the foundation of our faith.


April 3, 2007

Scriptures for April 8, 2007: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Luke 24:1-12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came unto the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, while they were perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel: and as they were affrighted and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, and returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James: and the other women with them told these things unto the apostles. And these words appeared in their sight as idle talk; and they disbelieved them. But Peter arose, and ran unto the tomb; and stooping and looking in, he seeth the linen cloths by themselves; and he departed to his home, wondering at that which was come to pass.

Easter is about life. Certainly, the raising of Jesus is about new life for Him, but it is also about new life for all of us. The empty tomb means that we will receive the eternal life that is promised by God to those who believe. In baptism we die with Christ, in faith we are raised again. Life is the end of all we face in Christ. That is completely upside down from what we experience in the world. No matter what we do, our flesh will perish and decay. Believing in Jesus will not keep us from dying. Our Christian lifestyle might extend our life a bit – good and healthy living can keep death at bay, but not forever. We will die.

There is often a church directly connected to a cemetery. The reason is that people are buried in hallowed ground, and the ground around churches is hallowed. In places where the church buildings are hundreds of years old, the more prominent members of the congregations are even buried inside the church. We noticed in the churches of England that there was often engraving on the stone floors marking the resting place of some wealthy landowner or exceptional member of the clergy. Churches like Westminister Abbey appear to be little more than huge, elaborate tombs. While the church is known for other things – weddings and coronations of monarchs, funerals and even secular gatherings – most people visit the site to see the resting places of hundreds of famous people from poets to kings.

It is certainly why we went, to start. I wanted to check out Poets Corner. With monuments to the likes of Chaucer, Tennyson, Browning and Dickens, some of the most amazing minds are remembered in that corner of the church. Though he is not buried in the church, there is even a memorial to William Shakespeare. I was also interested in the legacy of the Tudors, several of which are buried in the church. Fascinating stories about their life battles and death reunions make a visit to the church like watching a soap opera. The architecture, something that always fascinates me, is amazing and beautiful. It is worth a trip for anyone in England.

Yet, it is a living church. People gather there each Sunday for worship, to hear God's Word and to receive the sacraments. As a matter of fact, the church offers several worships everyday, including weekdays at lunch, so that people visiting and working in the city can gather to worship the living God in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our life. We happened to be visiting over the lunch hour. We heard the worship announced over the loud speaker – a brief communion service in a few minutes. We asked one of the staff how to get to the service and he was so excited that we wanted to worship that he took us through red velvet ropes and against the flow of visitors so that we could be there in time.

I was terribly disappointed when we arrived at the worship area to discover that there would only be a few dozen worshippers. There was easily a thousand people in that church that day, and in the midst of that chaos we few received the body and blood of Christ. I wondered why, as I watched the visitors filing by, why they would spend so much time with the dead when they could be worshipping the living God. For them, Westminster Abbey was nothing more than a tomb.

Our world is truly upside down. After the resurrection, the women went to the tomb seeking Jesus' body so they could finish the work of anointing Him for death. As they were there, two men in dazzling robes appeared asking them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" They did not yet know that Jesus had been raised, though He told them to expect it. They did not understand what He meant until later when He appeared before them – alive. As Christ lives, so do we. But we see the world with a skewed point of view, seeking death instead of life. We would rather spend an hour looking at the tombs of famous people then worship the living God. This is true of our daily lives, also, as we chase after the things that will perish and decay rather than worshipping the living God.


April 4, 2007

Scriptures for April 8, 2007: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Acts 10:34-43 And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.) – that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.

What would you say if you were asked what it means to be a Christian? What would you tell people who were asking questions about your faith? What if that person were someone outside your comfort zone – a person of another race, a murder, someone from another country that does not speak the same language or have the same cultural heritage? What if it was an enemy, someone who had hurt you deeply? What if it were someone you did not think deserved to be saved? What would you do? Would you talk to them about Jesus, about faith and about salvation?

Peter was in an unusual situation in this story – he was a preacher for the Jews, sharing the love of Christ with those from his own cultural background. He knew the Jews understood the story of God, they symbols of his faith, the expectations of the God of their forefathers. He could not be so sure with the Gentiles. This is perhaps why it was so important for the Gentiles to be converted to Judaism first – so that they would understand by virtue of their education in the faith the history of God, His purposes and His grace. Yet, Peter was given a vision and that vision changed his point of view.

Peter was traveling around the country, preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ when he received a message from a man in Caesarea named Cornelius. Cornelius is described as a God-fearing man, one who gave generously to the poor and needy. He received a message from God to call Peter to his house so that he might hear the Gospel message. Peter would have been reluctant; after all, Cornelius was not a Jew. Before the messengers found Peter, God sent Peter a vision. In it God told Peter not to call anything He created unclean. So, when the messengers arrived, Peter followed them to Cornelius. Cornelius told Peter about his own message from God. Peter had no choice. This was God's work.

He began this brief sermon with the words, "Now I know that God does not have favorites and that all who fear God and do what He says are acceptable to Him." So, despite all his fears, doubts and biases, Peter told them about Jesus. Perhaps this is not his sermon verbatim; what it is a summarization of all the Luke had written about the story of Jesus and the work He did for the world. This is the last evangelistic message of Peter, and it is given beyond the nation of Israel. Peter reaches out, pointing toward the future of the Church which is found not only in Israel, but throughout the entire world. The Gospel is for all those who fear God and do what is right.

In all things, we are reminded that the message of Easter is not limited to those whom we believe to be right with God. The Gospel is given to all men, that they might believe and be saved. Some will reject the message; some will persecute the messengers. Yet, we are called by God to share the Gospel with all men – He has no favorites. We are commanded to preach to the people and to testify that He is Savior. At Easter we rejoice in what He has done, and then we go out in the world to share His grace with all. As Easter people, we are to be like Peter, telling others about Jesus, no matter who they are, having hope and trust in God that He will be in the words we speak making miracles of transformation in their lives.


April 5, 2007

Scriptures for April 5, 2007: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Acts 5:27-32 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree. Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

I just finished reading a novel that was based on the war between the Saxons and the Danes in the ninth century in England. It was a violent and bloody time, when men fought with swords for their life, their women and their land. Victory came not only by defeating the enemy, but by destroying them. The most famous battle that was referenced in the book was the final battle for Wessox between Alfred the Great and the Dane Guthrum. The author, Bernard Cornwell, has a way of describing the events with such clarity that you almost believe that you are in the midst of battle.

When we watch movies about the wars between ancient peoples, the directors often give the impression that these battles are between millions of people. The reality is that there were likely less than ten thousand people on that battlefield of that great war in 878 A.D., including the women who followed their men. But hand to hand combat is deadly, swords against swords leaving the field bloody and covered with bodies.

The way to win is not necessarily to get the upper hand in the actual fighting, but to have power over the mind and the courage of the enemy. Courage is vital when coming face to face with someone determined to kill you, and it is the warrior's job to make the enemy afraid of what will happen. The armies will shout insults and obscenities, bang on their shields with their swords to make thunderous noise and put on displays of strength and power so that the enemy will know what they are up against.

One of the most disgusting things they did was to put the severed heads of dead enemies on poles above the gates to their fortresses. This was a display of dishonor, because it means the body was not properly disposed according to the traditions of his people. If the head was separated from the body, then the warrior could not go into the underworld with honor. The head would be picked clean by the birds, leaving only the skull and some hair flowing in the wind. The equivalent of this dishonor in Jesus' day was to 'hand someone on a tree.' When someone was put to death for a crime, they were hung on a tree and left for the birds. They were not only punished for their crime, but they were dishonored as well.

Peter, in his speech to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, acknowledged that they not only killed Jesus, but they dishonored Him by hanging Him on a tree. He told them they did this not to simply a man who wanted to be king, but to they did it to the One whom God Himself had lifted to be Savior. Jesus, the One they dishonored and killed, was the One who came to redeem Israel. They, the disciples, were witnesses to these things and they could not do anything but preach the Word that God had given to them. Though Jesus had been dishonored, which was done to bring fear into the hearts of His followers, the disciples were not afraid so they continued to preach and teach all that He had given them. They knew their strength was not in human power and authority, but in God's grace and they could do nothing but obey.


April 6, 2007

Scriptures for April 15, 2007: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Psalm 118:14-29 Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of Jehovah. Jehovah hath chastened me sore; But he hath not given me over unto death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; The righteous shall enter into it. I will give thanks unto thee; for thou hast answered me, And art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Is become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah's doing; It is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah: We have blessed you out of the house of Jehovah. Jehovah is God, and he hath given us light: Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt thee. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.

Though our scriptures are for Sunday, April 15, we are reminded by the fact that today is Good Friday. We have entered into the Three Days, when we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. On this day, our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross for our sakes, to overcome death and to ensure the forgiveness of our sin. He suffered at the hands of men, suffered the pain and humiliation of the crucifixion. There He died and was hurriedly buried in a tomb that was not His own.

What must it have been like for His disciples in those hours following Jesus' arrest? They were frightened and uncertain. What would happen to them? Would they be arrested also? Would they suffer from the beatings of the Romans and be led to their own crosses? Would they be outcast from the Jewish community, having followed a leader that was such a disappointment? How could Jesus, the Messiah – the appointed King of Israel – die? Jesus died with nothing, but the disciples were seemingly left with even less, because the Lord they chose to leave everything to follow was now gone. They disappeared, hid behind closed doors. Peter did try to see what was happening during the trial, but when confronted denied that he even knew Jesus.

When they learned what had happened to Jesus, when Jesus appeared before them after the resurrection, things did not get any easier. As you read through the stories of their early missionary trips and church planning missions, you can see that they faced hard times. Persecution, false accusations, rejection, imprisonment, beatings, hunger and all sorts of other dangers were part of their daily existence. Following Jesus did not even guarantee safety from natural disasters, as Paul discovered on his voyage to Rome. They had only the assurance that God was with them through their hard times and that He would get them through – even through death as a martyr that most of them would face.

It took some time, but they realized that life in Christ, even in the midst of suffering, is a life of joy and peace. In mathematics, multiplying -1 times any number will make it a negative. The same is true of our emotions. It is easy for us to let the negative emotions take over our life. When we are facing difficult times, one bad moment can lead to more. This happens when we turn from God, when we keep our eyes on our problems instead of Him.

We have a choice of two Psalms this week. Both are songs of joy and thankfulness to God. The disciples faced incredible difficulties as they mourned the loss of Christ, and then even after they knew He rose from the dead. Life in Christ never meant that we would not suffer. However, in Christ we have the grace to keep our eyes and our hearts on God, so we can get through anything with Him. So, we are called to live in praise and thanksgiving, to joyfully take God into any and every circumstance, knowing that He will be with us through it all.


April 9, 2007

Scriptures for April 15, 2007: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Revelation 1:4-8 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits that are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Most of the country saw some unusual, even extraordinary, weather for this Easter weekend. Snow covered the ground as far south as Waco Texas, with bitter temperatures and damp air at our house. Farther north the situation was even more extreme, with feet rather than inches of snow covering the ground. It is hard to imagine an Easter without spring flowers and Easter egg hunts, yet in many places the flowers have yet to bloom and the Easter egg hunts were cancelled. Even brand new Easter dresses were left hanging in closest because it was simply too cold to wear them.

It is almost too hard to see the joy of Easter through the mist of winter, and that is what we had to do this year. We had to look beyond the cold and damp to rejoice in the great thing He has done. Unfortunately, very few people have the eyes that see the light in the midst of trouble. They can't see the sun shining behind the clouds. Yet, there are times when God grants us a vision of what heaven will look like. Sometimes it appears in a dream, but often He simply uses the beauty of His created world to give us a foretaste of the world to come. I’ve seen heaven in the laugh of a baby; from the top of a mountain overlooking a hidden valley; in a meadow filled with flowers; in a rainbow after a storm. I can’t see these things and ignore the majesty of my Creator.

When we were living in England I saw the most incredible sight in the sky as I was standing at the sink washing the dishes. In an otherwise cloudless sky, there was a large, dark mushroom shaped cloud. The waning sun was behind this cloud and the rays shown from behind, creating a halo around the cloud. It was as if God was behind a curtain, and His light was trying to break through to the world. As I continued with my work, the bottom ‘stem’ of the cloud began to split, like the curtains on a great stage. The sun’s rays broke through, and the stage behind was breathtakingly beautiful. This foretaste made me long for the day when I will stand in His presence and worship Him at His throne.

I saw a much different vision of heaven this weekend. As clouds covered the earth and rain fell from the sky, I saw a hummingbird, one of the first of this season. He took a moment at our feeders, but the wind was bitter and the rain was cold, so he took refuge under the bush that is near my window. He sat there for a long time, and though he seemed to be shivering, he was also safe and dry. I could almost see God's hands surrounding him, protecting him from the cold.

God reveals Himself in His creation so that we will have a vision in our hearts and our minds of the heavenly realms. He gives us a glimmer, to draw us ever closer to Him and to keep us on His path. We just have to take the time to see Him, to witness the beauty of His creation and His constant presence in His world. That glimmer is not necessarily going to be something as grand as the sun bursting forth from beneath a cloud. It might just be someone in need, someone who needs to know God's loving presence in their life. How will He reveal Himself to you today? Perhaps it will be the kind words of a friend or the awesome power of lightning in a thunderstorm. Perhaps it will be someone who needs to get out of the cold. Go about with your work today, but be ever mindful of His presence. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of heaven.


April 10, 2007

Scriptures for April 15, 2007: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.

We pick on poor Thomas for his attitude in this story. He said, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." Why wouldn't he believe based on the word of his friends? Shouldn't he have accepted what they had to say, based on their reports? After all, the disciples were not the first to proclaim this good news – even Jesus told them it would happen before He was crucified. The women reported the missing body; Mary said that she had seen the Lord. How many witnesses would it take for Thomas to believe?

We shouldn't be so hard on poor Thomas – none of the others believed until they saw Jesus for themselves. They didn't believe the women, thought they were mumbling nonsense. Even when Jesus appeared, they were glad only after they had seen the physical evidence of Jesus' crucifixion, knowing that indeed the one who appeared before them was their Lord. When Jesus addresses Thomas's faith – his faith having seen the evidence – Jesus is speaking to all of us, all those who need some proof of God's mercy and grace to believe. We believe, not because we have seen and not because we, by our own power, can believe. We believe because we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit and by that power we can believe. Thomas was not present when Jesus breathed on the disciples – he did not have the faith that comes from God, the faith on which our assurance is built.

None of them believed without the help of God. For Thomas and the other disciples, the help came in the appearance of Jesus before them. He appeared from outside the locked door, almost like a ghost. Yet, He was not a ghost, He was a living being. He let them touch Him, to see His wounds. They reported His presence with joy to Thomas, who did not believe them. He's not alone. Many people in the world still do not believe in the Living Lord, the resurrection of Jesus. They do not have the opportunity to see Him in the flesh like Peter and the others, and they will never have the opportunity like Thomas. It is no wonder that they do not believe.

Yet, many people do believe. We believe not based on the physical presence of Jesus, but on the word of the witnesses. We believe not because we have any sort of proof, but because we have been breathed upon by God and anointed with the Holy Spirit. We believe by the mercy of God, for it is only by His grace can we have faith. We have the Word, given to us in the scriptures, to speak the testimony of the witnesses into our lives. As John wrote, " Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name." We are the blessed ones, because we believe by God's power, not because we are eyewitnesses or have been given any sort of proof.


April 11, 2007

Scriptures for April 15, 2007: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

This coming Sunday, the first Sunday following Easter, has been historically known as "Low Sunday." Though the meaning of this is uncertain, to our modern ears it makes perfect sense. The Sunday following Easter is often the very poorly attended. Perhaps that day seems unimportant compared to the significance of the Holy Week and Easter worship. Perhaps it is a let down after the celebrations of the week before. Perhaps everyone is exhausted – pastors, lay people who were actively involved in the worship, even those who simply attended so many services – so they take a break for a week. It is a day when many pastors choose to take vacation, to rest and recover from the draining experience of Holy Week. Unfortunately, many parishioners take the same Sundays 'off' when the pastor is away.

It doesn't help that we hear the same story every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. We hear over and over again the story of Doubting Thomas. It is an uncomfortable story to hear because we think so negatively about doubt, and yet we all experience some level of doubt when it comes to the stories about Jesus Christ. It seems as though during Lent each year we face some story that makes us question the foundation of our faith. Tombs are located, historical writings surface, books are popular that cast a shadow on the things we have learned in Sunday School and have experienced in worship. If there is an ossuary, a bone box, that held Jesus' bones, then how could He have risen from the dead? There would not have been time – less than three days – for the box to be made and the body to decompose to be placed in the box. These reports cause us to doubt.

However, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Indifference or apathy is the opposite of faith. Doubt makes us question, makes us seek, makes us study to know and understand. Doubt makes us grow, and it often makes our faith deeper and more real than it was before we had those questions. Thomas doubted. He refused to believe the disciples when they said, "We have seen the Lord." He needed to see Jesus for himself. Don't we all? Perhaps we can hear the stories of Jesus and believe them to be true, but we also doubt. We need a very real experience of God's revelation to us for us to truly believe. That revelation comes at Baptism, when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and grants us the faith by which we will live. We can't do it on our own. Without God's help, we would not only doubt, we would be indifferent because we will not have the faith to believe. Doubt leads us to faith because it makes us seek to know and understand that which God has given to us.

Another name for this Sunday is Quasimodo Sunday. I know you are asking, "Why would we name the first Sunday after Easter after a character from the Victor Hugo story? In reality, the character was named Quasimodo because he was left on the church steps on the Sunday after Easter. The words "quasi modo" in Latin mean "in the manner of new born babes." Quasimodo was the main character in the story "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," who fights to protect the beautiful Esmeralda. His faith is innocent, his hope is child-like. His name is appropriate, "in the manner of new born babes."

Jesus tells Thomas, and the other disciples, that blessed are those who believe without seeing. Blessed are those who have a child-like, innocent faith. That faith is true; it is real because it is not based on human effort but on the work of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we all grow up. We all lose our innocence. We face difficulties. We face persecution. We face the attempts by the devil and the world to break our faith and cause us doubt. Doubt is, unfortunately, a part of maturity, because we are forced to define that which we have been given. We are forced to seek out for ourselves the meaning of our faith when it is questioned by the world. Our doubt, and overcoming our doubt, becomes a witness to the world – just like Thomas's faith has become a witness to us. He doubted, but he continued to seek the Lord and in the end he made the greatest confession of all, "My Lord and my God."

Witnessing, as is seen in the story from Acts and Revelation, are the work of both God and the one whom God uses. Together, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the faithful will speak the Word into the lives of those who will hear. In this way, God's story has been shared with every generation since the resurrection of Jesus.


April 12, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2007: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20] But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight. But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus. And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.

Jacob Koshy said about his conversion to Christianity, "Who would have believed that I could find the truth by smoking the Word of God?" His story is unusual. He was living in Singapore and success drove him to do whatever was necessary to get ahead. He was a smuggler and drug dealer, a gambler and abuser. Eventually he ended up in prison, a harsh place where he could not even get a cigarette. He managed to make cigarettes with smuggled tobacco and the torn pages of a Gideon Bible until one night he fell asleep with it in his hand. The cigarette burned out in his hand and when he awoke he read some words from today's lesson. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"

Jacob asked for another copy of the Bible and he read the story of Saul who became Paul. He realized that if God could work such a miracle in the life of a man like Saul, then He could do the same for him. He got down on his knees and with tear filled eyes asked Jesus to change him too. With every tear his pain was washed away. He became a missionary when he was released from prison and married a Christian woman. He no longer chased after wasteful things and lived a praise filled life in thanksgiving for what God had done. So, by smoking the Word of God, Jacob experienced the miracle of God's mercy and grace.

Most of us do not come to our knowledge of God in such miraculous ways. As a matter of fact, most Christians are brought to the faith by someone they love – a parent, a friend, a partner. Through prayer and patient witness, they shared the Word of God with us. Slowly, but surely, we came to know Christ and to make Him a part of our daily life. We probably know someone who had a miraculous experience, who suddenly experienced God's grace and fell down in praise and thanksgiving. Yet, most of us do not have such an experience. The changes that occur are slow as we grow and mature in our faith. Damascus Road does not happen for us all.

It happened to Paul, though. He was a persecutor of Christians, those Jews who were living according to 'the Way.' He was on his way to stop another group from preaching about Jesus when suddenly he found himself in the presence of a powerful authority. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul answered, "Who art thou, Lord?" Saul knew that it was someone to be reckoned with and he addressed Him with respect. Saul would become Paul, the chosen one who would take the Gospel to Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Ananias was not pleased. He knew that Saul was a cruel man who had done cruel things to believers. He did not deserve to be touched by God's grace. Perhaps there were those in the world who thought the same thing about Jacob Koshy. Christians most certainly had come across Jacob in his days of smuggling, drugs and gambling. Did they speak the Word into His life or did they turn away because he was undeserving? God spoke to Ananias. "I have plans for Saul who will become Paul. Do as I say and you will see something amazing." It took a miraculous revelation to get Paul's attention. Jacob had a Bible in his cell, but it took a miraculous experience for him to read the words in that book and to learn of God's grace. We are called to be like Ananias, to share the Gospel with those who cross our path, to prayerfully share God's grace with them. We might be rejected and persecuted, but God knows what He is doing. Eventually His Word will touch the heart of those whom He loves and they will be saved.


April 13, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2007: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Psalm 30 I will extol thee, O Jehovah; for thou hast raised me up, And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Jehovah my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Jehovah; And unto Jehovah I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.

Our church is getting ready to begin building a brand new fellowship hall and school building so that we can expand our ministries. We are undergoing a capital campaign program and preparing to begin construction as soon as possible. It is an exciting time, but it is also a frightening time. We are committing to a program that will cost a great deal of money, and doing so on the faith that God will help us find the resources to fund it all.

This psalm was apparently written for the dedication of the Temple. Though this was a time of joy for the people of Israel, it was also a frightening moment. The Temple gave the people a sense of stability, roots. Yet, people were still out to destroy David and the Israelites. They could not become complacent in their blessedness, for complacency is our greatest enemy. It means we take for granted our past and our God, we forget His grace and we think we are to take credit for our blessings.

As a church begins to study the possibility of building and program growth, the first question is often, "What is our purpose." We seek to understand God's will for our lives and we try to do be obedient to His will. This often leads us to step out of our comfort zone, to do things that seem beyond our ability and beyond our resources. When we succeed, it is easy to pat ourselves on our backs in a congratulatory way. Yet we learn, particularly during the Easter season, that our purpose is not to create grand buildings to build up great ministries. Our purpose in this world is to glorify God. That is often done in grand and magnificent buildings dedicated to His work, but the foundation of all we do must always be to glorify God.

As we continue with the program, we'll find some roadblocks. It may be harder to the money we need or the materials costs will continue to rise. We may face bad weather or other natural conditions that will cause us costly delays. We may even face arguments from the community or the neighbors since the expanded ministries will affect their neighborhoods. Whatever difficulty we face, however, we are called to approach everything with the purpose of our life in the forefront – glorifying God with praise and thanksgiving for all His bounteous gifts.

Things will be well, of this we can be certain. Yet, it is not by our power or our might. It is by the grace of God. We may face difficult times in the future. Our tomorrows are not set in stone. However, we know that God will walk with us and that He is the source of all the goodness in our life. Even in the difficult times we will sing His praises like David and the Israelites for He is worthy of our thanks.


April 16, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2007: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Revelation 5:11-14 And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things are in them, heard I saying, Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever. And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped.

How would you react if you came face to face with your favorite star? I can tell you how I would react – like a blithering idiot – because that is exactly what happened to me. It was an unusual situation. I was a teenager and traveling from a meeting with my mother and a friend. It was very late and we were tired, so we stopped at a rest area for a trip to the rest room and a quick drink. A bus pulled in to the station, not your typical tour bus but rather a fancy privately owned bus. It was not long before we discovered that the person on the bus was Rick Springfield.

Now, this was many years ago and Rick Springfield was definitely one of my favorite stars. I liked his music and I loved to watch him on General Hospital. I was determined to meet him, to get his autograph and to give him an encounter he would not forget. I doubt that he would remember it, but if he does he's probably still laughing. My mom, my friend and I stood in the pathway from the bus to the building at the rest area. He had to walk by! When he did, he kindly gave us his autograph and humored us for a moment. He was obviously exhausted, having just come from a concert a few miles up the road. To add to the strain, we later discovered that the evening we met him was the anniversary of his father's death – an event that to this day brings tears to his eyes.

He was gracious and listened to us babble about how much we liked his music and then I, trying to be all cool, blurted out "So, how do you like it on the 'Love Boat'?" I meant "General Hospital", not even sure where I cam up with the wrong television show, though his character on the soap opera was definitely the heartthrob whom the girls all wanted to love. I was so embarrassed, blurted out "I mean 'General Hospital'" and I giggled desperately. As I look back on that moment, I think that he smiled a little and perhaps my foolishness gave him a bit of happiness in a time of sadness. All I know is that being in the presence of someone famous made me silly.

Today's passage is a description of what it will be like in heaven. For some, this is a ridiculous vision – who would want to spend eternity falling on their knees praising God with the same words over and over and over again. It seems like a waste, living forever and ever doing the same old thing. Won't we get sick of it? For a non-believer, this scene does not give them any sort of hope or reason for seeking to know God.

I'm sure there are those who do not understand how I could have been so blown over by someone like Rick Springfield – though he is still performing, to many he was, and is, a joke. They can't understand how I could get so tongue-tied over him. Yet, for me, that was a memorable moment, foolish or not. I have since lost that autograph, but I'll never forget standing in the dark parking lot waiting for him and his crew. I won't forget his kindness to two teenagers and a mom in the middle of the night.

I imagine there are folk who think they would really be cool if they met their favorite star, yet we do not know how we will react or what we will say at that moment. We like to think we'll know how we will act when we meet face to face with our Creator. Some time ago there was a song by Mercy Me called "I can only imagine" referring to that moment. Will we stand? Will we fall? Will we sing or be silent? We can only imagine what we will do when we meet Him in that day and perhaps this image from Revelation is exactly how we will naturally act in His presence. Perhaps being there with Him will constantly bring us to our knees in praise and adoration for eternity – and eternity will not be long enough.


April 17, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2007: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself on this wise. There was together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing. But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes. So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now taken. Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, the net was not rent. Jesus saith unto them, Come and break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Though this is one incident, there are really two stories in this passage. There is the story of Jesus calling the disciples again from their old life and the story of Jesus forgiving Peter. We'll look at the first story today and the second story tomorrow.

According to John's telling of the resurrection stories, most of the disciples have at this point seen Jesus twice. He offered them His peace and told them that their mission would be to take God's grace and forgiveness to the world. He had already breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and they had been overjoyed by His presence among them. With this in mind, today's story is somewhat confusing to us. Why didn't they recognize Jesus? They had seen Him before, in whatever state His body had become after the resurrection. You would think they would be confident that Jesus had risen and that He was amongst them once again.

And why were they fishing? We recall another occasion when Jesus gave the disciples a miraculous catch of fish. It was early in the ministry of Jesus, when He was just calling His disciples. The fishermen had been out on the lake all night and did not catch anything. Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to put out into deeper water. "Let down your nets for a catch." They thought this was ridiculous, but responded, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." They came back with so many fish it took an extra boat to haul them all to shore and even then it was difficult. Jesus told them, "Don't be afraid, from now on you will catch men." (Luke 5, quotes from NIV)

Well, the opportunity had come for them to go fishing for men, but they returned to the lake. They tried to catch fish, but caught nothing. Jesus repeated the call – to throw the nets on the right side of the boat. There they caught 153 fish, enough for a great meal. It was in the repetition that the disciples realized it was Jesus. Now, they were a hundred yards from the shore. Perhaps they could not see that it was Him from that distance. They heard His voice, but it is possible that it would be hard to recognize someone, even someone so familiar, from that far away.

Jesus revealed Himself with another miraculous catch of fish and the disciple whom Jesus loved realized it was Him. That's what Jesus seemed to do in all the appearance stories – He revealed Himself in personal and intimate ways. He revealed Himself in ways they would recognize Him – by speaking their name, by breaking bread, by showing them His wounds. In this story the disciples think they know it is Jesus, but they are afraid to ask Him. He revealed Himself in the miracle and then when they came to shore He revealed Himself in the meal. They may have remembered another miraculous meal when Jesus made a few fish and loaves of bread feed thousands.

When we have our own doubts, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus keeps revealing Himself to us in ways that we will recognize Him. We might wonder, but He will make it clear and by His Holy Spirit we will see Him and believe. Those disciples – who'd ministered and lived with Him for several years – needed to be reminded time after time so that they would be confident in this most amazing thing – that Jesus had been raised from the dead. We can trust, by their witness, that all these things truly happened and that Jesus really is alive.


April 18, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2007: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and he manifested himself on this wise. There was together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also come with thee. They went forth, and entered into the boat; and that night they took nothing. But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his coat about him (for he was naked), and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes. So when they got out upon the land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now taken. Simon Peter therefore went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, the net was not rent. Jesus saith unto them, Come and break your fast. And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread, and giveth them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Yesterday we looked at the first half of this passage, the story of the big catch. A friend wrote to tell a story about an early experience in ministry. She said that the first time they opened their home to Bible study, the group that agreed to come was larger than they could ever have imagined. She was overwhelmed – like those nets that were nearly breaking from the load. Through it all, she learned two important things – God provides the harvest and He held them together when things seemed to be breaking apart.

When the disciples were finished fishing, they went to where Jesus had already established a fire and where He already had fish cooking on the fire. They did not want to ask Him who He was; they knew it was the Lord. Yet we get the feeling that they were still unsure. So Jesus broke bread, and gave it to them to eat along with some fish, thereby reminding them of the miracles they had witnessed while Jesus was alive – yet another revelation to give them the assurance that Jesus was indeed alive and walking amongst them again.

Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these?” What is Jesus asking of Peter? Does he love Jesus more than the other disciples? Does He love Jesus more than those disciples love Jesus? Does he love Jesus more than his fishing gear and the hard work of catching fish on the sea? Peter does not answer with specifics but simply says, “Yes, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus did know, for Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples as well as He knows our own hearts. Yet, Jesus asked again. And then He asked again. Three times Jesus asked Peter about his love and by the third time Peter was hurt because Jesus asked it again. “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

There are several reasons for why Jesus might have asked Peter three times. We are reminded that Peter denied Jesus three times, and the threefold confession of love for Jesus counters the denial. For Peter, the three questions seemed to verify his unworthiness, but for Jesus the three answers restored their relationship and reinstated Peter to his position as leader among the disciples.

There are some subtleties in the text that may or may not be significant. One thing that is often noted is the use of the word “love” in these passages. In the Greek there are different words used by John in describing this scene. The transliteration of these words is “agape” and “phileo.” Some suggest that there is little difference between these two words and John simply used the variety to keep the passage interesting. Others will tell you that agape refers to a deeper, more abiding sense of love while phileo is a brotherly love.

There is some comfort to be found in this passage if we recognize the difference between these words. In the first and second questions Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I phileo you.” In the third question Jesus asks, “Do you phileo me?” Peter answers, “Yes, I phileo you.” To me it appears Jesus was asking Peter for a deep commitment while Peter was not yet ready to give him that much. Yet, Jesus did not take anything away from Peter. Peter was still restored and reinstalled, commissioned to do the work of Christ in the world. There is comfort in this for those of us who have taken too many years to make that commitment to the work Christ is calling us to do. We can see that Jesus has patience, that He does not take away our commission because we have doubts and uncertainties. He loves us and encourages us until we are deeply and fully committed. Obviously, Peter’s love became deeper as he continued the work until he did died the martyr’s death on the cross.

Another subtlety we see in this passage is found in the commission. Jesus first tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Then He says, “Tend my sheep.” Finally, He tells Peter to “Feed my sheep.” There is a progression in the way we do ministry found in these commands. First, we are to give the lambs – the newborns, the babies, the milk of the Gospel that they might believe and be saved. We go out into the world feeding the lambs with God’s grace so that they will follow Jesus. Once they have been saved, the lambs are brought into the fellowship of believers, through baptism and the sharing of the eucharist, and there in the congregation the shepherd tends to their needs, making disciples who will also go out into the world to take the Gospel to others. Finally, we feed the sheep. We never stop needing to hear the Word of God, to learn more, to grow in our faith. Every Christian needs to hear the Gospel over and over again, to stay firm in the faith which has been given. Peter first, and those of us who have followed, are called to continue to feed Christians with the Word of God, to offer Bible studies and the sacraments so that they will stand firm in Christ.


April 19, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2007: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Acts 9:36-43 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she fell sick, and died: and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper chamber. And as Lydda was nigh unto Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men unto him, entreating him, Delay not to come on unto us. And Peter arose and went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa: and many believed on the Lord. And it came to pass, that he abode many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.

My mother was a talented woman. She was an excellent seamstress and she knew how to crochet. She also liked to craft – plastic canvas, jewelry with stones, plaster and ceramics. We have many things in our home that she made – afghans, Christmas ornaments and a large crocheted wall hanging of the Lord’s Prayer. Every time I see these things I remember my mom and the wonderful things she did for me. It is fun to share stories with others when we come across these items. When we decorate the Christmas tree, the ornaments bring back fond memories of Christmases past.

Our story today is about a woman named Tabitha. She was active in her community and apparently very talented. She made clothes and tunics. Tabitha got sick and died, and her death was heartbreaking for the Christian community in Joppa. She was a disciple and perhaps even a leader who helped found the church there. The widows took are of her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then they sent for Peter. When Peter arrived, the widows took him to the body of their beloved friend and they showed him all the wonderful things she did. They may have been wearing some of the tunics and clothes she had made and I can imagine their excitement as they remembered he and the stories of how she made them.

Peter sent the widows out of the room, he knelt to pray and then he turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and sat up. He took her hand and helped her out of bed, then took her to the widows to show them that she was alive.

Have you ever, in a time of great morning, wondered why we do not hear of such incredible miracles as this one? Do you ever wish in your grief that someone would come and raise the ones you love from the dead? This is especially true when the one for whom we mourn is someone who was a good person, who had a loving and giving heart like Tabitha. We want them back. We want them to live again because life without them will be empty.

I suppose it is hard to hear a story like this at a time when so many are shocked and in mourning over the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Most certainly someone will soon ask, “Where was God in all this?” We have great difficulty facing the loss of so much innocent life and understanding what could possibly be the reason for it all. When we hear stories like this one, we wonder why God no longer touches people in such dramatic and miraculous ways. After all, we are told that after the raising of Tabitha many believed in the Lord. Couldn’t He bring faith to millions if someone was miraculously raised by a man of faith like Peter?

We are reminded, however, that life comes not from men, but from Jesus. Jesus once told the disciples that if the people do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Jesus rose and still many did not believe. Others were raised and yet many continue to reject the Gospel. The purpose of this story and all the other miracles in the scriptures is not to make people believe, but to establish the authority of those who would bring the message of God’s power over death to the world. Peter was about to leave the comfort of his community amongst the Jewish Christians, to discover that God’s grace is for all people. This miraculous moment may have helped to encourage him as he faced the unknown.

We do not need to see someone raised from the dead to believe, instead we believe because Christ gives us the faith. Now, stories of resurrection remind us that we will also be resurrected by God’s power in His time and in His way. Jesus heals and by His power we are sent into the world. It is important to note that Peter then goes to stay with a man named Simon who was a tanner. Tanners in that day were outcast. It was dirty and disgusting work preparing skins for clothing and other purposes. As a matter of fact, it required use of urine and dung to make the skins suitable for use. It was a smelly trade and left for the poor and children. It was also dangerous, since the combination of acids and long hours handling the skins often meant burnt flesh. For Peter to choose to stay with Simon reminds us that the Gospel is given to the outcasts, the poor and the lonely as a message of hope.

We receive the Gospel in the same way – not as a promise that we’ll see miraculous events but that God’s power over death is real. When we face death – large like the loss of many lives in a tragedy or smaller when we lose someone we love – we know that by His Word, God calls them out of death into a new life. Thanks be to God.


April 20, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2007: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Psalm 23 Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.

When I begin writing each day, I often go back to my archives to see what themes and messages I was able to glean out of the passages in the past seven and a half years of writing. This is especially helpful now that I am writing based on a prescribed scripture reference. For the first seven years I based the message on something that I experienced, heard or remembered. I often found a scripture reference after I developed the story for the day.

Several years ago, shortly after a trip to Scotland, I wrote a devotional based on one of the places we visited. Glencoe (Gleann Comhann in Gaelic) was a beautiful valley, with rugged hills and rocky cliffs where hikers and climbers love to visit. It is a challenging place even for the most experienced people. Though Glencoe is known for its rough beauty, it is more well known for its history. In the year 1692, government troops tried to massacre and entire clan of people.

The chief of the MacDonald Clan was late in making a vow of loyalty to the king of England. The men in charge were glad to have an excuse to be rid of these people. The betrayal was incredible. The government troops moved into the homes of the MacDonalds and enjoyed their hospitality for ten days. Then one bitter winter morning, the order was given to slaughter the entire population of Glencoe. Most managed to escape, thanks to the warnings of the troops. Only 38 people were killed that day, including children and elderly. Some also died in the harsh weather. Those who survived returned to Glencoe to restart their lives, however the place was never the same.

The name Glencoe most likely means ‘narrow valley’ but it has come to be known as ‘valley of sorrows’ or ‘valley of weeping.’ It has even been referred to as ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ Glencoe is a place of beauty, but the pain of death lingers on in our minds as we remember the massacre of 1692. It is equally impossible to walk through this life without being reminded of the pain of sin and death, especially when we hear the daily news stories of violence and hatred all over the world. As we face these valleys in our life, we are reminded in the words of this psalm that God is with us, He loves us, and we have nothing to fear in this life. Life does go on, even in the most desolate places.

Those desolate places are different for everyone. For some, it is the grief they are experiencing over hearing about the horrific death of a friend. For another it is in the news recently received from the doctor of an illness. Some are suffering with questions about the future and their financial well-being. Others are facing separation from loved ones as they begin new phases of their life. Our desolate places might not seem so horrible to someone else, but for us they are the places where we deal with our fear and our expectations.

The words of the Psalm were written by David and they come from his experience as a shepherd. Though Psalm 23 has been comforting for many generations of believers, sometimes the language is beyond our understanding. Yet, we can find peace in the words as we relate them to the care God gives to us. This is what happened when the Cherokee people created written language for themselves – they took the words of the Psalm and related them to the life they were living. As you read the Cherokee Shepherd’s Psalm, think about how David’s words might be adapted for your own experiences and how the Good Shepherd can, and does, meet your every needs especially when you are in your own “valley of sorrows.”

“The Great Father above a shepherd Chief is. I am His and with Him I want not. He throws me a rope and the name of the rope is love and He draws me to where the grass is green and the water is not dangerous, and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down but He lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. His name is WONDERFUL. Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a valley. It is dark there, but I’ll be afraid not, for it is in between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me and the hunger that I have in my heart all through this life will be satisfied. Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards he gives me a staff to lean upon. He spreads a table before me with all kinds of foods. He puts His hand upon my head and all the tired is gone. My cup He fills till it runs over. What I tell is true. I lie not. These roads that are ‘away ahead’ will stay with me through this life and after; and afterwards I will go to live in the Big Tepee and sit down with the SHEPHERD CHIEF forever.”


April 23, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2007: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Revelation 7:9-17 After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These that are arrayed in white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And I say unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they that come of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat: for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.

It was not very long ago that palms were an important part of our worship experience. On Palm Sunday we gathered together and processed with palms as they had done on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. The Romans would have understood this to be a victory parade, since palms were used to reward returning heroes and the champions of the games. The Jews were also known to carry palms at festive times. As a matter of fact, palms played an important role in the Feast of Tabernacles, as the people presented their offerings in thanksgiving to God they were also to wave palm branches as they rejoiced over His blessings.

The palm branch means many other things. In Judaism, the palm is a symbol of peace and plenty. It is also believed that the palm represents the Tree of Life. The Muslims believe that Mohammed built his house out of palm branches and is therefore considered a symbol of hospitality. To the ancients, palms were considered a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth and were also a symbol of longevity. It is said that at the thirtieth year of a Pharaoh’s reign, the Pharaoh was given a handful of palm branches to hold. The marks on the midrib indicated the number of years the Pharaoh would continue to rule.

The midrib of the palm was a strong and was used as a walking stick. It is identified with Saint Christopher who is the patron saint of travelers. Though there is little verifiable information about Saint Christopher, but he was said to have been a very large man – a giant – and that he worked shuttling people across a bridgeless river by carrying them. There is a legend that says that one of the people he carried across was a child, who was a much heavier burden than he expected. It was the palm branch he was carrying that helped him stand through it. When he arrived at the other side of the river, the child told him to put the stick into the ground and it suddenly became a beautiful palm. The child was the Christ child and His weight was due to the great burden of the entire world He carried. It is said that this miracle was a catalyst to Christopher’s conversion to Christianity.

Today’s passage from Revelation describes Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood sets us free. In this vision of heavenly worship, a great multitude from every nation and tongue are standing before the throne of God in white. They are waving palms, just as been done in religious ceremony generations. The symbolism here can mean many things – God’s victory, His hospitality, His peace and strength. It can represent the joy of the multitude and their thanksgiving for God’s blessings.

The white of their robes does not come from their own righteousness, but because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out, “Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb.” They sing out praise and thanksgiving to God for to Him belongs the blessing and honor and glory for ever and ever.

In this passage we see the Lamb as the Good Shepherd who will guide His people to the springs of the water of life. They will no longer hunger and thirst; they will not mourn as God wipes the tears from their eyes. This is such a vision of hope and promise; that God is with us. In the legend about Christopher, it is said that when they arrived at the other side Christopher berated the child for nearly killing him. “Had I borne the whole world on my back,” he said, “it could not have weighed heavier than thou!” “Marvel not!” the child replied, “for thou host borne upon thy back the world and him who created it!” We are reminded that it is not by our power that we are saved, but by God’s grace. Though Christopher carried the child, it was only by the strength of God that He was able to make it to the other side. And so it is with all those who will be standing at the throne of God praising Him – it is by His grace that we will wave those palms and proclaim thanksgiving for His blessings.


April 24, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2007: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

John 10:22-30 And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. The Jews therefore came round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father's name, these bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.

We are certainly living in a much different age than when I was a child. I remember having the freedom to just go outside to play, running all over the neighborhood with my friends. I did not tell my mother where I was going to be every second of the day – it would be impossible for me to know because we often jumped from one friend’s house to another. Or we went to the woods behind our street. Or we ended up at the ball field a few blocks away. Or we walked to the store to buy candy. For a time there was even an arcade just around the corner. We didn’t know where we would end up – we just went. It would have taken too much time to go home with every change to let Mom know where I was going to be. We didn’t wear watches. We didn’t worry.

When it was time to come home, Mom would go outside and yell. Usually I was somewhere that I could hear, but not always. She would yell until I came home. She didn’t worry about me; she just became annoyed when she could not immediately find me. I wish I could give my children the same sort of freedom that I had when I was a child, but it is simply too dangerous in our world today. I can remember my reaction whenever I would hear my mother’s voice calling to me to come home. I was usually disappointed because I was having too much fun with my friends to stop playing. I can still remember her voice crying through the summer evening air calling me home. If Zack took so long to come home when I called, I would most likely worry – it is a dangerous world in which we live. There are so many voices calling our kids and they all too often hear what they want to hear.

Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication; He was the presence of God incarnate in the flesh of man. He was the light of the world and He told them so. He spoke with authority and performed miraculous deeds of healing and forgiveness. Yet, there were those who did not recognize Him. “Tell us plainly,” they said. Jesus answered, “I have told you.” They did not recognize His voice. When He called, they did not hear.

His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb in the scriptures. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Those who have children are quite familiar with selective hearing. Kids hear what they want to hear. I am sure I had selective hearing when I was a child. I am sure that there were times Mother called me more times than necessary because I did not hear. The last thing a child wants to hear on a pleasant summer evening is Mom’s voice calling them to go home. Perhaps they hear it with their ears, but they don’t hear it with their mind or their body. They don’t respond.

Jesus clearly declared with word and deed the truth of His identity and purpose. He was the Good Shepherd. He was the Light. He was the presence of God they so desperately were seeking in their oppression, and they they did not hear because He was not what they wanted for a Messiah. He could not be a king; He could not deliver them from their enemy. His teachings were different than the established Jewish thought. They did not want to hear because they had rejected Him. He did not fit into their expectation, so they ignored His voice. They were not His and it was not because Jesus rejected them. They rejected Him.


April 25, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2007: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Catherine of Siena was born in 1347 to Giacomo di Benincasa who was a middle-class wool dyer and Lapa who was the daughter of a local poet. She was the twenty-third of twenty five children. It was a time of political, social and religious upheaval. It was also a time when the black plague brought death to one third of the population of Europe. Catherine, who was just a baby when it began, survived and eventually became a nurse who brought healing to many victims through her compassionate caring.

Catherine was always different from other children, drawn to a spiritual prayer-filled life from an early age. Though her father wanted her to marry at the age of twelve, she refused and also refused to become a nun. Instead she pursued a life as a Dominican Tertiary, lay members of the Dominican order, a role that was generally given only to widows. The tertiaries took the habits of a nun, but lived outside the community. She lived in her parent’s home in a nine foot by twelve foot room that served as her hermitage. There she prayed daily and began having mystical experiences in which she had visions of Christ. In the three years that she lived that life she gained many followers, learned to read and became educated in historical and contemporary Christian writings.

Catherine had a mystical vision in which Jesus told her to leave her cell and enter the world to serve the poor, sick and imprisoned. She had an incredible impact on the world in which she lived. Despite the danger, she stayed in her hometown when the plague hit to minister to the sick and bury the dead. She is said to have been able to heal those whom even the doctors could not, and some even claimed she raised the dead. She became a reformer in the church and society, writing hundreds of leaders to leaders in government and in the church. She helped to heal the separation of the papacy and Rome in 1377 when she convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after a period of time running the church from Avignon, France.

The central message of her teaching was the divine love of God, found in the bleeding image of Jesus Christ who is the Redeemer. Despite her mystical experiences, her live was not one that was set apart from the world, but instead she took God’s love with her into the world where she served others according to his Word. She once wrote that God told her “not to love Me for your own sake, or your neighbor for your own sake, but to love Me for myself, yourself for Myself, your neighbor for Myself.” Her love, service and faith were for God’s sake. Her willingness to fight societal conventions and to do the things that others were unwilling to do was her response to the call from God into the world. She heard His voice and followed.

Our scriptures this week tell about the life of a Christian who has followed Christ’s voice. Peter willingly went into the presence of a dead woman, prayed for her and God blessed his faith with a resurrection that brought joy to the community of faith. John, exiled on Patmos, wrote about a vision of heaven that was not like last week’s image of an inner sanctum separated from the world. In this week’s vision, a great multitude – more than anyone could count – from every nation praised God with palm branches in their hands. In this vision, very earthly cares like hunger and thirst, pain and suffering are no longer concerns for God’s people for the Lamb in the Shepherd and He will lead them to living water and wipe away their tears.

Peter reacted to the shock and uncertainty of Jesus’ death, resurrection and his denial of Jesus by hiding on his fishing boat doing the one thing that he knew best. But Jesus called him away from that life, again, and offered him forgiveness. “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep,” Jesus said. Catherine began her life of active faith hidden in a hermitage where she became educated, but once Christ called she left that safe cell to go out into the world to live and serve and share the love of God. Through it all, despite the persecutions and pain that she suffered, she knew all along that the Lord is her Shepherd and she had no wants, for He provided for her every need.


April 26, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 6, 2007: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Acts 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. But Peter began, and expounded the matter unto them in order, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even unto me: upon which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw the fourfooted beasts of the earth and wild beasts and creeping things and birds of the heaven. And I heard also a voice saying unto me, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath ever entered into my mouth. But a voice answered the second time out of heaven, What God hath cleansed, make not thou common. And this was done thrice: and all were drawn up again into heaven. And behold, forthwith three men stood before the house in which we were, having been sent from Caesarea unto me. And the Spirit bade me go with them, making no distinction. And these six brethren also accompanied me; and we entered into the man's house: and he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God? And when they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life.

This spring in Ashburn, Georgia, a group of Turner High School Seniors fought to do something new. The tradition at their school for as long as anyone could remember was to have segregated proms. The students never saw this as a racial issue, it was simply that separate parties were planned by the parents for the black students and the white students. Senior Class President James Hall and a dream of doing something new. So the students planned their own prom, with the blessing of school officials who allowed the use of the school for the prom. The prom was controversial in the community and some did not participate. For those who did, it was a step in the right direction.

This prom was not about integration, after all the schools in Ashburn have been integrated for a long time. The students go to class – the school is about half white and half black – and they are participate in the other activities together. The prom was about table fellowship, having a social experience together rather than gathering separately for such an important event in the life of a High School student.

The Jewish community of Jesus’ time had strict rules about their socialization. They could not eat with people who were not circumcised. In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, as the apostles were beginning to teach and preach the Good News to the world, they continued to live according to the rules of their community. Peter refused to fellowship with those who were not circumcised.

That was until he had a vision from God. We heard about the story of Cornelius and Peter early in April. Peter might have rejected the call from Cornelius, but God showed him a better way. As the three men from Caesarea approached, Peter was on his roof praying. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter was upset by this command, because the food before him was unclean according to the law of the Jews. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This vision happened repeatedly, to ensure Peter that what he heard was the truth of God. When the vision ended, the men from Caesarea asked Peter to go with them.

Peter did not hesitate to visit the home of Cornelius. Peter told Cornelius it was against his law for him to be there, but asked why he had been called. Cornelius shared the story of the angel and Peter understood that the vision was not only about food but also about people. So, Peter stayed with Cornelius and shared the Good News with his whole household. They believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The circumcised Jews who had come with Peter were amazed that God would pour out His Spirit on gentiles, but they heard them praising God in other tongues.

After this visit, Peter returned to Jerusalem to tell them about God’s grace to the Gentiles. They were not so upset that God would bless the Gentiles, they were upset that the Gentiles were expected to be accepted in their community and at their table fellowship without change. As a matter of fact, the Gentiles were, for a time, expected to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. Peter discovered that God’s give was not dependent on being a certain kind of person, but that He can bless whomever He pleases. Those who have been saved by the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit are part of the same fellowship and are welcome at the same table based on God’s grace.


April 27, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 6, 2007: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Psalm 148 Praise ye Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah from the heavens: Praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: Praise ye him, all his host. Praise ye him, sun and moon: Praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the name of Jehovah; for he commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away. Praise Jehovah from the earth, ye sea-monsters, and all deeps. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; Stormy wind, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills; Fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children: Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For his name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and the heavens. And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah.

Human beings have long asked the question, “Is there life out there?” We have wondered whether or not there are any planets anywhere else in the universe that might have some form of created beings. Science Fiction often puts alien life on the planet Mars, UFO’s have always been filled with Martians. As our scientific technology advances, we’ve been able to make strides in finding information about the worlds outside our earth. High powered telescopes and cameras have shown evidence of water on Mars. This was an amazing discovery and many have suggested that this means that Mars has the potential to sustain life.

An even more incredible discovery occurred recently when a European research group in LaSalla, Chili found what is believed to be the most earthlike planet. Though there are differences, there are also many similarities. This discovery has been deemed one of the most important findings in modern science because it shows that there just might be life beyond the borders of our planet.

From a Christian point of view, we know there is life ‘out there’ although our understanding of beyond our borders is much different than science. It is exciting for us to think that perhaps the rumors of UFO’s might just be true and that there are other beings trying to reach out in fellowship with us. However, we do not need any evidence of alien life forms to know that we are part of something bigger than the tangible life we have on earth. When we sing the songs of thanksgiving and praise, like this one from the Psalms, we can see that there is something greater. We aren’t in it to be alone, but to be part of the whole, whatever we discover that whole to include.

There are a great many people who enjoy a life of faith in God but who prefer to do it alone. They argue that the Church is not a building, but individual believers in personal relationship with Him. They claim that God can be found anywhere, in the quietness of the fields and under the shade of a tree. While this is true, there is something to be said about joining together in the fellowship of the saints, not only through time and space, but where we are in the here and now. Our praises, sung together in the presence of God is far more beautiful to His ears than those we sing alone.

We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are, because everything He has made sings along with us. Yet, there is something very special when Christians raise their voices together to glorify God in the here and now. When you consider the entire creation – the heavens that reach far beyond our imagination, the planets in the universe that might possibly sustain other life forms, the microscopic organisms that could destroy a population of humans, the redwood trees that reach so high we can’t see the top, the depths of the sea that are too deep for our technology – it is easy to see the greatness of God. It is also easy to see that we are not much in the entire scheme of things. It is humbling to realize our place in this world. Yet, He has created us to be the crown of His creation. Should we not want to glorify Him together with one voice of praise? He has given us the heavens and the earth. He has given us the sun and the wind and the rain. He has made the animals, birds, plants and trees for us. And He has given the care and love of one another.


April 30, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 6, 2007: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Revelation 21:1-6 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

Christianity is about overcoming obstacles. The cross and the resurrection are certainly the most obvious events in which God has overcome our greatest obstacles, but there are many other ways in which we overcome. Jesus teachings were about overcoming – overcoming fear, barriers, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, despair, sin and death. Many of the Christian writing, both canonical and the writings of Christians throughout the ages, focus on overcoming our difficulties. Often those difficulties are based on the messages that are received from society in general. In today’s world, self-help books fill our bookshelves, so Christian writers also share ways in which the Christian message can help people overcome their difficulties.

Things were not much different in John’s day; the gods which the people worshipped were different. Ours have names like “work”, “money”, “leisure.” Though the Hellenistic culture in which John lived was in many ways similar to our own, they had a list of gods which they honored with temples, pilgrimages and religious rituals. The Christians had to overcome people’s reliance on those gods while drawing them into the heart of the One true and living God. In the story of Paul in Athens, we see how Paul used their superstitious beliefs to introduce them to Jesus. They had an altar which had no name, but was meant to cover any god they may have forgotten. Paul described the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who was incarnated as Jesus Christ and told them that this God they did not know was the only God they needed.

John used the culture of his day when sharing the message of his vision of the Revelation. For the people to whom he was writing, the culture of their day was filled with frightening images. Though they had faith in the One true and living God, they could not help but to be aware of the other stories that lingered in their midst. The Jews had what we would consider an irrational fear of the sea. This is understandable because they never had to sail anywhere as a people – they were nomadic and moved by foot until they reached the Promised Land. To them, the sea-loving Philistines were evil and that judgment was based on their love of the sea.

The fear of the sea might have come from the ancient creation stories in which the gods were brought forth out of the sea. Tiamat was like a dragon, but was the goddess of chaos and salt water. She was the mother of all living, of all the Babylonian gods and dragons. It is no wonder, then, that the Jewish readers of John’s Revelation would find comfort in the end of the sea. When John writes that the sea is no more, we wonder why it would be so important to emphasize that fact. To the Jews and early Christians, the disappearance of the sea would also represent the disappearance of all those other gods who are such a large obstacle for them to overcome. Since religious devotion was often directly connected to all aspects of society, living in a world worshipping One God verses the many gods, brought about persecution. Without the sea, without the chaos, without those gods, the world would be a much better place for the Christians. It seems insignificant to us – even unwarranted, since the sea is such an important part of our world – but to them, the sea represented the worst of their problems and when everything is made new by God’s grace, then there would be nothing left to fear.