Welcome to the April 2009 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





Good News




















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 2009

April 1, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 5, 2009: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

Mark 11:1-11 And when they draw nigh unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go your way into the village that is over against you: and straightway as ye enter into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any one say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye, The Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him back hither. And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door without in the open street; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus had said: and they let them go. And they bring the colt unto Jesus, and cast on him their garments; and he sat upon him. And many spread their garments upon the way; and others branches, which they had cut from the fields. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest. And he entered into Jerusalem, into the temple; and when he had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.

When we lived in California, we belonged to a church that had daily worship through Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we followed the footsteps of Jesus each day, walking with Him through the stories found in the four Gospels. Jesus did many things through that last week of His life. It is an amazing story, especially when you realize how quickly everything happened. Many churches will read Mark’s version of the story this Sunday, setting aside the sermon to allow the text to speak for itself. We can certainly expound upon the text, but sometimes it is worthwhile to simply listen to the story as it has been given to us.

The week began with a grand event: a parade for a king. The people were ready to receive Jesus as their leader. They were ready to greet Him with acclaim. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem was full of symbolism, symbols that the people would have recognized and understood. On that first day of the final days of His life, Jesus gave the people what they wanted. The people were in Jerusalem for the Passover, and they expected their savior to appear at Passover. The donkey was symbolic of royal power and position. The donkey had never been ridden, which is proper for religious events. The people spread branches and cloaks in His path, to honor the One who had come to save them. Jesus was the King-Priest messiah for whom they were waiting and they were ready to celebrate.

The people threw down branches and sang “Hosanna.” They cried out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” This was an exciting day. Jesus was doing exactly what they wanted Him to do. He was entering the city like a king: they expected him to restore the nation of Israel. How easy it would have been to wallow in the accolades, to accept the opinion of the crowds. It would have been very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day.

What happened? As we heard in yesterday’s text, the crowd turned quickly and just a few days later Jesus was being ridiculed. What happened is that Jesus did not fulfill their expectations. In the next few days, He cleansed the temple and made fools of the temple leaders. He gave their expectations a crushing blow with His words and His actions. By the middle of the week, most of the people who’d shouted hosannas on Sunday were gone. He was left with only His closest friends. Even they were uncertain about what Jesus was going to do.

Jesus knew that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not about becoming the new David, a priest-king to serve the nation of Israel. Jesus came to be so much more. He came to be the Priest-King who would save the world. The people recognized the symbolism, but did not understand it. They saw the fulfillment of God’s promises, but did not recognize that Jesus was much more than they ever expected. When He did not do what they thought He was meant to do—to make Israel a strong and independent nation as it was in the Golden Age of David—they turned from Him and left Him to die. What they did not know is that the week, and Jesus’ life, ended as it was meant to end, on a cross instead of a throne.


April 2, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 12, 2009: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

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.

Peter lived according to the strict code of his religion. He ate with the right people and did the right things. He kept himself separated from those who did not belong to the faith of his fathers. This was as it should be, because for Peter and the other Jews, the people of other nations were different, unclean. I don’t think that Peter considered them evil, after all, he saw Jesus minister to many outside the Jewish faith. Jesus healed sick Gentiles and raised up as virtuous those whom the Jews held in contempt. Peter simply knew that God’s chosen people had been called to live separate for a purpose and he obeyed the rules that kept them separate.

Cornelius was a good guy. The writer of Acts says that he was “devout and God-fearing” and that he was generous to the poor. Yet, something was missing from his life. An angel of God appeared to Cornelius in a dream, telling him to call Peter to his home. Peter had a special message to give to Cornelius.

Yet, Peter would not have been comfortable with this situation. So, God sent him a vision. It was a shocking revelation to someone like Peter who lived according to the Law. A sheet filled with unclean animals appeared before him on the roof of his house. “Kill and eat” a voice told him. Peter could not eat the food on the sheet, it was against the law of his faith. Those things were unclean. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” the voice told Peter. God chooses what is clean and unclean and he would not command His people to do what is wrong. This was a lesson to Peter that the day would come when he would have to speak the grace of God to people whom the law said was unclean. He would be put to the test soon after his vision.

Peter was still not entirely comfortable with the situation he faced. How could he reject the call of God to go to Cornelius’ house? So, he invited the Gentiles into his home and then went with them to Cornelius the next day. He is clear to state the law by which he lives, that a Jew should not associate with Gentiles. But he also tells the crowd of people that God had shown him that he should not call any man clean or unclean. In response to the story Cornelius told of the angel’s visit, Peter shared with him the Good News of Christ.

The Good News is so odd. A good man, Jesus of Nazareth, on whom God had showered His power and who did good works in His name, was killed on a cross. But Peter does not linger on that moment. He talks about the very present Christ who was raised and who chose to be seen by certain people. He chose His witnesses, just as He chose Cornelius to hear the Good News and to become yet another witness of God’s grace. Not only did the crowd in Cornelius’ house hear the story of Jesus, they received the Holy Spirit, a powerful moment of Pentecost for the Gentiles. The Jews who had traveled with Peter were amazed that God would do such a thing. Peter reminded them, though, that God chooses who is clean and unclean. “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” God had already done the work, so Peter welcomed them into their fellowship by baptizing them in the name of Jesus.


April 3, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 12, 2009: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Let Israel now say, That his lovingkindness endureth for ever… 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 marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

I visited Salisbury Cathedral in England. The book called “Sarem” by Edward Rutherford was based on the building of this cathedral. The claim to fame for this particular site is that its spire is the tallest in England at 404 feet. It is a magnificent building, amazingly built in less than a century and left unchanged for hundreds of years. They haven’t changed the design of the building in all that time, but with all created things it has faced the test of time. It has been necessary to restore parts of the cathedral that have been worn down by weather and age. On the day we visited, there were large scaffolds rising high along the front and sides of the building, making it impossible to take a clean and beautiful picture.

I realized that day that I’d had trouble taking decent pictures at many of the sites we visiting during our stay in England because there was always some construction going on somewhere. These buildings are so large and so old that it is natural to expect work being done. If they are going to be around for another five hundred years, someone has to do something to keep it from falling. We visited enough sites of ruins to know, it doesn’t take much to make a magnificent building little more than a pile of rocks.

We visited many ruins over the years, castles and churches that were long past use. At one site, there was little left except one wall that had been the front of a church with magnificent wood doors. Everything else was gone. Even the foundations of the walls were difficult to find because grass had grown over the floors. When the monastery was closed during the reformation, the fine stone used to build the church was taken by the people to be used to build homes and other buildings. It was easier to steal a block of stone from an abandoned building than to quarry it out of the earth. And the people would never have been able to afford or find stone as good as that used in the church buildings.

Other buildings fell because they were improperly built. Countless numbers perished when walls were not built strong enough. Some builders thought they could save money by using cheaper materials. Others rushed to get things accomplished, not taking the time or care needed to ensure that the building would stand for many years. A strong storm could blow down shaky walls and too much rain could collapse a roof in minutes. Some buildings faced the wear and tear of war and others were simply neglected, let to die with age.

It is amazing to think about the work that went into building these magnificent buildings. The builders and craftsmen obviously loved their work for it to stand for so many years. The details are incredible: every line is perfect, even the smallest aspects of the design were given the greatest attention. If you look at the hand carved statues that are often found in these buildings, you can see nearly lifelike expressions on the faces and forms of the characters. Everything mattered. That is why every stone was judged before it was put into the building. A master craftsman could tell whether a stone would hold or fall. Some stones were tossed aside because they were not strong enough to support the weight of all the other stones.

The psalmist writes, “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.” This refers to Jesus Christ, but it is such an odd image for us to see. How can something that isn’t worthy to be put into the building be set aside for such an important task? Yet, we have to remember that God sees strength were we see weakness. He sees faith where we see doubt. He sees hope where we see nothing but despair. Jesus was strong, even though He died on the cross. He was strong because He rejected the temptations to go against God’s will. He was faithful because He did not allow His flesh to overrule His spirit. He brought hope because he died on the cross and was raised again, so we have nothing to despair. By grace we can sing this hymn of thanksgiving because we have seen the salvation that God promised. We have seen it in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone, thanks be to God.


April 6, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 12, 2009: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

Our kitty Felix died a few weeks ago. He had been not been sick for very long, but the disease—whatever it was—took him very quickly. This was news I didn’t want to share with the world, and yet in a sense I wanted others to know so that they could help us through our grief. Yes, he was a cat, but he was a long-time member of our family. And though we have faced the loss of some very special people in our lives, in some ways the passing of Felix was the most significant death my children had had to face. He’d lived with us, we had taken care of all his needs. He brought us happiness and the grief we felt was intensified by the reality that we had to watch him fade away from our lives.

On the day he died, I desperately wanted to share my grief with the people I know on Facebook, but I needed to be careful. Victoria was not home through the illness; she was off at school. And though she knew he was sick and that he would not live for very long. And yet, I didn’t want her to get the news from such an impersonal medium. I also did not want her to be the last to know. I had to wait until we could share our grief before I could let others into my pain.

In the military, a person’s death can not be officially announced until the next of kin is given the news. The image of those who arrive with the bad news is a horrifying image to those of us who have lived through our loved ones at war. We know that if we open the door to see several people in uniform standing on our doorstep, the news they bring will not be happy. It is an image we all prayed we’d never have to face, and experience I, thankfully, never had to live through.

Isn’t it funny how we are equally careful with our good news? How many women with the knowledge of a pregnancy have to hide their joy until they tell all the right people? She can’t tell Aunt Gertrude before she tells Mother, because Mother will be upset that she wasn’t the first to know. A man can’t tell his co-workers about a fabulous new job until he’s told his boss that he has to resign. Good news is meant to be shared, but sometimes we have to hold on to our news until we’ve shared it with the people who matter most.

The story of Easter, the rising of Christ out of death into new life, is something that everyone should hear. It seems like in that day it would have been best for Jesus to appear to the entire city of Jerusalem at one time, to do something spectacular to ensure that the reality of His death and life was understood by all. As it happened, many people doubted the story they heard. The Romans thought the Jews had stolen the body. The Jews thought the disciples had stolen the body. Those who doubted would have been silenced quickly if only they’d seen Him with their own eyes.

But Paul tells us that Jesus was very careful about whom witnessed His resurrection. There is a list of witnesses, from Peter, to the disciples, to a gathering of faithful, to His half-brother James and then to the ones Jesus sent out to do the work He had begun. Paul lists himself as the last and least of all the witnesses, because he saw Jesus much later and only after he had persecuted the believers. Paul tells us that his word can be believed because it had been given to him by Christ, just as it had been given to all those others who had been witnesses not only to the resurrection but also to the life of Jesus. He is also credible because the word Paul gave to the people was given first through the scriptures, in promises and prophecies sent by God. The thing we celebrate this week is not some holiday that comes just one Sunday a year filled with candy and bunnies and eggs. It is the culmination of God speaking to His world, fulfilling His promises fully and faithfully. It is news that we now hear, given to us by all those who have come before, because it is our turn to hear and know and experience the joy that comes with Easter.


April 7, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 12, 2009: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb? and looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great. And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.

Holy Week is an incredibly busy and stressful time for most churches. There are extra services with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, sometimes an Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday usually includes extra worship. We expect something spectacular on Easter Sunday, with flowers gracing the sanctuary and special music. The church pews will be overflowing with people, many of whom only see the inside of a church on Easter and Christmas. It is important that we give them the Good News, done well. I don’t want to say that it is about presenting an impressive show that will make them want to return, but it is the reality of the world in which we live. People want a good show and we want them to share in the faith that brings us peace and hope, so we give them what they want. It is stressful.

The first Easter morning was much different, but no less stressful. Imagine what it must have been for those women. They’d seen Jesus die just a few days before, leaving them alone after suffering a horrific death. His body had to be laid in the tomb quickly so as not to make the most holy day unclean. They were not able to do for Jesus’ body all that was their gift to do. Of all people, He deserved the physical anointing of those costly oils that would help stave off the odors of decomposition.

The anointing is not really that important for the dead, but it is vital for the living. I once heard a story about a person who died at home under the care of a hospice nurse. The family was nearby and when the person died the nurse took out some ointment and began to prepare the body. She asked the family if they wanted to help and showed them how to carefully rub the oil into the body. The family members were unsure at first, but eventually moved to the bedside and began the task. They were amazed at how soothing and comforting it was to do this for their loved one. In anointing the body, they were able to share in that last moment and say good-bye in a most beautiful way. The smell and feel of the oils calmed them in this moment when their world seemed to end.

In the stress of Holy Week, it is almost shocking to read the scripture for Easter Sunday. This passage is a dramatic moment in time, when the first disciples discovered that Jesus’s body was no longer in the tomb. Instead, we are given a glimpse of normal people attending to the normal tasks of those dealing with grief and loss. They are talking amongst themselves as they approach the tomb, asking a simple question about how they’ll get the stone moved so they can do their work. There is nothing special or hurried about the moment.

The outcome in Mark’s story is not what we would expect, either. In this text we are left dazed and confused. The women are not excited about the words they hear from the man in the tomb, they are frightened. They do not go immediately to the disciples and tell them what they found, they stayed quiet. Thankfully we have other accounts which tell us the rest of the story. If we were only given this passage, we would not think Easter Sunday is such an important day. So, the body is gone. What does that mean? The cynics said the disciples had stolen the body, giving the impression of a risen lord. But we know that He appeared before many, proving that He was not dead but is alive. Allelujah!


April 8, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 12, 2009: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8 Other options: Isaiah 25:6-9, John 20:1-18

Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.

During a recent news story, I heard a reporter describe Easter Sunday worship as solemn and holy. Defined properly, this is very true. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the reporter was using the terms in a particularly valuable way. I interpreted her statement to mean that Easter worship is sober, somber, and grave with serious formality. It is a holy day, set aside for us to celebrate something incredible and special, and yet the reporter made it sound like it was all too good and extraordinary for ordinary people. What average person can stand amidst the holy and who wants to be grave and serious on a day filled with chocolate bunnies and Peeps?

It is true that Easter Sunday is a solemn and holy day, but not because it is formal, somber and untouchable. It is sacred because it is God’s incredible gift for His people. It is the celebration that everything holy has been made accessible. It is joyous because there is no longer a wall between God and His people. Jesus broke the barrier between humankind and the divine. He restored our relationship with God and we mark that reconciliation with a party. Actually, we mark that reconciliation every Sunday as we remember and celebrate the risen Lord every week, but we have set aside Easter as a special festival day as we complete the story begun on Palm Sunday.

Why would the reporter think that Easter Sunday worship is solemn and holy? Or the better question is: why did she interpret that to mean it is somber and beyond the reach of the normal person? I don’t know. Maybe it is the lilies that many churches use to decorate on Easter Sunday which are beautiful but make the sanctuary smell like a funeral parlor. Perhaps it is the incredible nature of the Easter story—a guy died and rose again. For the rational mind this is beyond the possibility of reality. Perhaps it has to do with the expectation that everyone will arrive in brand new dresses and starched suits, as happy families gathered together for once in a year. Maybe the impression of the reporter comes from the idea that Christians are ‘better’ than others: after all, many gave up something they loved for seven weeks. Most people struggle to get through one day without falling into the temptations of those things they desire. To them, that Easter Sunday when we can stop our fasting must be some solemn and holy event. Perhaps they think we are hypocrites because they know we fail but we pretend that perfection that they think is necessary to approach God on such a solemn and holy day. I don’t know; these are just some rambling thoughts.

So, how did you do? Did you give something up for Lent? Are you anxious for Easter Sunday to arrive so that you can go back to eating those sweets or buying that cup of Starbucks? Are you ready to get back on Facebook or turn on the television again? Did you finish that book you promised to read or get through the Lenten devotions you chose? I did ok, but I didn’t do perfectly. I managed to keep up some of my promises, but failed at others. I changed the rules along the way to ensure that I could make it to Easter. I justified those changes with excuses. I responded to the challenge of Lent in a very human way: I failed. But, through it I also learned some lessons and I’ve made some changes to the way I live. I’ve also experienced the forgiveness of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus.

What will happen on Sunday? Will you gorge on the things you’ve missed and return to your old ways on Monday? Have you been transformed by the struggle of Lent, finding ways to take those lessons into your new life after Easter? Have you realized that the whole point of Holy Week and Easter is that we are human and we fail, so Christ came to bring us the forgiveness we need to be reconciled with our God? Easter is indeed a solemn and holy day, but not in the ways that the world expects. It is a sacred day because it recalls the moment when God came down to man and brought us into His heart. It is a homecoming, a family reunion, not to be approached with grave faces and untouchable perfection.

I suppose in some ways the world sees our Easter worship as opposite the image we have of Easter ‘out here.’ They have Easter bunnies and eggs, chocolate and jelly beans. They have egg hunts and carnivals, feasts of ham and buffets with champagne. They have joy and happiness, we have church. What the world misses is that we have joy, but it isn’t from a sugar high or a belly full of good food. We go to church on Easter Sunday to rejoice in the fulfillment of His promises and to thank Him. It is a much more real joy than that found in Easter baskets and egg hunts. It is the joy of knowing that the world has been made new by the most incredible act of God. The world has been changed forever, and we are called to live as Easter people from this day on. As we live as Easter people, the world will see that it isn’t about somberness and perfection. It is about living in the forgiveness of God’s grace forever.


April 9, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 19, 2009: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Acts 4:32-35 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.

We have a running joke at our house about the cats. I think it began when we went to the animal shelter to pick out Tigger. Since Tigger was the fulfillment to a promise to Victoria when we moved away from Arkansas, we gave her the responsibility of chosen which kitty she wanted to adopt. From that day on, she said that Tigger was her kitty. Of course, Bruce does most of the work caring for the cats, cleaning the litter box and keeping their food bowls full, so he thinks they are all his kitties. I’m here all day with them and deal with them when the get into trouble, so I claim they are my kitties. Zack just says they are his, although he tends to be the peacemaker and reminds us, “The kitties belong to all of us.”

Now, there are times when I actually tell the family that the kitties belong to them. “Do you know what YOUR kitty did this afternoon?” is a statement I often make at the end of the day. My kitties are the good kitties. They are the kitties that lie on my lap and pur, or sleep all day. Their kitties are the ones that cause me all sorts of trouble, like they did yesterday with the laundry. I carefully separated our clothes into nice neat piles. Within minutes the kittens had messed up the piles, creating one large mess in the middle of the kitchen. Delilah even carried away one of my bras and Sampson took off with a sock. “Do you know what YOUR kitties did this morning?” I asked everyone when they came home last night.

The reality is that the kittens don’t belong to any one of us. It has been said that cats don’t belong to people. But, they are part of our family. The belong here in this house, good times and bad, making our family a little bit larger and a little bit more interesting.

Families are different now than they had been in Jesus’ day, at least most families are different. We don’t have communal family homes any more, where generation after generation stays together supporting one another and pooling resources. As a matter of fact, many families do not even stay in the same town. My own family is scattered all over the United States. We have our own homes, our own responsibilities. It made it more difficult for us when our parents were ill, but we managed to find a way to work together. In the days of the early church, families stayed close. A husband moved into the home of his wife’s family. Children grew up under the care of parents and grandparents. Brothers and sisters worked the same fields, shared in the same meals and cousins grew up like siblings. They shared everything.

That’s why it was so hard for those who became Christian. When they chose to follow ‘the Way’ they were cast out of their proudly Jewish families. They had no place to live, no one with whom they could pool their resources. They were alone and unable to support themselves. So, the Church became their family. The very few who had material possessions sold them to help those who had nothing. They pooled their resources so that everyone could survive this incredible change in their lives. This story is not a model of a lifestyle we are expected to live, but an example of how those early Christians dealt with the consequences of their decision to follow “the Way.”

We are called to be generous, but it is up to us to learn how to do that in our circumstances. Should we be selling our homes and moving into some compound to share all our resources with other Christians? I do not think that’s what God is calling us to do. The story following our text is about Ananias and Sapphira who sold their belongings and gave a portion to the disciples to distribute but claimed they gave the whole amount. They were punished, not for keeping some of the profits, but for lying about giving it all away. Peter says, “Wasn’t it yours to begin with? Why would you lie about it?” We are to give as we are able, not with boasting and self-piety or lies, but with our hearts.


April 10, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 19, 2009: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

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

I was watching a news report today from San Antonio. It is tradition in this city for families to camp out at one of the public parks for Easter. It is the only weekend the city allows overnight camping, and some families have done it for years. They get to the park early on Thursday of Holy Week, and begin setting up their camps so that they won’t lose their favorite place. They can’t stay there before then, although some families do try to cordon off their tables earlier in the week by chaining chairs to tables.

The reporter found a few kids playing ball this morning and tried to interview them. The kids stood by the reporter, listening to his questions but never saying a word. It was humorous to watch because you could see the reporter getting a little frustrated. The kids just did not understand his questions or know what to answer. At one point, the reporter asked what they would about the severe thunderstorms expected for Saturday night into Sunday morning. They stood silently; it seemed like they did not even know there was supposed to be storms this weekend.

You could tell the reporter was ready to move on to other people because he became very uncomfortable with their silence. I don’t blame him, silence can be very uncomfortable especially in social context. I’ve been in situations where speakers have allowed a long period of time for questions, but found the audience silent instead. They often do not know what to do. How do you fill that time?

I imagine most of those family gatherings at the park will be loud, rowdy occasions. The people will share stories and sing songs. They’ll play games and delight in the food. The camps may quiet down late in the night when everyone goes to bed, but I expect that many people will stay up well into the early morning enjoying the company of their loved ones. We sometimes get uncomfortable when there is no noise, and so we force conversation for the sake of appearing happy together. It is as if silence means disagreement or hatred, as if we can’t find things to share. Unfortunately, this constant need to talk can bring into the conversations topics that probably should be avoided. Then the congenial family gathering becomes a debate or worse: a battle.

And yet, would it be so out of place for families to sit quietly together, enjoying the presence of one another without conversation? Do you have any friends with whom you can just sit and enjoy the silence? How wonderful it can be to share in the sounds of the world around us. There might be topics about which we disagree, and we might even have times when get into heated debates about those topics, but there is something particularly special about those rare moments when we can sit in silence together. And I don’t mean the kind of silence that most of us experience, when everyone is doing their own thing, unaware of what everyone else is doing. It is a silence that is shared as two people enjoy a sunset together or watch the birds fly by. It is about being totally comfortable in the presence of that person, no matter what agreements or disagreements we might have.

That’s they way we should feel in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should feel so comfortable that no matter what our agreements or disagreements, we can sit together and listen to the sounds of God. The psalmist describes it as the feeling of ointment running down the face: soothing, calming, pleasant. That’s what unity is all about.

God is not calling us to give up our heritage or worship style; He is calling us to find the common denominator and share in the Spirit of God. That common bond is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The divisions that exist today are not merely disagreements of doctrine, but are causing a dividing of the Holy Spirit. We have built fences between our brothers and sisters that block the Spirit of the Living God from displaying His power to the world. He doesn't need us, yet He wants us to be part of the blessing that comes from unity of spirit. Christ’s Church is like that Merry-go-round, made up of unique and interesting individuals who together form a beautiful picture of life in Christ. May we always remember the things that bring us together—faith, hope and God’s Spirit—and work together to serve God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.


April 13, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 19, 2009: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

1 John 1:1-2:2 That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full. And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

One of the advantages we have in our modern age is the light bulb. With the invention of electricity and light bulb, we extended the time we are able to accomplish our work. Perhaps this isn’t really an advantage. Instead of going to bed when it is dark, we stay up late into the night. We’ve extended our day which used to be limited by the daylight. Stores can be open twenty-four hours a day. In our world there is no darkness, which for our human bodies means that there is not enough time to rest. In an article from the Washington post by Rob Stein, Najib T. Ayas of the University of British Columbia is quoted as saying, “We’re shifting to a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week society, and as a result we're increasingly not sleeping like we used to. We’re really only now starting to understand how that is affecting health, and it appears to be significant.”

The light bulb ‘tricks’ us into believing that we do not have to sleep. There is light, so we must have time to continue our work, to enjoy our hobbies, to read a good book. The light bulb ‘tricks’ us in other ways, too. A well placed light will provide a certain atmosphere and create an emotional response that other lighting might not be able to produce. Lighting can draw the eye to a certain person or object. This is especially apparent in theater or film, where lighting is used to both emphasize something the directors want you to see and hide the things they do not want you to see. I’ve noticed, also, that lighting is used to make things look better to our eye. Take, for instance, the produce department of your local grocery store. Have you ever noticed the special lighting hanging above the fruits and vegetables? Those lights are designed to make the fruit look better, riper and more delicious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by tomatoes that looked great in the store, but not so great when I got them home.

This is not to say, of course, that light is a bad thing. I’m not even against the light bulb! I’m as guilty as everyone else of using too many hours in every day, working into the night. I probably wouldn’t read very much if it weren’t for the time I spend in the evening with my nose in a good book. But we fool ourselves if we think that the light we create is miraculous. Our life is not necessarily better than it was hundreds of years ago, before the advent of modern conveniences. It is better in many ways. But what have we lost in the process? I wonder if we’ve lost a sense of the darkness because we have conquered it by our own hands. Do we really understand Jesus as the Light of the world, whose light is real and not tricky or manipulative? Or do we rely on our own ability to create light, both physical light and spiritual?

The light which is Christ is different than the light we use in our world today. It is different even than the natural light of the sun. Christ is the light that overcomes the darkness of the spirit, the darkness of sin and grief. His light is the light the bears all truth, that reveals all that is good, that provides true hope to those who are lost. In His light we see the reality of our life and the world, but we also see the reality of His grace. We see how the created world was meant to be. God did not create the world, or our lives, to be bad. He said, “It is good.” Yet, we have gotten lost in the darkness, not only that which is without light, but in the false light we create. In His light we see the truth, confess our sins and receive the forgiveness which He offers. There, in that Light, we will truly have rest and peace and hope.


April 14, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 19, 2009: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; 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 enjoy watching the television show “Ghost Hunters.” On this show, a team of researchers go into places that are supposedly haunted and use scientific means to disprove the claims. They do not go in with preconceived expectations. They really want to find reasonable explanations for the paranormal events. Since the leaders of the team are plumbers, they can show their clients mechanical answers to some of the questionable. Sometimes a cold spot is just a draft. Sometimes a door opening is caused by bad latches and the vacuum affect when another door is opened. Sometimes the creepy feelings are brought on by high electrical fields. Sometimes the faucet is broken and the water really does just turn on by itself. Odd lights and shadows can be caused by passing cars.

Not everything has a reasonable explanation, however. The clients take the team around the home or building to tell the stories and show the ‘hot spots.’ The stories often include tales of full body apparitions and shadow figures. People hear voices and footsteps. Objects move and lights turn on. There are often feelings of dread and sometimes people feel sick. The people even report being physically touched, as if something has pushed them, pulled their hair or breathed on their neck. Some of these reports can be easily explained away. Sometimes they can’t.

The team does occasionally find evidence of paranormal activity. Even then, they rarely call a place haunted. Some paranormal activity is simply that: not normal. Not all paranormal activity is a spiritual entity. Sometimes it is just energy that has manifested in an unusual way. Sometimes it is simply the imagination of an overactive mind. When we can’t identify something as normal, we are quick to identify it as abnormal and frightening. The claims of paranormal activity in most of these buildings cause fear to the point that some will not even enter certain rooms or they are unwilling to live or work in the place.

Despite the times Jesus told His disciples that He had to die so that He could be raised again, and despite the fact that Mary (in John’s version of the story) told them what she had seen and heard at the tomb, the disciples were frightened when Jesus appeared. It was not normal for a dead man to walk again. They were familiar with paranormal activity, because they thought He was a ghost, but it never occurred to them that He might be alive.

In an article on Times Online (UK), Tom Wright, bishop of Durham, writes, “But ‘resurrection’ to 1st-century Jews wasn’t about ‘going to Heaven’: it was about the physically dead being physically alive again. Some Jews (not all) believed that God would do this for all people in the end. Nobody, including Jesus’s followers, was expecting one person to be bodily raised from the dead in the middle of history. The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not ‘wish-fulfilments’ or the result of what dodgy social science calls ‘cognitive dissonance’. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he’d been raised from the dead wasn’t an option.”

There was another answer to the question of what they were seeing that day in the upper room that first night: Jesus was alive. But it didn’t make sense to them right away. They were afraid because what they were seeing could not be real. Jesus answered their fear and gave them the proof they needed to know that what they were seeing was true. Jesus was alive! Unfortunately, Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared. So, just as the “Ghost Hunters” team does not believe until they see and experience it for themselves, Thomas could not believe until he received the same proof as the other disciples.


April 15, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 19, 2009: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book…

Thomas did not believe when he heard from the other disciples that Jesus had appeared bodily before them. He needed to see the risen Christ for himself. From that moment, Thomas was pinned with the name “Doubting Thomas” because he doubted what they saw. Perhaps he should have believed, after all there were plenty of reasons given to the disciples before that moment when Jesus came to them in the upper room. Jesus’ own words should have given them peace in the aftermath of the crucifixion. It took them time to fully grasp the reality of their experience with Jesus. As a matter of fact, even after appearing to them in the flesh, Jesus stayed among them for forty days to continue to teach them all they needed to know to go into the world and do the work He was calling them to do. The faithful and faith-filled life does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing life of growing and maturing.

And while “Doubting Thomas” was not willing to believe until he had physical proof, he is also “Confessing Thomas” because as soon as he saw Jesus he cried, “My Lord and my God.” He not only believed that Jesus was alive, but he also believed that Jesus was who and what He said He was. Jesus was not only their friend and teacher. He was not simply a man who lived and died like all other men. He was Lord and God. Man and God. Human and Divine. This is an important confession of faith and the foundation of all we believe as Christians.

Peter gave a similar confession when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied that this was not something that Peter could know on his own. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that he could confess this faith. Thomas has been long been characterized by his doubt, but rarely remembered for his confession. I suppose that it is Jesus’ reply to Thomas’ doubt that makes us think that way. After all, when Jesus saw Thomas during that second appearance, He said, “Be not faithless, but believing.” But, then Jesus showed Thomas His hands and side. Jesus understands our doubts and He reaches out to us so that we might see the truth. Thomas did see the truth and said so.

There is a lot built on top of that confession of faith. First we have the record of Jesus’ life and ministry. Then we have the apostolic witness. Since then we’ve had the Church which has passed on the knowledge and experience of Christ in the world. We have the scriptures and the tradition of the Church. We have the lives of the Saints who’ve been set aside for great acts of faithfulness and the saints who have taught us all we know about Jesus. We have our own experiences when God touches our lives with His grace. We have all this to help us know that Jesus is real and that His grace is transforming our lives and the world.

John tells us that “many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” There was no way for one man to record the whole life and ministry of Jesus. There was no way for the disciples to write down everything Jesus did for us to read. By their words, however, we know that we’ve been given just a glimmer of His life. They were blessed to live with Him, to work with Him, to learn under His teaching. We have what they were able to pass down. It is no wonder, then, if there are those in our world today who doubt. Jesus says, “don’t be without faith, believe.” It is hard, but we can help by being the witnesses God has called to share His grace with those who need more than words. In our lives, in our actions, in our faith, they will see that He lives.


April 16, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Acts 3:12-19 And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Servant Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had determined to release him. But ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And by faith in his name hath his name made this man strong, whom ye behold and know: yea, the faith which is through him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

I like to watch the Gordon Ramsey show “Kitchen Nightmares.” In this program, Gordon Ramsey visits a failing restaurant to help the owner and staff fix whatever problems exist. We often see disgusting kitchens, horrible service and extensive menus that make it difficult for the customers choose a meal. Because the menus are so complicated, the kitchen staff can not keep up with the service and the food is less than palatable for the guests. Gordon simplifies the menu, cleans up the kitchen and trains the staff to be more productive by doing things a better way.

It is a hard task. Despite the fact that the restaurant is failing, most owners and chefs are unwilling to let go of their vision for their business. The very things onto which they hold most tightly are usually the very things that keep the customers from darkening their doorsteps. One chef did not believe Gordon when he told the chef that he used too many ingredients with a dish. Gordon brought an inspector for a restaurant award organization that made the same comments. Only then did the chef believe Gordon.

Some owners simply have a hard time letting go. In many cases, the owners also serve as head chef, ignoring the other aspects of leading that are necessary in running a business. They worry so much about what is happening in the kitchen that they forget about marketing and running the front end of the business. These owner/chefs are usually not very good chefs. They have a vision but are unable to accomplish what they want for their business. What they really want, instead of serving the public that might visit their restaurant, is the praise they think they deserve for their unique offering. Gordon tries to identify other members of the staff that are talented and trainable to take over different aspects of the business, leaving the owner free to manage everything.

A successful restaurant is the pride of the owner, and it is successful because he or she is able to manage every aspect of the business. However, the best owner or manager gives the credit to those who have done the work. Though he is often the face of the restaurant and the one to receive the praise, he will be thankful on behalf of those who have actually done the work. The best gift a manager can give to his staff are the words, “I couldn’t do it without them.” They are the ones whose hands get wet in the dishwater and whose feet hurt from running around all night. They are the ones who disappear into the background so that the manager gets the credit, although without them he could not be successful.

Peter is like that restaurant owner who gives credit where credit is due. He hasn’t done anything in this story except stand as the face of Christ in the world. The power of healing came from Jesus. The transformation of lives comes from the grace of God. Peter is just a front man, willing to confess his inability to do such things while lifting up the story of the One who can. He tells the story of Jesus, the One they destroyed, so that they might know that He did not remain destroyed. He then calls them to believe and repent so that they too might know the transforming grace of God through Christ Jesus.


April 17, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

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

There is a company down the street that has a large digital sign that they use to advertise. Not only do they post specials, but they also use the sign to advertise some other businesses and organizations in the area. They announce birthdays and other special events. They also post humorous bits of wisdom that make the passing drivers laugh, and sometime think.

Recently I saw this saying, “I don’t suffer from stress. I’m a carrier.” Stress is definitely a part of our lives. Problem after problem pile up on our shoulders, giving us plenty to worry about. Financial crisis affects other aspects of our lives. Higher prices for things like gas and food stretch our resources. We have less to take care of our debts. We have little left to save, so we are not prepared for those emergencies that arise. Even driving our cars can be a source for stress because every bump and knock we hear makes us worry that we will be facing a large mechanics bill or the need to replace the vehicle.

It is hard on everyone, but parents deal with a unique stress because children do not understand about financial crisis. I’m sure that right now there are plenty of parents concerned about what they will do with and for their children this summer. They are asking those hard questions: can we afford summer camp? Can we take that trip to Disney we promised? Though these things are not necessities, a child does not understand what it means to have less disposable income. Those things have always been a part of their life. What is different now? Even well behaved children will add to their parents’ stress because the parent knows how beneficial those experiences are for a child. The parents end up worrying about broken promises.

The weather adds to our burden. Some places are dealing with severe drought. Here in Texas our grass is dying and our foundations are shifting due to a lack of water. Meanwhile, in the Midwest whole towns are being washed away with flood waters. It is snowing in Colorado. Severe storms are threatening many places and the Hurricane Center is already making predictions about this summer’s storms. It doesn’t help that those reporting on these natural disasters make it sound like it has never been this bad before, saying things like “It hasn’t been this bad for a decade” as if ten years is an eternity. New records are set not for all time, but in recent history. “We haven’t seen this since 2005,” the reporter says as if those things are completely unheard of in that part of the country. We are warned that earthquakes, tornadoes and wildfires will endanger us as if there it has never been possible. The way we receive news makes us feel greater stress.

The stress we face means that some people are responding in extreme ways. The news seems full of more stories about people who have turned against other people. There seems to be more stories about shootings, robberies, arson and abuse. Domestic violence is on the rise and even animals are suffering from the crisis. People who lose their homes have no place to keep their pets. Animals become punching bags that can’t complain. One of the first expenses cut is often care for our furry friends.

We could name a million other ways the stress is affecting people in our world today. It is a wonder that anyone can say, “I don’t suffer from stress.” Of course, the joke is in the fact that the writer is the carrier, causing stress in others. Is it funny in this day when so many are responding so violently against their troubles? Yet, this is a very optimistic point of view. When we are faced with such difficult circumstances, we have to ask ourselves whether we are defeatist or optimistic. Will we continue to suffer or are better times around the corner? The answer to that question is what drives our response. If we believe that tomorrow will be a good day, we’ll do positive things. If continued suffering is our fate, then nothing we do, good or bad, will make any difference.

David was always facing some enemy. We see in the psalms his songs of lament and worry. But we also see that he faced those times of difficulty with faith. His God was trustworthy, so he had nothing to fear. In today’s psalm, he cried out to God, asking God to answer him, to have mercy and to hear his prayer. Yet, even in that cry he spoke to God with confidence in God’s saving hand. “You gave me relief in my distress,” he said. He then turned his words to his enemies. “Let go of the battle because my God will not let me lose.” He faced his difficulty with faith, knowing that God is trustworthy.

We probably shouldn’t be a carrier of stress, since so many people are already dealing with problems that seem beyond their ability to handle, but we need not suffer from it either. We can, in our faith, have the same attitude as David: that we need not be concerned that our neighbors have plenty of grain and wine. Hope in the Lord gives us something that they can never have: a greater joy that gives us the peace to sleep well at night, despite the difficulties we face.


April 20, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

1 John 3:1-7 Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him. My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

Victoria was in a play this spring called “Melancholy Play” which was written by Sarah Ruhl. The main character, Tilly, is melancholy. Melancholy is a state of being that is beyond sadness: it is deep and lasting, a lingering state of depression. Now, most of us would consider a lasting state of sadness unattractive. We would rather be near people who are happy because we join in their joy. We don’t like to share in depression because it makes us depressed, too. However, there was something beautiful and attractive about Tilly’s melancholy. The other characters in the play are phenomenally drawn to Tilly; each and every one of them falls madly in love with her. They are happy in her presence.

Their happiness must have found a way through her melancholy because in the middle of the play she suddenly becomes deliriously happy. In this state of joy, Tilly is no longer attractive or beautiful to her friends. They do not share in her joy: instead the fall into her melancholy. One of her friends becomes so blue over the transformation of Tilly that she becomes… and almond. During the rest of the play the group of friends tries to find a way to bring Francis back and in the end the audience, and the cast, are never quite sure whether Francis has become human again or if everyone has become an almond. Yes, the play is a humorous look at melancholy and is very funny.

One of the things that makes this play so funny is how Tilly’s melancholy makes her friends respond in quite the opposite emotion. We usually share in emotions. We are happy when those around us are happy and sad when those around us are sad. We certainly do not become joyously happy when our friends are depressed. Even if we don’t become melancholy, we don’t act deliriously happy in their presence. We try to help them through their emotions, meeting them with compassion.

There’s a funny sign that women like to post in their homes, and it says, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” This is true because when Momma is frazzled by the work she has to do, she takes it out on the others in the house. If there are too many dishes in the sink, the kids hear long lectures about wasting valuable resources when they take a clean cup every time they take a drink of water. Toys on the living room floor bring out the wrath of Momma. You don’t even want to see Momma when there are dirty footprints in the kitchen. On the other hand, how happy is the household after Momma has had a quiet and relaxing bubble bath without children interrupting. The point of the funny sign is so that everyone will remember that happiness comes when Momma is kept happy.

We live in between the now and the future. We are saved and yet we are not fully saved. We live in the already but not yet. We are children of God, and yet what that means for us in the future has not yet been revealed. We are transformed by the grace of God, but we’ll be transformed in that day when we are in His presence again. What He is has already changed us. We are forgiven. We have the Holy Spirit. We are living new in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though we are not quite there and we do not see Him clearly, He is still with us and in us. We live in a hope that is without disappointment, knowing that what is now will be even more so some day. And in that hope we live as Jesus lived, and doing as He did. We share in His righteousness and are righteous as He was righteous.


April 21, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Luke 24:36b-48 …he himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they beheld a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and wherefore do questionings arise in your heart? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here anything to eat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish. And he took it, and ate before them. And he said unto them, These are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things.

“They still disbelieved for joy,” says Luke in today’s passage. The New Revised Standard Version words this phrase, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” This is such an odd statement. How can they be happy about something they can’t believe is happening?

Yet, haven’t we all experienced that at some point in our lives? Have you ever been so joyously in love and yet at the same time questioning how that glorious creature could possibly love you too? Have you ever received an award or a gift that seems way beyond what you deserve, and even while accepting the award and gift with joy can’t believe that you are actually the recipient? Have you ever gotten a test back, thinking that you must have failed only to find that you did very well? Your examples might be different, but I’m sure each of us can remember a time when we’ve received something with the same joy but also disbelief that the disciples experienced when Jesus came again.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear another version of the same story we heard from John’s Gospel last week. In this story, the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have just returned from that extraordinary experience. They had met a man along the road and there was something different about him that they noticed as they walked and talked. He explained the scriptures in a way they’d never heard before, not even from Jesus. They did not know that this was their Master and friend. He was different. His words were somehow new. They were beginning to understand the things Jesus had said before He died. Then, when He broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw Him clearly. Only then did they know it was Jesus.

They ran back to Jerusalem, to the upper room, to the place where the disciples were hiding and told them what they had seen. Imagine the scene: two disciples run in breathless with the biggest news the disciples have ever heard. They, of course, had heard the same news from Mary, but no one really the women. Now, they heard it again from the two men, but it is still unbelievable. They were discussing it as Jesus appeared. What do you think they were saying? “You saw Jesus? But He’s dead!” “Was it a ghost?” They were probably arguing about what the disciples had seen and experienced. They were probably even arguing about what they had heard. “What do you mean that he said that he was the one that Moses and the prophets were talking about?” Religious debate can be heated even when those arguing have had similar experiences. Imagine how hard it must have been on those two disciples to explain the unexplainable to those who had not yet experienced it.

In the middle of this discussion, Jesus appears. Now, I can see those two disciples saying, “See, we told you so!” And yet, they were probably as startled and frightened as the rest of the group. After all, they had seen Jesus and knew that it was Him, but then He just disappeared from their sight. They didn’t know where He went. I wonder if those two disciples were trying to get the other disciples to run back to Emmaus with them. “Come with us and see!” But there He was, in the midst of the disciples, appearing as quickly as He’d disappeared after breaking bread at their table.

It is no surprise, then, that the disciples were both joyous and disbelieving. After all, this was beyond their understanding. No one had ever been resurrected. They’d never met a physical being that was man and yet not man. Despite the times and ways Jesus told them that He would be raised, they didn’t expect this turn of events. They were probably in the upper room trying to figure out what they would do. Who would be their new leader? Or, the more likely possibility, they were probably deciding to drop it all and return to their lives. Joy and disbelief is the natural response to this circumstance. “Yes, He’s back! But how?”


April 22, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

He said unto them, Have ye here anything to eat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish. And he took it, and ate before them.

The circumstances the disciples experienced on that first Easter were extraordinary. Emotions must have been running high. They were grieving because the Master whom they followed for three years died just a few days before. They were angry because the people who should have stood up for justice and Jesus were among those who cause His death. They were afraid because they did not know whether or not those same leaders might go after them. They were probably tired for lack of sleep and hungry for lack of appetite. Then, when the women and the disciples from Emmaus came into their presence with the strange news that Jesus had been raised, they were probably confused, doubtful, curious and perhaps even anxious for it to be true.

When Jesus did appear in the upper room with the disciples, it is no surprise that they misunderstood what they were seeing. They knew about spirits, ghosts and other superstitious possibilities. They did not believe that anyone could be resurrected. According to N. T. Wright, in his book “Surprised by Hope,” there were very few people in Jesus’ day that believed that a body could be made alive again. Those who did believe in resurrection believed that it would happen only at the end of time. No human was ever expected to be raised in the middle of history. So, these disciples were expected to believe something that was completely outside their understanding. The fact that Jesus’ body was different didn’t help matters. He could walk through walls and appear out of nowhere. What was this being that was standing in their midst?

In John’s story, Jesus simply tells them to touch His wounds. By feeling His body they would know that it was true. Luke makes it even clearer that Jesus was not a spirit or something else: He had a human body. Jesus asked the disciples for something to eat. Though they touched His body, there was still left room for doubt. People who have had paranormal experiences tell stories about solid looking apparitions and the feeling of a physical presence. People talk about feeling the touch of a hand or even physical force. But ghosts do not need to eat.

Though we see something unique in Jesus, Luke is very careful to show us that the Jesus the disciples met after the resurrection was very real and very human. There were already some who were trying to diminish the events of Easter to nothing more than a spiritual rebirth. Others were claiming that the body had been stolen. Luke, by noting the meal Jesus ate, firmly establishes that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. We still do not understand exactly the type of body He had, but despite those odd differences, it was still like ours. Since Jesus is the first born of the dead, we see that our resurrected bodies will also be very real and very human. From this, N. T. Wright suggests that we should rethink our understanding of Heaven. It won’t be a place, he says, where disembodied spirits hang out on fluffy clouds and we never become angels. Our eternal life will be spent in a new earth with a new flesh that is very real and very human that does not perish but has everlasting life. This is the true hope of our faith that we received on that first Easter.


April 23, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 3, 2009: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Acts 4:5-12 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power, or in what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.

Victoria has starred in several stage productions at college this year. We are lucky enough to be close enough to her school that we can go see her on stage. When she was in high school we barely missed a performance, watching each production several times. We don’t get to see her as often now. The cost of tickets is prohibitive and the distance, though not far, is not close enough to travel several days in a week. The school helps with the cost, offering a few tickets to each student for family and friends. Victoria tells us, “All you have to do is give them my name.” Her name has clout at the ticket office.

When we lived in Arkansas, we had friends whose daughter was part of a popular singing group. We went to see the group in concert and our friends were there helping with the children of the singers. Our friends told us to go to the stage door at a certain hour and ask for them. When we did this, we would be given back stage access before the show. We were able to hang out with the singers, to get a few pictures and autographs. My friends’ names had cloud.

I was published this year in a quarterly devotional book put out by our national church publisher. It was a wonderful experience from the challenge of writing and editing all the way to the comments I have received about the stories. On a few occasions people who have met me say, “You are Peggy Hoppes? I really enjoyed your writing.” My name meant something to those who had read my stories. My name isn’t going to get any one into a concert or show, but they might ask me to talk about my faith. If that happens, then I can bring up the name that has real clout.

The people mentioned in today’s passage were men of power and position. We are given the names of the high priestly family, but they were accompanied by the rulers, elders and scribes. These men made up the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of the Jews. The court was made up of mostly Sadducees, a sect of Judaism that had did not believe in any resurrection. A doctrine of resurrection of the dead at the end of time had developed among some Jews, but the Sadducees adamantly rejected that doctrine. So, when the disciples’ preaching about Jesus resurrection was gaining popularity with the people, they knew they had to put a stop to it. Peter and John were arrested.

The catalyst for this arrest was the story from last week, when Peter commanded the lame beggar to walk by the name of Jesus. Peter then told the amazed crowds that it was not by his power or ability that the beggar was healed, it was by the power of the One they had crucified and who was raised from the dead. Peter then called for the people in the Temple to repent and turn to God to received the forgiveness God has offered through Jesus Christ.

What exactly caused the Sanhedrin to arrest Peter and John? The question asked at the trial was “By what power, or in what name, have ye done this?” Peter answers, “If we’ve been arrested because we kindly helped a cripple, then know this: it is Jesus’ name that healed the man.” Would they have arrested the disciples for healing someone? The answer to the question is that Jesus is the source of their power. But they did more than simply heal the cripple. They offered forgiveness of sins, the same blasphemous crime that Jesus committed. The Sanhedrin, especially the high priests, rejected the very premise that gave Jesus the authority to transform the world: His resurrection. That authority was the capstone of everything the disciples preached. Jesus is the only way to salvation. This proclamation took the power away from the Jewish leaders. This was really the ‘crime’ for which they had been arrested. The disciples’ teaching threatened their authority with the Jewish people. It was the same reason they destroyed Jesus. It is the same reason the world threatens the faithful today.


April 24, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 3, 2009: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

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.

Psalm Twenty-Three is one of the most beloved passages of scripture, perhaps even one of the best known. Even if you can’t quote it word for word, I suspect that you are familiar enough with it to give a decent rendering. We love this passage because we find comfort in it, especially in those tough times. It is, of course, used often at the beside of the sick and dying and is very popular at funerals. In it we can experience God’s presence and His care through the good times and bad.

Yet, I have to admit that we use it an awful lot in the lectionary. It is the psalm of the day at least six times in the three year lectionary, so we’ve looked at it more than any other text in the past three years. It might also be used at other times, for special festivals or remembrances. It is always used on the fourth Sunday of Easter, which is Good Shepherd Sunday, so we hear it each year at this time.

So, how do we look at something that is so familiar with new eyes? Perhaps we should see it from the point of view of Peter, who was our main character in yesterday’s text. Peter, zealous to continue the work Christ began, met a beggar at the door of the Temple. Instead of handing him money, which Peter had none, Peter gave him the one thing he had: healing in Jesus’ name. The crowds were amazed, but Peter quieted their questions with a proclamation of the Gospel. “Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises found in Moses and the prophets. All those who believe in Him will be heirs, forgiven and transformed and blessed.” The leaders of the Temple were offended by their preaching. Who was Peter to offer forgiveness? This was as blasphemous as the things that Jesus was preaching. Peter was, in his preaching, usurping the authority that the Temple leaders though belonged to them.

So, he was arrested, along with John. We don’t really know how much time passed between that first Easter Day and the day they were arrested. It was at least seven weeks, after Pentecost. The early Christian community, not yet identified by that name, was beginning to grow. As a matter of fact, those who believed after the healing of the crippled man numbered over five thousand men, not to mention the women and children. This was a quickly growing community of faith. They had established some customs, meeting together for meals, learning from the apostles, breaking the bread as Christ has commanded, sharing everything with one another. They praised God together and were making a difference in the world in which they lived.

Peter and John knew that some day they would fast inquiry from the Temple leaders. Jesus had told them that they would be hated as he had been hated. They would suffer the same persecution, perhaps even drink the same cup. Yet, Peter faced this arrest and false trial calmly with confidence. It wasn’t his own words or abilities that gave him hope or peace. It was the knowledge that Jesus Christ was his Shepherd. Perhaps the comforting words of this psalm were on his lips that night he spent in prison. He was walking through a valley, and did not know what would happen the next day. But he trusted in the One who did know, and who had prepared that table of goodness on which Peter could feast even in the presence of his enemies. He was happy, content. He knew God’s lovingkindness surrounded him, despite the circumstances he had to face.

We can face our difficulties with the same trust and confidence. The Lord is indeed our Shepherd. He walks with us, helps us through the good times and the bad. He prepares a place for us and provides all we need. Our cup runs over, not by any work of our own but because God loves us as His own. We are His sheep and we need not fear.


April 27, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 3, 2009: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

1 John 3:16-24 Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth. Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.

A few years ago I heard a story about a woman who had stabbed her husband. I do not recall the circumstances, I’m not even sure I ever heard about motives. Perhaps she had been abused. Perhaps she had lost her temper. In other words, I don’t know if the stabbing was self-defense or if she was the aggressor. What I do recall was the most bizarre response the woman had to the event. When she was speaking with a policeman on the scene, she asked if the knife would be returned to her. The policeman was a bit shocked by the question, but asked her, “Why?” She answered, “Because that knife was part of a set that was given to us for our wedding.” Isn’t it ironic that the gift was seemingly more important than her husband? The marriage was obviously broken in some way, yet she did not want the set of knives to be broken.

Again, we don’t know what motivated the woman to stab her husband, but we still have to ask the question that John insinuates in today’s passage: what kind of love does a person have when material goods are more important than human need?

Perhaps a better example of this is the man who works eighty hours a week to keep his family in a lifestyle to which they become accustomed. Yes, it is the loving man who willingly sacrifices his time and energy for the sake of his family, but is he making the right sacrifice? Are the big house, the state of the art electronics and the expensive clothes worth the lost time together as a family? He loves his family by doing for them, instead of being with them. Perhaps the real sacrifice would be letting go of some of the stuff so that true love between people can be maintained.

Jesus’ sacrificed Himself for the sake of those He loves. He died on the cross so that we might have life. He did not do this so that we might have bigger houses or fancier clothes. He did not do this so that we would put the symbols that mean something to us ahead of the needs of others. What kind of life do we have if stuff is more important than people? We are called to live the life that lives sacrificially for others. This means laying aside our own selves and desires to aid those who need our help.

John writes, “Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.” What does it mean to lay down our lives for another? It means, like Peter and John, facing the questions from the Sanhedrin with the confidence that God is the one who is able to transform lives and spread the Gospel message. It means living humbly in the world, realizing that an incomplete set of knives is trivial but a broken heart or shattered relationship requires mercy and compassion, forgiveness and hope. Love isn’t found in the good things we collect. God doesn’t dwell in that kind of love. He abides in the hearts of those who live in the forgiveness of God and share the transforming power of God’s grace with others. As the song says, “they will know we are Christian by our love” and that love is manifest through the deeds we do for the sake of others.

We tell our children, our spouses, our neighbors and others how much we love them, yet we spend so much time keeping up with an unsustainable lifestyle that we lose touch with those we love. We can say we love someone a thousand times, but they are empty words when we spend more time collecting material possessions than we do in the presence of those we claim to love. Our needs are not just physical. We need love, companionship, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Let us never focus so heavily on the material gifts we love that we want them more than the relationships God has given to meet our deeper needs.


April 28, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 3, 2009: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

John 10:11-18 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth them, and scattereth them: he fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and they shall become one flock, one shepherd. Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father.

We’ve all seen the images. The reporter and cameraman follow animal control officials into a compound where the caretakers have lost control. Animals are found in cages that are much too small, lying in their own waste. They are diseased and malnourished. The owners are arrested or fined for animal abuse and the animals are taken away to someone who will properly care for them. It is heartbreaking to see those animals: the cry for help in their eyes, the frighteningly thin bodies and scruffy exteriors.

In another example, a family has a heart for caring for animals. They take in a stray cat or two, but soon the numbers are unmanageable. They can’t afford to have the cats neutered, or they adopt the pets when they are already pregnant. One or two cats quickly becomes a dozen, which quickly becomes too many for one home. Though they may offer food and water for the animals, it is difficult to keep a home with so many pets clean. Carpets become stained and the furniture infested with fleas. The house smells of urine. The people meant well. They had the heart to take care of the needs for those first strays, but they did not have the resources or know how to deal with all aspects of pet ownership. It is expensive to take each animal for shots and other medical services. In the end, the picture is not pretty and the animals are not really given the care they need.

These two examples might be models of bad shepherds. What does it mean to be a good shepherd? Let me tell you a third story. In Warwickshire, England, animal control officers found a whimpering dog cowering inside a locked shed, obviously not given the care she needed. She was timid from abuse, as well as dirty and starving. They took her to a wildlife sanctuary where the keepers help injured or abandoned animals heal before they are released back into the wild or given to good families. They took very good care of the dog who rebounded quickly. She was brought back to full health and her trust in human beings was restored. The man who runs the sanctuary, Geoff Grewcock, began looking for a new home for the dog they had named Jasmine. Jasmine had a different plan.

As new animals were brought into the sanctuary, Jasmine took it upon herself to be a one dog welcome wagon. She took care of the animals, loving them like a mother. It didn’t matter what type of animal was brought it, she stayed with them, lay with them, cuddled with them, cleaned them. She ensured their comfort and gave them the love and support they needed. I heard about this story through an email, and in the email there are pictures of Jasmine interacting with deer, bunnies, foxes, badgers, guinea pigs, and even birds. In one picture, Jasmine is laying on a coach with some of her friends: two dogs, a deer, a rabbit and an owl. Not only has Jasmine made the other animals trust her, they trust each other even though in the wild they may be enemies or prey.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John writes about a shepherd as he might be in the field with a flock of sheep. It doesn’t matter about the dangers he might face, he will not abandon his flock. Unlike the hired hands, he will stay with them despite the angry wolves. Jesus is also like Jasmine, embracing every hurt and frightened animal. He provides all we need so that we might have life and have it abundantly. In this story, Jesus tells the disciples that whatever happens to Him (and they would soon learn about His horrible end on the cross), He is not destroyed by others. He does lay down His life for His sheep. Whatever happens, Jesus tells them, He has the power and those who would harm Him do not. So, even today we listen to His voice and follow Him because He knows us and we know Him. It is in His care we will find peace and love.


April 29, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 3, 2009: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

I use several resources to help me as I write the daily and weekly devotions. In one, Dan Nelson writes, “How nice it would be just to be sheep. Then Jesus could take care of us and we would not have to do anything.” There are definitely sometimes when I wish I could not have to make so many decisions, especially the hard ones that affect the lives of others. Oh, most of the decisions I make are unimportant, like what to have for dinner or which flowers to plan in my garden. Our lives wouldn’t be much different one way or another. But the decision about whether or not to take my child to the doctor when he or she is sick could be the difference between life and death.

But it is not just the decisions we make that affect others that are difficult. Have you ever wondered where you might be if you had made different decisions along the way? What if you went to a different school or pursued a different career? What if you didn’t turn down that prom date or go on that spring break trip? What might be different? Do you have any regrets? Do you think it would have been easier if there had been someone telling you what you should do every step along the way?

We aren’t sheep. As Dan Nelson says, “That is not the plan.” Jesus is our shepherd, but that doesn’t mean that He will do everything for us. Instead, we are called to be shepherds right along side our Lord and Master, helping others to live and learn and love. Jesus is our cornerstone and we have been built up from that foundation.

Those moments when we do offer a word of hope for our neighbors may seem very insignificant. After all, Peter and John did little more than say, “Get up in the name of Jesus” and a man was healed. If it hadn’t been for the crowds in the Temple at the time, we might not have even heard that story. They saw a man they knew had been begging by the Temple gate. What did they think when he began jumping for joy? Perhaps they thought that he had been faking. How can a man unable to walk one minute dance the next? The man wasn’t even a very good beggar. He didn’t care. Peter and John had to say, “Look at us” before the man even realized they were there. He was in despair and felt that nothing he did would make a difference. So, once in awhile, as pilgrims passed by, he called out to them for money. He knew that most would ignore his pleas, but he cried out anyway because it was the only thing he could do.

I suppose that’s how we get to the point of thinking that we’d rather be sheep. It was not a very good life the beggar was leading, but it was much easier to be dropped on the doorstep of the Temple for the day than to deal with the realities of his life. Bad circumstances make us think that we aren’t capable of making the right decisions, so we want someone else to do it for us. If we were sheep, we’d never have to worry. If we are hungry we can blame someone else. When we are sheep, we just look to others to provide all we need. But we aren’t sheep. As a matter of fact, God calls us to be shepherds.

So, as we go about our day, is there someone sitting at the gate who needs a word of hope from Jesus? The impact of that word might be greater than we would ever expect. The Good Shepherd has given us the gifts we need to make a transforming difference in the lives of those who are lost in the darkness of this world, but we can’t accomplish anything with those gifts if we are expecting others to do everything for us. We are blessed to be a blessing. It might seem hard sometimes. We might even fail to do what we should do. But we can go forth in faith knowing that Jesus has accomplished the hard work of salvation, doing our best to share His grace with others in whatever manner we are able. God knows our limitations and He is with us through it all.


April 30, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, May 10, 2009: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Acts 8:26-40 But an angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza: the same is desert. And he arose and went: and behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship; and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some one shall guide me? And he besought Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, So he openeth not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: His generation who shall declare? For his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other? And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached the gospel to all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

I think it is good for us to see Philip as he is introduced in the book of Acts. “They therefore that were scattered abroad, went about preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ. And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For from many of those that had unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed. And there was much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4-8, ASV)

So, the disciples were scattered, but they didn’t go into hiding. They went to the four corners of their world to preach the Gospel message to the nations. Philip was one of the deacons chosen in Acts 6, so he wasn’t one of the twelve gifted and sent. That didn’t stop him from doing the work of the kingdom. And, it appears from this passage, he was succeeding. The people were experiencing the joy of the Lord, watching Philip do incredible things. He was healing and casting out demons and they believed what Philip had to say because of the work he was doing.

This is terrific. I’m sure most pastors and evangelists out there would give their lives for a congregation willing to listen to everything they have to say. They would be very happy to have such a successful ministry. But we read on in Philip’s story that an angel whispered in his ear, “Go now.” “Now?” we would ask. “But I’m just beginning here. There is too much work left to do. There are too many people left to save!” We might even reject the voice, claiming that it is the devil trying to confuse us and make us lose our place in God’s work.

That’s not the way Philip responded to this call. Luke tells us that Philip, “arose and went.” He was so confident in the word of God that he willingly left a successful ministry to go into the unknown. It was not only an uncertain command, but it was dangerous. The road from Jerusalem to Gaza was infested with criminals—killers and thieves. It was not a place where one would wander alone. The Ethiopian eunuch was certainly not alone. He was probably accompanied by a large entourage, including soldiers, servants and guests. He was representing the queen of Ethiopia, so he had the resources of the kingdom at his disposal.

So, as Philip is walking down this road, he hears the voice again, “Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” Again, we think, “Are you kidding me? Those soldiers don’t look like they would welcome my presence so near to the official.” I surely would not run toward the group. Philip, however, ran to the chariot. In the story we hear, along with Philip, that the eunuch is reading the book of Isaiah. He was probably taking the scroll back to Ethiopia where there was a small but faithful community of Jews from the days of Solomon. It is not only amazing that this man had a scroll, they were rare and expensive, but he also knew the language. We know now that this was obviously where Philip is really meant to be. While we might have had doubts that the voice was really from God, we know now that Philip has work to do. That Ethiopian community needs to hear the Gospel message, too.

So, Philip asks, “Do you know what it means?” The Ethiopian admits that it doesn’t make sense, so Philip joins him in the chariot and tells him the story of Jesus. The eunuch is so transformed by the story that he asks to be baptized, so they stop the caravan by a puddle at the side of the road and Philip welcomes him into the kingdom of God. Philip immediately disappears as the Holy Spirit whisks him off to another mission and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.

From this story we learn several things. First of all, we learn that we might be called out of a successful mission into the unknown to do something that seems dangerous and ridiculous. We also learn that what seems like an insignificant moment or ministry (to one person) might have an incredibly large impact on the world (as is seen in the now faithful Christian community in Ethiopia.) Finally, we learn that we should be ready for anything. Could you explain Isaiah 53 to a stranger in a chariot if God called you into that mission? Yes, God is with us when He takes us into the world to preach the Gospel, but we should keep actively in the scriptures so that we will be confidently ready with an answer whenever we are called to give one.