Welcome to the April 2024 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Topics

Fool

Encouragement

Praise

Obedience

Real

Disappointment

Grace

Attitude

Pray

Humility

Obedience

Devil

Sacrifice

Myth

Skeptical


A WORD FOR TODAY


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







A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2024





April 1, 2024

“Dead flies cause the oil of the perfumer to produce an evil odor; so does a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor. A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but a fool’s heart at his left. Yes also when the fool walks by the way, his understanding fails him, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. If the spirit of the ruler rises up against you, don’t leave your place; for gentleness lays great offenses to rest.” Ecclesiastes 10:1-4, WEB

Today is April Fool’s Day. All over the world, people will be playing practical jokes on their family and friends. How did this tradition get started? It is likely that it began in medieval times when the Gregorian calendar was established. Before the mid-16th century, the Europeans celebrated New Year in the springtime, around April 1st. In 1564, King Charles IX of France accepted the more accurate Gregorian calendar, which made New Year's on January 1st.

Some people were too stubborn to change, or they had not received the news of the change, so they continued to celebrate on April 1st. They were called “April Fish.” They were looked upon as fools and were targeted with foolish gifts and invitations to celebrations that weren’t happening. Eventually everyone accepted the new calendar, but they continued to play pranks on April Fool’s Day.

Kids all over the world will play some sort of silly game with their parents and friends. As they tremble in pretend fear, they will say, “What is that sneaking up behind you?” as if there was a spider or rhinoceros just inches away from your back. The jokes are not limited to childish play. Adults also try to fool people. Many people will play practical jokes today, and as many people will fall for those practical jokes. In most cases, it is harmless fun. I confess I’ve played my own share of jokes, and I’ve been fooled often. I would hate to admit how many times I’ve read an April1st article about something exciting, only to discover that it was a joke. A few years ago, the local zoo claimed they were going to build a dome over the zoo to create the perfect environment for the animals and visitors. I’ve seen one joke almost yearly about a bluebonnet rattle snake on every wildflower site.

Most jokes are just harmless fun, but not all jokes have such a happy ending. Some people go to great lengths to plan and execute practical jokes, but some jokes have a lasting impact that we do not realize when we are playing them. Many jokes, which seem harmless and fun, are actually rather hurtful to the one who is made the fool, sometimes they even end in pain and heartache. It may be funny on April Fool’s Day to cause someone to be a fool, but in the kingdom of God it is better to be wise than to be a fool.

Before you play any jokes this year, remember that your every thought, word, and deed impact the world in some way. We are called by Christ to live in faith that is right, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous, and praise filled. Our silliness may seem harmless today, but it may cause someone you love lasting grief and could be the end of a relationship. Is it worth the risk?

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April 2, 2024

“Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is how you shall bless the children of Israel.’ You shall tell them, ‘Yahweh bless you, and keep you. Yahweh make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you. Yahweh lift up his face toward you, and give you peace.’ So they shall put my name on the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27, WEB

We don’t watch the news very much because it just makes us discouraged. Relational and financial difficulties, sadness, grief, loneliness, and fear weigh us down. I confess that I often get frustrated and judgmental, and though I don’t say so to their face, I grumble in a way that God certainly hears. I once read a prayer that asked God to help us become encouragers, not discouragers. It is so easy for us to think negatively, to see the bad in others, and speak dispiriting words. While there may be times when we have to speak in a way that helps our neighbor do what is right or better for their life and the world, we should do so in a way that inspires them. Discouraging words tend to make us quit or rebel, rather than change.

The prayer went on to ask God to help us be a benediction to others, “always making life easier, never harder for those who come within our influence.” This made me think about the word benediction. We usually think of it in terms of a blessing given by a priest or minister at the end of the service as we are leaving the building to go out into the world. The words of today’s passage are a benediction given to Aaron and the Levites to bless the people of Israel.

A benediction is a short prayer asking for God’s divine blessing, guidance, and help. In an online dictionary, the first definition is “an utterance of good wishes.” Another source lists “expression of approval or good wishes” as the first definition. I think this is an interesting perspective on the word benediction, because we usually think of it in terms of a blessing said over us, to protect us or send us on our way. But the words in the benediction go deeper than that. In this passage, God is telling Moses that He wants to make the lives of His people easier, to speak encouraging words so that we will go out into the world to be encouragers, not discouragers. It is not simply a proclamation of God’s grace on our heads, but a commission for us to be God’s grace to the world.

The prayer asked that we may be a benediction. Now, we could speak those words to others, and that would be wonderful. However, we can be the benediction by blessing others and keeping them (taking care of them), by shining God’s light on them and being gracious to them, by being a very real presence in their lives so that they will not be afraid. Our encouragement will help them find peace. It is easy to speak words, but we are called to be a reflection of Jesus Christ in the world.

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April 3, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for April 7, 2024, Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

“Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh from the heavens! Praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels! Praise him, all his army! Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you heavens of heavens, you waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise Yahweh’s name, for he commanded, and they were created.” Psalm 148:1-5, WEB

Most families are different now than they had been in Jesus’ day. We don’t have communal family homes anymore, 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, but 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. We don’t live this type of family life, but we see how they dealt with the consequences of their decision to follow Jesus and learn that sharing our resources is the life we are called to live.

Generosity is a way of life for Christians in every age, but it is up to us to learn how to do that in our circumstances. Should we be selling our homes and moving into a 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 from Acts is about Ananias and Sapphira who sold their belongings and gave a portion to the disciples to distribute. This was extremely generous, but they claimed they gave the whole amount. They were punished, not for keeping some of the profit, but for lying about giving it all away. Peter said, “Wasn’t it yours to begin with? Why would you lie about it?” Barnabas was able to give the entire prophet from the sale of a field, and he did so out of his heart. Ananias and Sapphira gave what they gave and lied because they wanted the approval of others. We are to give as we are able, not with boasting and self-piety or lies, but with our hearts.

For many communities in America, the conversation this week (with months and years of planning) is about the total solar eclipse on Monday. There have been reports about the expectations. The weather is not cooperating; at least in our area we are expecting cloudy skies. City, county, and state officials are concerned about the influx of millions of people. Most small towns in the eclipse zone are expecting two to three times as many as normal. This means traffic jams, impossible parking, empty store shelves, and questionable cell service. Hotels have been sold out for months, and local businesses are renting parking spots for as much as $100 for a day. Many places have planned watch parties. I’m headed to a ranch for the weekend for a retreat.

I’ve heard several stories about the scientists that have converged on the area to study the effect of the eclipse. The largest community of Mexican Fruit bats live in a cave a few miles form here. There are as many as 30 million bats that sleep in that cave. During summer, the emergence at dusk of these bats during the summer can be seen on weather radar. Chiropterologists are going to converge on the cave to watch how those bats respond to the darkening of the sky. Others will visit a community of bats that lives in Austin to see how they will respond. They are expecting the eclipse to confuse the animals, both wild and domestic, making some begin to settle for the night as if it were dusk and others to begin their nocturnal activities.

This eclipse is causing people to gather in the path, but in ages past eclipses caused confusion and fear. We understand better what is happening, but we also have advantages that they did not have hundreds of years ago. We have electricity and the light bulb, which means we can continue to do our work even when it is dark. I sometimes wonder if this is 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 scientists expect the eclipse to trick the animals into thinking it is dusk, but 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 definitely not against the light bulb! I’m as guilty as everyone else of using too many hours 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 bulb 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. That’s why millions are converging on a thin line through America.

We need to ask ourselves, though, 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? We learn through the scriptures that we are not our own, that we belong to God for a purpose. That purpose is to share the light that is Christ.

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. In the beginning, He said “It is good.” Yet, we got 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.

I can imagine that the disciples felt they were in the darkness again as they hid in the Upper Room on that first Easter. Our Gospel scripture for today continues the story we began on the day they discovered the resurrection. The disciples were dazed and confused. What happened? Is it true that Jesus rose from the dead? Did the women really see Him? Where is He now? They soon saw Him for themselves.

According to the scriptures, Jesus made twelve appearances after the Resurrection. He appeared to Mary (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18), the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13), Peter in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), His disciples except Thomas in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23), Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room (John 20:24-29), seven of His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24), five hundred believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6), James (1 Corinthians 15:7), eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:18-20), along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives before He ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53), and Paul on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8). We also know that Jesus spent time with the disciples during the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension. It is worthwhile reading these texts to see that the witness of these disciples and followers is true. They were witnesses, not only of the great work Jesus did before His death, but of the reality that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is alive, and those hundreds of people saw it for themselves.

We know about the twelve days of Christmas, but few even realize that Easter continues for eight days. It is called the Octave of Easter and ends this Sunday. Though the holy day is over, and our lives are getting back to normal after the holiday, we need to remember that the disciples were still confused and uncertain about what was happening to them. Jesus had appeared, but were they ready to truly believe? Were they ready to go into the world to tell others about Jesus? We do not hear a true confession of faith until the eighth day when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” The eggs may be found, the chocolate eaten and the lilies fading, but Easter continues.

I must confess that I enjoy watching some of the paranormal shows on television. I don’t like them all because some are overly dramatic. I enjoy the ones that use science to prove, or more often to disprove, the claims in the place they are investigating. The good investigators do not go in with preconceived expectations. They really want to find reasonable explanations for the paranormal events. They often have real world skills like plumbing and electrical expertise which helps the client see mechanical or technological answers to some of their questions. 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. One family had a television that turned on by itself. It turned out that the neighbor had a remote that controlled their TV!

The teams do 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 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 on that first Easter night. It was not normal for a dead man to walk again, or to appear out of nowhere. 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), N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham, once wrote, “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.

Thomas 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 (again) 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 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 Jesus still 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.

The light continues to shine through the church, beginning with Thomas’ confession of faith. Since that first Easter week, the Church has passed on the knowledge and experience of Christ in the world through the record of Jesus’ life from the apostolic witness in the scriptures and the traditions of the Church. The lives of the Saints who did great acts of faithfulness and taught us all we know about Jesus. Our own experiences of God touch our lives with His grace. We weren’t there during that first Easter week but have all this to help us know that Jesus is real and that His grace is transforming our lives and the world. We are those about whom Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.”

Jesus breathes on us and gives us the faith to believe based on their witness and His Word rather than on proof. Though we cannot experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, we can believe their words. The Resurrection was real, physical, and according to the promises in the scriptures. To reduce it to something less diminishes the witness of Peter, John, and the others. It also diminishes Jesus because He fulfilled everything that was promised by God through the Old Testament prophets. It all may seem ridiculous and impossible, but the story of Jesus’ ministry, Good Friday, Easter, and Eternity is as God intended. Jesus lived, died, and rose again by God’s hand and according to God’s plan so that we will live in joy forever.

John tells us that “Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” 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 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, built on the foundation of John’s confession of faith. It is no wonder, then, that there are those in our world today who doubt. Jesus says, “Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” It is hard, but we can help by being the witnesses God has called to share His grace and His light in this dark world so that those who need more than words can see. Through our lives and actions, in our faith and generosity, they will see that He truly lives.

Sunday, April 7th is the eighth day. It is the first day of the rest of our lives. By faith we dwell in the eighth day always. While the earth still turns and the sun still rises, we no longer live in darkness. Sometimes, like on the day of the eclipse, it seems like darkness can overtake the light. This might cause confusion and fear, but we need not be afraid. We don’t need a lightbulb to bring light to the darkness of this world. We live in the light because the Light is Christ. He lives so that we might have life. He shines through us to overcome the darkness that is caused by sin and death. We no longer need to fear because Jesus overcame them both for our sake. We dwell in eternity in the here and now even while we wait for eternity in the future.

This life does not come to us by physical proofs, but from the faith that God is faithful to His promises. As we dwell in this reality, Jesus fills us with faith that overflows into the lives of others through our words and the generosity that makes a difference in their lives. We are called together to be the body of Christ in the here and now as we wait until the day when we will all be joined in eternal praise and thanksgiving to the God who is victorious over sin and death. We are blessed to be a blessing, to give of our blessings from our hearts.

As we make our own confession of faith, like John, we do so with the joy of the eighth day. We are Easter people, and every day is a day of joy. The psalmist knew that even though we experience the most terrifying things of the earth like the darkness of an eclipse and the most mundane aspects of life like light bulbs, there is reason to sing. We can join in the psalmist’s song to praise God and give Him thanks.

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April 4, 2024

“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the country of Moab; for she had heard in the country of Moab how Yahweh had visited his people in giving them bread. She went out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her. They went on the way to return to the land of Judah. Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May Yahweh deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May Yahweh grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices, and wept. They said to her, ‘No, but we will return with you to your people.’ Naomi said, ‘Go back, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Go back, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, “I have hope,” if I should even have a husband tonight, and should also bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from having husbands? No, my daughters, for it grieves me seriously for your sakes, for Yahweh’s hand has gone out against me.’ They lifted up their voices and wept again; then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her.” Ruth 1:6-14, WEB

I love the story of Ruth. She was such a courageous and generous woman, leaving behind everything she knew and loved to go into a strange nation to take care of a lonely widow. Her choice ended well, with marriage to a fine man and her name mentioned among the descendants of Jesus Christ. She is an example of extreme kindness. It is unlikely we’ll need to make such extreme sacrifices to help someone, we are reminded by her story to look for opportunities to offer our lives to another.

What about the other character in this story? Orpah is a minor character, but worth pondering. Orpah was married to Naomi’s other son. After ten years, Orpah and Ruth’s husbands both died, leaving the three women widows. One day Naomi heard that the Lord had returned to His people in Judah, so she set out for home. Orpah and Ruth joined Naomi in preparing for the trip. Both women were willing to follow, to remain with the mother of their husbands to care for her.

Along the way, however, Naomi turned to the girls and told them to go home. She sent them back to their mothers so that they could begin a new life and family. They were each given a second chance at a happy life, a chance to find another husband without the burden of a needy mother-in-law. What man would want to take on an extra mouth to feed, especially in a land that had recently suffered from famine?

We tend to compare the two women. We see the extraordinary courage and unselfish generosity of Ruth and wonder how Orpah could coldly return to her home, seemingly abandoning Naomi. But was she really selfish? Did she really abandon Naomi? We cannot compare the two women. Yes, there was something extraordinary about Ruth, but was it something in her own being or something given to her? She had not grown up believing in our God, but our God gave her the faith to go with Naomi. Orpah was not meant to be in the rest of the story. She was obedient to the voice she heard; Ruth was responding to something completely different.

So, why was Orpah in the story at all? Does God give her as an example of what not to do? Are we meant to compare her to Ruth? I don’t think so. If we look at the language of names, Orpah is thought to have two separate meanings. One understanding is that it sounds like the Hebrew word for “stiff-necked,” referring to the way she turned back from Naomi. But the name can also mean “gazelle.” In Arabic literature, the gazelle represents female beauty.

We don’t hear any more about Orpah, but I think God had another purpose for her, one we will never know or understand. She didn’t follow Naomi because God did not call her to follow. Having two daughters-in-law would have caused confusion. Which one would go to Boaz? What if Boaz dealt well with her instead of Ruth? The story could have been very different. Would God forget Orpah? I doubt it. She was mentioned in the story for a purpose, perhaps given to us as a reminder that everything, and everyone, is blessed in God’s way in His time. We should not judge Orpah’s seeming lack of courage or generosity as indifference or selfishness. She tried to go and wept as much as Ruth. She loved Naomi and was probably burdened with concern over what happened to her sister and mother-in-law for the rest of her life.

When we are tempted to judge a person because he or she is not following God as we think they should, let us remember Orpah and consider the possibility that God has ordained a much different path for them. We don’t see the rest of her story. God loves all His creation, even those who do not trust in Him today. As we share our faith with the world, some seeds will be planted, and God will cause them to grow. We may never see the harvest, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. A life that seems faithless today might just be a life that grows into a mighty oak tree. Orpah’s story didn’t end when she went home. She may have even planted a few seeds about the God of Naomi when she returned to her family in Moab.

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April 5, 2024

“For Yahweh’s word is right. All his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the loving kindness of Yahweh.” Psalm 33:4-5, WEB

I visited Philadelphia a few years ago and spent time wandering the historic district of the city. I didn’t do the most popular sites since I’d been there before, and I only had a few hours. It was interesting to see the places where important moments in United States history took place. I did not get to go inside Independence Hall or Carpenter’s Hall, but I did manage to go in Congress Hall and the Old City Hall where the Supreme Court met in those days. I walked through Benjamin Franklin’s post office, which was the first in the United States and I saw a printing press like he may have used back then. I even went into Christ Church Cemetery where Ben is buried with his wife Deborah.

The Franklin’s grave wasn’t extraordinary, except in one way. The stone is a large slab that was flat on the ground with just their names engraved. What made it interesting is that it was covered in pennies. Apparently, it is good luck to throw a penny on his grave. The practice comes from one of the most famous quotes of Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” How ironic is it that the tourists throw away a penny for good luck when Franklin taught that they should save that penny?

My daughter joined me, and we went into Declaration House, a replica of the original house where Thomas Jefferson lived while he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The building was in the same place but had fallen into disrepair many years ago. The tour guide told us that there had been a hot dog stand on the spot when he was growing up. In 1976 they decided to rebuild the house and restore the rooms as best they could. The guide admitted that only a few things were original to the house, although everything was from that time period.

I think that’s what surprised me the most about the items on display around the historic sites. While items were historically correct, they weren’t always the actual items used in those days. The guide in Congress Hall pointed out specifically which chairs were original, including that of the Speaker. Others were questionable. It is hard to know for sure hundreds of years later; after all it is unlikely anyone at the time thought about saving them for future generations to see on field trips and vacations.

I think the most surprising sign was near the Declaration of Independence. It said that the documents are rotated to protect them and that it is possible the document in the case at that moment was just a replica. There was no way to know for sure whether or not it was one of the original copies. There is not just one copy of the document; many were made in 1776 which were sent to authorities and governments to inform them about what was happening in Philadelphia. In 2009 a copy was even found in the British Archives, though no one knew how it got there. The original is in the National Archives in Washington, so the one in Philadelphia would naturally be one of those original copies. However, I learned that the one I was seeing might not have even been one of those originals; it might have been a replica.

Does it matter? Is it really the piece of paper that guarantees the freedoms intended by the founding fathers? Is my freedom any less real because I saw a copy or a replica of the original? Is the history false just because the items on display are not exactly those used in those days? No. Those displays help us see and understand the times and experiences of the first Americans. It is the spirit of the founding and the intent of the founders that gives us the great nation we have.

If we can’t possibly know whether a 250ish year-old inkwell is real, have you ever wondered how we can know if the words in the scriptures are real? How do we know that the message we hear from ministers, teachers, and writers is real? Many people don’t believe. With hundreds of translations available of the Bible and a million interpretations of it how do we know what is true? We cannot rely on the things of men, but we can rely on the Spirit and intent of God to know what is real. He is faithful. He loves righteousness and justice. Everything of God is centered in loving kindness. That’s how we know it is real.

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April 8, 2024

“I will bless Yahweh at all times. His praise will always be in my mouth. My soul shall boast in Yahweh. The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify Yahweh with me. Let’s exalt his name together. I sought Yahweh, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to him, and were radiant. Their faces shall never be covered with shame. This poor man cried, and Yahweh heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Yahweh’s angel encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Oh fear Yahweh, you his saints, for there is no lack with those who fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger but those who seek Yahweh shall not lack any good thing.” Psalm 34:1-10, WEB

I have spent the last few nights at a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. It is located very near the center of the eclipse zone, our time for totality was going to be nearly four and a half minutes. The weather reports have been discouraging, but we were hopeful. We were to be on the edge of the expected cloud bank, so we crossed our fingers. When I woke up the morning, the sky was covered. There was no beautiful sunrise, and it seemed like rain was a real possibility. The sun peaked out from behind the clouds just before lunch, and we set up on the deck as the beginning of the eclipse drew near. As it turned out, we had clouds, but there enough breaks to make it an amazing experience for us all. It was funny to listen as we (a group of about twenty adults and a few teens, plus staff) ooed and awed when the son became visible, “There it is, glasses!!!” we all cried. We moaned when the clouds came, but then cheered again a few minutes later.

We didn’t know what would happen this morning, so when I first thought about what to write, I searched for scripture about disappointment. Now, this has been a great weekend, even without the eclipse. This ranch is covered with wildflowers and plenty of hiking trails. There are horses and longhorns, chickens and geese. The staff planned fun activities and the food has been excellent. I was not sorry I came, even if the cloud cover ruined the reason. But I wanted to take a picture of the corona. In the end I was not disappointed.

When I found today’s passage, however, this was the attitude I was meant to have, whatever happened today. We are to praise God under all circumstances, even when we are disappointed that things don’t turn out the way we expect or hope. The thing is, I wasn’t disappointed because what God (and the staff) gave me was more than I could have imagined. I rode a horse for the first time. Though I didn’t succeed (I couldn’t climb the pole) I had the courage to try ziplining. I’ve hiked for miles and miles. I’ve met new friends and enjoyed the company of a few old ones. I would not have even a glimmer of disappointment if this retreat were scheduled for a different weekend. The eclipse was just the icing on a very wonderful cake.

We are called to praise God in all our circumstances, even when we are disappointed. God is worthy to be exalted, even when the clouds cover our view. It just might be that though I came for the eclipse, God had other plans for me. I’ve learned a few things about myself. I stretched my comfort zone. I experienced things I could not have experienced elsewhere. God doesn’t disappoint, even when our expectations are not met.

So today, whatever disappointments you might experience, praise God and trust in Him. He just might have something more amazing that a total solar eclipse waiting for you.

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April 9, 2024

“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do.” Colossians 3:12-13, WEB

I rode a horse this weekend. It was my first time, so it was a learning experience and a chance to get outside my comfort zone. I will confess that I was very uncoordinated getting on and off the horse, but I was able to stay astride for our lesson and brief trail ride. I wasn’t nervous about riding, though I knew it would be different. I was more concerned about getting on and off. I’ve made significant health progress, but I’m still not as limber as I need to be to do some of the activities I want to do. I had difficulty climbing a pole to ride a zipline earlier in the weekend. The staff was very encouraging, and though I didn’t make it to the top, they assured me that I did well just getting partially up the pole.

My horse was very sweet. The ranch where I stayed is the site of summer camps for children from fourth grade and up, so all the horses are trained to be calm and amenable. Most of the riders are new and inexperienced, and the camp wants to give each child or adult the best first experience they can, so they choose which horses to use based on their personality and daily mood. They assured me that Blaze was a good horse for me, and he was in many ways.

I needed help climbing on the horse, but once astride I felt good. We practiced in the ring for awhile, and I learned how to control the horse. We didn’t need much control because the horses are trained to follow a lead horse, which is always ridden by an experienced rider. We practiced what to do if the horse went under a branch, how to sit if we were on a hill, how to slow the horse, how to move to the left or right. We practiced “woah” so that we could stop them when necessary. My sweet Blaze was in a bit of a mood, and I needed every lesson they taught.

We left the practice ring for our brief trail ride and started up a slight but rocky hill. I had hiked some of the trails, so I knew how difficult it is to walk on them. The rocks were loose, and Blaze slipped a few times. One of my riding buddies told me later that a branch got caught around his feet. I was told that Blaze has arthritis, but he is medicated when necessary. Those of us who are older know that every little health issue can make everything a little more difficult. I was Blaze’s second rider of the day, and he was done.

We came to a tree, and Blaze decided he needed to walk under the branch. It was ok, we’d been warned and taught how to deal with it. I did every as I’d been taught, but Blaze was rebelling. He wouldn’t move. I was very encouraging, telling him I understood how he felt. I tried to turn him in the right direction. I directed him to go, but he wouldn’t go. The rider of the lead horse came back to where we were in the hope that Blaze would get back on track. Then he started moving backward a foot or two when I tried to get him to go, which took me deeper into the tree. A trainer on foot came and tried to get him to move by grasping the lead, but he was not responsive to her, either. Eventually she used enough pressure to get him out from under the tree and back on the path. The path was easier, and Blaze cooperated for a while.

The trainer on foot had my camera and was trying to set herself to get a picture of the horse train. She ran ahead after helping get Blaze back on track. Blaze saw her running and decided to chase her. We were nearly passing the lead horse, but I was able to get control and ease him back into the train. The trainer took some photos and ran ahead again. Blaze tried to follow, again. I was able to get him back in line, again. The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I had a wonderful ride even with Blaze’s mischief. The lessons made me prepared for everything that happened. I had twigs in my hair but managed a successful first ride.

I’m not sure many of the new riders would have remained so calm during Blaze’s mischief, but I understood. I could feel his feet slipping on those rocks. I didn’t know about the branch, but I could feel him dealing with something. I remained calm and spoke encouraging words. I reassured him with pats and pets on his neck, even when he was backing further into the tree. I didn’t let his mischief make me angry or afraid but remained patient.

We all have our moments. We all have times when we are done. We all have times when the trail is too hard for us, and we need to rebel with mischief. What we need most at those times are people who are willing to be encouraging and patient. Since we have those moments, it is up to us to recognize that others have them too, to be the one who assures them that all is well. This is the attitude that Paul is urging us to live so that we’ll be helpful, not harmful. If I’d gotten angry or afraid, even a very sweet horse may have responded in a dangerous manner. The same can be said when we interact with others that are in a bit of a mood. We don’t always know what makes them respond with mischief or worse, so it is best to respond with God’s grace, forgiving as we have been forgiven.

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April 10, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for April 14, 2024, Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-48

“Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is.” 1 John 3:2, WEB

There was a digital business sign that posted humorous bits of wisdom that made us laugh and think that posted, “I don’t suffer from stress. I’m a carrier.” Stress is definitely a part of our lives. Many problems pile up on our shoulders, giving us plenty to worry about. Financial crises affect 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 less left to save, so we are not prepared for those emergencies that arise. Even driving our cars can be a source of stress because we know we can’t afford to fix major issues. I was rearended a few weeks ago and I worried that the damage would be so extensive that I’d need to buy a new car I couldn’t afford.

Life is hard on everyone, but parents deal with a unique stress because children do not understand. We are nearing the end of the school year, and many parents need to make plans for their children during the summer. They are asking 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. Their friends are doing fun things, why can’t they? Parents know these are beneficial experiences, so they feel guilty about having to say “No.” Even worse is when they have to break promises.

The weather adds to our burden. Some places are dealing with severe drought, with dying grass and shifting foundations. Other places are dealing with flood waters. It is still snowing in some places, and severe storms are threatening many places. 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 not set for all time, but for recent history. “We haven’t seen this since 2017,” the reporter says as if those things were completely unheard of in that part of the country. We are warned that earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires will endanger us as if 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. Shootings, robberies, and arson seem to be on the rise. Domestic violence has reached epidemic levels and even animals suffer. People who lose their homes have no place to keep their pets. Animals become punching bags that can’t complain. I’ve seen too many people on social media trying to give away family pets because they just can’t afford the upkeep.

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.” The joke on the digital sign is the idea that the writer is a carrier but is it really funny? In these stressful times, people are responding in negative and even violent ways. There is some optimism in the joke; when we face difficult circumstances, it is good to think about our attitude. Are we being defeatist or optimistic? Will we wallow in our suffering or look forward to the better times that are bound to come? The answers to those questions drive our response. If we believe that tomorrow will be a good day, we’ll do positive things. If we dwell in our suffering as if it is our fate, then nothing we do, good or bad, will make any difference. Usually, we do nothing.

David was always facing some enemy. Many of the songs of lament and worry were from David, but those same psalms were filled with hope and faith. He knew His God was trustworthy, so he had nothing to fear. In today’s psalm, he cried out to God, asking Him to have mercy, hear his prayer and answer him. He spoke to God with confidence in His saving hand. “You gave me relief in my distress,” David sang. He 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 should have compassion on our neighbors by not being a carrier of stress since so many are already dealing with problems that seem beyond their ability to handle. We are also to have an attitude like David, to have faith and hope that overcomes worry and fear so that we do not suffer from the stress of this world. Hope in the Lord gives us something that those without faith will never have: a greater joy that gives us the peace to sleep well at night, despite the difficulties we face.

Business owners face stress that many of us could never imagine. The show “Kitchen Nightmares,” hosted by Gordon Ramsey, helps restaurant owners who have not been able to succeed. Many of these restaurants are on the brink of closing, the owners nearly beyond help. Gordon helps fix the problems that exist. The kitchens are often disgusting, the service horrible, the menus so extensive that the restaurant has extraordinary amounts of food waste. The complicated menus are difficult for the staff to prepare, which leads to bad service and inedible food. Gordon simplifies the menu, cleans up the kitchen, and trains the staff to be more productive by working in 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. They hold on tightly to 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.

In many cases, the owners also serve as head chef, ignoring the other aspects of the business that are necessary to make things work well. They worry so much about what is happening in the kitchen that they forget about marketing or running the front end. Sadly, these owners are usually not very good chefs. They have a vision but are unable to accomplish it. They seek praise for their unique vision rather than the business that will make them successful. Gordon tries to identify other members of the staff that are talented and trainable to take over different aspects of the business, freeing the owner to be an overseer that manages the whole business. He is the front man for a team that makes good things happen

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 also gives the credit to those who have done the work. Though he or she is often the face of the restaurant and the one to receive praise, they are thankful on behalf of the whole team. 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 all night. They are the ones who disappear into the background so that the owner 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 today’s story from Acts 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 told the story of Jesus, the One they destroyed, so that they would know that He did not remain destroyed. He then called them to believe and repent so that they too might know the transforming grace of God through Christ Jesus.

It is all about attitude.

There is a plan called “Melancholy Play” 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. A lasting state of sadness is unattractive; we would rather be near people who are happy because we join in their joy. Their depression makes us depressed, too. However, there was something beautiful and attractive about Tilly’s melancholy in the play. The other characters are phenomenally drawn to Tilly; each and every one of them falls madly in love with her. They are happy in her presence despite her melancholy.

Their happiness must have found a way through her melancholy because in the middle of the play she suddenly becomes deliriously happy. In her state of joy, Tilly is no longer attractive or beautiful to her friends. They do not share in her joy: instead, they fall into her melancholy. One of her friends becomes so blue over the transformation of Tilly that she becomes an 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. It sounds crazy but 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 with quite the opposite emotion. We usually share our 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 stressed 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 a happy home happens 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. We have already been changed. We are forgiven. We have the Holy Spirit. We are not quite where we will be: we do not see Him clearly, but He is with us and in us. We live in a hope that is without disappointment, knowing that what is now is just a shadow of what will be. In that hope, we live as Jesus lived, doing as He did. We share in His righteousness and are righteous as He was righteous.

The disciples were not there yet. On this third Sunday of Easter, Luke tells us that “they still didn’t believe for joy.” This seems like an odd statement. The New Revised Standard Version words this phrase, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” 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 were breathless with the biggest news the disciples have ever heard. They, of course, had heard the same news from others, but they did not believe the women. Now, they heard it again from the two men, but it was 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 appeared. 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 are the natural response to this circumstance. “Yes, He’s back! But how?”

The circumstances the disciples experienced on that first Easter were extraordinary. Emotions like stress and melancholy 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 caused 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 with the strange news that Jesus had been raised, they were probably confused, doubtful, curious, and perhaps even anxious for it to be true.

It is no surprise that they misunderstood what they were seeing when Jesus appeared in the Upper Room. They knew about spirits, ghosts, and other superstitious possibilities, but this was unexpected. According to N. T. Wright in his book “Surprised by Hope,” there were very few people in Jesus’ day that believed that a body that was dead 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, even though they witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus! The fact that Jesus’ body was different didn’t help. He appeared 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. Jesus gave them the tangible proof that His body was alive. Luke makes it even clearer that Jesus was not a spirit or something else: He asked for something to eat. He proved that He had a human body. They touched the wounds, but there was still 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 disciples met a very real and very human Jesus after the resurrection. People in Jerusalem were trying to diminish the events of that first Easter to nothing but a spiritual rebirth. Others were claiming that the body had been stolen. Luke, by noting that Jesus ate a meal, firmly established that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead.

We still do not understand exactly the type of body He had, but despite the 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.

We read the stories of Jesus and we are amazed. He healed the sick, cast out demons, made wine out of water and fed thousands on multiple occasions. He walked on water and stopped the storm. He made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. He cured leprosy and raised the dead. The disciples did the same thing. We don’t seem to see that kind of miracle anymore. Oh, we occasionally hear of some medical miracle, but even then, we usually explain it away.

Jesus said, “You will do greater things that these.” The disciples were amazed at His miraculous works, but Jesus assured them that they would do more. The book of Acts tells us that they did miraculous things.

Miraculous healing, raising the dead, overcoming nature, and the physical world is nothing compared to the real miracle: faith. Sharing the Gospel is the greater work that we are called to do, because in speaking God’s Word of forgiveness and hope we give the people what they truly need: life. Amazing, isn’t it: the one thing that was denied Jesus is the very thing He won for us on the cross. Peter used this opportunity to tell the people that even though they missed the truth of Jesus when He was alive, God was doing exactly what He intended so that they could see the truth. Jesus died at the hands of all those who rejected Him, but He has promised forgiveness for all who turn back to the God who loved them so much that He sent His Son to make all who believe heirs to the eternal kingdom.

It is no wonder we receive this Good News with joy and unbelief. It is all so ridiculous and impossible. We are reminded in John’s letter that it isn’t by our action and ability that we are made right with God. We are righteous not by what we do, but by being in a right relationship with God. This comes through faith in the One who shines His face on us. In that light, we walk according to His ways as we are made more and more like Him each step of our journey of life.

Life of faith does not mean that we will not experience times of trouble. We will feel stressed and melancholy. We will suffer. The truth of God’s grace makes us think about our attitude. How will we respond? Because of Jesus, we are made children of God. Isn’t that an amazing thought? Despite our failure, the Father loves us and has made us His own. Two thousand years after the resurrection, we are just beginning our relationship with God. We are just getting to know Him, one step at a time. The day will come when everything will be made perfect. Jesus will come again, and we will truly know what it means to be like Him.

The disciples were both joyous and disbelieving. The reality of Jesus, His love and forgiveness, His miraculous acts, His life, death, and resurrection, are still beyond our understanding, but we can join the disciples in the joy we have by God’s grace and the true hope of the faith that was given to all who believe beginning on that first Easter day. One day we will understand; one day we’ll no longer need faith because everything will be revealed. On that day we will be like Him, for we will see Him just as He is.

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April 11, 2024

“Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.” James 5:13-16, WEB

The organization that hosted the eclipse retreat I attended had two sites where we could stay. One site was a camp in a lovely valley near a creek with lots of camp activities available. They had about a hundred and fifty people, including families with young children at that site. The other site, where I stayed, was a ranch with typical ranch activities. We had less than twenty adults and youth. I am sure it was fun to be at the camp. Children are fun to watch when they are experiencing new and fun things. I love to stay at the camp; I’m even preparing to go to another retreat there in a few weeks. However, I really enjoyed the quiet, less crowded retreat. I was happy to hike on my own, to go at my own pace, to enjoy the noise of creation without the noise of excited chaos that can happen in large crowds with children.

I don’t like crowds. I don’t like being in the middle of a mess of people positioning themselves with pushing and shoving. It can be dangerous if a crowd of people is battling to get near someone or someplace. Injuries occur when people knock or trip others. Crowds make it convenient for thieves, too. I once had my pocketbook emptied on a crowded subway when we were packed like sardines. I’ve heard stories of people being trampled by a stampede of people fighting to be first.

The Gospels tell us the story of Jairus, a synagogue ruler in need of help: his twelve-year old daughter was ill, and he pleaded with Jesus for help. As Jesus and the disciples were making their way to Jairus’ house, the crowd followed and pressed in on them. Luke even tells us that the crowd almost crushed Him. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak and was healed. Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” but the disciples just brushed it off; “Don’t you see the crowds?” they said. It could have been anyone. It was probably someone who just got too close.

We know the story well. It is part of our lectionary, and it is often used in devotions about faith. There is so much in this story to consider: Jairus and his trust in Jesus, the woman and her faith, the disciples and their practical point of view, the crowds and their desire to be near Jesus.

But today we are going to look at those we usually ignore: the people from Jairus’ house. While Jesus was dealing with the bleeding woman, the people told Jairus, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?” Jesus answered, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” They continued on their way to Jairus’ house. Despite the wailing and ridicule of the mourners, Jesus went in and raised the child.

So, what do we make of these people from Jairus’ house? What were they thinking? How did they react to Jesus’ confidence? Jairus was an important man, I am sure they were afraid to tell him the bad news. Were they upset or offended by Jesus’ comment about the daughter being made well? After all, Jesus’ encouragement to Jairus might have seemed critical of those who’d seen the dead girl. How could Jesus know that the child would be healed? Did they have faith in Jesus, like Jairus? Or, were they concerned that Jairus the synagogue leader would turn to this strange teacher? Were they truly concerned about not bothering Jesus, or were they looking for an excuse to get Jairus away from the dangerous “prophet?”

And what can we learn from these people? We have all encountered people who are naysayers, who see no hope in any situation. They come to us in the midst of our trials and say, “There is no reason to trouble Jesus about this.” But Jesus tells us not to believe the naysayers. “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” So, when we are confronted by those who would tell us our prayers are pointless, those who tell us we shouldn’t bother the Lord with our troubles, we can listen to the voice of God saying, “Come to me, and I will heal you.” As James tells us, the prayers of those who trust in God are heard and answered.

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April 12, 2024

“To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” Psalm 123, WEB

There is a story about Henry Augustus Rowland who was asked to be an expert witness during a trial. He was known to be a rather humble man, but when asked by the lawyer about his qualifications he replied with great boldness. “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend said he was surprised by Henry’s response on the witness stand to which Henry replied, “Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath.”

The word humble is defined by Webster’s, “characterized by modesty or meekness in behavior, attitude or spirit; exhibiting deferential or submissive respect; unpretentious.” It is difficult to see this story as one of humility because it seems like Henry was immodest about his knowledge. Yet, he showed deferential respect for the situation he was in, unwilling to speak of his humility in a situation where truth is the ultimate goal. He was not being pretentious by calling himself the greatest living expert because he was the right one for the task. We are much too quick to talk about our humility, showing pride in our humility, which is really less than humble. Watchman Lee once said, “Genuine humility is unconscious… God’s workmen must be so emptied of self that they are unconsciously humble.”

The Christian understanding of humility is not about hiding our gifts and abilities. As a matter of fact, the truly humble servant of Christ is the one who knows exactly what they are called and gifted to do and does it without pretense or talk. We are to submit not to the things or people of this world, but to the will and purpose of God our heavenly Father. It is hard to talk about this subject without thinking about the life and ministry of Mother Teresa, who just did what needed to be done without a big show. She did not fake humility by saying she was unable to do so or by stepping aside for others to do the work. She submitted herself to the will of God and served those in need with her God-given gifts. Humility is not about thinking ourselves less than we are, but rather about seeing ourselves as God created us: gifted and called into His service.

Henry Augustus Rowland may have seemed arrogant in this story of his appearance at a trial, but he was unconsciously being humble before the court system which was a greater authority. For a Christian, true humility is seen in those who live their lives entirely in the shadow of God’s love, looking always to Him for everything and doing exactly what He calls them to do. They are not insignificant in this life, though also not above others. They are simply the vessels by which God shows His love and mercy to the world.

The slave and the maid know that their lives are dependent on their masters or mistresses; it is to them that they look for food, shelter and work. For some, they even owe their lives, for they may have been taken as a slave or maid during a battle in war. It is by the mercy of the master that they did not face death on the battlefield. We are like them, looking to our Master who is the One who saved us from death. The humble life of faith in God’s Kingdom is to submit to His mercy. We do so in response to the grace of Jesus who set us free to serve Him with our gifts in joy and thanksgiving.

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April 15, 2024

“However Yahweh, the God of Israel, chose me out of all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever. For he has chosen Judah to be prince; and in the house of Judah, the house of my father; and among the sons of my father he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. Of all my sons (for Yahweh has given me many sons), he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of Yahweh’s kingdom over Israel. He said to me, ‘Solomon, your son, shall build my house and my courts; for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues to do my commandments and my ordinances, as it is today.’ Now therefore, in the sight of all Israel, Yahweh’s assembly, and in the audience of our God, observe and seek out all the commandments of Yahweh your God; that you may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever. You, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Yahweh searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. Take heed now; for Yahweh has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it.” 1 Chronicles 28:4-10, WEB

My son works at one of those stores that does shipping and mailing. He texted a few minutes ago to tell me he might be late. “It’s Tax Day and the store is chaos.” I don’t usually wait until the last minute to do my taxes, and I have been doing it digitally for years, so I avoid the madness, but I understand those who wait. Some are procrastinators, but others wait because they owe money and are waiting until the last minute to send it. I’m sure more than a few of those who are there to file for extensions so that they can put it off even longer.

In the past few weeks or days, many people have searched every nook and cranny of their homes and offices for the receipts they need to file. I’ve been through the process already, but I confess that I’m not the most organized person. I usually put everything of importance in a box and then go through it in a day, separating the things that I need for the taxes, the things that need to be filed, and the things that can be shredded. It was even worse when I used to keep several file folders. I don’t want to admit how bad it was in the years we moved. Many of the year-end statements missed us in transit and were delayed as the post office transferred our mailing address. Even in the best years it can be difficult remembering where everything was placed during the year. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this problem.

It is funny when a sitcom approaches the subject of taxes or audits. The main character invariably shows up at the tax preparer with a box filled with crumbled receipts, overflowing with papers that have little or no meaning to the work they need to do. There are receipts for things like an ice cream cone or a pretty black dress. There are movie stubs or bits of half chewed bubble gum wrapped up in the most important paper in the box. As they pick through the mess, they are conflicted about whether they can get away with using this receipt or that receipt. They wonder how much they can get away with when they file.

While I know that many people are quite organized with their tax receipts, and few actually try to cheat the government, I think that many of us find ourselves in a similar situation as Tax Day approaches. My process means picking through a box full of papers which is a lot of garbage, wondering which papers are really important and which can be tossed. As pathetic as my desk may appear, especially at tax time, our spiritual baggage is generally even worse, and it is God that has to pick through everyone’s baggage to find the hearts He can use for His will and purpose.

I don’t know about you, but whether I do my taxes early or late, I generally do it while grumbling. I’ve heard discussions recently about the validity of our different taxes. Bible groups have scanned scripture, including the text about Jesus telling us to give to Caesar what is Caesars. We got a refund this year, but that’s only because we sent too much throughout the year. The reality is that we still paid a lot of money. I understand why so many procrastinate. I hate to pay taxes. I don’t always approve of how the government uses our money. Unfortunately, paying taxes is currently the law of our land, so we submit to the authority appointed to us by the system, but most importantly, by God.

Israel did not have an earthly king in the early days of the nation. They had patriarchs and judges, but God was their King and He appointed the leaders that would lead them in His way. One day the Israelites decided they needed a king, just like all the other nations. They went to Samuel who was God’s chosen prophet, judge, and wise leader of Israel. They said, “Give us a king to lead us.” Samuel did not like this, so he prayed to God. God answered that they’d be unhappy with have any king but Him, but He allowed, and chose, those who would lead His people. Unfortunately, not all those leaders would follow God and the nation would suffer the consequences.

Have you ever thought about the garbage you bring into your relationship with God. We all bring anger, bitterness, confusion, misplaced intentions, false gods, misunderstanding, disease, loneliness, forgetfulness, unforgiveness, arrogance and a many other negative feelings. God searches our hearts, brings healing and forgiveness, and transforms our lives. He builds up those hearts that will serve Him and He makes them clean. He does not reject anyone based on their baggage, but those who forsake Him he will leave to their own devices. He has a purpose for even those who do not follow Him as He commands. God looks for those who seek His face, who have a heart for God alone, and are willing to be transformed by His mercy and grace. David and Solomon were certainly not perfect men or kings. But they sought the will of God and He blessed them. He does the same for us, searches out our hearts and helps us to become all we have been created to be.

The United States Government is not the only authority to whom we submit. Though they differ from denomination to denomination, the Church also has a form of government and even politics. There are times when the hierarchy of the church appears before God as a rejection of His authority. We have meetings where we discuss the running of our church, and do not invite the Lord s presence through prayer. We do not seek the advice of the Holy Spirit in our decision making, rather we search the rule books or traditions written by men.

The time will come when we will no longer have earthly governments that reign over us. We will have only the Lord God Almighty as our King, as it was meant to be. There will be no more taxes, pain, or fear in that day. Until then, let us serve the Lord by submitting to His appointed authority on this earth. May God grant that we’ll do so without grumbling, but with humble submission to His authority that is given to them for a time and for His purpose.

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April 16, 2024

“Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you. Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:5-11, WEB

There are so many things for us to worry about these days. In western society, we face the struggles of drugs and violence, worrying about our children every time they walk out the door. We worry about disease, pollution, and poverty. We are anxious about the decisions we make and how they will affect our lives and the world around us. In our personal lives, we are concerned about our health, finances, family and friends. We experience suffering of all sorts, emotional and physical. What has you worried today? A sick friend? A busy schedule? A lost relationship? The wrong job?

We each have anxieties that are part of our day-to-day living. These worries are not healthy for us and cause greater strain on our physical and emotional health. Even more, the worries place strain on our spiritual health. We need to face the fact that each of us has issues that we focus upon daily that waste our time and energy. When we recognize the stumbling blocks that can take over our lives, then we can do something about it.

God recognizes that there are issues in our lives that need to be handled. We do need to eat, rest in shelter, and take care of the sick. There are problems in our society that brings death and pain to our lives. He does not expect us to go around laughing gaily at every moment in the midst of pain and suffering. However, it is important that we do not let these issues make us anxious to the point of giving a foothold to the enemy.

We hear cries of “We need to DO SOMETHING!” everyday, but we can’t agree on what we need to do. We can’t agree because we disagree about the root of the problem. We are divided about so many things, always insisting that our way is the only way. We even argue that our way is God’s way. The part we forget is that we are so busy trying to DO SOMETHING our way that we don’t even look to God for His help. Yes, it may seem frivolous to say “We should pray” and so we rush out and we march and make demands and argue with our neighbors because at least then we appear to be doing something, but those works will never make a difference. As I heard someone say today, “People blocking traffic will never change my mind about their issue because I need to get to where I am going. It will just make me angry, and might even turn my opinion against their cause.”

While we feel the need to DO SOMETHING, everything we do must begin with prayer. The root of our problem is not earthly objects or even human failure. The root of our problem is evil and the devil. We’ll never beat him with marches or demands. We will never overcome evil by “doing something.” We need God. It may seem impossible, but more will be accomplished if every march were turned into a prayer meeting so that we will turn our hearts and our actions back to God. What did Jesus do when He faced the struggles of His life and ministry? He prayed. He looked to His Father for comfort and encouragement and strength. The battle we are facing is not against one another, no matter how much we disagree. This is a spiritual battle that can only be fought with God’s power because it is against spiritual forces.

Now is the time for every one of us to stand firm in our faith and tell the devil to take a hike. Now is the time for each one of us to stop and pray. We can’t base our actions simply on our emotions. Fear, anger, hatred, and grief will never bring us to a place of peace. That’s the devil using our humanness to turn us from the only One who can truly change the world. The consequence of prayer will be a peace that passes all human understanding because through prayer we are trusting God to do what needs to be done. Let us pray with Peter who says, “But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” As we do so, God will reveal the things we can do to send the devil running and to make a difference in this worrisome world.

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April 17, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for April 21, 2024, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!” Acts 4:12, WEB

We have friends whose daughter is part of a popular Christian singing group. We went to see the group in concert when we lived in Arkansas. Our friends were at the concert to help with the singers’ young children. Our friends told us to go to the stage door at a certain hour and ask for them. They promised that we’d be given backstage access before the show. We hung out with the singers, got a few pictures and autographs. My friends’ names had clout.

I wrote devotions for a quarterly devotional book a number of years ago. It was a wonderful experience from the challenge of writing and editing to the comments I’ve received about my devotions. More than once, people who met me said, “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 anyone backstage at a concert or show, but they might ask me to talk about my faith. When that happens, I 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. The disciples’ preaching about Jesus’ resurrection was gaining popularity with the people, and they knew they had to put a stop to it. Peter and John were arrested.

The catalyst for this arrest was the story of Peter commanding a 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 receive 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 answered that it was in the name of Jesus. Peter gave credit where credit was due. He named the One who had real clout in the Kingdom of God.

Would they have arrested the disciples for healing someone? The problem for the Sanhedrin was that they did more than heal the cripple. The disciples offered forgiveness of sins to those who repent, 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, just as Jesus’ teaching threatened them. This was why they destroyed Jesus. This is why the world still threatens the faithful today.

Peter and John knew that they would face 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; they would drink from the same cup. Yet, Peter faced this arrest and false trial calmly with confidence. It wasn’t his words or abilities that gave him hope or peace. It was the knowledge that Jesus Christ was his Shepherd.

We’ve all seen the images. A 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 that 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 animals, but they did not have the resources or knowledge to deal with the outcome. In the end, the picture is not pretty, and the animals are not given the care they need.

These two examples are models of bad shepherds. What does it mean to be a good shepherd? Here is a third example. 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; she was 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 saw pictures of Jasmine interacting with deer, bunnies, foxes, badgers, guinea pigs, and even birds. In one picture, Jasmine was lying on a couch with some of her friends: two dogs, a deer, a rabbit, and an owl. Not only did Jasmine make the other animals trust her, but they also trusted each other even though in the wild they were enemies or prey.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John wrote about a shepherd as he might be in the field with a flock of sheep. It didn’t matter what dangers he might face; he never abandoned his flock. Unlike the hired hands, he stays with them despite the angry wolves.

Jesus is like Jasmine, embracing every hurt and frightened animal. He provides all we need so that we might have life and have it abundantly. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus told the disciples that whatever happened to Him (and they would soon learn about His horrible end on the cross), He is not destroyed by others. He lays down His life for His sheep. Whatever happens, Jesus told them, He has the power and those who would harm Him do not. They might think they have the authority, but it is only Jesus who has the name that saves.

I use several resources to help me as I write the daily and weekly devotions. In one, Dan Nelson wrote, “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 would 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 plant in my garden. Our lives wouldn’t be much different one way or another. However, I have to make decisions on a board on which I sit that could be life changing.

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 said, “That is not the plan.” Jesus is our shepherd, but that doesn’t mean that He does everything for us. Instead, we are called to be shepherds right alongside our Lord and Master, helping others to live and learn and love.

There are times when we have the opportunity to speak a word of hope for our neighbors. These moments may seem insignificant. After all, Peter and John did little more than say, “Get up in the name of Jesus.” The man was healed, but if it hadn’t been for the crowds in the Temple at the time, we might never have heard that story.

The crowds saw a man they knew had been begging by the Temple gate jumping for joy. What did they think? Had he 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 a while, 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. The beggar was not living a good life, but it was much easier to be dropped on the doorstep of the Temple for the day than to deal with the realities of 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. We’d never have to worry if we were sheep. We can blame others for our hunger. We can look to others for 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.

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.

A man works eighty hours a week to keep his family in a lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. The loving man who willingly sacrifices his time and energy for the sake of his family, but is he making the right sacrifice? Is 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 could 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 of status 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 sacrificially for others. This means laying aside our own selves and desires to aid those who need our help.

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 food, clothing, and shelter, but we also need love, companionship, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. These needs can be met around healthy, simple meals, smaller houses, and cheaper clothes. What we need most is to focus our lives on living under the Good Shepherd, trusting in Him to provide what we need, not what we want, so that we can be the shepherds He has called and gifted us to be. It is in Him we find comfort and peace, and it is from Him we receive everything we need.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved passages of scripture, perhaps even one of the best known. We love this passage because we find comfort in it, especially in tough times. It is, of course, used often at the bedside 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. It is familiar because we use it at least six times in the three-year lectionary, more than any other text every three years. It is also used for special festivals or remembrances. This Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Easter, which is Good Shepherd Sunday, so it is the psalm every year.

How do we look at something that is so familiar with new eyes?

We can look at it in the context of its place in the Psalms. Though many of the psalms were written separately, by different writers, at different times in the history of Israel, the editor of the book of Psalms (perhaps Ezra) was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put them together in an order that places these songs and prayers in ways that tell a bigger story. The Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) are pilgrim psalms, sung as the Jews traveled toward Jerusalem for festivals. The Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) are used during the Passover Seder. Psalm 23 is part of the Shepherd Trilogy which is Psalm 22-24. Our understanding of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is much fuller if we read them together. The trilogy focuses on Christ the King. We see Him as the Suffering Servant, the Loving Shepherd, and the Reigning King. It is a trilogy of the past, present and future of our Eternal King Jesus.

Psalm 22 is also very familiar. We read it on Good Friday as we strip the altar. We do this because Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross. He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It prophetically tells us about the Passion of Jesus. He is forsaken. He is scorned and mocked. He thirsts. He is surrounded by ruthless people. His hands and feet are pierced. His garments are divided, and lots are cast for his clothing. As we read Psalm 22, we see the suffering of Jesus. The psalm also shows us, however, that the afflicted one is not forsaken. God has not hidden his face from him; God has heard his cry. Affliction is not the end of the story. The suffering one will eat and be satisfied.

Affliction leads to deliverance. Jesus knew, despite the cry of abandonment on the cross, that God can be trusted. He is faithful. One day the whole world will join in worship of Him. Psalm 22 gives us a vivid portrait of affliction, alludes to the resurrection, and then closes with a future-facing kingdom reign. Jesus fulfills in the Gospels everything we see in the psalm.

Psalm 24 is less familiar, but the theme of kingship continues. This comes at a high point when the King takes his place on the throne. It is a coronation song. The righteous king ascends to the Lord’s hill. He has triumphed, and he proceeds to the seat from which he will rule the nations, until every last one of his enemies become his footstool.

We see affliction and a glimmer of hope in Psalm 22. We celebrate a victorious monarchy in Psalm 24. Psalm 23 comes right in the middle. Psalm 23 is the bridge between affliction and triumph, both for Jesus and for us. The pain of the afflicted one in Psalm 22 is translated into contentment and trust in Psalm 23. There is still pain. Real pain. Darkness surrounds the suffering one, but God is the rescuer. God is the Shepherd. He leads and restores. Even though the afflicted one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, God is there to guide and rescue and comfort.

The afflicted one is forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. And therefore, the afflicted one doesn’t fear. In fact, he’s satisfied. He shall not want. God prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. He is victorious, and God anoints him. The afflicted one says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Even through affliction. Even through the valley. Even through the grave. God’s goodness and steadfast love and faithfulness will pursue those who trust in Him. Psalm 23 ends with the psalmist dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

This is the hope that gave Peter, John, and the disciples they courage to stand for Jesus Christ.

The comforting words of these psalms may have been on their lips when they spent time in prison. They walked through many valleys as witnesses and ministers for Christ. They never knew what the next day would hold. They did know that the suffering servant obeyed God and that in the end He triumphed and is King. Peter and John trusted in the One who did know, and who had prepared that table of goodness on which they could feast even in the presence of their enemies. They were happy and content. They knew God’s lovingkindness surrounded them, despite the circumstances they had to face.

John wrote, “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 all our circumstances with the confidence that Jesus is the one with the authority to make things right in the world. It means living humbly in the world, realizing that our stuff is superficial, but a broken heart or shattered relationship requires mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and hope. Love isn’t found in the 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 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 commanded, sharing everything with one another. They praised God together and were making a difference in the world in which they lived.

We can face our difficulties with the same trust and confidence. The Lord Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we can trust that He will be faithful because He suffered death and was buried but was also raised from the dead. His resurrection gives Him the authority to transform the world. Now 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.

Peter, like the rest of us, would probably have preferred just going to the temple that day to share in the fellowship, worship, and sacrifice being offered there. He was on his way to be a sheep - to be fed - as many of us do each Sunday. On his way, however, he met a sheep in greater need. Offering Christ to that man forced Peter to sacrifice his time, his freedom, and even eventually his life. It is rarely convenient for us to offer Christ to our neighbor. It can cause friction and even threaten our relationships. We have to sacrifice our time. We may even have to give up the things we think are important.

We don’t want to do it. We don’t want to take the risk. We don’t want to step out of our comfort zone. We want to be sheep: fed, watered, and led. Yet, the love of God calls us to be more. The Good Shepherd first loved us so that we will love. In this we will truly know God, know that we abide in Him and know that Jesus Christ is the name above all others’ names. For through His name, we see the power of God making everything right. And in faith we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

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April 18, 2024

“After a while, the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. Yahweh’s word came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her, and said, ‘Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.’ As she was going to get it, he called to her, and said, ‘Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ She said, ‘As Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have a cake, but a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jar. Behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and bake it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you have said; but make me a little cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward make some for you and for your son. For Yahweh, the God of Israel says, “The jar of meal will not run out, and the jar of oil will not fail, until the day that Yahweh sends rain on the earth.”’ She went and did according to the saying of Elijah; and she, and he, and her house, ate many days. The jar of meal didn’t run out, and the jar of oil didn’t fail, according to Yahweh’s word, which he spoke by Elijah.” 1 Kings 17:7-16, WEB

All these constellations have ancient stories about how they ended up in the sky. Orion was a hunter and he is still hunting with his dog, another constellation located nearby. Cassiopeia was a queen who still sits on her throne in the sky. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are two bears with stories of their own, but they also look like big dippers in the sky with a story explaining how a dipper could end up in the heavens.

There was famine and drought; people were dying from thirst, including the mother of a young girl. The girl, desperate to help her mother, took a ladle and she searched for water. She found a spring, nearly dry and dripping very slowly. With great patience the young girl held the ladle to the dripping water and filled up the cup of the ladle. She went home carefully so as not to waste a single drop, but she met a dog suffering from thirst along the way; she had mercy and gave him a few sips. When she got home, her mother insisted that the water go first to a servant who’d worked very hard all day. Then the mother had her fill. The girl’s humble ladle had turned into a miraculous silver dipper that never ran out of water. Just as the girl thought there might not be enough for her, a stranger knocked on the door and asked for water. The girl gave him the ladle. After he took a drink, he spilled the water which became a cool fountain bubbling up from the floor. The ladle turned into a diamond and was taken into the heavens by the stranger where we still see it today. The girl’s mercy was returned with great blessings.

We know the myths that surround the mysteries of the heavens are not scientific truth, but they are the way the ancients shared important lessons with the younger generations. When star gazing with their children, parents could use the constellations as object lessons about faith, trust, honesty, courage, wisdom, strength, and other virtues. Many of these lessons have been passed on from generation to generation, though not often as myths from the heavens.

There are those who consider the stories found in the scriptures as nothing more than myths, something not to be believed as true. They often agree that there are valuable lessons, but reasonable people do not believe in bottomless flour and oil jars. Yet, in faith we see this story of the widow of Zarephath, and we know that God has done miraculous things for those who love Him. The widow heard the word of God and believed that He would provide for her and her son, giving her final meal to Elijah. I often wonder if I ever came to the point of being down to my last meal whether I could have the same mercy as that young girl or the widow. I don’t think we could guess. We can only pray that God will give us the strength to trust His promises and know His faithfulness in our times of need, for He will provide.

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April 19, 2024

“After these things, the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to memory, and to kill my son!’ He said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the room where he stayed, and laid him on his own bed. He cried to Yahweh, and said, ‘Yahweh my God, have you also brought evil on the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ He stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to Yahweh, and said, ‘Yahweh my God, please let this child’s soul come into him again.’ Yahweh listened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the room into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Elijah said, ‘Behold, your son lives.’ The woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that Yahweh’s word in your mouth is truth.’” 1 Kings 17:17-24, WEB

Professor Craig Keener tells the story of a miraculous resurrection in Africa. A two-year-old girl was bitten by a snake. She cried for help but was as good as dead by the time her mother reached her. By the time they reached medical help in a neighboring village, the little girl had been unresponsive and not breathing for at least three hours. She certainly would have had significant brain damage if she was even alive. The mother sought a friend who was an evangelist. They prayed over the girl, who began to breathe again. It was obvious the next day that she was not only alive, but undamaged. The little girl grew to a pastor in her country. Craig knows the skepticism we have about stories like this. He has them too, except that this story happened to relatives.

We don’t always know why someone experiences something miraculous. We are skeptical because we have not seen anything like this happen. We credit some things as miracles, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can usually see scientific or natural explanations for those wonders. Many even suggest that the stories of resurrection in the scriptures can be explained. They weren’t really dead. It is good for us to be skeptical about the claims of miracles in the world, because not all claim is real. People die and stay dead every day around the world, though there are stories of people who were not really dead when they were buried. A man named Johann Gottfried Taberger created a bell system for coffins in 1892. He attached strings to the body which were connected to a bell above ground which could be heard if someone awoke in the coffin. Even those who are brought back from the brink of death (or miraculously death itself) will die again. All healing is temporary.

Today’s text continues the story we began with Elijah and the widow from Zarephath. Yesterday, God through Elijah blessed the woman’s mercy with unending jars of meal and oil so that she and her son could survive the famine. She saw this miracle with her own eyes this miracle, and yet she was still skeptical. She did not believe in the God of Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:12.) Her disbelief came to a head when her son died. “Why save me if you were going to take my son anyway?” She blamed Elijah for her loss and wished he had never entered her life.

Elijah took the boy into his room, cried out to God, and God raised the boy. This sign was the one to turn her doubt to belief. She accepted that Elijah was a man of God, that God’s Word is real and true. In this story we see that God grants glimmers of the miraculous to build faith.

We are reminded that we are like the widow of Zarephath: we don’t always believe. We are skeptical. We doubt that what we are hearing is true. We look for scientific or natural explanations for these wonders. Yet, we are reminded by any miracles, especially those recorded in the scriptures, that Jesus is Lord over everything, even death. God’s proof is the resurrection of Jesus, and we can rest in the knowledge that we will have new life, too, because we believe. We might not know miraculous healing or be raised from the dead, and those who do experience these wonders will die again one day. We, however, have the hope that does not disappoint that we will one day be raised with Christ and dwell with God forever and ever in His eternal kingdom.

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April 22, 2024

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