Welcome to the August 2007 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


























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

A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2007

August 1, 2007

Scriptures for August 5, 2007: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.

It seems hard to believe, but the kids will be returning to school very soon. Our summer vacation has finally settled down and we are spending some time relaxing even while the kids finish up their summer homework assignments. It is almost time to begin Back-to-School shopping. Some of the stores have already been offering supplies at discounted prices and we are beginning to make lists of the things that they will need. I have been cleaning closets, reorganizing our supplies so that I will not buy too much of one thing and not enough of another.

During my clean-up, I discovered a pile of fabric book covers, more than enough to last them through a couple of years. Apparently I buy these book covers every year and the kids did not use all that I had bought in previous years. I know now that buying book covers will be useless and I can focus my shopping on more important supplies. We’ll need pencils, pens, folders, notebooks and binders. It is hard to purchase these things for the kids before they return to school because some of the teachers are very specific about the types of materials that they use. The parents of elementary aged children have an advantage – the schools normally put out a list of things for parents to buy with specifics such as the size of the box of crayons they will need. My high school kids won’t need crayons this year, and even if they do we have plenty left from years gone by.

Another thing we will be buying is some new clothes. I can remember my own childhood and how exciting it was to get a new outfit for back to school. We always bought new underwear and other things for school. The racks in the stores are beginning to display clothing that might be appropriate for fall, but here in Texas it will be hot and steamy well into the school year. Most of those clothes would not be comfortable. When we begin that back to school shopping each year Zachary usually tells me, “I have enough clothes.” When the colder weather hits, he realizes that his blue jeans are too short or a little tight in the waste. In August it is unnecessary to buy new clothes, but by November it is time.

I suppose he’s got the right attitude about it. Why buy clothes when you have a perfectly good wardrobe for the circumstances in which you will be wearing them? Why have dozens of pants that fit when there are only seven days in a week?

We like to have choices, whether it is our clothing of the supplies we use for school. We like to know that we can choose between wide ruled or college ruled paper. We like knowing that if we want to wear a purple shirt that we’ll have one available. There is a sense of security in it and we think we will find happiness in the ability to satisfy all our immediate our desires. To wake up in the morning with a closet full of clothes gives us a sense of control and power over our lives.

Yet, we learn in our scriptures this week that we do not find peace in the accumulation of things, even if they are things that we need like shelter, clothes and school supplies. As a matter of fact, such accumulation often makes our lives more complicated. While we might like having a choice in the morning when we get dressed, it is so much better to know that you have a clean and comfortable outfit for the day. With so many choices we need bigger houses with bigger closets and the collection requires more accessories which require even more storage.

There is a story that has circulated the internet for some time about a woman who died. When her husband was going through her personal belongings, he came across a specially wrapped box with a beautiful new night gown. It still had the receipt and had been purchased long before her death. She was waiting for a special occasion to wear the nightgown because she did not want it to become worn. She never had the chance to wear it because she died before she found that perfect moment.

We do not know when we will die and everything we accumulate will be given to the next generation. Why do we waste so much time chasing after things that are meaningless? We build up cabinets full of supplies that we’ll never need and buy so many clothes that we will never have the chance to wear. We buy bigger houses and work hard to keep them just to store all the things we have gathered. In the end we can’t take it with us, and in our quest to gain more and more we often lose sight of what is really important.


August 2, 2007

Scriptures for August 12, 2007: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of Jehovah came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, O Lord Jehovah, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, This man shall not be thine heir; But he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.

My brother has worked in the same business for a long time. He learned auto body repair under the tutelage of our father as a boy and he’s been involved in some aspect of the business every since. Over the years he has moved up the ladder to supervisory and management roles and has always done well with his work. Though I think he still loves to turn a screwdriver, he has grown tired of the business and discouraged about his work. He felt like he needed to do something new, something that might make an impact on the world.

Several months ago he shared with me that he had applied for a job teaching mechanics at the local technical school. He was trying to be patient, to wait for the decision. It seems like it was a long time that he did not have word. I don’t know if he had been told that he did not get the job or if he never heard from them, but he seemed to have given up hope. Then one day, out of the blue, I received an email telling me that he got the job teaching. He had to quickly prepare for the school year – classes to take, lesson plans to prepare. School starts in just a few weeks and it will be a hectic time but exciting for him.

I’m in a similar position. I am currently not employed, though I have applied for what I believe to be the perfect position. Not only will I enjoy the work, but the schedule will fit into the life of my family giving me the freedom to continue supporting the children in all their activities while earning a salary that will supplement our income. I applied for this job months ago and I have been waiting to hear. I have tried to be patient, but I have to admit that I have had many disappointing days. I recently heard a rumor that the position has been filled, though it is still listed on the job site as open.

Though there is still a minute reason to hope, I have just about given up. I’ve begun reading the employment ads in the newspaper and searched on the Internet for some possibilities. All along I have been praying, listening for God’s will in this situation. I know the perfect job would be the one that God has prepared for me, but I have to admit that I’m having a hard to recognizing His will for my life at this moment. I would feel very blessed if the job to which I have already applied is that job, but I’m ready to give up on it. Unfortunately, I think I’m even ready to give up finding the perfect job and settling for anything.

We can look to Abram as an example in holding out hope even when there appears to be none. Abram had been promised a child for many years, but in this passage he was old enough to think there was no chance for it to happen. The LORD came to Abram in a dream and said, “Fear not.” Abram answered the LORD with a complaint, “I’ve been waiting so long to be a father and now I have to make a slave into an heir because you have not given me a son.” The LORD reaffirmed the promise, “Your descendents will as many as the stars.” Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. He believed God’s Word and it gave him hope about tomorrow. He still did not have a child, but he knew that God would be faithful.

I still don’t have a job, but I know God will be faithful and He will provide for me and my family. Not only will He ensure that we will have everything to satisfy our daily needs, but He will also give me the patience to wait and the courage to answer whatever opportunities come my way. I do not know what tomorrow holds, but like my brother I might just be surprised to find the perfect job opening to me today.


August 3, 2007

Scriptures for August 12, 2007: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Psalm 33:12-22 Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah, The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. Jehovah looketh from heaven; He beholdeth all the sons of men; from the place of his habitation he looketh forth upon all the inhabitants of the earth, He that fashioneth the hearts of them all, that considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of a host: A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety; neither doth he deliver any by his great power. Behold, the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his lovingkindness; to deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. Our soul hath waited for Jehovah: He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy loving kindness, O Jehovah, be upon us, according as we have hoped in thee.

As I look out my window at my neighborhood, I realize without a doubt how truly blessed I am. And my neighborhood flows out into a city, a state and a country that is truly blessed. Though most Americans would not consider themselves wealthy, the wealth of our citizens is greater than most people throughout the world. Even the poor in our country have resources, though often not enough but far more than those who live in famine or war ravaged countries. And Americans are very generous. The kids and I just spent three hours at the warehouse of an organization going through the donations being made for a back-to-school program. People, while shopping, will gladly buy a few extra supplies to ensure a child will have the things they need for school.

With all our blessings, you might take the first verse of this passage to heart. Many people do, believing that our blessings are God-given rewards for our good deeds and right living. There are even those who might take this as a guarantee that we will succeed at everything we do as a nation, blessed as we are because we are specially chosen by God. It is this haughty attitude that actually makes us trust in the wrong things, in our own abilities and strengths.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah.” While I do believe that a majority of Americans have some sort of belief in a higher power or a Creator, I’m not so sure we trust in God. We trust in so many things. We trust in our talents. We trust in our politicians. We trust in our strength and our big guns. We trust in our financial institutions. We even trust in our generosity. Even within the churches of America, the trust is not necessarily in God. It is in the pastor, the leadership, the programs and even in the property. We are reminded that a king is not saved by an army or man by great strength. Man is saved by God’s grace, and God has no favorites. He sees all mankind, He watches all people of the earth. The psalmist describes Him as, “he that fashioneth the hearts of them all, that considereth all their works.”

So, we are called in this passage to be patient and to trust in God. He is our help and our shield. It is hard to consider this possibility, considering that we have been part of the American military community and have worked hard with many different organizations to make a better life for the people in our neighborhoods and towns who have less. We know that there are just some things that require action. A hungry person will not eat if someone does not help them find some bread. Yet, we have to be careful that we do not allow our actions to become our god, that we do not trust in ourselves or let others trust in us to be blessed. Blessed is the nation, and the man, whose God is Jehovah. Happy are they who trust in His holy name.

Our blessedness is not guaranteed just because we live in this wonderful country. It is not assured because we have a strong military or a powerful economy. Our happiness is not dependent on the material blessings we seem to have. True blessedness is not always visible. To be truly blessed means having that hope which does not disappoint, and the peace which passes all understanding. It means waiting on the Lord, trusting in Him for He is our help and our shield.


August 6, 2007

Scriptures for August 12, 2007: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them. By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear… By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith even Sarah herself received power to conceive seed when she was past age, since she counted him faithful who had promised: wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the sea-shore, innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.

We were watching a movie in which a bunch of people were racing toward a bag filled with a great deal of money. The winner would get to keep it all. The film was filled with cliché experiences as the characters became involved in the most unusual circumstances. They all suffered setbacks in their quest such as car troubles or messing with the wrong people. In one scene a couple of women were driving down the road and somehow they lost the highway. They came across a roadside stand, a woman was selling squirrels. They did not want a squirrel, they just wanted directions to the highway. So they refused and asked the lady which way to go. The lady described a shortcut and they trusted that following her very detailed instructions would get them to the highway. As they came across each turn exactly where and how it was expected, they became more and more confident in the lady’s instructions. They were excitedly expectant as they turned the last corner when they realized they had made a big mistake. As they were careening down a very steep hill they passed a bunch of signs that said, “You,” “should,” “have,” “bought,” “a,” “squirrel.” Then their car fell over the cliff into a large pile of other vehicles whose owners had made the same mistake.

It is easy to believe in something that we experience with our senses. When we smell banana bread baking in the oven, we can believe that we will have some to eat. When we touch a hand, hear a voice or see a face we know a person is real. We can believe that something is real when we can experience it in a very tangible way. We have faith in people who have proven themselves to be true.

What if someone came up to you and told you that your great-great-great-granddaughter would be the president of the United States? Would you believe it? Would you trust that person’s prediction? You would be skeptical, first of all because you do not know if you will even have a great-great-granddaughter. Beyond that, will the United States still be having a president in a hundred or so years? We would like to believe it could happen, but we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow let alone in a century. We can’t rest our hope in someone that does not exist today or in something that might not exist tomorrow.

But faith is not really faith if it is about things that we can see, feel, hear and touch. Faith, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. Faith is believing in something we can’t touch, see or hear with our senses. It is believing in something that is beyond this world. Faith is believing in the better, heavenly country which was promised to our forefathers. They believed and it was not even within their reach. They believed and it was a distant promise, one that was given to their descendents. It was given to us.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the people who came before, the faithful from every generation who believed in God’s promises even though they would not receive it during their lifetime. We have been given that which they desired – we dwell with the One to whom they committed their lives. We have received the promise. Is it something we can grasp? No, eternal life is not something we can touch or see or hear. However, we can be assured that it is true by faith. We are convicted by God’s Spirit and His grace of that which is real though unseen. We believe not because we have done anything to deserve that which is to come, but because God is faithful. We have Abraham as an example of faith, but even more so we have Jesus Christ who is our life and our hope and our peace. Everything else is like the squirrel lady, unreliable, unpredictable and perishable.


August 7, 2007

Scriptures for August 12, 2007: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Luke 12:32-40 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through. Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.

There is a self-help show on television called “Clean Sweep.” The purpose of the show is to help couples who have a problem with clutter clean up their lives. The crew – which includes an organizer, a designer, a carpenter and a bunch of helpers – force the couple to deal with so much more than just a bunch of stuff that they have collected. These people often have an inability to let go of things, even if it is junk, often because they have sentimental value or they are afraid of hurting someone. Meanwhile, their lives are a mess because they have no room to accomplish the things that they want to do or that really matter.

I have to admit that I like to watch the show because when I see their rooms filled to the ceiling full of clutter, I look at my own life and think I’m really not that bad. I have learned some things from the show and I have made some changes in my own life – willingly letting go of some things that have cluttered my own life. I know, however, that I have a long way to go. I haughtily claim that I would be happy to be freed from all my stuff, and yet I continue to fill my home with pretty things. I, like all human beings, am a paradox. I want to believe, to let go, to trust and yet I keep chasing after those things that I think will make my life better, happier, more complete.

There are two things about the show that amaze me. First of all, I am often shocked at the amount of money these couples make at their yard sales. Granted, they have a yard literally full of things – often very nice products – to sell. They have the additional advantage of being hosted and advertised as part of a television program. I am sure some of their merchandise is sold just so the people buying can get on TV. However, some of these couples end the day with hundreds and even as much as a thousand dollars. I have never made more than a hundred dollars at any of my yard sales and that was the one really good day. I feel lucky if I manage enough for us to go out to dinner that night. I always wonder why I even bother – it often takes more work than it is worth.

At the end of the day, the couples send all their leftovers to charity, it is part of the requirements for the program. They agree to let go of everything. I do the same thing, taking my leftovers to Good Will or giving it to some organization for their own thrift shops or yard sales. Unfortunately, I don’t have television producers forcing me to give it all up. At the end of my day, I go through my leftovers and I keep some of it. I don’t want to give away something that I think has value, even though I’m willing to sell it for pennies at the sale. I think that perhaps at the next sale someone will come who will want to pay for it. Or I think that I can find some use for the item. So, I put it in a box and hide it in a corner until the next yard sale.

The other thing that amazes me about the show is actually a bit troubling for me. As part of the ‘game’ of the yard sale, the people from the program choose an item that each member of the couple really fought to keep during the day. The ‘game’ is that the person who sells the most during the day gets to keep the item. The other item is sent off to charity – without even the chance for it to be sold for what it is worth during the day. These items seem to be ‘safe’ during the day as they go through the junk. The organizer helps the people to deal with the emotional issues that are often attached to the items. In the end, with the issues overcome the organizer often agrees that it is worth keeping. The item is put on the keep pile and forgotten until the beginning of the yard sale. It is disturbing the items that are given away – a family heirloom, a classical violin, a scrapbook storage container filled with hundreds of dollars worth of supplies. To me, these choices seem so wasteful. These were valuable items that given the chance might have given the couple a financial windfall if sold.

Yet, in the end the people seem to be so happy with the way their experience turned out. They are always so amazed at how clean and uncomplicated their lives will be with so much space in which to live. They feel freed by the show, having gotten rid of so many things that burdened them. Even the beloved items do not seem to matter any longer as they get to see their new rooms beautifully decorated and ready to be used.


August 8, 2007

Scriptures for August 12, 2007: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.

Victoria recently began driver’s education classes. She is taking a four week course that will prepare her for the actual behind-the-wheel instruction she’ll receive over the next few months. The class began with instruction on the rules so that the students would have an understanding of what is expected of them. One of the first things the instructor told the kids is that the rules they give are specifically for them. Apparently they have had a problem in the past with students correcting parents for improper behavior in the vehicle. The instructor told them that some of the rules are based on laws that have been specifically written with teenagers in mind – such as cell phone usage. In the past parents have called to complain that their students are telling them that these things – which are illegal for teenagers – are illegal for everyone. The instructor made it clear to the students that they should not be teaching their parents who are much more experienced in driving.

In a world where there are different rules for different people at different times, it is easy to assume that a rule is not meant for them. Even these teenagers, once they get a little bit of experience on the road, will assume that the law against teenage driver cell use no longer applies. They will think that they are experienced enough to handle it, but statistics have shown there is good reason for the law.

When we listen to Jesus speaking to the crowds in the Gospels, it is easy to assume that He isn’t speaking directly to us. After all, His examples and stories do not reach into our modern daily lives. Most of us do not know anything about agriculture, we don’t understand their way of life. We have a much different point of view in our world, much different problems, and many different expectations. Our economic world is different. Our political world is different. Even our social world is different. How can Jesus expect us to fulfill the expectations He gives to the people in a different time and a different place?

Yet, the scriptures have been given for us as much as for them. When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock” He means that we, in this time and place, should not be afraid. When Jesus says, “Do this” He means it also for us. His expectations are sometimes outrageous. How can we possibly sell our possessions and give everything as alms to the poor? We also wonder how that can be fair. Why should we give up everything we have earned to someone who has not worked for it?

Yet, Jesus raises the bar on our behavior. We think that because we are Christian we are called to be moral, or righteous or just plain ‘good.’ Yet, Jesus calls us to be more – to be Christ-like. He has called us to be like Him, to turn away from the life of this world to live the life of faith in His. We do have to live in this world, to live our lives in the culture into which we have been borne. Yet, God’s grace has transformed us into something new. It is that new person, the person of faith, to whom Jesus is speaking.

So, is it any easier to follow Jesus’ directives? Can we, by our own power and might sell all our possessions and give it to the poor? Do we stop working at earning a living, chasing after the things of this world? No, the bar to which Jesus has set the expectations in our lives is so high that we do not do very well achieving it. We fail, miserably. We fail, daily. We fail, desperately. So, we often look at those expectations as something that isn’t meant for us. We justify our failure with an understanding that we live in this different world, a world in which Jesus can’t expect so much for us. We decide that if the bar is that high, then Jesus meant for us to walk under it.

However, Jesus did not give us these expectations so that we could find loopholes. He gave them to us so that we might strive to be like Him – Christ-like. He knows we will fail. He knows we will make mistakes daily. He knows that we will never make it to the top of the heap. But that is alright. Jesus isn’t looking for us to be Christ-like to give us a reward or to find the best or most righteous people. Unfortunately, that’s what we think that faith is all about. We think that if we are faithful enough, Jesus will grant us the blessings we seek. We think that if we are righteous enough, then we will have that relationship with God that we desire. Christianity shows us something different. From Jesus we learn that we will never be good enough. We will never be strong enough. We will never be righteous enough. We will fail. That’s why Jesus came. He came to overcome our failure, to stand before God in our stead.

He still calls us to live according to His expectations, but when we fail, He is there to forgive. He is there to encourage. He is there to continue building us up in faith and hope and peace so that one day – that glorious day – we’ll be face to face with our God for eternity. The rules are meant for us, just as much as they were meant for those who heard them from Jesus’ own mouth. They are meant to challenge us, but even more so they are meant to show us how big and wide and wonderful is God’s grace in our failure. His love is greater than our mistakes. Faith is not about our faithfulness, maturity or morality. Faith is about trusting in God’s grace, looking forward to that heavenly country which is ours by faith not according to our goodness.


August 9, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2007: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Jeremiah 23:23-29 Am I a God at hand, saith Jehovah, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him? saith Jehovah. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Jehovah. I have heard what the prophets have said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, even the prophets of the deceit of their own heart? that think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers forgat my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the straw to the wheat? saith Jehovah. Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

How many mothers have used the threat that they have eyes on the back of their heads? I’m sure most of us have pulled it out of our hat at one point or another. Whether or not we do is a matter for debate, yet to our children it seems to be true. We often know things we should not know. We are able to see things beyond the reasonable scope of our senses. We are really not omniscient, but we hope by the time our children are older, they will believe that we can see everything and that it will make them think twice about doing something disobedient.

We can’t be everywhere, however, especially as our children grow older. Step by step they grow up and move on without us. They test the limits of our omniscience. We do the same thing with God. We think of Him as we might a parent, limited in His scope and sight. Throughout the generations, people have treated the gods as local entities, not much more than extra human beings that can do things that normal humans can’t do. Because we think they are somehow greater, we look to them for help and salvation. It is convenient, however, that they are just local gods because then we can ignore them if we think we are outside their jurisdiction. We do not need to deal with the rain god if the weather is just right. We do not need to honor some god of the fields if our fields are producing well.

The Lord God Almighty is greater than human beings, but we often give Him the same limited characteristics of those local gods. We think that we can ignore Him when we do not need anything or hide from Him when we are doing something wrong. However, God is not just a god who is near by, like those local gods of the ancients. He is also not a god who is just far away. He is not some disconnected being that set the world in motion and then disappeared. He is actively involved in the lives of His people.

When we discount the Lord God Almighty and make Him less than He is, we easily fall prey to those who would use and abuse His power for their own benefit. In Jeremiah’s days there were prophets on every corner, prophets who claim to know God’s mind and His intensions. They cried, “I had a dream” and interpreted the dream to their advantage. By claiming to have received their message directly from God, they sought to gain power and influence over people. Yet, their message was lacking. It led people astray. It brought people to the altar of false gods and made people forget the Creator and Redeemer God.

How do we tell the difference? There are many people today who claim to be prophets and who say that they have been given a special message from God. These messages often come in the form of dreams, but they also say, “God told me.” While it is important to hear what they have to say, we are to always remember that God’s Word does not contradict itself. In this passage God asks, “What is the straw to the wheat?” Straw is part of the wheat, it is the stem that is left after the wheat kernels are taken. Straw has value – it can be used for bedding, for warmth, for building. Yet, straw is limited. Wheat, on the other hand, is life giving. The kernels can be used for food or they can be planted to grow more wheat. God’s word as compared to that of the false prophets is life giving. It is forgiving. It is filled with grace and hope and peace. God’s word might be demanding. It might be powerful, like the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, but it is healing and it is transforming. Most of all, God’s Word reveals His faithfulness.

God isn’t hiding somewhere that He can’t see us. He isn’t so close that we can keep Him under our control. He isn’t so far away that He doesn’t know every hair on our head. God is with us. He is in our hearts and in our lives. We can know the difference between the false prophets and those who are faithfully speaking God’s message to the world. We can know because God’s word brings life and growth and hope.


August 10, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2007: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Today’s WORD is an edited repeat from April 28, 2004

Psalm 82 God standeth in the congregation of God; He judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, And respect the persons of the wicked? Selah Judge the poor and fatherless: Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy: Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither do they understand; They walk to and fro in darkness: All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High. Nevertheless ye shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth; For thou shalt inherit all the nations.

Have you ever noticed how easily we create hierarchies in our activities? Even our children establish leaders and followers in their games, one person being the ‘boss’ telling the others what to do. Of course, there is often some disagreement about the hierarchy, with the followers rebelling when the leader gets a little out of control. We see it in our businesses, our neighborhoods and in our churches. There is often a president or something like it that helps guide and direct the work of the group. This is visible in organizations of even just a handful of people. Where two or three are working together order is needed. Order leads to leadership.

Unfortunately, sometimes leadership leads to abuse of power. We have seen all too often throughout history how men in power rule without regard to mercy or justice. In the Old Testament lessons, the patriarchs and judges provided the rule over the people, and though they were appointed by God, they were not perfect in their leadership. It was often the sons who fell from God, abusing their power and turning to other gods. Once they stopped looking toward God for guidance and acted outside His will, they lost their position and the people suffered. Eventually the people of Israel decided they needed a king who would be their guide, so Saul was given but with a warning. God told the people that their king would steal their possessions and make their children into slaves. They agreed and in the later days of the Old Testament, the kings did just what God said they would. And as they fell farther from God, they stopped doing justice and left their people afflicted and destitute.

The leaders in the Old Testament times were often thought of as ‘gods,’ not like the eternal God, but it was a term used for the leaders of the people. They were in control and had the power to make a difference, so were given the honorific title because of their position. This did not mean they were divine, they had no power beyond that which God gave to them, but many of them rejected the One true God and oppressed the people whom they were given to rule.

Even today we can see that power corrupts and that many of the leaders in the world abuse their position. It is natural for us to want a leader to guide us and take care of our needs. The trouble is that mankind is sinful by nature and we try to take control of those things that should not be in our hands. We forget that the Lord God Almighty is the true King and that He is the one who has absolute power. We take advantage of those who weak. We ignore mercy and justice. We might seem like gods when we are in power, but the words of this psalmist are important to remember.

We will die. The power we have at this moment is fleeting. God is still in control even when we think we have the power to do anything we want. We must remember that the power which we are given is given for a purpose, and we should always use it for the glory of God. When we are in leadership, whether it is in our home, neighborhood, school or church, let us always remember that God is the ultimate judge and He will be here long after we have passed from life into death. When we are in power, with the opportunity to make a difference in this world, let us hold even more securely to the promises of God and stay on the path He has ordained. It is too easy for us to be wicked with our power and fall to the temptations of this world that would call us gods when we are nothing but men. For God is the only God, the one in power to whom the glory and the honor belongs.


August 13, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2007: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were swallowed up. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been compassed about for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace. And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens. Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth. And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Zachary takes golf lessons from the First Tee, an organization created to help young people develop strong character and life-enhancing values through the game of golf. The classes are divided according to skill levels – beginners are at the par level, intermediates are at the birdie level and experienced young golfers are eagles. Once a student has passed through the three levels, they become mentors to younger students and help them with golf skills as well as life lessons. Zachary has been part of this program for several years and it has really helped him grow both as a young man and as a golfer.

Though skill in golf is not the primary focus of the organization, growth in the game is certainly part of the expectation for the students. When they are ready to move to the next level, the tests include questions about the core values and the rules of golf as well as performance in the different areas of play like driving, putting and chipping. They check the students for good form and appropriate results for their level. Zachary has worked hard to move through the ranks and is near the end of his eagle. He has tested several times, but has had some difficulty with certain aspects of the game. He has tried over and over to get it just right, but he has not yet been deemed ready to move on. That should change the next time he tests because he recently had a revelation about his grip. Suddenly he seems able to send the ball a greater distance and more consistently. It took him some time, through trial and error, to discover what he was doing wrong. Now he’s got it right and his game has improved significantly.

Our scriptures lately have focused on our trust in God and having patience to wait for His will to be clearly known in our life. We looked at Abram and Sarai whose faith in God’s promises gave them a vision of the future that they would never see during their lives. They saw the beginning – the birth of their son Isaac – but they would never truly see the offspring who were as numerous as the stars in the sky, at least not in this life. They still had faith. We are amazed by the examples of faith we have been given in the scriptures, almost to the point of wondering if they are truly historic stories or just merely myths to give us confidence in our own lives.

I think the point that makes the real to me is the fact that these saintly, divinely inspired faithful people were not perfect. They failed. Even after Abram was given the promise over and over again, he still went to Hagar for a child. In the list of the faithful given to us by the writer of Hebrews, we see others who were faithful but who also failed to be perfect. Rahab was of questionable morality. Gideon repeatedly demanded proof from God. Barak demanded things to be done his own way rather than according to God’s will. Samson fell to the temptress. Jephthah made a deal with God which meant the death of his beloved daughter. David’s indiscretion brought the death of a husband and a child. The people who crossed the Red Sea did not remain faithful to God. Samuel and the prophets failed in their own ways.

In the story of Jericho we see that sometimes the patience with which we wait is accompanied by a period of repetition – experiencing the same things over and over again until we reach the point of truly trusting in God. Would the walls have come tumbling down if the Israelites had played the horns on the first day? No, God called them to a period of patience and obedience despite their inability to see how it might be worthwhile. In the end, they believed and the walls fell.

So it is with us. We don’t find the right golf grip without trial and error, without going to the driving range regularly to practice. By repetition we learn what we are doing wrong and we learn how to do it right. Our life of faith is a growing, maturing journey that lasts our entire lifetime. While we have the advantage over those people of faith in days gone by because we know that the promise has been made real and eternal in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we still fail. We still forget God’s promises and need to be reminded. We still have doubts. We still have to learn. We go through the same problems over and over again until we get it right and then God will move us on to a new phase of our journey.


August 14, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2007: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Luke 12:49-56 I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law. And he said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time?

A lady died last night in New York City and her death left a hole in the world. Her name was Brooke Astor and she was a very wealthy socialite who spent her life giving away a fortune. It is estimated that since her husband Victor Astor died in 1959, leaving her in charge of a charitable foundation worth $60,000,000, she gave away more than $200,000,000. She did not just write checks, she actually visited the places that received the funding whether it was an opera hall or a drug-infested neighborhood. She felt at home in any situation and believed that philanthropy was not about throwing money at problems, but getting right in the midst of them. Her motto was, “Money is like manure, it should be spread around,” and she was willing to get down and dirty in the effort.

Brooke Astor used her husband’s fortune to ease human misery, but she faced her own suffering in the last few years. There were allegations that she was being mistreated in her old age, allowed to live in unsanitary and disgusting conditions while her caregiver was stealing from her estate. Though the charges were never substantiated, the courts were the battlefield for a vicious family feud. Son battled father for guardianship, but care was given to a family friend. It is likely that the family will continue to do battle even after her death over the estate. Though the foundation closed in 1997 because Lady Astor used every penny on charity, there is still a sizable estate left behind.

It is not unusual for families to fight over the inheritance – a battle that often divides family. It is amazing how much, or how little, can get in the way of family harmony and peace. It does not only happen in the families of the rich, but also in those with little. For many families, the battles lie over insignificant things – a few acres of land or a special memento from the life of the person they loved. I’ve heard stories of family members rushing the home of a recently departed person just to grab whatever they could before anyone else could get it. These games destroy families.

The peace of a family is not always destroyed by ‘stuff’. How many of us have experienced broken relationships because of words? How often have we dismissed a family member or a friend because their opinion is different than ours? Many families agree that there are certain topics that will not be discussed at family reunions because those topics cause tension and division. Politics and religion are often put away for the sake of family unity, because we know that those two subjects are met with passion. It is not easy to agree to disagree, and those discussions can lead to a lifetime of dispute.

It is hard for us to hear Jesus say that He has come to bring fire upon the earth, because we think of Him as having come to bring peace. However, the peace Jesus brings is not necessary a lack of conflict between families. Faith in Jesus will cause division, it will bring tension. Those who are passionate about their faith, about Jesus, will stand up for their beliefs at all costs – including relationships with family and friends. When we live with this kind of conflict in our lives it is understandable that we wonder when we will know the peace that God has promised. Yet, we misunderstand the peace that God intends. The life of faith is not a life without conflict; it is a life of joy in God’s kingdom. It is allowing the fire that dwells within us to burn brightly to light the world in which we live. It is a life that might mean division between family members as those who believe are separated from those who do not. The peace is found in trusting God and living according to His Word.

I’m sure Brooke Astor’s attitude of philanthropy disturbed her advisors and family. Wouldn’t it be better to leave the principle and only use the interest? Then the foundation could work for generations. Lady Astor saw things differently. She saw a need today and knew that there would be someone to provide for tomorrow, so she worked hard to give generously to all those in need. There were those who tried to stop her, but she was not concerned with their opinion. She did what she knew she had to do in memory of her husband. We are called to live in our faith in the same manner – to be faithful for His sake no matter the consequences. We might think that a martyr’s life was not blessed because they died in suffering and pain. Yet they are so often described as having had an unearthly joy and peace come over them in those final moments, even as they were being burned or beheaded. Peace is not without conflict, it is living in trust and hope for God’s promises.


August 15, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2007: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Luke 12:54-56 And he said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time?

While we were out driving yesterday, Bruce noticed a field of cows that were lying down. He said, “Must be rain on the way, the cows are lying down.” Of course, we know that this is an old wives’ tale, being true of only about half of the time. Some suggest that the cows are laying down so as to keep an area of the field dry and warm while it is raining. Others say that it might be due to the flight of the insects – as the weather system approached, flies move closer to the ground so the cows lie down to get out of their way. It seems to me that this is one of those signs of the weather that might be dependent on geography. In other words, in a place where it rains regularly throughout the year, cows might be able to wait until the next rainfall to lie down. However, in a place like Texas where we can go nine months without rainfall, I would think that the cows will eventually get tired and wish to lie down whether there is rain coming or not.

As it turns out, we do have rainy weather on the way, but it is not expected to arrive until tomorrow. Would the cows really be lying down yesterday for rain that is two days away? Probably not. The cows in the field were probably just tired. Here in Texas we have to look for different signs. I have come to rely not on old wives’ tales, but on the meteorologists who predict the weather for us. Now I know that the television weathermen are historically not very reliable, but we have a local weather person who has been consistently right about many things. I generally trust her interpretation of the signs.

Perhaps in time I will better understand the signs here in Texas. I find it difficult because things that definitely pointed to bad weather in my hometown do not indicate the same things here. The geography is different. The direction of wind and cloud movement as well as the behavior of animals and plants depends on many factors which change from place to place. It also changes from season to season, so it takes some time to understand and respond accordingly. Old timers can usually tell you, fairly accurately, if we’ll have rain, when we’ll have rain, how much rain we will have. They can read the signs.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus said, “Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and heaven, but how is it that ye know not how to interpret the time?” They knew what the temporal signs meant for their lives. Their agricultural livelihood depended on knowing the right time to plant and the right time to reap. The desert heat can be dangerous for travelers who might be on a dusty road for days at a time. Knowing the signs meant the difference between life and death.

We look at the stories of Jesus and wonder how they could have been so foolish. After all, Jesus did miraculous things; He made a difference in so many lives. What we do not see is that there were many miracle workers and people claiming to be the Messiah. They had become cynical because the false prophets could not truly predict the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus did not fit into their expectations. He was not the Messiah they were looking for. He was not the Savior they predicted. They couldn’t read the signs because they were looking for all the wrong things. I suppose it was like a northerner trying to understand the weather in Texas – the things that meant one thing in Pennsylvania have no validity here.

Jesus said that they did not know how to interpret the signs. Certainly He did many miraculous things, but there were others who did miraculous things. What they missed is that Jesus did things that no other could do. His signs were not just miracles, they pointed to something greater. His work pointed to the grace of God, to the salvation that He promised and that He would faithfully provide for those who heard and saw His presence in Jesus. They believed the signs according to their own interpretation, but they had a skewed understanding of God. Do we have a similarly skewed understanding of God? If we look at the signs of our times, it is easy to wonder if Jesus is speaking to us, too.


August 16, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2007: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Isaiah 58:9b-14 If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking wickedly; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul: then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thine obscurity be as the noonday; and Jehovah will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in dry places, and make strong thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, and the holy of Jehovah honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in Jehovah; and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.

When I was younger, I worked for a national five and dime store that has unfortunately gone out of business. I was responsible for all areas of the store, particularly on those days when the senior manager had a day off. It was an excellent learning experience and definitely a time of maturity and growth in my self-esteem. I became confident, independent and successful.

During that time I also had the opportunity to work with the store remodeling teams. We were undergoing a major transformation throughout the company, making our stores look cleaner and more up to date. The remodeling required extra hands -- people to set up the shelving plans, stock the shelves and create the new merchandise displays for the store. People from neighboring stores were asked to participate. Since they paid very well and I was a single woman who could use every dime to pay my bills, I worked a lot of hours at other stores. As a matter of fact, I was nearly working two full time jobs for a while. Though I loved working as a manager in my store, I really enjoyed the work of store remodeling, so I put in every extra minute I could – visiting the store after hours and on my days off.

My store manager realized that I was working too hard. I suppose I was getting tired – long drives, long hours, heavy work – and it was beginning to show. One day he asked me when I had last had a day off. As I looked back on my schedule, I realized that it had been weeks. He ordered me to take a day off, to rest and to recuperate. Now, this command was not like the command of a military sergeant or a dictator. The manager was like a father to me, concerned about my welfare and my growth as a manager in the company. I did take the day off. I slept in late. I ate a decent meal. I relaxed and enjoyed doing nothing for a day. When I went back to work I was revitalized and refreshed, ready to take on the world again. If I had kept on the schedule I was working for much longer, I would have gotten sick or my exhaustion would have caused a problem at work. Taking a day of rest meant success and well-being not only for me, but also for the company.

In today’s passage, Yahweh’s favor is dependent on two conditions – that the people practice justice and mercy. To do justice means to insure that all people are treated well, that none are oppressed or suppressed and that all have the opportunity to live freely and peacefully in the world. To do mercy means that all people have what they need to survive – food, clothing, shelter and love. These conditions are not the demands of a dictator, but of a caring father ensuring that all people have life.

At the end of this passage there is one more condition, but this command comes with the promise of prosperity. He tells His people that if they do not trample the holy day, the Sabbath, if they keep it and honor it and call it a delight, then they will be the delight of the Lord and the fortunes of their nation will be restored. This is not a demand that is based on some ego-centric attitude on the part of God. He is not requiring obedience like some military sergeant. It is the care and concern of the Father for His people – His whole people – that brings this command. He knows we get tired. He knows that we work ourselves too hard, for whatever reason. He knows that we would go on and on and on without stopping if He did not order us to rest. When we do go on and on and on we become exhausted, sick and we make mistakes. The Sabbath is not given to oppress God’s people or suppress their activities, but to give us rest.

The Sabbath is not just meant to be a day of rest, though we know the value of having a day when we are able to sleep late, eat a good meal and relax. The Sabbath is meant to be a time when we hear God’s Word, to rest in His message of grace, to worship Him and rededicate our lives to His service. When we are rested and revitalized by God’s Word, we are better able to face the world in which we live. We are more just and merciful. Together we will work to make this world a better place and then we will prosper. It is never by our own strength that we will do well, but by God’s grace. God delights in us, He loves us, He cares for us. In the Sabbath we delight in the Lord and we will know His peace.


August 17, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2007: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Psalm 103:1-8 Bless Jehovah, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy desire with good things, So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle. Jehovah executeth righteous acts, And judgments for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, His doings unto the children of Israel. Jehovah is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness.

Several years ago I lost the diamond out of my engagement ring. Miraculously I found it after a thorough and desperate search. When I took the ring and the diamond to the jeweler to be repaired, the jeweler showed me what had happened. The prongs that hold the stone into the setting had become so worn down so that it no longer was able to hold the diamond. All it took was a slight knock on a hard surface or a brief snag on a piece of fabric and the prong was gone, leaving the stone unprotected and vulnerable.

Luckily it fell off in a place where it could be found, but it might have been lost in the shower, down a sink, in the grass or any of a million other places that I had been. The jeweler put a new setting on my ring and I have learned to keep a sharp eye on those prongs. Over time they will become worn down again and the next time I might not be so lucky. The next time the stone might be lost forever.

I was a basket case during the brief period when the stone was lost. I couldn’t think straight and I wracked my brain trying to figure out what might have happened to it. I have to admit that I even prayed for its return. It is not that the diamond itself is of any real monetary value, but it had a more important meaning. The ring is a sign of the love Bruce and I have for one another. It is a symbol of our commitment. When people see my fingers, they know that I’m married and that the relationship with my husband is an important part of my life. Think about how much the engagement ring means to a newly committed couple. The bride to be shows it off, it stands as an announcement to the world that two people are united through the bonds of love. Yet, even when the ring is a little worn, not so shiny and bright, it still represents that bond of love between two people.

Our faith is a gift from God, much like an engagement ring is a gift from the groom to the bride to be. When the relationship is new, faith is often very visible in the life of the Christian. Praise and thanksgiving rolls off the tongue. The new Christian is passionate, like a shining beacon in the world. The joy is so fresh, the peace so real, that it is easy to see how much that person has been changed by God’s grace. Though faith is not something that can be measured, it seems like over time it gets a little worn down. The polish is not so bright, the praise not so loud, the passion not so intense. The troubles of life build on our lives and the response to God’s gift of faith that was so overwhelming in the beginning loses a little of its luster.

For some, it is even possible that the cares of this world become so overwhelming that the jewel of our relationship with God can be lost. It is heartbreaking to see someone who once was passionate about the Lord lose touch, to reject God and to lead a life without Him.

Our Psalm for today is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for His grace. The psalmist recognizes the need to let his light shine in the world. Our praise is our witness to the world of the great things God has done. When we are newly saved, praise flows so freely, just like the bride who wants to show off her shiny new engagement ring. As time passes, the praise does not disappear but it becomes more of a chore to keep it clean and protected. Like my ring, the prongs get worn down and sometimes the stone falls out. But unlike the stone, it need not be lost forever, for faith is only a prayer away. A word of praise, a song of thanksgiving and we are reminded of all that God has done. In this way we not only remind ourselves of God’s grace, but we shine it to the world.


August 20, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2007: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Hebrews 12:18-29 For ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that no word more should be spoken unto them; for they could not endure that which was enjoined, If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned; and so fearful was the appearance, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake: but ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not when they refused him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape who turn away from him that warneth from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire.

The passage from Hebrews in last week’s lectionary reminded us about the people who walked through the Red Sea to safety. He wrote, “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were swallowed up.” After the miraculous salvation of the Hebrews from Egypt, you would think that they would have had a certain faith in God their deliverer. God’s plan included things that were impossible for any man or false God to accomplish. He brought the plagues that changed the mind of Pharaoh. He sent a pillar of fire by night and a covering cloud by day to protect the million or more people who were fleeing from slavery. He parted the waters of the Red Sea, giving them a dry bridge to safety and then He closed off the bridge to stop the Egyptians from their pursuit.

I suppose these miraculous acts were enough to frighten the people, to make them think that the Lord God Almighty was too powerful to have a personal relationship with His people. They knew the story of Adam and Eve and that God walked with them, but they understood that the relationship changed once Adam and Eve sinned. They were unworthy to be in His company and that unworthiness continued. When the Hebrews saw His power, they knew that they could not stand to hear His voice or stand in His presence. Moses was somehow worthy to them, or at least he was foolish enough to take the risk. They were afraid that they would die if they heard His voice or saw His face. So, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Hebrews decided that they would listen to Moses so they would not have to.

Tension has always existed between God and His people. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve went their own way and ate the fruit of the tree based on the word of the serpent, rejecting the Word of God. Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of Abel’s relationship with God. Even those who had faith – like Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideo, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – failed to be faithful. They doubted God, they doubted His grace, and they doubted His plan. They were afraid, uncertain and worried. They went their own way, though by God’s grace they were brought back into a relationship with Him.

The entire story of God that is found in the Old Testament tells of the tension that existed between God and His people. We hear how they had faith, how they lost faith, how God saved them and how they had faith again. Over and over again the people turned away from God’s grace to stand in the presence of other gods. It is easier to worship a god that doesn’t talk back. It is easier to worship a god that has only so much power and does your bidding. The Lord God Almighty is too powerful. He is impossible to control. He is impossible to destroy. We would rather ignore Him, to turn the responsibility of listening to what He has to say to someone else, like the Hebrews did with Moses. If we do not like what has been said, we can justify our actions by claiming that it is only the word of a man that we are ignoring.

In today’s passage from Hebrews we are reminded of the way the people reacted to God’s presence on Mt. Sinai. In Exodus chapter 19, we hear that God came like a dark cloud, with lightning and thunder and a great trumpet blast. The mountain was engulfed in fire. Everyone in the camp trembled in fear. The writer of Hebrews tell us that they could not bear to even listen to the Word of God because they were afraid from the order given to keep them off the holy mountain.

But everything old was made new again. Jesus Christ was born into this world to bring forgiveness for our failure to be obedient, and to give us the power to live in His life. We do not have to be frightened to stand in the presence of God our Father, because Jesus stands before us as mediator. The Old Testament is filled with predictions about how God will deal with His people. They were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There was great blessing in living in a covenant with God, being obedient to His commands. But I would not want to live in any other time than now, in the New Covenant found in my Lord Jesus Christ. The new is better than the old. We wait for another day when the earth will tremble at the presence of God, but in that day only the perishable will be shaken. We need not fear what is to come because we are inheritors of the kingdom that will never fall.


August 21, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2007: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Luke 13:10-17 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath day. And behold, a woman that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years; and she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up. And when Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands upon her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, answered and said to the multitude, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the sabbath. But the Lord answered him, and said, Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath? And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame: and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

There are two things about this Gospel lesson that stand out – the immediacy of Jesus’ response to seeing the woman and the extra mile He went to bring her not only healing, but wholeness. It is interesting how we have been talking so much about patience in the past few weeks – waiting on God. We’ve heard examples of people who held their faith even though they never saw the fulfillment of the promises in their lifetime. Abraham never saw his multitude of offspring, he saw only his boys, but he believed that God would make him into a great nation.

The woman in today’s story waited eighteen years to be healed of her dis-ease. I have to wonder how many times in those eighteen years she came to the synagogue, to the rabbis, for healing. Over and over again, patiently hoping that God would take care of her illness, but never finding relief in the hands of the rabbis. Her infirmity would have not only affected her daily living, but it would have also affected her relationships and her place in the society. It was common belief that God would never allow someone faithful and godly to suffer from such a debilitating and painful affliction. The woman never lacked faith. She kept coming to the synagogue to worship whether she received healing or not.

Jesus was not so patient in this story. It was the Sabbath, and according to Jewish law, healing was considered work and could not be done on the Sabbath. The woman had been crippled for eighteen years. Why would it have hurt to wait just one more day? The leader of the synagogue was indignant and said, “There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the Sabbath.” The woman had not come to be healed; she did not ask Jesus to take care of her infirmity. He saw her. He called her over to Him. He spoke the words that would change her life.

Things might have been different if Jesus had simply spoken those words of healing. If He had just said, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity” then the leader would not have anything to say about the situation. After all, they gathered in the synagogue to hear God’s Word spoken. However, Jesus went the extra mile. He took the extra step. He touched her. The touch was important in this case, because she was a woman who’d been eighteen years without the human touch. The Jews – even her family and friends – were likely afraid to touch her flesh for fear of being made unclean. We have our own dis-eases today that make healthy people cringe out of fear, most certainly this would have done the same for the people in that day. Jesus touched her, not for the healing of the body but for the healing of the spirit. He made her whole, not only releasing her from the prison in which she’d been confined for eighteen years but also welcoming her into relationship again with God and His people.

I wonder how many times the synagogue leaders had tried to lay hands on the woman and bring her relief. Perhaps they had offered some medicinal help over the years but nothing helped. I wonder if they ever tried to touch her, to give her a restorative hand that would have made her well in spirit as well as body. If they did, they failed. Then they watched Jesus do what they could not do. Would they have made such a big deal about the healing if it had been done on another day? Or if it had been done in another way? Perhaps their problem was not that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but that He healed her at all. He did what they could not, and He had to be stopped. The Sabbath was as good excuse as any. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites.

He put them to shame because they were unwilling to allow a woman to be healed by God’s Word on the very day when God’s Word is meant to be shared in community. They were offended that she was set free by the touch of a hand because that touch constituted work. They were hypocrites because they claimed to be faithful to God’s Word, but they rejected it and Him when Jesus was in their midst. The woman waited for eighteen years for something in her life to change. When God came, He did not wait another day but offered for her at that moment the freedom in body and spirit that she needed for so long.


August 22, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2007: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Jehovah is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness.

In “What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian” Martin Luther writes, “There are commandments and teachings of the pope which say nothing at all about faith in Christ, as the Gospel does, but merely about obedience to him in bodily, trivial, trifling matters, such as the eating of meat, observing festivals, fasting, dressing, etc. Yet the pope has emphasized and extolled these far more than God's Word, and they are feared and followed far more, have more thoroughly terrified and captivated consciences, and have made hell far hotter than did both God's Law and His Gospel. For they have given little regard to unbelief, blasphemy, adultery, murder, theft, and whatever else is opposed to Christ and His command; for these sins penance was quickly done and forgiveness given. But when someone touched one of the pope's commandments, the bulls had to come with lightning and thunder. This was called damned disobedience and brought a man under the ban of the pope. Now heaven and earth had to tremble in terror. But when sins against God were concerned, sins in which they themselves are drowned, not a leaf stirred. On the contrary, they mocked and laughed at the matter in great security, as they do to this day. Besides this, they persecute and murder in a cruel manner all who esteem God’s commandment above the commandment of their abomination. The pope wants God and His Word under him; he wants himself enthroned above them. This is his regime and nature. Without these he could not be the Antichrist.”

Does this not sound as if it could have been written also to those religious leaders in Jesus’ day who were finding sin in grace? The religious leader was offended by Jesus’ healing because it broke the Sabbath Law. What Sabbath Law? Did it break the Law given to Moses at the mountain? In the days of Jesus, the religious leaders had spent many hours discussing what it meant to work on the Sabbath. They came up with thirty-nine actions that were the basis of all work.

The thirty-nine melachot fall into four categories: baking of bread, making clothing, hunting and leatherworking and all other kinds of labor. To bake bread one must plant wheat, plow the field, reap the harvest, bind the sheaves, thresh, winnow, sift the kernels, grind, sift the flour, knead the dough and bake. To make clothing one must shear, bleach, comb and dye wool, spin and weave thread or yarn, make loops, sew threads together, separate threads, tie knots, loosen knots, sew stitches and tear. To hunt and do leatherworking one must trap, slaughter, flay, salt, cure, scrape and cut the hides. All other types of labor include writing two letters, erasing old text in order to write two letters, build, demolish, extinguish a flame, ignite a flame, strike a final blow (finishing a project) and carrying an object from one domain to another.

As we look at this list, imagine what we could not do if we had to live by these laws. Even on our day of rest, most of the things we enjoy doing in our leisure time could be found unlawful. We could not take notes at Bible study because we could not write two letters. We could not even sign the checks we put in the offering plate because we could not write our names. We could not drive a car because we ignite a spark and then we could not turn off the car because we would be extinguishing a fire. We could not wear shoes with laces. We could not even carry our pets from one room to another.

The rabbis and Jewish leaders had created a list of laws making almost everything sinful on the Sabbath. It is hard to imagine, even with this list, how they might have seen Jesus’ healing as unlawful. What did He do? He said a word and touched her. When He laid His hands on her shoulders, did He give her a little squeeze? Did He use a therapeutic touch by massaging her muscles that had been out of use for so long? Did they think that Jesus’ touch constituted kneading and was thus unlawful? The leader reminded the people that there were six days for work and they should come to the synagogue on those days to be cured, but the woman did not approach Jesus for healing. He called out to her. He invited her into God’s grace. He reached out to her in her infirmity and changed her life.

The religious leader had no authority to attack Jesus’ teaching or His actions, so he blamed the people. He told them not to come seeking healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus answered his charge. He answered it with a loophole in the law – it was ok to untie a donkey and lead it to water because it was a life saving action. “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the Sabbath?” In Luke 9 Jesus asked the leaders whether or not it was lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it. They could not answer. Again Jesus caught them in a hypocritical attitude, they were put to shame.

It seems so contradictory to read this week’s Old Testament lesson and the Gospel together. In one we are reminded that we’ll be blessed by keeping the Sabbath. In the other we see Jesus breaking the Sabbath. Martin Luther is quoted as having said, “Sin boldly.” What does that mean for us today? It means that we will face times when we have to make a choice between two sins. Jesus faced the sin of work on the Sabbath and leaving a woman in suffering. He chose mercy. We might have to break a law to save a life or change a life. So, when we know that we have to sin, we do so boldly knowing that Jesus is our Savior and that God is full of mercy and forgiveness. The choice is not whether or not to sin, because in this world we will sin. The choice is whether or not we will do good for another or whether we will choose to do what is only best for ourselves.


August 23, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2007: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Proverbs 25:6-7 Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: for better is it that it be said unto thee, Come up hither, than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom thine eyes have seen.

As you may be aware, I am looking for a job. I think one of the most difficult parts of this process is the necessity for boldness. Many job applications ask the prospective employee to describe themselves. The point of this question is to discover whether the person has the right talents and character traits for the job. It is important to be honest in this exercise, but also to be bold. If there is a character trait that would benefit the company, then the applicant should highlight it during the process. If the requires creativity, organization or a special talent, then the employee will be able to screen out the potential employees who would be a better fit. An applicant wants to stand out, to provide the employee with a reason to call them back for an interview.

Though the people in the days of Solomon were not likely to be facing a job search as we do today, there were then as there are now people who willingly put their best foot forward. In this wisdom passage we are reminded not to consider ourselves too highly or else we might be put down by one greater than us. I am also seeing this in my job search. I have looked at job listings both in local print media and online and there are many jobs available. Yet, as I search I can’t help but think that I am not qualified for any of them. The employers seek certain qualifications and experience. As I read some of the job descriptions I know that I would be great for the position, yet I also know that I do not have what they are seeking from a new employee. To get noticed I have to be bold and to present myself as better than any other candidates.

I have to admit that I am not very good at this task. Despite the fact that I have written about my life – sharing my successes as well as my failures – to this mailing list for more than eight years, I find it very difficult to boldly proclaim my virtues to the world. I would rather my talents and experience stand for themselves. When I think about my positive traits, I can counter each one with an equally strong negative trait. I’m detail oriented but I hate making decisions. I’m creative but when I get involved with a creative project I become very narrowly focused, leaving mundane tasks like organization and clean-up until tomorrow. I much prefer to be humble because I recognize my faults and I would rather that someone else lift up my assets. Yet, in the job market it is necessary to be bold and to put forth the best possible image because the next guy is not going to be so humble.

It is a fine line we walk between boldness and humility. We know on the one hand that we’ll never get ahead if we do not take the reigns of our own future. Sitting near the host at a dinner would certainly be a way of moving ahead in life. The conversation might lead to opportunities and relationships that could change our lives. However, if we put ourselves forward too far, we might find ourselves being asked to move back. It is much better to choose the humble position and to allow the host to invite us forward. The key to success is finding the right balance.


August 24, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2007: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Psalm 112 Praise ye Jehovah. Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah, That delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: The generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house; And his righteousness endureth for ever. Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: He is gracious, and merciful, and righteous. Well is it with the man that dealeth graciously and lendeth; He shall maintain his cause in judgment. For he shall never be moved; The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: His heart is fixed, trusting in Jehovah. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, Until he see his desire upon his adversaries. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the needy; His righteousness endureth for ever: His horn shall be exalted with honor. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; He shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: The desire of the wicked shall perish.

There is a distribution center for a major discount store a few miles up the road. This distribution has got to be one of the biggest buildings I have ever seen. It is hard to gage its size, but distribution centers for this company typically have more than a million square foot of space. Hundreds of trucks leave the warehouse every day taking merchandise to the stores. Meanwhile hundreds of trucks arrive from the suppliers to deliver the products that will be sent to the stores. There is constant activity. It seems almost wasteful to have such a large building that is never really used to hold anything. Yet, the size of the building is necessary because so much goes through it every day. The value of the merchandise is likely in the millions.

When I worked for Toys R Us, part of our management training program included a trip to our local distribution center. We saw where the merchandise is received, sorted, divided and released very quickly. We saw how there are constantly trucks in the bays, unloading toys and games. Meanwhile, in another set of bays, we saw the trucks coming and going to take the games and toys to the stores. As the items arrive, they are sorted and immediately sent out. Most of the merchandise does not stay in the warehouse for more than a few days. For a distribution center like the one up the road which is for a company that sells food, it is even more important for a quick turnover. The food cannot sit in a warehouse for days because it will get stale or moldy and then be worthless to the company. Some merchandise is sent directly to the stores, especially the most perishable items, but with large orders it is easier to send it through a distribution center.

The system is not always perfect. Sometimes items get lost in the system, stuck on a shelf in the distribution center or mismarked and shelved in the warehouse of a store. I’m amazed at how often I discover a rack full of brand new clothes that are reduced because they are from the previous season and had never been put on display. These are often clothes I would have paid full price if they had been displayed at the right time.

We are God’s distribution center. He pours blessings into our lives so that they will pour out into the world. He gives us gifts so that we will share them with others. How often do we hoard our resources, saving them for another day, for the just in case, for the opportunity that might come tomorrow? We do this not only with our resources, but also with the things that are not quite so tangible. We wait until tomorrow to tell someone about Jesus. We shelve our love for a better moment. We hide our gifts because we are afraid of losing them or having them be used and abused. Yet, our gifts are like the merchandise in the distribution center. They are useless if they are hoarded in a warehouse. They are only valuable if they are shared. We need not fear, for God’s grace is unlimited and it flows freely into the lives of those who live by faith.

The amazing thing is, when you share your gifts you see much more clearly how God does continue to bless. When the gifts are stored, they become useless and there is no reason for God to continue to sending the blessings once the warehouse is full. Everything we have and everything we are is given freely by the source of all our gifts. When we live as God's distribution center, sharing our gifts, God continues to bless beyond measure.


August 27, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2007: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 Let love of the brethren continue. Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; them that are illtreated, as being yourselves also in the body. Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: What shall man do unto me? Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever… Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Most of our problems come at us slowly. Bad financial times do not usually come with the purchase on just one item, but with a lifestyle of buying that does not fit income. A dollar here and a dollar there all build to a debt that is out of control. Long standing relationships do not fail over one fight but over years of miscommunication. Nobody gains a hundred pounds overnight. Instead it comes one chocolate bar at a time.

Once we are stuck in the middle of our problems it is hard to see a way out. Our accumulated debt is impossible to overcome. Our broken relationships seem beyond repair. Our physical problems are out of our control. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help us find the solution. There are credit repair agencies, relationship counselors, fitness coaches all willing to help us overcome our problems. We may look at them and think that they can not possibly understand our situation, but they do. They can see the journey we took from the outside. They have often experienced it themselves and have overcome, giving them insight to the problem that we can not have.

It is not easy to allow someone into our problems to help us. It is even harder to empathize with others. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; they that are illtreated, as being yourself also in the body.” How do we identify with people in prison or tortured? How do we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, especially when we know that we would never get into the same type of trouble?

The passage for today is about love for others. We not only love others by doing things for them, but in helping them to what is good and right and true for themselves. The writer lists hospitality for strangers. In our world today we are afraid that the stranger may be someone who can harm us, but what if that stranger were an angel? The marriage bed has nearly become a joke, with divorce statistics so high and unfaithfulness nearly acceptable. Greed, the root of many of our problems, can creep up on us and grow as we see more and more that we think we need to have whether it is material possessions or intangible things.

Through it all there is one thing to remember – to trust in God. We do not need to make ourselves better, but instead should look at those of faith who have come before to see that in life with God we do not need to have power over. Instead, we can imitate their lives of humility and servanthood, just as Christ was a humble servant for the people to whom He was sent. The sacrifice we are called to offer is not merely financial or physical, but a sacrifice of praise in God’s name. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “But to do good and to communicate forget not for with such sacrifices God is well please.”


August 28, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2007: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Luke 14:1, 7-14 And it came to pass, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him… And he spake a parable unto those that were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats; saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a marriage feast, sit not down in the chief seat; lest haply a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him, and he that bade thee and him shall come and say to thee, Give this man place; and then thou shalt begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have glory in the presence of all that sit at meat with thee. For everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.

There are several national lotteries that have had huge prizes in the past few weeks. Recently someone won more than three hundred million dollars and another lottery is well over two hundred million. My family has always joked about what we would do with all that money. I promised that I would make significant donations to their organizations and activities in and out of school. I even suggested that we should install much more comfortable seats in the auditorium of the high school so that I would be more comfortable at all their plays and events.

I suppose a great many donations of that type come to meet a very specific need. I’ve heard of people who have donated hospital wings to serve a loved one’s medical needs. I’ve heard of people opening colleges to offer a specific course of study to a specific group of people. In many cases these buildings or schools are named after the person who made the donation. I often wonder about the people after whom things have been named – who were they, why did they get their name on the side of that particular building? In some cases it is because they did something worth remembering. Sometimes the donors themselves have asked for the building to be named after them, so that they will be remembered forever – or at least until the building crumbles.

There are a million good reasons to do something wonderful with the money that could be won in a national lottery, and even when the motivation is less than virtuous the good deed can accomplish wonderful things. Even when someone builds a hospital to be remembered forever, many people are made well in that place. Even when someone chooses to found a college for his or her own glory, students will benefit for a long time from their gift. However, Jesus asks us in this passage to check out motivation when we are doing things in this world.

The story is about a group of people gathering for a meal. As they arrived for the dinner, many of them sought the places of honor. They wanted to be close to the host. They wanted to be the center of attention. They wanted to be in the middle of the action, to impress others with their goodness, their power and their position. Jesus told the people gathering at the dinner that they should not seek out the best seats, but instead they should humble themselves before their host. Those whose humility is greater than their desire will be raised up before all men. Those who seek to be honored above all others will find themselves dishonored before the world.

Winning the lottery could give us the resources and power to do some really good things. Even though most of us will never have the significant amount of wealth needed to build buildings or found schools, we have resources today that we can use for God’s glory. Is that what we are doing? Are we acting in His behalf? Are we working for His purpose? Are we humbling ourselves for the sake of others? If we do so, we’ll find treasures waiting for us in heaven. However, if we spend our time, talents and resources for the sake of our own honor and glory, we might just find that our buildings will come tumbling down. Jesus reminds us that all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and all those who are humble will be exalted. For God is longing to bring those who live by faith and who glorify Him to the place of honor at His banqueting table in eternity.


August 29, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2007: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Luke 14:12-14 And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.

The evangelistic efforts of many churches are focused not on bringing new people to Christ, but to changing people’s minds about their church. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced that point of view all to many times, as people decided that their church would be a better place for me to worship, study and grow in faith. These churches hold special events for the members to invite their friends, and yet the people often invite their Christian friends instead of reaching out to others. They would rather share a Christian invitation with someone they know might appreciate the event rather than risk asking someone who has no connection to Christ or the church.

Many churches hold classes in the basics of Christianity, but the classes are often filled with long-term church members. Granted, all Christians need reminders about faith and what it means to our daily lives and these classes fill a very real need in the church. They are a chance for long-term Christians to remember their baptism, to remember the passion they had for God when they were first born again, to remember the foundations of their Christian life. Yet, we have to wonder whether Christians should need to go back to the beginning. Those evangelistic classes are designed to teach seekers, non-Christians, about Christianity. They are designed for those who are hungering for information, but are not yet believers. The faithful grow through worship and Bible Study, not through a class designed for those outside the faith. We aren’t willing to take the risk to invite the atheists and agnostics, the cynical or those who have rejected God because we do not wish to offend or destroy the relationship

It is interesting that many Christians invite their Christian friends of other denominations to these evangelistic experiences. They do not seek out those who are starving for the Word of Truth, for faith or for salvation, but for those who have already eaten the Bread of Life. They would rather give the food to someone who is rich but who ‘eat’ differently, trying to change the type of food. The feast, whether it is taken through one type of church or another, is the same feast. It is the feast of faith in Jesus Christ, membership in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus reminds us in the second half of our Gospel lesson for this week that when we invite people to our meals, it would be better to invite the poor and feed the hungry than to have a dinner that will benefit our power and position. This can be seen not only in our social life, when we have a dinner party or plan an event, but also in our spiritual life. We put so much of our evangelistic effort into filling the pews of our churches instead of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who have not yet heard. Instead of inviting those who are already rich in faith, perhaps our efforts and our resources would be better used if focused on inviting the poor, the lame, the hurting, the unforgiving – those who need to hear the message of salvation and be saved. We may not always agree with the way people are living out their faith, or their understanding of the Word, however if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ they are saved. We are called to seek those who truly need to be invited to the feast, so that they too might be blessed with a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.


August 30, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 9, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that thou mayest live and multiply, and that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

When we first moved to England, we had to wait a month for our car to arrive from America. It was brought by ship and took much longer to arrive than the rest of our things. During that time, we only had access to a manual drive English car meaning that I would not only have to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road, but also using my left hand to shift gears. Since I’m not very good at manual driving anyway, we decided it would be best for me to wait for our car to arrive before driving.

I had no chance to get used to the idea of driving an American car on the left side of the road and dealing with the English roundabouts. Bruce drove us down to the port in the English car and I had to drive our car to our home. Also, it was a brand new car, one that I had never driven. I didn’t know the little details about the car that are necessary, like where to turn on the windshield wipers or lights. Everything went well at the port and we were on our way. I was amazed and proud at how quickly I became comfortable with driving on the English roads. It was a little shocking how fast you are allowed to travel on those country roads, but I remembered to stay on the left and did very well.

I did well until we came to our exit from the highway and the first major roundabout during our trip. At the very moment we exited it began to rain. I could not immediately find the control for the windshield wiper and I was headed into the roundabout. I had to concentrate on getting through it and then I could find the wiper control. I focused on the car ahead of me which was Bruce leading our way and we got through it without incident. As soon as we were on the next road, I found the switch and turned on the wipers, then continued to follow the small red car in front of me. It was going a little faster than I appreciated, as I was just getting used to a new car and a new country. Eventually, the car was so far away I lost sight. It was at that moment that I realized that I was not traveling in the right direction. I followed the wrong car.

Luckily, traveling in England is really very easy. The roundabouts may seem like a strange and confusing way of directing traffic, but the reality is that it makes finding your way much easier. If you take the wrong exit out of a roundabout you just have to get to the next one and you’ll get turned in the right direction. Instead of following specific roads, it is easier to travel from town to town. Once I realized that I was lost, I just followed the sign to our town at the next roundabout. Eventually I made it home, and I had so much fun in the process. Getting lost is the best way to see the English countryside.

Victoria does not like when I get lost. She gets very nervous if we make a wrong turn. I suppose there is good reason for it, because sometimes a wrong turn can get a driver into real trouble. That happened to me when I lived in New Jersey. I was trying to find a business one evening and I came to a crossroad that I thought would lead me to the place. I was in the left hand turning lane and when the green arrow lit I took the turn. A drunk driver ran his red light and smashed into my car. I was not injured but I believe that my seatbelt saved my life that night. In that case a wrong turn could have meant the difference between life and death.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, two ways lie before the people of Israel, and before us. We are given the choice between life or death, good or evil. Many of our choices have no real consequences. It doesn’t matter if we have hamburgers or spaghetti for dinner tonight or if I wear the red or green shirt. It does matter how we live our life. It does matter if we believe in God or in ourselves. It does matter if we obey the commandments of God or if we decide to walk in His ways. These choices mean the difference between good and evil, between life and death.


August 31, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, September 9, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Psalm 1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: but his delight is in the law of Jehovah; and on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also doth not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish.

We have had a very wet summer. It is unusual for the area in which we live, which tends to be very dry throughout the summer months. The conditions have been perfect for the rain, some of which has been very heavy. Since we have had so much rain the dry creek beds have run with water throughout the summer. Some of these creek beds have been dry for so long that trees and brush has grown up along its path. Even though the creeks have been dry, the plants can find water along these paths, underground springs and rivers exist even when it seems very dry on the surface.

There are many of these dry creek beds around our home. I didn’t really know how many there were until this summer, because we have never seen any water in them. However, we might have guessed that they were dry creek beds by the presence of the trees and shrubs. In the country you can see places with lines of trees that look almost out of place on the flat meadows or plains. Yet, they are obviously not planted because the lines are not straight but seem to follow an imaginary creek. The trees have grown there because in the dry desert like landscape the only place they can really survive is near where the source of water.

Everything is so green this year with all the water we have had. It is usually a golden brown – alive, but browned by the heat of the sun and the lack of water. This year our lawns are green and our trees are thriving without watering. Trees that are far from the rivers are getting enough water to not only survive, but to also grow. Next year will probably be a different story. Next year we’ll have to go back to watering our landscapes with hoses. The trees will not do quite so well, especially those that are far from the sources of water.

The psalmist writes that the man who lives by God’s Word is like a tree planted by the streams of water. This is not simply a matter of living a life that is righteous according to the Law, but instead is about living in a relationship with God. God does not come to us because we are righteous, but we are made righteous by living within His presence. We are given faith and grace – all we need to live. Dwelling in those gifts will keep us on the paths which God has made for us. Dwelling in those gifts means that we’ll avoid those things that will bring harm upon ourselves, our neighbors and the world in which we live. Dwelling in God’s grace means that we’ll not walk in the counsel of the wicked because we have His council by which to walk. Dwelling in God’s faith means we’ll not stand in the way of the sinners because we will stand in His love. Dwelling in God’s presence means that we’ll meditate on His Word, His Law, day and night.

Does this mean that we’ll separate ourselves from the world in which we live, hermited away to read the Bible constantly? No. It is not necessary to hide from the world. Instead we are called to take God with us into it. To do so, however, means keeping His Word in our hearts and in our minds. It means taking time daily for prayer and study, for renewing ourselves by drinking in the waters of life. All too often we think that we are strong enough, faithful enough, knowledgeable enough to live on what is already a part of our lives. We may have read the bible a dozen times, so why do we need to read it again? We go to church and hear a few passages read and expounded, why do we need to read it ourselves every day? We need to drink daily to live. So it is with the scriptures. After a time without renewal and study we lose sight of what matters, the lines between the wicked and the righteous blur. We lose touch with God. When we live without regular study and reading of the scriptures we are like the tree that is planted in the dry field far from the source of life. God intends for us to be like the tree that dwells by the streams of water, drinking in His Word daily for life.