Welcome to the February 2008 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, February 2008

February 1, 2008

Scriptures for February 10, 2008, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Psalm 32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah For this let every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: Surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; Thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; Whose trappings must be bit and bridle to hold them in, Else they will not come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he that trusteth in Jehovah, lovingkindness shall compass him about. Be glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.

As I started thinking about today’s scripture, I went looking online for some information about forgiveness. Most of the websites I came across had something to do with healing and psychology. Many people agree that if someone is going to experience wellness after a difficult situation, they have to get through forgiveness. Forgiveness is not only something we need to give other people. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we need to forgive God. Many of the websites I visited had lists of stages, much like the stages of grief. They began with the hurt, the hate and then went on to the healing. It is necessary for someone to recognize the hurt and the hate before they can even begin to forgive.

The websites I visited did not agree about the number of stages. Each person has his or her own theory about it. While I agree that there is a need to face the hurt and the hate, I think our passage for today gives a more narrowed focus on how to forgive. This psalm shows us God’s example of forgiveness, which is more than simply offering the words of absolution. This first stage is perhaps the easiest part of forgiveness, saying “I forgive you.” But forgiveness requires much more.

William Gladstone was Prime Minister of England in the late nineteenth century. Earlier in his political career he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the British cabinet minister responsible for economic and financial matters. On one occasion, he asked for the statistics necessary to write his budget proposal from the Treasury office. The clerk was always very precise with his calculations, so much so that the chancellor did not both to verify the numbers. Unfortunately, the clerk made a horrible mistake that made the entire budget wrong. Gladstone did not notice the mistake until the budget was presented to the House of Commons. He was made to look like a fool before not only the House, but also the entire nation.

Gladstone sent for the clerk. The clerk was terrified, certain that he would have been fired immediately for the mistake. Mr. Gladstone said, “I sent for you, because I could imagine the torture of your feelings. You have been for many years dealing with the bewildering intricacies of the national accounts, and you have done your work with such conscientious exactness that this is your first mistake. It was because of your splendid record that I did not trouble to verify your calculations. I have sent for you to compliment you on that record and to set you at ease.” In this story of William Gladstone, we see the second stage of forgiveness, the stage which the psalmist says, “whose sin is covered.” Mr. Gladstone did not focus on the mistake but covered it with the compliment about his good work until that moment.

The third, and final, step is probably the hardest. This is the part when we forget the sin. The psalmist says, “Jehovah imputeth not iniquity.” He doesn’t hold on to the sin. We often say the words and cover the sin, but we eventually remember and use it. When we get into a battle with someone, we bring up those old sins and remind our ‘enemy’ of the things that they have done to hurt us in the past. God does not do that. When He grants forgiveness, He covers it with Christ’s righteousness and then forgets. It is by God’s grace that we are set free from the burdens of our sin and in this we rejoice.


February 4, 2008

Scriptures for February 10, 2008, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned:--for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many. And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment came of one unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.

I learned to swim at a very early age. He would probably deny it, but I can vaguely remember learning to swim when my brother threw me in the pool we had in our yard. The first pool was a small three foot above ground pool. Our parents put in a larger four to seven foot above ground pool with a deck and a diving board as my siblings grew too big. We kept the smaller pool for a few years so that I would have a safe place to play, but it did not take very long before even I outgrew that one.

The pool stayed up year round even though it wasn’t used through fall, winter and spring. We didn’t bother with it for those colder months, which meant the water became dirty and gross. As I look back at it now, I wonder if we might have seen evolution in action if we left it go much longer than we did. Memorial Day weekend was the big clean-up weekend. It was necessary to remove all the water, wash down the vinyl sides with soap and water, and then refill the pool with fresh clean water. Then we could use the pool chemicals to make the pool ready for another swimming season. Throughout the season we kept the water clean and safe with the proper pool chemicals and by cleaning out the leaves and bugs that fell into the pool.

After a long winter’s rest it would have been impossible to restore the pool just cleaning out the gunk and using chemicals. It was necessary to take out the old and put in the new. We had to find a way to stop the process of decay. In the case of our pool, it meant starting over. Year after year, however, we let the pool go and we had to start over again the next Memorial Day weekend. It only takes missing a couple of weeks of maintenance before we could see the water turning nasty. Even though we could kept it clean during the season, the threat of stagnation, algae and built up foreign matter was always possible.

Adam and Eve started a process. They may have been the first to turn away from God by listening to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, but we continue to do so in our own lives. The freedom we have to reason and make decisions also gives us the freedom to reject God and go our own way. In doing so, we find ourselves in the position to do specific things which are against God’s Word that will harm our relationship with Him and with His creation. We are like that pool – no matter how “clean” we appear to be, the threat of corrosion, stagnation and filth is always part of our life. We are imperfect. We are frail. We are sinners. We need, more than anything else, a Savior.

Jesus Christ is that Savior. At the cross, He started a new process. This is like what we did on Memorial Day. He took all the crud, scrubbed us down and filled us with fresh clean water. Unfortunately, the old process still exists in our flesh—we continue to be sinners even while we have been transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Unlike our family, though, Jesus never gives up. He keeps His grace freely flowing into our lives, granting forgiveness when we fail and showing us the better way. The process will not be complete until the day when He comes. Then, in that wonderful day, we will begin again and the things that make us imperfect now will be gone forever.

For now, we live remembering that we are sinners in need of a Savior. And we live knowing that our Savior has come and He is Jesus Christ. We are saints and sinners, going through this life experiencing the free gift of grace and the frailty of our human condition. Joy and pain, blessedness and suffering is what it means to be a Christian in the world today.


February 5, 2008

Scriptures for February 10, 2008, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Matthew 4:1-11 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

I didn’t watch the big game on Sunday. I have never been very interested in sports on television. I don’t mind going to a game, particularly the local high school games. I have attended some college games, and if the tickets weren’t so expensive, I would probably consider going to others. I might even enjoy a professional football game in person. There’s something about the atmosphere, the excitement. However, I don’t enjoy it on television.

Like many people, I do enjoy the commercials. However, with the Internet, it is not necessary to watch the game to see the latest advertising works of art. Those commercials are truly works of art. They are creative, expensive and very well done. As much energy goes into the creation of an ad campaign played during the big game as goes into some movies, it seems. Since the cost of a commercial is extraordinary, the advertisers put so much more into them than they do other campaigns.

Advertisements are designed to tempt us. Naturally, they tempt us to want—or to think we need—their product. However, the ads often sell much more than their products. They say that “sex sells” but I think that the ads using six also sell sex. In other words, The beautiful girl tempting someone to visit a website or drink a particular brand of water not only sells the product but also makes that behavior acceptable in the world. Should women actually be sexually assaulting a man because he has the hottest new laptop? Of course, he didn’t mind the kiss from the beautiful girl, so it must be ok even if it isn’t likely in the adult world. However, have you seen what happens in Junior High? Teenagers play out these commercials as if they express life as it should be lived.

Some of the temptations are not nearly so blatant. One of my favorite commercials was the one with the Dalmatian dog training the Clydesdale. It is certainly not a bad thing to work out, to get healthy and strong, to work toward a goal and achieve it. The temptation we all face, however, is that attaining that goal becomes our entire life. Working out at the gym takes the place of time with the family for some people. Their jobs become the most important thing in their life, so they work seventy or eighty hours a week and ignore their responsibilities of home and family. The good things we seek—even the blessings for which we thank God—become the overwhelming influence of our lives and we forget the God who by His grace has blessed us.

Isn’t it interesting that the temptations Jesus faced were not about those things we normally consider ‘sinful’? Jesus wasn’t tempted by a beautiful woman , He was tempted by the things He would face during His ministry.

Satan first offered Jesus food for His belly. It is good to eat. Carbs were not an issue in Jesus’ day so this isn’t a temptation to break a special diet. It isn’t even about the sin of gluttony. Jesus was hungry. He’d been fasting for days. The temptation is about putting the needs of the flesh first. Jesus was in the desert to prepare for His ministry. It was an act of obedience to the will of God, to strengthen Him against the things He would face in the days to come. The temptation was not only to feed His own hunger, Satan said, “Command these stones.” Jesus would not have needed more than a loaf, but with many loaves of bread He could have fed all the hungry in Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry was not about beginning a food bank. He did feed the hungry. However, He did so first by speaking God’s Word.

The second temptation was about fame. Imagine what an impact Jesus would have had on His world if He had actually gone to the top of the temple to take a flying leap? The appearance of angels and the miraculous landing would have made Him the talk of the town. People would have come flocking to hear Him speak, and perhaps catch a glimpse of Him doing something else amazing. How many ministries focus on the impact they have in their cities and neighborhoods without caring about the message they are giving to the people? Jesus responded, “Do not test God.”

Finally, Satan tempted Jesus with power. If only Jesus would bow down to Satan, He could rule over all the nations of the world. Of course, this is a promise Satan can’t keep, even if Jesus would worship him. Jesus’ purpose was not control or power. It was not to be a worldly king. His purpose was to teach the kingdom of God and then to die for our sake. He would eventually face all those temptations: feeding the hungry, making a spectacle of Himself and becoming the king which the people longed to crown. He would refuse each time, keeping the focus of His ministry on what matters—God.


February 6, 2008

Scriptures for February 10, 2008, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of a forty day period of fasting and prayer, repentance and renewal. After Jesus was baptized, He was sent into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, that was a time of preparation, of prayer and temptation. During those forty days, the devil came to Him and tempted Him to feed His flesh, His heart and His ego. Jesus stood firm on the word of God, and came to know more clearly who He was and to whom He belonged, while also discerning His purpose in the world.

Today we begin a similar journey: the season of Lent. During Lent we focus on the ministry of Jesus Christ while learning about ourselves and the faith which we have been given. It is a time of discipline—not punishment, but training. It is a time when we can develop better habits of prayer and healthier ways of living. It is a time for growing closer to God, to learn who we are and to whom we belong. It is a time to face the temptations of our lives (our flesh, our hearts and our egos) and to conquer them with God’s Word as we delve more deeply into the scriptures.

Discipline may mean sacrifice. Athletes eat a special diet when they are in training. Students give up the games of childhood as they prepare for college. We do these things so that we can do our best and become the best we can be. Spiritual discipline might also mean sacrifice: giving up the things that keep us from seeing God. This is called fasting. Maybe there is something that in itself is neither good nor bad, yet you find it distracting your focus away from God. Perhaps there is an addictive or bad habit you should give up. Make a prayerful decision. Do not wear your fasting on your shoulders. Keep it private, between you and God. In the end, you might just develop a better, healthier lifestyle.

However, Lent need not only be a time of fasting. More importantly, it is a journey in which we seek God, seek His will for our lives and face our unworthiness so that God can build us up to be the people He has created us to be. It is an inward journey as we come to know ourselves better. It is also a journey that is taken within the community. Many churches offer extra worship opportunities. Some even plan a meal to be shared. As we look more closely at ourselves, we can see our failures as well as our successes and discern the ministry to which God has called us as individuals within the community of Christ and the world.

I encourage everyone to commit time each day to spend with God during this Lenten season. Choose a time and a place, whatever works best for you. Pick a time when you can focus completely on God. Be consistent as you build this habit into your day. Find a place away from distractions so that you can concentrate on prayer, study and worship. Structure your time with God because it will help you stay focused. Find a Lenten devotional online or in a bookstore that will help guide the direction of your study. Or, choose to read through certain books of the Bible. Study the Lenten lectionary texts as we do in this devotional. Begin your time with prayer. Read some scripture. Listen to what God and others have to say about faith in our world today. Hear what God is saying to you personally for this time and place. Discover your own temptations. Discover your gifts. Let God transform you by His Word and His Grace.

Whatever you decide to do throughout this season of Lent, remember that God’s grace is greater than our failure. If you break you fast, ask forgiveness and begin again. Do not let failure become an excuse to keep trying. We are sinners in need of a Savior. That’s the whole point of Lent, to realize that we need Jesus and the cross to be in relationship with God. Begin each day as if it is a new day. Try and try again. Training is a process of growing. Let the discipline develop over the next few weeks so that it will continue long after Easter Sunday.


February 7, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 17, 2008: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Genesis 12:1-4a Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and be thou a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. So Abram went, as Jehovah had spoken unto him

It is impossible to believe, but Victoria is a senior in High School. I know it is a cliché, but it seems like just yesterday that I was holding her in my arms. In just a few months she will be headed off to college so that she can go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of others. She wants to be a teacher, to share her love of theatre and help young people become confident and mature.

This weekend we are off to a weekend at a university, touring the campus and meeting people connected to the college. We will get to spend time with professors, students and admissions counselors. We’ll see the classrooms, dorms and other buildings. We might even have a chance to check out the city. This will be a time of looking for the good and the bad so that Victoria can make an educated decision about where she would like to spend her college years.

Victoria will also be auditioning for scholarships. Several schools have already made some wonderful offers, but a college education is very expensive especially at the schools that she is considering. Any scholarship money she receives will be helpful in the coming years. Since we are neither poor enough to be eligible for financial aide nor rich enough to afford to pay the whole bill, we’ll have to rely on loans and other sources of money. We are hoping that merit scholarships will put a considerable dent in the bill.

I’m very proud of my daughter because she has worked hard to be in a position to be recognized by colleges and organizations in this special way. Merit scholarships are given to those students who have shown a commitment in all areas of life. They ask questions about their school activities, community service, leadership roles and academic experiences. They look at test scores and grades. The students are required to perform to be eligible for music or theatre scholarships. The schools look at every aspect of the student’s life to determine which students most deserve to receive help with their education.

They try to give money to as many students as possible. The schools are not trying to keep students out of college; they want to ensure that every deserving student is able to attend school. One of the schools claims to offer financial help of some sort to 96% of the student body. They recognize that the leaders of our community in the future will be those students who are committed and active in the world around them today. They are looking for potential and reward that potential with help.

The scholarships come with a string—the students must keep up the good work in college. A young man who was greatly blessed by scholarship moneys last year did not live up to that expectation during the fall semester. He became involved with the wrong crowd and he got into trouble with the school and with the law. He lost his scholarship and has to prove himself willing to work to overcome this set-back or else he will not be allowed to return to school next fall. His parents may not be willing to pay for his education, so he may have to do something differently, anyway. This young man returned to the high school before Christmas vacation to warn the other students about the dangers of freedom and independence. He learned the hard way and he wanted to help his friends not make the same mistakes.

The schools grant scholarships to help students become the best they can be. This is not only about the individual receiving the money or the school that is giving it. It is about making a difference in the world today. They want to develop leaders; they want to help mould the men and women who will mould future generations. They bless these kids so that they will be a blessing. That’s what God does with us. All our blessings are given so that they will flow out into the world into the lives of others. Our blessings are not for our own benefit, they are for the benefit of the world.


February 11, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 17, 2008: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Psalm 121 I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come? My help cometh from Jehovah, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Jehovah is thy keeper: Jehovah is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. Jehovah will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul. Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for evermore.

It is an odd time of year to think about it, but this reading reminded me of a children’s Christmas song. You know the one, “You better watch out. You better not cry, better not pout I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.” We have this image of an old guy in a bright read furry costume watching our every move. His purpose is to find out if we are being bad or good. Only the good little children will get presents under the tree on Christmas morning, so he has to know at every moment if those children are good or bad.

I suppose some people have a similar image of God. I’m reading an historical fiction novel right now that is written from the perspective of a warrior in Saxon England who though he has heritage in the Christian faith has decided to worship the gods of the Danes. He sees Christianity as a religion of rules, the Lord as a god whose purpose is to punish wrongdoers. The type of Christianity practiced in his day probably made the Lord look like that kind of god. The same is true today in many churches. Our God is not about love in the pink hearts and syrupy emotions of Valentine’s Day, but He is about love. The kind of love He gives is found in mercy and forgiveness. There is room for the rules, but there is even more room for grace.

When I read through today’s psalm, I was reminded of that creepy image of Santa Claus watching every movement of all the children. But the psalm is really the song of a pilgrim. Pilgrimages were difficult. Victoria and I took a trip this past weekend. We drove over five hundred miles to Tulsa to visit one of the colleges that she is interested in attending next fall. It was a fun, but rough weekend. We couldn’t leave until late Thursday evening, so we drove about halfway, then spent a few hours in a hotel. We left early the next morning so that we could make it to the college in time. We made it with just minutes to spare. Then we spent the next few days busy with the activities that had been planned for us. Finally, yesterday we left by mid-afternoon and drove all the way home. We were exhausted, but our journey was much easier than it was for the pilgrims in times past.

The pilgrims in David’s day would have had to travel on foot. There were few hotel rooms available along the path. The roads were dangerous. Thieves and murderers waited around every bend for the perfect victim. The heat of the day and the cold of the night made for difficult travel. No gas stations with mini-marts were set up along the way to offer a cool drink or a restroom. The wilderness is filled with wild animals. Stinging insects and hungry predators provided yet another danger to the traveler. It is no wonder that the pilgrims sought some comfort in their faith in God. He was not far; He was watching them along the way.


February 12, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 17, 2008: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God. For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness… For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they that are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect: for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.

As we were driving north toward Dallas Thursday night, Victoria commented about the stars in the sky. She said that she was surprised how few she could see. The night was clear and we were in a lightly populated part of Texas. There were few houses and businesses along the road, none of which were brightly lit. Street lamps were few and far between. The effects of light pollution should have been minor. However, we were much closer to Dallas than we might have suspected. We could see the glow of the city ahead. I told Victoria that there were as many stars in the sky as we might see at home, but the lights of the city were simply too bright. I told her that the best way to see the stars is to climb to the top of a mountain. There, closer to the heavens and far from the lights of a city, you can millions of stars.

When I was a teenager, I went camping with my Girl Scout troop. We went to a camp in a state park a few hours from our home. It was a nice park, with amazing waterfalls and exhausting hikes. Our camp was at the top of the mountain, near the beginning of the string of waterfalls. We had some rain that weekend, rain that nearly washed our tents down the mountain. But the rain passed and we were able to do our hike the next day. That night we were exhausted from the climb back up the hill and the lack of sleep the night before. However, we were amazed by the night sky. It was so full of stars that it was difficult to distinguish between the stars and it was impossible to count them.

Imagine what it must have been like for Abraham that night when God promised him offspring that would outnumber the stars. It might not have been such a surprising statement if Abraham were traveling toward Dallas in 2008. We saw only a few dozen stars that night from the windows of our speeding car. Abraham, however, was in the wilderness, thousands of years before electricity and far from the modern light pollution that has hidden the stars from our vision. The sky he saw was more like the sky I saw on the top of the mountain, with so many stars that it would have been impossible for him to count.

It was an amazing promise, especially since Abraham and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years. Abraham believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness. That righteousness was not an indication of good works or right living because there was no Law on which to base that type of righteousness. His righteousness was living in a right relationship with God, dwelling in His presence. His faith was not in the promise but in the LORD who made the promise. The promise itself was ridiculous, but God is faithful. So, Abraham had faith in God; he had faith in the presence of God. Abraham did not see the fulfillment of the promise. He did see the seed—the birth of a son. In that son he saw the promise of more, but his faith was in God.

I wonder how often Abraham doubted the promise he received in Genesis 15? Abraham did try to take matters into his own hands, seeking a child through Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. Sarah laughed when the LORD said to Abraham that she would bear a child. Did Abraham also wonder at the ridiculousness of that statement? Yet, through it all, Abraham lived in the presence of God, and that is righteousness.


February 13, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 17, 2008: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.

It is so easy to pull that timeless verse out of this passage and focus on it. John 3:16 is recognized the world over. Anyone who has ever seen a football game on television has seen signs raised above the crowds beseeching people to believe in God. Even if they can’t quote the verse word-for-word, even non-Christians know what it says. It is the foundation of our faith. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have eternal life.” I’ve known many pastors who have inserted this verse into many of their sermons even when it is not part of the passages for the day because it means so much to them.

This is a favorite passage because it shows both God’s gospel and man’s response. God loves and if we believe, we will not die. Yet, John 3:16 should not be taken without verse 17. “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” We like to think of God in terms of love, and love He is. However, it is not love that saves us. Love is the reason why we are saved, but it is not our salvation. Forgiveness saves us.

In Numbers 21, Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness, but the people grew impatient. They were wandering in circles. They were far from the life they had known in Egypt and did not seem to be getting anywhere. They began to complain. “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.” God answered their complaints by sending venomous snakes among them. Many died from their bites. I suppose it is stories like this that make some people dislike the Old Testament. What sort of loving God would do such a thing?

The people had turned away from God, no longer trusting the work He was doing in their life. They doubted His faithfulness; they spoke against Him in their complaints. They despised God’s grace. The attack of the snakes helped them to see the error of their ways. It seems too simple in this passage. Snakes bit and they repented. They went to Moses and confessed their sin. Could it really have been that easy? They were wandering through the desert, a desert undoubtedly filled with poisonous creatures. The people probably saw them constantly, but the creatures did not attack. When they complained, God lifted His hand of protection from their presence. The snakes that were held at bay by God’s grace were free to do what they do naturally. The people needed to look to God again, to seek His grace.

So, God commanded Moses to create a bronze snake to lift high in the camp. All who looked upon that snake were saved. God so loved the Israelites that He sent that snake to be lifted among them, so that all who believed and looked toward it would be saved. Sound familiar? God could have simply sent the snakes away. He could have killed the snakes. He could have made them unable to bit or the poison to be useless. He gave them a sign of His grace so that they would look toward it and be saved.

God forgives. God forgives because He loves, but love is not the foundation of our faith. We are saved by God’s mercy, by His forgiveness. Nicodemus went to Jesus in darkness, seeking answers to the questions of his heart. There was something about Jesus, but Nicodemus was afraid. What did it all mean? What was He saying? Nicodemus was a teacher. He was responsible for the spiritual lives of the people, yet he could not understand what Jesus was saying. Nicodemus understood the Law. He understood the things he could grasp and the things that he could do. It is easier to respond to God’s word than it is to accept His grace. How can we be certain? The Israelites got tired, scared, and hungry and then they began to doubt. During our own wilderness journeys we also get tired, scared and hungry. We complain. We doubt. We look away from God and try to make our own way. But God has given us His Son, lifted on a pole, so that we can see our sin and remember His grace. There, on the cross that seems to defy love, we see God’s forgiveness and our salvation.


February 14, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2008: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Exodus 17:1-7 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, by their journeys, according to the commandment of Jehovah, and encamped in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people stove with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why strive ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt Jehovah? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore hast thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto Jehovah, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They are almost ready to stone me. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Pass on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and they rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thy hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tempted Jehovah, saying, Is Jehovah among us, or not?

Anyone who has flown on an airplane is familiar with the main task of the fight attendants: pushing the drink cart down the aisle. Perhaps it is not their main task, since they are trained to keep the passengers safe during the flight and in case of emergency, but it sure seems like the main task. Almost as soon as the plane is safely in the air, the flight attendants pull out the beverage cart and slowly make their way through the cabin to serve the passengers something to drink.

It is important for the passengers to stay hydrated during the flight. The cabin air is extremely dry, made worse by the altitudes. By the time the beverages are served, the people have been sitting on the airplane for a long time. Thirst comes easily in those situations. Some people are looking for comfort in their distress. Some ginger ale helps with an upset stomach. Others prefer to order tomato juice which is supposed to help ward off thrombosis, a dangerous condition in which blood clots develop in the legs which can then be carried to other parts of the body and cause illness or even death. Some people prefer to order alcohol, which has a calming affect.

So, for the health and comfort of the passengers, the flight attendants walk down the aisle with the drink cart, offering refreshment. It seems like I am always at the end of their service pattern. It seems to take forever for one of the crew to say, “What can I get you to drink.” The thirst builds as I see water and other beverages poured out for the passengers around me. Often, just as I think it will be my turn, the flight attendant turns to another passenger or takes a trip to the kitchen to restock. Thirst becomes overwhelming when there does not seem to be any relief.

The Israelites were on a difficult journey. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, never certain where they were going or even why they were there. Though they had cried out for the salvation of the LORD in Egypt, the life they led in slavery was better than the uncertainty of where they would get their next drink. If we think it is dry and uncomfortable aboard an airplane, imagine what it must have been like having a million people camping in the desert with no source for water?

They began to grumble. I understand. I get pretty testy when I’m uncomfortable. I know what it is like to wish I was back at a painful place because at least it is familiar. The unknown is scary. It is uncomfortable. It is worse than the worst places that we know. They went to Moses and asked, “Wherefore hast thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” When we are uncomfortable, the worst that can happen is what we believe will happen. We are thirsty so we must die.

God heard their cries, just as He heard their cries in Egypt. In this story we are reminded that in those times when it seems like God is nowhere near to us, He is very near. Even though it seems like the flight attendant will never get around to giving me a drink, he or she always manages to get to me in plenty of time. As thirsty as I get, I do not get thirsty enough to die. God seemed to be far away, but He knew the needs of His people. They needed water, but they also needed to learn how to trust in Him. They were being led from one life to a very different life. The wilderness journey was not only meant to get them from one place to another, but to also help them transform into the people God was calling them to be. He was teaching them about faith, about hope and about relying on the One who would provide for their every need. They quarreled and tested, but God still provided. This is good for us to know—that even when we quarrel and test the LORD, He is still close by to meet our needs.


February 15, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2008: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Psalm 95 Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For Jehovah is a great God, And a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, and he made it; And his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker: For he is our God, And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To-day, oh that ye would hear his voice! Harden not your heart, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness; When your fathers tempted me, Proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with that generation, And said, It is a people that do err in their heart, And they have not known my ways: Wherefore I sware in my wrath, That they should not enter into my rest.

Oklahoma is fairly flat. We traveled through some hills on our way to Tulsa the other day, but most of the landscape was flat, barren land. We’d hoped for good weather during the weekend, especially since we were going to have to do so much driving and we were lucky. Stormy weather was expected north of Tulsa, but the cloud line was not expected to reach the city. A few hours from Tulsa we noticed a cloud bank. At first we weren’t sure. We knew the storm was supposed to be further north and it seemed impossible that we might see it from so far away. The line also appeared as though it might be the top of a hill. We drove for a long time—hours—and never seemed to get closer. It eventually became clear that we were seeing a cloud, but we never drove far enough to be under its shadow. The storm stayed north of us; we continued to see it throughout the weekend.

We watched that cloud bank for more than a hundred miles. It was one of those experiences that make us realize that we are very small and inconsequential: little more than a tiny spot on the big sphere of the earth. I’ve had similar experiences—on the mountain top under a million stars, floating in a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no land to be seen, under a rainbow that spans from horizon to horizon, in the midst of a thunder storm, looking out the window of an airplane as it flies over the earth.

It is hard to realize this when we are in the midst of a city with the hustle and bustle of our every day life. We seem to have conquered the world. We build buildings that reach to the sky and can travel around the world in a matter of hours. We can see the DNA make-up of a human child before he or she is born and we can send men into outer space to build a city. Yet, we can’t control the weather and we can’t make oceans, rainbows or recreate the earth that God has created. Though we can build an oil rig out in the sea or produce boats to carry us over it, I doubt we will ever conquer it completely. There is still too much under the water that has not yet been explored.

While we do recognize that we are a just a small part of the whole wide world, there are times when we forget our insignificance. There are times when we think that the entire creation revolves around us. This happens especially when we are in the midst of some sort of suffering. The Israelites in the wilderness in our lesson yesterday knew nothing but their thirst. They did not remember their suffering in slavery or God’s deliverance from Egypt. They knew only that they needed water. At Meribah and Massah they were reminded of God’s presence and His grace. In the midst of their suffering, God was there ready to meet their needs.

I have been awed by the endlessness of water, land and sky. There are times and places where they seem to go on forever. To experience the vast wilderness of earth is enough to make a person feel very, very small. I am even more awed by the fact that it was all made by God. And though God made the heavens and the earth, though He created the vast oceans, the land and all that lives here, though He controls it all with His hands – He also knows my name. He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. As I sat there feeling rather insignificant, I realized that through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, the God of all creation has given me a share of His eternal kingdom which is even more awesome than anything I can see on earth. We are reminded that even though we are little more than a speck on the face of this earth, no matter what our circumstances that God is near and that He is ready to meet our needs.


February 18, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2008: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Romans 5:1-11 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

There is a statement many use, “Those who can’t do, teach.” It is a claim that those who become teachers, particularly of specific subjects, do so because they can’t make it in the ‘real world.’ In other words, they mean that a drama teacher could not make it on the stage or a business professor could not be successful in business. The statement questions the integrity of the teacher because it assumes that the teacher is less gifted or capable than a professional in the field.

There have certainly been some people for whom the statement is true. We all had some teacher that was uninformed and incapable of doing the very thing for which they were hired to teach. Those people, however, were also bad teachers. They might have been able to stand in front of a crowd of students and recite facts, but they could never give the students that extra knowledge that comes from experience. The best teachers are those who not only succeed in their field of student, but then also can share it in a way that makes it real and transformative for their students.

Victoria wants to be a drama teacher, and undoubtedly she’ll hear that phrase at some point over her career. People might question her credibility because she will not have professional experience listed on her resume. However, Victoria is not settling for a career in education because she can’t be a great actress. She wants to share with high school students the love of theatre that she has received from her own teachers. She is seeking the degree in education not as a substitute for what ‘might have been’ but as a calling to touch the lives of teenagers.

People questioned Paul’s credibility, although for a different reason. Paul suffered. We do not know the source of all his sufferings. He had some illness that is not specifically defined that caused him pain. For the people in Paul’s day, any sort of suffering was considered a sign of that person’s unrighteousness. The righteous person, the person in a right relationship with God, would not be ill or suffering. Paul was also suffering under the hands of enemies. Surely God would protect him from that pain? Paul’s credibility was questioned because he did not appear to be a godly person. He did not appear to have God’s favor upon him.

Paul writes about peace. For some many of, peace comes when everything is perfect. When we are safe, healthy and comfortable, then we will have peace. We still see the blessed life as one filled with good things, just as they did in Paul’s day. All too many pastors preach that if you appear successful, then God’s hand must surely be on you. They still see suffering as a sign that something is wrong between man and God. However, Paul gives us a different perspective. He says, “but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.”

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. (NIV) We don’t end with peace, or gain peace when everything is perfect. We begin with peace, knowing that God has justified us through grace which we have through Jesus Christ. Having that peace does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us. As a matter of fact, the suffering we face in Christ will actually strengthen us. As we persevere through our suffering, the world sees our character and our character gives them hope. People are amazed by those who still believe in the midst of great suffering. They see hope in the life of the faithful and they see God in that hope. Though some might question the integrity of a Christian in suffering, it is the very peace they experience in the midst of suffering that stands as a sign of their faith to the world.


February 19, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2008: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

John 4:5-42 So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph: and Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. For his disciples were gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said unto unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said unto him, I have no husband. Jesus saith unto her, Thou saidst well, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this hast thou said truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ): when he is come, he will declare unto us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. And upon this came his disciples; and they marvelled that he was speaking with a woman; yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why speakest thou with her? So the woman left her waterpot, and went away into the city, and saith to the people, Come, see a man, who told me all things that ever I did: can this be the Christ? They went out of the city, and were coming to him. In the mean while the disciples prayed him, saying, Rabbi, eat. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not. The disciples therefore said one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest. He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. For herein is the saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye have not labored: others have labored, and ye are entered into their labor. And from that city many of the Samaritans believed on him because of the word of the woman, who testified, He told me all things that ever I did. So when the Samaritans came unto him, they besought him to abide with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his word; and they said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.

There is almost too much to be said about this passage and this devotional will barely break the surface of what God has to say about His grace, His love and the hope we have in His promises.

We have a pond. Well, we have created an area in our yard with a plastic pond liner and surrounded it with plants and flowers. Over the past few months, this garden has been ignored and has fallen into disrepair. We have been thinking about it because we were not able to string electricity to the pond to install a pump, filter and fountain. We have always wanted to put fish in the pond, but we can’t because we can’t keep the water clean enough for them to live. We tried to use a solar fountain, but it did not provide suitable movement for life.

Jesus tells the woman at the well that He is the living water. The water in the well that she was gathering for her family was good enough to drink, but well water is not necessarily the best water. It is standing water, though well below the surface of the ground and clean for cooking and drink. The woman could not come to the well in the early morning when the water was fresh and cool as the other women of the village. She had to come at the heat of the day when the water was mucky from the buckets that had been dropped earlier in the day.

Jesus said, “Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” No matter how good the water we drink, we will get thirsty again. As a matter of fact, the human body can’t go very long without water. It is vital to our health. Jesus may have been quite thirsty at the time He asked the woman for a drink. He was left alone outside the village as His disciples went to buy food to eat. He was in a barren area, resting after a long walk across wilderness. He asked for a drink, but in doing so He invited her into a relationship.

Water was the one thing that the woman could give to Jesus. She might have been able to supply food, but she did not have any with her. She had only a bucket and a well. Jesus may or may not have needed a drink, but the only thing she could give Him was a drink. The imagery in today’s Gospel lesson is reminiscent of some of the great love stories of the Old Testament. Moses met Zipporah by a well. Jacob met Rachel by a well. Abraham’s servant found a wife for his son Isaac by a well. We see a similar love story building in this story.

Jesus invites the woman to dance. The dance was in words, but it was a dance all the same. She began hesitant. She was uncertain whether or not she wanted a relationship, so responded with a question. “Who are you that you would speak to me?” We might respond in a similar way to a stranger on the street. Jesus drew her in by offering her something greater than He was asking from her. Slowly, but surely, He developed a relationship with her that was based on far more than her ability to give Him anything. She was, after all, everything that He should have hated—a Samaritan, a woman and a sinner. He saw beyond the surface and met her deepest needs. By the time the dance was over, she was ready to go tell everyone about the man that she met. She invited them into the dance. She invited them to meet the Messiah.


February 20, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2008: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him.

There is a television show called “Cash and Treasures” that is found on the Travel Channel. The host visits places where the visitor can dig up treasures and then shows how to make money from the items found. They have visited gold mines, dug for antique bottles, hunted for dinosaur bones and scuba-dived for sunken treasure. They’ve found gemstones, petrified wood, ancient shark teeth and historical artifacts. It is interesting to see the process from the search to the sale. A visit to their website reveals that they have sold some of the items for amazing amounts of money, more amazing when you see what it looked like when it came out of the ground. It makes me want to go treasure hunting.

I particularly enjoy the shows where they go hunting for gemstones. They have visited Crater of Diamonds State Park for diamonds, Gem Mountain in North Carolina for aquamarines and Himalaya Tourmaline Mine in California for tourmaline just to name a few. The stones are often hard to identify because they are covered in dirt when they come out of the ground. It is often only when they are washed that you can tell they are a valuable piece of stone. Even then, the quality of the stone is uncertain until it is seen by a gemologist who can see the potential. Some gemstones are far more beautiful when they are cut. A gemstone’s real value is not certain until it has been cut and set into a piece of jewelry. It is then that we can see its beauty – an inner beauty that is brought out by the careful work of someone who knows what he is doing.

When the show visited the site of a sunken ship, the host found several pieces including a silver coin. The owners of the ship who ran the dive usually keep all items found, but they have a tradition which allows the finder to keep their first coin. When the coin came out of the water, it looked drab and worthless. It has to go through a process of cleaning, a process that takes months. When the process is complete, that one small coin will be worth $1500. It is hard to believe it when it first comes out of the water.

We are diamonds in the rough. We are like the buried and worthless treasures that are dug up by the host. Our Savior is Jesus Christ, who finds us and cleans us up and then takes us through the process of making us a beautiful jewel. It is hard sometimes. We are tested. We fail. We won’t be perfect in this world. By Jesus doesn’t throw us away. He keeps with it, polishing, cutting, forming—always moving forward. The process might be like the wilderness journey of the Israelites, with testing and suffering and doubt. It might be like the conversation with the woman at the well, with questions and a change in understanding.

We are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus in our baptism and then sanctified throughout our lives by His love.


February 21, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

1 Samuel 16:1-13 And Jehovah said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? fill thy horn with oil, and go: I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite; for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And Jehovah said, Take a heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee. And Samuel did that which Jehovah spake, and came to Beth-lehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice unto Jehovah: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely Jehovah's anointed is before him. But Jehovah said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Jehovah hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he is keeping the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon. And Jehovah said, Arise, anoint him; for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.

I normally focus on the idea that we can’t judge a book by its cover when I read this story. After all, we see the anointing of David who is definitely not what Samuel expected of God’s next chosen king. David was the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons, merely a shepherd boy. He was not a warrior or wizened by years. Most rulers appeared taller and stronger than his subjects. A shepherd boy could not lead a nation. God sees from a different perspective. He sees the heart. So, the lesson we learn is that we should not judge a book by its cover. God saw David’s heart and knew that David would serve Him.

There is another lesson in this story, though. It is one that we do not hear very often. It is the story of Saul, who was king of Israel but whose anointing was taken away.

“You’re fired” has become identified with a reality television show starring Donald Trump. The show has contestants competing to become Mr. Trump’s apprentice, a job that will likely help them to a long lasting, successful career. The contestants work in teams to accomplish a task and then everyone meets in the boardroom to discover which team won. The winning team gets a special prize and the losers have to meet with Mr. Trump to figure out who deserves to be fired.

The current season of the show has celebrities as the contestants. They aren’t working toward a job, they are earning money for their favorite charities. As usual, the show exhibits the best and the worst of the contestants, especially since it is edited to make it exciting to the viewing audience. There are some very strong personalities on the show, people who are unable to work together. That was obvious last week when Mr. Trump purposely put two people on the same team to see if they could adapt. I think everyone wanted that team to fail so that the two could have it out one last time in the boardroom. The expectation was for one of them to be fired. Throughout the episode, it seemed impossible for them to win. There was no team unity, no cohesion.

The other team worked marvelously. The customers were happy, the team was successful. The task was to sell rides in horse carriages through Central Park. Their carriages were always full; they collected a great deal of money. In the end, however, the other team won. They had a few big spenders, friends who gave them excellent donations which took them over the top. The chaotic team was sent back to the room and the other contestants met their fate. In this episode, as never before, Mr. Trump had mercy. He knew that the team deserved to win. They were the better businessmen in every respect, except in the final number. He decided that none of them deserved to be fired. In that decision, we could see that perhaps Mr. Trump is not only about the numbers. He recognizes quality, too, and rewards a job well done even if the outcome was not what was expected.

God has grace and mercy on His people. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He is faithful to His promises. All these things are true. Saul was given numerous chances to prove he was the type of king God anointed him to be. Saul turned from God, disobeyed Him. 1 Samuel 15:35b says, “And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.” At that point, God took away Saul’s anointing. The lesson to be learned is that we can be fired. God is merciful, but if we turn against Him He will remove our own anointing. He has called us to do His work in this world, the work of forgiveness and reconciliation. He has given us the gifts we need to do His work. He walks with us, upholds us, and encourages us through it all. He is quick to forgive and will not abandon us. But if are disobedient, there may come a time when God will be grieved that He has called us to our vocation. He can take all that He has given. So, it would do us well to keep our hearts and minds on His will in all we do so that He will continue to bless us in our vocation in this world.


February 22, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

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

Phillip Keller was a jack of all trades. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but in his nearly ninety years of life, Phillip Keller experienced God in many different places and through many different experiences. He was born in Kenya of missionary parents, sent to a strict boarding school as a youth, lost his father when he was very young. When he was older, he traveled extensively, saw the world through the lens of a camera and learned to love God by observing the world around him. As he wandered physically, he also wandered spiritually, trying to find the God he’d learned about from his father and others of great faith in his life. He wrote extensively about faith, showing an understanding of God through the eyes of very real experience.

One of his most beloved books is called “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” Phillip spent eight years as a shepherd to his own flock after living surrounded by native herders in East Africa. He understood the language of shepherding and recognized the reality of the Psalm from his own experience. Based on his thoughts, I am going to try to rewrite and expand this psalm in language that we who have never been a shepherd might more fully understand.

The Lord is my caretaker and under his care I will be filled and satisfied because He will provide all the good things I need each day. He will make sure that all my needs are met so that I can lay down in peace to rest. That peace comes because in Him I will be free of fear, reconciled with my neighbors and have no worries to keep me from sleep. A grumbling belly will not keep me awake. He is trustworthy so I can lay my head down without care. He gives me the living water and He does so at a place that is not chaotic and confusing. When I fall or fail, He will lift me up and set me back on my feet, forgiving and encouraging me. He will not allow me to return to the well-worn paths that are comfortable but dangerous and He will help me to see the right path. He will guide me in the way I should go. He will be with me when I have to walk through difficult times. He knows that sometimes we have to travel through suffering and pain, but He will never leave me alone. His rod is the only weapon He needs to keep me safe in the field and His staff the only tool he needs to provide the discipline I need to keep me safe from myself. I am comforted by His willingness to face my enemies and my disobedience to keep me from harm whether it comes from outside or from my own failures. He goes ahead of me to prepare the place where I am going. He will lay out the things I will need and remove the things that will be harmful so that I have no worries when I arrive. He will cover me with His grace so that I will not have to be concerned by the things that can annoy and concern me. I can proclaim with assurance that all these things are true and that my life will be blessed. I can go forth trusting in my Lord, dwelling in His house forever.

I have condensed an entire book to one paragraph and it certainly does not fully explain or present the subtleties of Phillip Keller’s message. I highly recommend reading “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” for yourself. Just as his experiences helped him to better understand the reality of God’s care for His people, reading the book helps us to see more clearly the peace we have when we trust in God’s shepherding.

The Psalm is generally credited to David who himself was a shepherd boy when he was anointed as king over Israel. Since the ancient kings were often referred to as shepherds over their people, David was the perfect man for God to choose for the job. We have a hard time understanding because like Samuel we look for the strongest, smartest, most powerful people to be our leaders. However David understood what it took to take care of God’s sheep. He knew his responsibilities—the most important being his trust in God.


February 25, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Ephesians 5:8-14 For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them; for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of. But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.

We lived on a farm when I was very young, but moved to the city when I was barely a toddler. My parents had some friends from the country with a daughter the same age as I. They kept in touch after we moved. Though we did not get to see one another very often, the girl and I were very close friends into high school. We made the best of our time together, always inviting one another to our birthday parties and having week-long sleepovers during the summer.

When we were older, our sleepovers became campouts. Her family owned a large plot of land which had a forest with a creek running through it. There were some wonderful grassy areas in the woods that were perfect for putting up a tent. Though the house was very close, it seemed far away because it was hidden by the trees. We could go home at any time to get the things we might need and yet we felt safe and secure knowing that her parents were near. It was a much different time: there was no reason to fear the kind of dangers to young girls that might lurk in the world today.

My friend had a neighbor who liked to play games with us. He always knew when we were camping in the woods and he always came to see if he could scare us. He usually pretended to be a bear or make creepy ghostly noises in the night. We always knew he was coming and yet he always managed to make us scream at some point during our camping trip. After all, no matter how safe it was, we were two young girls alone in the forest. Though we didn’t have stories about kidnapped and murdered children, we did have stories like Hansel and Gretel to spur our imaginations.

We didn’t take it without a fight. We liked to set up booby traps around our campsite so that it would be more difficult for him to get to the tent. Sometimes he got caught by one of our traps and a bucket of water would fall on his head. Sometimes the strings wrapped between trees simple rang a bell to announce his presence. Sometimes the yarn hanging from the tree limbs felt like spider webs. We always knew he was coming when he got caught in our traps and then we would giggle as he dealt with the water, noise or string. He knew there were booby traps and so carried a light with him at night, hoping that he might see the trip wire before it finds him. His light helped us to see his coming.

I remember one night, however, that was different. Our fear was very real. I think it might have been the last time I ever stayed at her house. We were definitely a little older and the dangers were perhaps greater than when we were kids. I can’t tell you what happened, it was probably nothing. It may have even been our neighbor friend. But for some reason, our fear took over and we ran from the tent all the way to her house. We were in bare feet; there was no time for shoes. We didn’t bother with a flashlight. My friend was very familiar with the terrain, and I knew the pathways. We ran through the woods, through the creek and across her backyard until we were safely inside where it was light and safe. When we finally stopped, my friend realized that she had stepped on some sort of prickly plant. Her foot was filled with sharp, bristly hairs. It caused her no small amount of pain. The next day we took down our camp and spent the rest of our week camping in her house. We decided it was no longer fun to sleep alone in the dark woods.

Sadly, I lost touch with my friend during our high school years, when we were finally able to see one another on a regular basis. She followed a much different path, one that included the types of things that I had chosen to avoid, including drugs.

There comes a time in our life when we realize the things that we once loved are not always good for us. As we grow in our faith in Christ, we realize that the things we thought were fun are not what God intends for our life. We see, by His Word, that the things of darkness are not fruitful and so we turn to the things in the light. That is why we practice disciplines like we do during Lent—to grow in our faith and mature into the people God has created and saved us to be. As we pray, study, fast and worship, His light reveals the world as He sees it, so that we might repent and walk according to His ways. The darkness is revealed by the light. When we see the truth, we are set free from the darkness to live in the light.


February 26, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

John 9:1-41 And as he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. When I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed his eyes with the clay, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing. The neighbors therefore, and they that saw him aforetime, that he was a beggar, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Others said, It is he: others said, No, but he is like him. He said, I am he. They said therefore unto him, How then were thine eyes opened? He answered, The man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to Siloam, and wash: so I went away and washed, and I received sight. And they said unto him, Where is he? He saith, I know not. They bring to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. Now it was the sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he received his sight. And he said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and I see. Some therefore of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God, because he keepeth not the sabbath. But others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such signs? And there was division among them. They say therefore unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, in that he opened thine eyes? And he said, He is a prophet. The Jews therefore did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight, and asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? How then doth he now see? His parents answered and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but how he now seeth, we know not; or who opened his eyes, we know not: ask him; he is of age; he shall speak for himself. These things said his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man should confess him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him. So they called a second time the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give glory to God: we know that this man is a sinner. He therefore answered, Whether he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. They said therefore unto him, What did he to thee? How opened he thine eyes? He answered them, I told you even now, and ye did not hear; wherefore would ye hear it again? would ye also become his disciples? And they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God hath spoken unto Moses: but as for this man, we know not whence he is. The man answered and said unto them, Why, herein is the marvel, that ye know not whence he is, and yet he opened mine eyes. We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth. Since the world began it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and finding him, he said, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, And who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him? Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. And Jesus said, For judgment came I into this world, that they that see not may see; and that they that see may become blind. Those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and said unto him, Are we also blind? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sin remaineth.

We have to learn to see. When a child is born, her vision is blurry and she can only see in black and white. As time passes and her body develops, she begins to see more of the world around her. The first thing she really recognizes is her mother. Her eyes are able to focus more clearly on objects that are eight to twelve inches away. Her mother spends a great deal of time in that space, particularly during feeding, that the child learns her face better than anyone else’s. As the child grows, she begins to see more of the world and she learns to recognize the things around her. As her vision develops, her understand of her world also develops. Her sight does not improve only because of the physical development. She also learns to see.

This was never more obvious than it was in the life of a man named Michael May. Michael was just three years old when his eyes were injured in a chemical explosion. He was blind for forty three years. In March 2000, Michael May went through surgery that gave him back his sight. It was a miraculous experience for him. He was given a gift that many of us take for granted. Even if our eyesight is less than perfect, at least we have always been able to use our eyes as they were created to be used. Michael May did not have that opportunity for a long time. Meanwhile, from lack of use, the things his brain had learned as a child were lost. Even though the surgery gave him his sight, he still had to learn how to see again. His progress was tracked by doctors and they learned a great deal about visual development from his case.

He was interviewed three years after the surgery and it was interesting to see how he was doing. Despite the joy he had in finally seeing his loved ones, he still had difficulty recognizing them. He also had trouble understanding the world in which he lived. He was still using a cane like a blind man because he could not recognize the difference between a shadow and a curb. He said that his favorite sport—skiing—was actually easier when he was blind. “All of a sudden there’s all this information flying in distracting me, making me tense up. In skiing, you don’t want to do that… I was falling all over the place,” May was quoted as saying on the CBS News.

That’s what makes our story today even more miraculous. The man who met Jesus had been blind from birth. He didn’t even have the physical development of Michael May. I always heard this story like one who has had to wear a blindfold for a children’s game. We can’t see when the blindfold covers our eyes, but when the blindfold is removed we can see again. Michael May did not see so easily when his ‘blindfold’ was removed. I wonder how well the man born blind could see when he washed the mud off of his eyes. He was able to get around without the help of his family – they had abandoned him. Somehow he was able to see well enough to deal with the doubt and rejection. That’s what makes this story so incredible—the healing Jesus gave to the man was something far greater than the medical community could give to Michael May. Jesus gave the blind man a whole new world and the faith to believe in Jesus.


February 27, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

He therefore answered, Whether he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

March 2nd is the day we remember the brothers John and Charles Wesley. They are well known for beginning the Methodist movement in England. The movement began as a revival in the Church of England with a group of young men gathering to study the scriptures with a methodical approach. They were reacting to the indifference of the people in the Church of England. They were itinerant evangelical preachers, often speaking to the people in fields and street corners, calling them to a different way of life. John Wesley even used his father’s tombstone as a pulpit, preaching to the people of darkness so that they might see the light.

Charles began the study group but John took over the leadership of the movement. They did not always agree about the direction they thought it should take, but somehow managed to remain friendly toward one another. John rebelled against the state church, even ordaining men as preachers while Charles remained loyal to the Church of England. The argument went even into death—Charles chose to be buried in his local parish cemetery even though John wanted him to be buried near his plot in the City Road Chapel cemetery.

The Methodist movement did not take off immediately. It was not until after Charles and John became involved with a Moravian Church in London. They had come from a tradition of adherence to the Law, and religious pathway that leads to doubt and uncertainty about the promises of God. Worship with the Moravians and some readings of Dr. Martin Luther helped them set aside their self-righteousness and receive God’s grace. Charles Wesley’s journal tells the remarkable story of his realization about faith. Having been in the company of the Moravians, Charles desperately wanted to have the type of faith he saw manifested in their lives. He wanted to believe, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not find peace in God’s promises. He was suffering from a grave illness and he was afraid that he would die without ever knowing God’s forgiveness and peace. For days people came to him with words of encouragement and grace. He heard scripture, sang hymns, listened to readings from people like Martin Luther, but never seemed able to grasp the forgiveness that was so freely given for him.

On Whitsunday (Pentecost) in 1738, a woman visited Charles Wesley and spoke to him words of healing and peace. “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt he healed of all thy infirmities.” Charles wrote in his journal, “I rose and looked into the Scripture. The words that first presented were, ‘And now, Lord, what is my hope? truly my hope is even in thee.’ I then cast down my eye, and met, ‘He hath put a new song in my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall put their trust in the Lord.’ Afterwards I opened upon Isaiah xl. 1: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God: speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sin.’” With those words of scripture he found himself at peace with God, rejoicing in the hope of loving Christ. He realized that he was trusting in his own weaknesses for something that only Christ could give—faith. John came to the same realization just days later and together they lead the movement for revival in England for many years.

I think the most appropriate verse for Charles Wesley was “He hath put a new song in my mouth,” because it was after this experience that Charles really began to write the hymns for which he is most famous. Over his lifetime, Charles wrote between 5500 and 6500 hymns, many of which have become beloved hymns for Christians all over the world. Though Charles was also a preacher, he spoke best through the poetry of hymnody, using that forum to reveal his thoughts, prayers, hopes and understanding about God. When something good happened, he wrote a song of praise. When he was suffering, he wrote a song of prayer. When he sinned, he wrote a song of confession and supplication. His theology developed through music and has lived long after he died. We remember John and Charles for the impact they had on the Church, and it is appropriate on this Sunday to remember how they were once like that blind man: healed of their blindness as God’s grace shined in their lives.


February 28, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 2, 2008: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.

I was a mobile disc jockey. I had a set of equipment and crates full of vinyls that I took to different venues to entertain and all sorts of parties. I worked for a company that took care of the administration of the work. They gave me my contracts and it was my responsibility to ensure that I was prepared for the type of party to which I had been assigned. Based on my age and personality, I tended to work at school dances and weddings, although there was also the occasional office gather, pool party or class reunion. It was important that I have the right kind of music for each party and it was sometimes difficult to judge what the group might want.

We were required to keep our collection up to date but there was also a library of music available through the company in case someone wanted something hard to find. Brides often presented long lists of songs that they wanted played, especially the special songs. On one occasion, the bride gave me a list of dozens of songs but did not note any particular favorites. I managed to find several of the records before the party, but not all of them. Early in the party my ‘bridezilla’ insisted that I play her favorites and I had most of them. Unfortunately, I did not have the “absolutely most important song” on the list—a song that was buried in the middle of the list along with dozens of other “absolutely most important songs.” Luckily, I was able to find a last minute copy of the song, thanks to my brother, and the party was saved.

The same can’t be said about other parties. There are just some groups of people that are impossible to entertain. I had one party with a bride and a mother-of-the-bride that spent the whole evening in competition for my attention. The bride would come up and request a song. As that song began, the mother came up to complain that her guests did not want to listen to that type of music and insisted that I change my format. When I did play a song for the older generation, the bride came up to complain that I was playing “old fogey” music. The bride said it was her wedding so I should obey her commands. The mother said she was paying for the wedding and so I should obey hers. In the end, their selfish insistence that I play what they wanted to hear meant that I was unable to do the job I had been hired to do and the party died.

It was my job to discern the atmosphere of the group and make the party of success. Sometimes that meant playing a lot of dance music. I had other resources, also. We had prizes that could be won with fun party games. I liked to use some of the novelty music, which often brought people on to the dance floor even if they weren’t in the mood to dance. Sometimes the guests had no interest in dancing, but wanted to listen and sing to good music. Sometimes the music served as background noise while they had conversations. I had to adapt my show to fit the crowd. A successful party did not necessarily mean that everyone was dancing. A successful party was the one at which everyone was enjoying themselves.

Sometimes it was difficult. Like the party with the bride and her mother, sometimes it was impossible to find the right format to make the party a success. I had guests complain that the music was too loud while others thought it was too soft. At another party were people who wanted only oldies while others wanted to hear some new music. Most of the time I could bring life to the party, but sometimes I failed.

This story is a miraculous witness to the work God can do in this world. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. This is what God does every day with His Word. Those who do not look to God or to Jesus as Savior are walking like dead men in this world; they are dead in their sin because they have not heard the saving words of forgiveness that comes from the blood of Christ. God’s Word will bring them to life again. By His Word, God puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in His promises.

It took something extra to put life into a dead party. I had to work to bring people who did not wish to dance on to a dance floor. It took something special to bring out the spirit of the celebration. I’ve heard it said that there are dead churches, places that seem to have no life. Perhaps this is true; there are many Christians who are like the walking dead—not really believing the message of the cross and the forgiveness of sins which Christ brought when He came into the world. Yet, if God can bring life to the valley of dry bones, then He can bring life to the deadest of congregations. We can be like Ezekiel, to speak God’s word of promise into their lives and we too will see the bones rise up and dance.


February 29, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 9, 2008: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Psalm 130 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Jehovah. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Jehovah, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for Jehovah, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning; yea, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in Jehovah; for with Jehovah there is lovingkindness, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

There is a commercial on television that uses the classic song by Queen, “I Want It All and I Want It Now!” The commercial is for a credit card company. The story is of a man who wants a new television. The old television finally does something to annoy his wife, so she tells him that it is time to buy a new one. He gets so excited because he can finally go out and buy his dream television. His credit card company has a phone number he can call to find out how much credit he has available. He calls so he knows how much he can spend. With this knowledge in hand, the man feels confident that he can afford to buy the bigger, better television.

It is all well and good that he has enough credit available to buy that bigger and better television, but the credit card company does nothing to remind their cardholders that they are using borrowed money. If the man spends more then he will have to pay more eventually. Credit is easy to abuse. It is so easy to pull out the credit card when we are feeling a little stretched by our bills and our needs. It is easy to pull out the credit card when there is something we really want to have but we don’t have the money right now. The song says, “I want it all and I want it now!” That is how we feel all too often and it is very convenient to use our credit cards to make it happen. One purchase leads to another; one card leads to another. Eventually, some people end up with so much debt that they can’t get out from under it.

Using credit is not necessarily a sin, but poor stewardship of our resources is. Sin leads to more sin if we are unwilling to recognize our sinfulness and repent. There was a story about a man who had been paroled from prison. He returned to his old ways rather quickly, breaking into a house soon after his release. He found a bottle of liquor while rummaging for valuables and decided to take a few sips. He was found later by the homeowners passed out drunk on a chair in the house.

We all sin. We don’t treat our neighbors with love and respect. We get angry with our children and our spouses, gossip about others, take things that are not ours. We fall to the temptations of this world. We are greedy, lustful, abusive, self-centered. We want it all and we want it now. We look for help in all the wrong places. Sadly, we often do not even realize our sin. We recognize the biggies, especially in the lives of others. But when it comes to our own failure, we are blind. We think we are good enough. We are better than our neighbors, anyway, so we go on our way without turning. This way of life takes us on a path that will lead to more sin.

Even one wrong thought, word or deed against God or man is a sin and we are all guilty of something. None of us could stand before the holiness of God. But God is gracious and merciful. He forgives our iniquity. He not only grants forgiveness, he also forgets our sin. Washed by the blood of Christ, we are cleansed and made new and right before Him. As we live in this hope, we find ourselves walking in the light of Christ, covered by the unfailing love of God and reconciled to Him. When we wait for the Lord and watch for Him, we are less likely to fall into the temptations of this world. Though we may still fail in our daily walk of faith, He is near with His forgiveness for those who will see.