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You are welcome to use the writings on these pages or pass them on to others who might find a touch from God in the words. Our purpose is always to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you everything, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring these words to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom its been shared. All rights reserved. Peggy Hoppes

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Our Lord is so good, He grants us many blessings. We can see Him in the daily course of events, in our homes, our jobs, our lives. I pray that these words help you to grow in your faith and recognize His hand in even the most mundane circumstances.

The picture to the right is of a Celtic Chapel located in Cornwall England. This building is approximately 1700 years old, and contains a holy well known for its healing powers.

(Click for enlarged)

A WORD FOR TODAY, June 12, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for June 16, 2024, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17); Mark 4:26-34

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. Without a parable he didn’t speak to them; but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Mark 4:33-34, WEB

The Holy Spirit is a central understanding of God for Christianity, although it is mysterious and confusing. As the early Christians studied the Old Testament and the witness of the disciples, they began to see the Trinity clearly and found it to be the logical expression of the God they saw revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Some things Jesus said did not make sense without this understanding of the Godhead. Some of the things He did have far more meaning when seen through this light. A small seed of an idea became a foundational teaching by the fourth century because the Church fathers were finally able to bring together all the questions, answers, and ideas into one concise creed. It was at the council of Nicaea that the doctrine was finally given full expression.

It took a lot of discussion and study. Origen, Tertullian, and Athanasius were early scholars working through the ideas. They came to their understanding as they fought heresy in the early church. Others continued to develop and defend the doctrine, including the Cappadocian fathers. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus were bishops and doctors of the Church. They were influenced by Macrina, a teacher and abbess. She was Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s sister, an intelligent, learned Christian, committed to a faithful and faith-filled life of perfection. She provided a place for her brothers and their friend to pray and live and study at the community she established on the family estate.

Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were both unwilling leaders of the Church but served with humility and dedication. Basil established a rule of monastic life that is still used today, preferring community life to hermitage. Gregory of Nazianzus was a great preacher, working especially where the Arian ideology had taken root, planting Orthodoxy to regions where Orthodoxy was not widespread. Gregory wrote about spiritual life and the Christian use of worship and sacraments to contemplate God.

Their ideas were much different than the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, but they were able to stand against the philosophical thinking of the Greeks. They saw Christian faith in an almost scientific manner, centered in the healing of the soul and union with God. It was possibly the scientific and logical thinking that caused the three to think so deeply about the Trinity; the men were essential in developing the wording that the Godhead is “three substances in one essence.”

It is interesting to think of these three men today because the images in our Gospel text have to do with big things happening from small beginnings. Along with Macrina, they used their gifts establishing community, preaching, teaching, and worship helping to develop and grow the Church. They were individuals with individual gifts that were part of the greater community. They worked together to develop the essential doctrine of the Trinity. Our individual gifts are important, but we need one another for the continuing growth of the Church. We are all small and insignificant, but God has made us part of a much larger body that continues to grow like a vine. He uses our gifts, each of us a seed that grows larger in His kingdom every day.

God has a way of using unusual voices to help us see and hear the word He has for us. I had an online acquaintance a few years ago. He had been a very active Christian, deeply involved in the ministry of his church, but something happened to destroy his faith. He became an atheist. We conversed via email for a long time. He asked a million questions but didn’t accept the answers. He rejected the idea that some questions only have faith answers. I’m not sure what purpose our conversations had; I certainly wanted to help him see the love and mercy of God again, but I was never sure what he expected to come of our discussions. I don’t think he wanted to destroy my faith, although many of his questions were difficult. He definitely challenged me. For some people, the lack of acceptable answers could have been a faith breaker.

Did he want to find God’s grace again? I’m not sure, but his questions certainly helped me seek God’s Word for myself. I may not have found suitable answers for him, but the search made my knowledge of God and my faith stronger. The more I knew, the more confidence I had to share God’s grace with those who were questioning. I am thankful to this former-Christian-atheist because I learned so much because of him. He had an insight into the scriptures that was beyond the norm. It was sad that his insight didn’t help him know God or love him. We lost touch a long time ago, so I don’t know what happened to him, but there’s always hope. Perhaps God had more work for him to do as an unbeliever, helping others grow strong enough to share God’s word with the world. God often used hardened hearts to turn His people to Him. It may seem impossible for an atheist to be a gift of God, but that was certainly true of my friend because he helped with my development as a Christian teacher and theologian.

God can do the impossible, and in today’s Old Testament passage He promised to do just that. Israel had turned away from God. The kings lost their way. The people were not worshipping the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living according to God’s word. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem. Ezekiel wrote at this time, when Israel was exiled in Babylon.

The parable found in today’s Old Testament passage shows this story in a new and unexpected way. God promised to take a shoot and make it grow where it could never grow. A shoot clipped from the top of a cedar tree will not grow on the top of a mountain. Even if that snippet could grow, it wouldn’t grow into a vine. But God can bring life to the dead, just as He used Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.

God’s power and mercy and grace are often found in the unexpected. We don’t always have the patience to wait for God’s plan to come into fulfillment, but we are called to go forth in faith knowing that He knows what He is doing. God is faithful. He will do the impossible. He has promised to do the impossible. He can make a cutting turn into a haven for hope. Jesus Christ was cut and replanted through the cross and the tomb, bringing life to the world. He turned the world upside down, and because of Him we can have hope for even those like my atheist friend.

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Matthew used this particular phrase many times, comparing the kingdom of heaven to everything from a mustard seed to a net. Each parable tells us something about the kingdom of heaven, helping us to see it from different points of view. The parables reach into our understanding about the world and compare God to what we have experienced. Parables are imperfect, of course, because they are so limited. Not everyone plants mustard or bakes bread, so can we really understand what the parables mean? Intellectually we might be able to give it meaning, but sometimes they are hard words for us.

Mark does not use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” but many experts agree that his “kingdom of God” means the same thing. If you do a parallel comparison, you’ll find that Matthew uses “heaven” where the rest of the Gospel writers use “God.” There may be a reason that Matthew made that choice of wording, but I don’t think it matters. Both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God belong to God, and we are made part of it by faith. The question is: what is the kingdom of God like for us? If Jesus were here with us today, what parables would He use to help us understand? What parables can we use to help others see the kingdom that has been proclaimed by Jesus?

Jesus used parables as a way to explain the kingdom of God to those who would listen. Parables are not always understood by those who hear the words. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, were often confused by His lessons, so He had to explain them to them in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? Parables are meant to make people think, to make us ponder beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows in impossible places? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? These are the kind of questions my former-Christian-atheist friend asked that helped my faith grow. Perhaps it eventually helped him return to Christ. It is in thinking about these things that we draw near to God.

Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul wrote, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I the seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves become a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible; faith is a miracle

Jesus’s parables don’t always make it clear that God doing the work. Today’s Gospel lesson include parables about seeds. In the first, the kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. In the second, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. The man in the first story does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows big enough for birds to dwell in its shade. We can help, just like the farmer. We can understand what happens, like a scientist, but in the end, it is God who makes it happen.

Man is not always involved. Seeds can be cultivated by nature. James Michener in his book, “Hawaii,” wrote about the beginnings of the islands. First volcanos created landmass. Eventually the islands grew large enough for there to be dry ground above the ocean. The volcanic debris became rich soil. The islands were then planted with seeds from birds as they passed over the new ground. Seeds can be spread by the wind. Plants die, but new plants grow in their place. That is certainly what happens with the beautiful wildflowers in spring in Texas. As the wildflowers wither, they drop seeds that will grow another year. Wild forests and meadows don’t need human intervention for plants to grow.

However, in parables in today’s Gospel lesson the seeds are sown. We know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. We are to shine on those who hear His Word, to water it with grace, teaching them about the Kingdom of God. We are sent into the world to call people to repentance, helping pull the weeds that keep them from faith. God can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He can make His Kingdom grow without our help, but He invites us to help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues. He calls us to use our gifts to plant seeds of faith and help them grow.

Sometimes the parables Jesus tells us make little sense. What does a seed have to do with the kingdom of God? If you aren’t a farmer, the agricultural references might be pointless. It doesn’t help that we know intelligently and scientifically that these stories aren’t completely true. Yes, a plant grows without the help or knowledge of man, but what farmer doesn’t put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into his farms? A mustard seed isn’t really the smallest seed. Yet, these parables have long helped us to understand that God is in control and that He has begun a great thing with just a tiny seed. These seeming inconsistencies are the kind of thing that bothered my friend, but we understand them by faith and from our own study of God’s Word. We don’t have to take them literally to understand what they mean for our lives in this world and the next.

The parables are just stories on the surface, but they cause us to think more deeply about what Jesus is saying, to take ownership of the information He is sharing. He often explained the parables to the disciples, and we benefit from their confusion. Our greatest growth happens when we struggle with the stories because our questions make us think about what it meant not only for the disciples and early hearers, but also for us today. Those three theologians so long ago struggled with the concepts they saw in the scriptures but could not totally understand. Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Trinity is still a stumbling block for many would-be Christians.

Paul faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who wanted his ministry to fail; they tried to destroy him. He was attacked, not only about his faith but also personally. Paul wrote to the people in Corinth because some were trying to undermine his ministry and the seeds he had planted. He was concerned that the naysayers would destroy the faith of those he loved, but Paul did not give up on the ministry to which he was called. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He wanted to be with Jesus, but he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He was growing in the here and now. We will experience the eternal kingdom of God someday, but it is also ours today. Paul was one man with incredible gifts, but he knew he was part of something much bigger.

Paul wrote, “Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do: planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom.

If you ask a gang member why he or she joined the gang, you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules, and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks; they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. They think they found exactly what they want in the life of the gang. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. The rules for belonging do not fit into the mold of what is acceptable in society, but there are requirements to be part of the group. They experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang, only when they do what is required.

Sadly, those requirements are often harsh and dangerous. They never believed that they could find true blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. They were afraid of their homes, but they find a new kind of fear in the gang. They think that the grass is greener in the “love” of the gang, but they quickly learn that it is mixed with blood. Then they are trapped in a prison (sometimes literally) from which there is no escape. They thought they had gained freedom, but are they really free? What blessings can really come out of the fear and obedience that demands rejection of home, family, and true authority?

I suppose that those outside the Christian faith might ask the same question. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs? Which grass is really greener?

The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law where there is freedom from authority other than us. That kind of freedom is not blessed. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God’s sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.

God sees the world much differently that we do. He sees it through love, mercy, and grace. God can see goodness in the midst of darkness, He can see potential where there seems to be none. He can take a tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He sees differently because He sees beyond the surface and into the heart of man. He sees beyond the moment. He sees His creation without the cloak of sin and death. In Christ we are given a vision of what God sees in us and in others. We are called to see the world through eyes of faith, to see it with love, mercy and grace and to act accordingly. We are invited to live as if we are the tabernacle of God, a dwelling place for Christ in this world so that His love, mercy and grace might be seen by others.

The world sees Christian faith as foolish. My friend was respectful but never really understood why I continued to believe. The non-believer thinks that faith is nothing more than a crutch that keeps us from our human potential. The world thinks we are trapped in a prison because we are afraid of the freedom we could have pursuing our own desires. However, seeing the world through faith is a gift, an incredible blessing because we see eternity through the eyes of God in the midst of a world that is covered in sin and darkness.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.” We tend to shy away from words of law, preferring to focus on God’s grace. After all, it is in grace that we have the freedom to truly be what God has created and redeemed us to be. We learn from the psalmist that the righteous will live a fruitful life in God’s kingdom according to His Word.

Psalm 1 was likely written by the person who gathered and organized the psalms as we know them today, possibly Ezra. Ezra was a relative of the last high priest of the first Temple in Jerusalem. He had been in Babylon and returned with the rest of the exiles. Ezra reintroduced the Torah to the Jews. In Nehemiah 8, they read the Torah and expounded upon it to the people, who stood all day for the reading. Remember, they were in Babylon because they had been disobedient to God’s Word from the king to the people, so God allowed the Babylonians to take them into captivity. After seventy years, they returned to Jerusalem to begin again. God is the God of second (and third, and fourth, and a hundredth) chances. Many of the psalms focus on the law, and in today’s reading the writer reminds Israel not to go bad to the path that led them into exile. Unfortunately, they overcompensated after the exile, which led to legalism, which was rampant by the time Jesus was born. Extreme legalism is just as bad as lawlessness because it leads to self-righteousness. The key is to trust in God. He is the one who does the work.

God is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can change nothing into something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible. He did it in and through Jesus. He is still making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is taking the seeds that we have planted, and He is bringing them to life. He is also making the seeds in our hearts grow. We are a new creation in Christ, called to live in the freedom of His Kingdom, partners with Him in the salvation of the world.

If you would like to contact me, please use the following address, replacing the bracketed words with the symbol. Thank you for your continued interest, prayers and messages of encouragement.

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A WORD FOR TODAY, June 11, 2024

“My heart was hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned. I spoke with my tongue: ‘Yahweh, show me my end, what is the measure of my days. Let me know how frail I am. Behold, you have made my days hand widths. My lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely every man stands as a breath.’ Selah. ‘Surely every man walks like a shadow. Surely they busy themselves in vain. He heaps up, and doesn’t know who shall gather. Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.’” Psalm 39:3-7, WEB

I love to take road trips. We are planning a couple this year. The first is to Indiana to visit our daughter in a couple of weeks. Then we are going to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in October. Many people would rather travel faster by airplane; it does take longer to get to your destination, but sometimes the best times are had during the journey. This was certainly true when we visited Route 66 last summer.

Even when you travel by car, there are times when you can speed past the scenery. We went National Park hopping a few years ago, the end of our journey was in Utah. We drove through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to get there. Texas is huge and we live in the middle of the state. Interstate Highway 10 is more than 880 miles through Texas from the New Mexico border to Louisiana and it runs right through our city. We began our trip at mile marker 556 (marker 1 is at the border of New Mexico), and it took us nearly nine hours just to get out of Texas!

The trip to Indiana will be a little different, but the vastness of Texas is just as evident. The trip is about 1200 miles. It will take us more than 7 hours to just get to Arkansas. More than one third of the trip will be in Texas, the other two thirds will take us through four other states. We won’t stop much along our way, though there are plenty of fun things we could do.

Speed limits in Texas are often 70 or even 80 miles an hour, though slightly slower through the cities. You might think that we’d miss something as we were driving so fast on the road, but not really. Some roads, especially in the west, are very flat, and you can see for many miles. It can take hours to come to a mountain that appears on the horizon. Storms seem to be in the path, but they dissipate long before you reach them. Some trips, like those through west Texas, are miles and miles of flat, beautiful but barren, land. We try to take our rest stops at fun places but with the higher speed limits, we can get so much farther between stops. Even if we don’t stop, there’s always something to see along the way. We’ve made the trip to the north and east several times, and there are landmarks we look forward to seeing each time.

It is good that we can travel fast on the highways, but you don’t want to go so fast when you are visiting places like National Parks and cities. You can’t, quite frankly. In the parks, the roads are too narrow with twists and hills which make it impossible to see ahead. It is similar in the cities, but it is buildings and traffic that block the view. Speed limits are set according to the nature of the road. Twisty roads are slow especially when they don’t have guardrails and cliffs. City streets have obstacles like lights and cross traffic. It is also good to go slow anyway, so you can see whatever there is to see. You never know when there might be something worth stopping to visit.

There is never enough time to do everything. We finish every road trip wishing that we could have stopped more often, wandering on longer hikes, seeing other museums, or eating at one more diner. We are trying to plan our trips so we can have as much fun as possible, although we also like to be spontaneous. We have to be careful, though, because there are always other travelers who are not interested in seeing the sights. They just want to rush through life; they want to go fast because they are more interested in the destination than the journey. Even in the National Parks we were rushed by people who just wanted to get from one landmark to another without stopping to see the beauty in between.

Isn't that the way it is with our lives, though? We have so much to accomplish that we speed around the day without paying much attention to the world around us. I suppose sometimes, like the flat, beautiful but barren land of West Texas, there isn’t much to see. But our lives are not a road trip or vacation; we have a lifetime to glorify God. The problem is that we sometimes rush to accomplish all the wrong things, chasing after vain glories while missing the grace of God.

The following links provide some specially chosen scripture that tell the stories of the Birth and Passion of our Lord as Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as a fictional perspective of the Crucifixion. Spend time in God's Word, read about His life and learn of the wonderful gifts He has for you. Know Jesus Christ and honour Him today. Thanks be to God.

The Birth of our Saviour

The Story of our Saviour's Passion

The Crucifixion, a fictional perspective

When researching, I use several versions of the bible, including the New International Version and English Standard Version. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures on some of the archives, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves. Where scripture is quoted, it is usually the American Standard Version or World English Bible which belong to the public domain. Any other versions used in quotes are identified.

The devotion posted on Wednesday is based on the Lectionary texts used by millions of Christians each Sunday. The Lectionary consists of four texts: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles and a Gospel text and follows the church calendar. Archives for these writings are found at Midweek Oasis.

You are welcome to use these words to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. Please remember to give credit to the Author who has given you these gifts, and keep in remembrance the vessel which He used to bring them to you. We pray that this site may be a blessing to you and anyone with whom you've shared it. Peggy Hoppes