Welcome to the January 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, January 2008

January 1, 2008

Scriptures for January 6, 2008, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Ray walked into his parents’ house very excited with a box full of compact discs. Frank didn’t really care; the gift was meaningless to him because he had no idea what a compact disc could do. Ray asked him where he had put the CD player that he and Debra had given them as a gift for some past holiday. Frank answered, “Ask your mother.” She was downstairs hanging laundry. When Ray asked about the CD player, she pointed to a pile of gifts, electronic equipment and other modern conveniences that had been unopened. There was a microwave, or two, DVD player and an electric carving knife. Ray asked his mother about the pile and she said, “What would we need an electrical knife for?” The gifts were useless.

Ray gave those gifts because they thought the items would make life more enjoyable for his parents. He found the CD player and plugged it in. The compact discs were recordings of his father’s favorite music. His records had been destroyed years ago, the blame fell on Ray. Ray wanted to make up for the incident, so found the compact discs and bought them for Frank. The settings were wrong and when he turned on the music it blared so loud that it scared his parents. In the end, they decided that they did not want Ray to buy them any more presents because everything he chose was wrong.

Ray’s heart was in the right place, but some people are hard to buy presents for. They have everything or want nothing. They are particularly picky about their possessions, insisting on specific brands or colors or items. They make an impossible shopping list or choose to return everything. I heard a story from an acquaintance about a phone call she received from a niece a few days before Christmas. This person had chosen a special gift for the girl and was excited about it. During the call, the girl told her aunt that she wanted only money or gift cards for Christmas. She was very sad because she thought the gift was perfect. “If all we are going to do is trade money back and forth, why do we bother?” And yet, many people have turned to the practice of giving gift cards because it is so much easier than suffering the humiliation of getting the wrong gift.

I still prefer to buy the gift. I agree with my acquaintance that it is foolish to be trading money back and forth. Gifts mean something. They tell a person that you have something you want to share or that you recognize something special about the recipient. Getting a book about roses for a gardener tells them that you know they like to garden and you thought about them when you saw the book. One of my daughter’s favorite gifts from this Christmas is a penguin mp3 speaker. It glows and dances with the music. When I saw it in the store, I know that it would be very special for her. She loves penguins and this speaker is absolutely adorable. The thought was as important as the gift itself.

The wise men took gifts to Baby Jesus that had deep and important meaning to his purpose. These foreign wise men from a nation far away recognized the star in the sky as a sign of the new king. They traveled a dangerous and difficult journey to go worship this child. The three gifts they brought – gold, myrrh and frankincense – foresaw the work of Jesus. The gold was a symbol of royalty and wealth. It had a practical purpose, too. The escape to Egypt would cost a great deal of money and the gold would help with the care and protection of Jesus. The frankincense was a sign of Jesus’ ministry, a foreshadowing of his role as High Priest when He would present the perfect lamb – Himself – to atone for the sins of the world. Myrrh was an expensive ointment that was used only for the anointing of the dead. By giving this gift to Mary and Joseph, they pointed to the day when it would be used for Jesus’ own flesh – not the most appropriate gift to give to a new mother. However, it also indicated the importance of Jesus’ death in the purpose of His life.


January 2, 2008

Scriptures for January 6, 2008, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee.

On Christmas Eve, our pastor predicted that Christmas would be over for the world by noon on Christmas Day. He was right, though I wouldn’t call that a miraculous prophecy. For most people, the season leading up to Christmas Day is so exhausting that we are tired of it all by the time the day arrives. The radio station that had been playing Christmas carols for more than a month before Christmas was back to regular music by the morning of December 26th. Our neighbors have been slowly, but surely, taking down their Christmas lights. Trees are starting to stack up on the curve waiting for the garbage men to come take them away.

One of the great debates involving Christmas is what is meant by the twelve days of Christmas. Many people think it means the twelve days leading up to Christmas Day. The reality is that Christmas, for the Christian, does not begin until the 25th. Then we begin counting through the twelve days. The final day, Twelfth Night, is January 5th and then on January 6th the Church calendar begins a new season: Epiphany. The days leading up to Christmas is called the season of Advent. Instead of singing Christmas carols until all the packages are unwrapped, we begin singing them when the real gift – the Christ child – is given at the celebration of the Nativity.

Today is the ninth day of Christmas. If we were receiving the gifts found in the famous song, we would have nine lords dancing ladies knocking on our door today. According to legend, the song represents the catechism and was used during a time when it was dangerous to be a Catholic in England. There are those who call this an urban myth because there is no evidence to prove that origin. There is also no evidence to discount it. It is a memorization device for children that might have had religious significance. If it was a catechism for the Twelve Days, today we would be learning about the nine fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If we were to purchase the gifts from the song in today’s dollars, it would cost us $78,100 to purchase the 364 items (buying each item as repeated in the song.) Can you imagine getting twelve partridges, twenty two turtle doves, thirty French hens, and so on. If someone wanted to spend that much money on one gift for me, I think I would prefer a new car or a diamond necklace. The logistics of having twelve trees, 184 birds, 140 performers and forty cows running around the house is ridiculous.

So, Sunday is Epiphany. This year we have the unusual opportunity to celebrate the coming of the Magi at on a Sunday. There is so much that we can take from our scriptures this week. Isaiah brings up the glory of the Lord which shines to the entire world. The psalmist prays for a righteous king who will rule with justice and mercy. Paul reminds us that the gift is for the whole world and that in the gift we are given a revelation of God that had previously not been revealed. In the Gospel lesson we see the difference between belief and unbelief, between knowledge and faith, between those who are inside and those on the outside, between the powerful and the powerless. Epiphany is that day when we take a deeper look at that which was given at Christmas, seeing more fully the purpose of Christ as the revelation of God in this world.


January 3, 2008

Scriptures for January 13, 2008, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany One: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Isaiah 42:1-9 Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street. A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench: he will bring forth justice in truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set justice in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law. Thus saith God Jehovah, he that created the heavens, and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.

In 1938, Roy Plunkett was trying to create a new kind of refrigerant, but he had difficulty with his equipment. He discovered that there was a chemical reaction within a storage container that created an entirely new substance. The fluorocarbon resin or Tetrafluoroethylene is a chain of carbon atoms surrounded by fluorine atoms. The bond they make is extremely strong, slippery and inert to almost every chemical. This substance has been developed into Polytetrafluoroethylene which is better known to us as Teflon © which is used by the DuPont company for many products we use today. Teflon © pans make cooking easier, but Teflon © is also used in apparel, automotive, household, personal care and industrial products. Teflon © can keep clothes from staining, windshields clean, carpets fresh and nails brightly painted.

The discovery was first used for machine parts during World War II, but it continued to be developed. Frenchman Marc Gregoire was using the product on his fishing tackle when his wife begged him to try it on her frying pan which went to become Tefal products. In the United States, Marion A. Trozzolo marketed the first frying pan called “The Happy Pan” after using the substance on scientific utensils in 1961. The product is used extensively by the Space program, and can be found on many products throughout our homes.

Teflon © pans are made using a three layer process. There is a base layer which adheres the substance to the metal, a middle layer which gives it strength and a top layer which makes for ease in cooking and clean up. The process includes baking, layering and spraying. This makes the pan strong, but not indestructible. Manufacturer recommendations for care include using mild detergent, non-abrasive sponges and no sharp instruments. If you are too harsh on the surface of the pan, it will scratch and wear down until it no longer provides the non-stick surface. Excessive overheating of the pan can also damage it. Once the pan’s non-stick surface is damaged, it no longer serves the purpose for which it was designed. It is important to be gentle with the pans or else they will be ruined.

The same is true with people. One of the proverbs says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The word gentle is defined as “considerate or kindly; not harsh, severe or violent.” Too often in our dealings with people, we react with words and actions that are abrasive. In our attempt to bring correction, we do so with harshness that leads to anger. Charles Spurgeon once said, “John Knox did much, but he might perhaps have done more if he had had a little love. [Martin] Luther was a conqueror – peace to his ashes, and honor to his name! – still, we who look upon him at a distance, think that if he had sometimes mixed a little mildness with it… he might have done more good than he did.” The epistles of Paul mention repeatedly that we should approach each other in gentleness and love. In this way we will be Christ-like, sharing the truth in a manner by which others may hear and be transformed by the saving love of our Lord Jesus. When Jesus dealt with sin, He did so with love and compassion, not force or violence.

Jesus presented His message with gentleness and love. He did not bring further hurt to those who were wounded, but rather spoke healing into their lives. He did not snuff out the passion that burned in the people, but fanned it with the truth so that it would burn brightly and rightly. He did not force His message on any; He simply spoke the truth and moved on. Those who did not listen to His words suffered the consequences of their rejection. Our passage from Isaiah describes the one whom God has chosen to lead His people. Jesus was not expected to be a man with a sword, but with an even more powerful weapon – love. Too often we treat our neighbors like we treat our Teflon © pans – with sharp edges and harsh sponges. The Teflon © pans are ruined by our harsh actions. So, too, people are destroyed by our lack of gentleness when sharing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus brought justice with gentleness. May He give us the ability to do the same.


January 4, 2008

Scriptures for January 13, 2008, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany One: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Psalm 29 Ascribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name; Worship Jehovah in holy array. The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters: The God of glory thundereth, Even Jehovah upon many waters. The voice of Jehovah is powerful; The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty. The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars; Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox. The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire. The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness; Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve, And strippeth the forests bare: And in his temple everything saith, Glory. Jehovah sat as King at the Flood; Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King for ever. Jehovah will give strength unto his people; Jehovah will bless his people with peace.

There is a show on one of the cable channels called “The Twister Sisters.” The show follows the work of two women who give “tornado tours.” They take guests on an adventure as they follow storms in the hope of catching a glimpse of a tornado. The Twister Sisters also have some friends who also chase the storms, so we often see the storm from different perspectives as we see it through the eyes of other storm chasers. These teams of storm chasers keep in touch during the storm to help one another find the right spot and stay safe.

I don’t know why I like to watch the show. I think these storm chasers are out of their minds. They pull right up to the storm, park their cars and get out to watch as a tornado forms right in front of them. At times they park so near to the storm center that they put themselves in danger. Of course, the television program gives us the most exciting parts of the chase. I imagine that most of the video is dropped to the cutting room floor because it is so boring. So, we only see the parts that thrill the people and the viewers.

I think what is most amazing is that the guests on these storm chases pay to go along with the Twister Sisters. They choose to do this for their vacation. They choose to put themselves into danger as a way of relaxing and enjoying themselves. The hardest part is when the tornado does real damage. It is heartbreaking to them to see a house, or a town, that has been destroyed. They help if they can and cry along with the victims when they can’t. Some of the storm chasers are scientists who are studying the storms in the hope of understanding what happens. They keep in contact with the National Weather Service – it is often their calls that prompt warnings and watches that help keep us safe.

I don’t need to see a tornado. Thankfully, we have only experienced the fear of that type of storm a few times and it was never really a dangerous situation for us. In Little Rock, a tornado warning came about the time that Victoria and Zack were dropped off by their school bus. The bus driver had to pull over and asked if the children who were still on the bus could stay in our house until the threat passed. A very small tornado briefly touched down about a mile from the house. Late one night in Texas I woke to the sound of fierce winds. When I looked out the window, I saw a child’s plastic pool fly by our house. There were tornado warnings that night but nothing materialized near our home. It is frightening to be in the midst of the storm.

A little fear can be healthy and life-saving. For those who storm chase, it is the fear of the tornado actually catching up with them that keeps them at a safe distance. It is the fear that makes them get in the car and drive away when there is a chance that the tornado will turn on them. It is fear that makes a bus driver take his kids off the bus and into a safe place during the threat. It is fear that puts us in our safe room during a warning so that if a tornado comes, we will get through it. While fear is a healthy and life-saving thing, through our storms we can look to the One who will be with us through it all. God is in control. He is more powerful than the most dangerous tornado. He is stronger than the trees, deeper than the oceans. He can shake the deserts. Through it all, He gives us strength and gives us peace. He deserves our praise.


January 7, 2008

Scriptures for January 13, 2008, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany One: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Acts 10:34-43 And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.) -- that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.

In the movie “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts starred as a prostitute named Vivian who found herself in the most extraordinary circumstance. The ‘john’ she picked up was an extremely wealthy business man in town on business. He decided to hire her to be his companion for the week. He promised her a large salary and all the clothes she would need to appear respectable at the business and social events they would attend. He gave her a wad of cash and she went to Rodeo Drive in Hollywood to find the perfect clothes to wear. She had the money to buy any dress she desired but she didn’t belong in the stores – it was obvious by the clothes she was wearing and her demeaner.

She walked into a store and found a lovely dress. She asked the clerk about the price who answered, “We do not have your size.” Vivian reminded the clerk that she asked price, no size. The clerk answered, “We don’t have anything for you.” She refused to serve Vivian based on her appearance and mannerisms. With the help of the hotel manager, she managed to get a dress, but she still needed more clothes. Edward (played by Richard Gere) took her to a store the next day and the spent an “offensive amount of money” to clothe her well. Vivian returned to the store that rejected her and reminded them of their foolish rejection. Waving her bags in the clerk’s face she said, “You people work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

We are taught very early in our lives not to just a book by its cover. Sometimes something that looks terrific is not so and sometimes we find exactly the opposite. A grubby homeless man can teach us far more about life and grace than a seminary professor with a doctorate of theology. A prostitute might teach us more about virtue than a prim and proper lady. Our impressions of people aren’t limited to their appearance. We see people through the eyes of our biases, too. We are more likely to commune with people who are like us. We choose our acquaintances by age, race, gender, geography, education, career, hobbies and religion.

Peter preached to those who adhered to the same religious ideas and practices as himself until God spoke to him in a miraculous way. Peter had a vision that showed him that God does not choose people just because they fall into a specific narrow understanding. He wanted to be offended because Cornelius was not a Jew, but he realized that God’s mercy is not given just for those we want to receive it. God loves all nations. Christ does not play favorites. The wisdom of heaven is impartial. Jesus Christ did not come to the world for only a few people or a chosen race. God’s mercy reaches farther than our lives. He came for our family and friends, our neighbors and our enemies. He came for those people we like and for those who drive us crazy.

Peter says, “And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.” Peter and the disciples were the first witness, but God continues to charge us to preach the Gospel to the world. He calls us to share the story of Jesus with all, including those who do look or act the way we think they should. Rejoice when God has mercy on your enemy who turns to Him in faith, for in Christ you are then no longer enemies but rather you are brothers. The world would truly be a much better place if we all loved our enemies enough to share the Gospel of Christ with them so that they will become our brothers in faith.


January 8, 2008

Scriptures for January 13, 2008, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany One: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 3:13-17 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffereth him. And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

We are called to live in our baptisms. We are called to live a life in which we are daily reminded that God is with us, walks with us and helps us to serve Him in this world. We are called to live the life that Jesus Christ modeled for us in the scriptures.

Jesus lived in His baptism. This might seem odd since Jesus was who He was. He was the incarnation of the living God – Christ, Messiah, Son, Immanuel. He did not need a baptism of any sort, particularly not one of repentance as John was giving. He had no sin to forgive and He had no need for reconciliation because He was not separated from God. He was the living Word of God in flesh.

Yet, Jesus was also man. His baptism was far more than just an example for the rest of us. He went under the waters of the Jordan because it fulfilled the purpose and plan of God. In that baptism, Jesus identified fully with humankind. He took on our brokenness. He became like you and I. In this story, Jesus took upon Himself the very nature of man, yet through it remained without sin. His baptism, like ours, defined His identity. God reached out of the heavens and claimed Jesus as His own Son. By going to John, Jesus demonstrated His humble obedience to the will and purpose of God. It was right for Jesus to be baptized, even if John thought it was wrong. There, in the Jordan, Jesus made a public confession of faith and God made a public acceptance of Jesus as His Son.

Jesus did a great many things in private. He prayed in private. Some of His most incredible miracles were done behind closed doors with few witnesses to tell the story. He often told the recipients of His grace to be silent, to not tell anyone about their healing. Though there were a few visitors, His birth was relatively unknown. There weren’t great crowds at his circumcision. He slipped away into hiding as a child and then we have no reliable record about His life between twelve and thirty.

It is no wonder that people wondered whether or not Jesus was the one for whom they were waiting. He came out of nowhere one day to be baptized by John. John recognized Him, but what is it that he saw in Jesus? Later, in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John asks Jesus “Are you the one?” John, a relative of Jesus, must have known about His life before that moment. Perhaps John saw Jesus as a righteous man, right with God and right with man. He knew that Jesus was not like the others who came to be washed of their sin.

At His baptism, Jesus became a public figure. He began His ministry. He made known the will and purpose of God. The things He said and the things He did were not always what the people expected. There was room for doubt because He did not follow their expectations. They thought they knew what they were waiting for; they thought they saw it in Jesus. They heard the voice of God. But it is easy to doubt. It is easy to forget. It is easy to assume we were wrong. That’s why we are called to live in our baptism daily, so that we won’t forget. God claimed Jesus and He claimed us, too, when He called out our names at our baptisms.


January 9, 2008

Scriptures for January 13, 2008, Baptism of our Lord, Epiphany One: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.

January 9th is the feast day for a saint named Adrian who lived during the seventh century. He was a Christian from North Africa who became the abbot of a monastery in Italy. He was well known by the secular and religious leadership of his day. When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, Adrian was offered the job. However, he felt he was unworthy for such an important position and he declined. The next person to be selected was extremely ill and could not take the position, so it was offered again to Adrian. Again he refused, but he nominated another man – Theodore of Tarsus. Pope Vitalian agreed to this choice on the condition that Adrian would serve as his assistant. Adrian agreed and they went to Canterbury.

Christianity arrived in England officially in 597 with St. Augustine. Though there were Christians on the island long before that date, it was then that King Ethelbert was baptized and Christianity began to spread throughout the country. At Christmas of that year, 10,000 of King Ethelbert’s subjects were baptized. A monastery and bishopric was established in Canterbury. It was to this monastery that Adrian and Theodore were sent. Adrian was made abbot almost immediately and he ran the ministry well. Many credit the growth of Christianity in England at that time to the work and ministry of Adrian. His students went on to become church leaders and saints. He also built up the education system in England, founding several schools around the country.

He was said to be an astonishing teacher, not only giving the students a sound religious education but also knowledge in poetry, astronomy and math. He taught his students Latin and Greek; they often spoke those languages as well as they did their own. Bede, the English historian, wrote about Adrian, “He poured the waters of wholesome knowledge day by day.”

This is an interesting image as we think about the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the water poured over Him. When He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit poured over Him. It was at that moment when Jesus became His ministry. We know so little about his life before that time – a few stories about his birth and childhood. His life between thirteen and thirty is a mystery. Some have made claims – including those who say that Jesus spent those years in England, learning from the Celtic druids (who were highly intelligent educators, with universities that taught many of the same things as Adrian.) There are also claims that He went east to the Orient to learn. We simply do not know. There is no authoritative record of that time. All we know is that at about age thirty, He appeared before John the Baptist to be publically anointed for ministry.

The anointing did not come from human hands, it came from God Himself. The Spirit poured out of Him in word and deed as He spoke about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. The Spirit continued to be poured on the apostles who told their stories and passed on their faith to others. Generation after generation, the Spirit poured out on to people all over the world, on people like Augustine, Adrian and those who shared it with us. Their love, knowledge and faith poured out upon us so that we too might be taken to the waters of baptism and made a son or daughter of God. Jesus was just the first and it is through Him that we join in the fellowship of God, reconciled and forgiven by His grace. In Jesus, God started something new, a new covenant through Jesus Christ. It all started at that river and continues to today.


January 10, 2008

Scriptures for January 20, 2008, Epiphany Two: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Isaiah 49:1-7 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far: Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name: and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me: and he hath made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he kept me close: and he said unto me, Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God. And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. Thus saith Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall worship; because of Jehovah that is faithful, even the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.

I taught a workshop a few years ago. I prepared for weeks and had plenty of materials available. I was passionate about the subject and well prepared. I had interesting stories and examples to teach my subject. The audience was excited and visibly reacted to the lessons with nods of agreement and positive comments. I was teaching a subject about which most people were aware and had a personal belief about how it related to their lives. My goal was not to change their minds, but to expand them. I was asked to lead the workshop so that the people who attended might see that they have much more to offer than they think.

The workshop was about spiritual gifts. The audience to whom I was speaking was made up largely of older church women. These are the women in the congregation who are always in charge of making the coffee and organizing the pot luck dinners. They all went into the workshop believing that their gift was hospitality. It made sense; the tasks of hospitality always fell on their shoulders. It was also something they did well.

After the workshop we gathered together so that the women could take a spiritual gifts assessment. We wanted them to see that God may have given them something more than they realized. We get stuck in the idea that we have one specific gift and we do not see the possibilities and potential that God has given to us. Some of the women did find hospitality high on their list of gifts after we took an assessment. It was not the only gift that was discovered that day, however. Some of the women were very surprised to discover that they had other spiritual gifts and even more surprised at what those gifts were. They shook their heads at the results and some even said, “I can’t do that.”

I was disappointed. After spending a couple hours talking about how we are able to do what God gives us the gifts to do, most of the women left that workshop unchanged. They were unwilling to see themselves as everything God created them to be. It seemed as though the whole thing was fruitless. Why do we bother? I know I have experienced that kind of disappointment at other times. I’ve seen it when I have tried to teach preschoolers about faith and teenagers about God. My words are often met with frozen faces and a lack of comprehension. I have felt like Isaiah, laboring in vain for nothing.

However, I have learned that we don’t always see immediate change, that sometimes what we do is simply plant a seed. It is God who brings change to people’s lives. I do not know how many of those women went back to their churches and were given opportunities to do something different. Perhaps something I said gave them the confidence to boldly accept. I have seen some of my preschool kids and I have seen their faith growing. I have nearly broken down in tears as I have seen those teenagers developing a deeper relationship with God. God has helped me to see that He is able to use the ministry we do each day, no matter how insignificant and inadequate it may seem to us. It is not in vain to help others to learn about faith and grow in Christian maturity, because God is the mover and source of our ministry. He is faithful, He has chosen us to be His witnesses and He will give value to our work.


January 11, 2008

Scriptures for January 20, 2008, Epiphany Two: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Today’s Word is an edited version of a post from September 2004.

Psalm 40:1-11 I waited patiently for Jehovah; And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay; And he set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, And shall trust in Jehovah. Blessed is the man that maketh Jehovah his trust, And respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Jehovah my God, are the wonderful works which thou hast done, And thy thoughts which are to us-ward; They cannot be set in order unto thee; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered. Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; Mine ears hast thou opened: Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I am come; In the roll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God; Yea, thy law is within my heart. I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great assembly; Lo, I will not refrain my lips, O Jehovah, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great assembly. Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Jehovah; Let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.

When I was a preschool teacher, we had some sandboxes on the playground. One day our sandboxes were filled with water from recent rains. We decided to allow the children to play in the sandboxes anyway, and we covered them in smocks hoping that they would not make too much of a mess. It was fine at first, only the occasional slip of the shovel that brought droplets of muddy water onto the arms and smocks of the other children. As the sandboxes got more crowded, some of the children began to play without smocks. By then the splashing mud was no longer an accident, they were throwing mud at one another. Several children were covered from head to toe in mud. When I tried to intervene, they got mud on my clothes.

We aren’t much different than four year olds even though we are grown. Our toys are different and the mud we sling is not necessarily made with dirt and water. We are selfish and vengeful. We will do anything to get our way no matter who gets hurt in the process. Unfortunately, many of these battles are not so easy to clean up – mud comes out of hair and clothing, but spiritual mud can be difficult to remove. We are wallowing in the mud of sin and death and the consequences are sometimes eternal.

I tried to be a peacemaker from a distance, to tell the children how they should act with kind but firm words. It did not help. I had to get right in the middle of the situation, take some of the mud myself, before I could make a difference. We closed down the sandboxes and took the messy children inside. The bathrooms became muddy messes. We put clean clothes on the children that were extremely dirty. We will have to adjust our rules for the sandbox to ensure that this problem did not happen again.

All this happened because some children were selfish and vengeful. This sounds a great deal like our own lives, even as adults in the world. We don’t see the affects of our own self-centeredness but there are others who follow in our wake that suffer from the effects. There are no sins that affect only the sinner – they all spread some degree of darkness and destruction into the lives of others. This is true for all of us, for we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

The words of the psalmist are the words of a child of God who has realized his own sinfulness and has cried out for the saving grace of his God. God is the peacemaker who went into the middle of the battle and shed His blood for the sake of others. He is the teacher that tried for many generations to speak the truth into their lives, but they did not hear. They did not see the truth even as the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, stood and spoke in their presence. So, He went to the cross and took the wrath that was released by our self-centered behavior. He brought us out of the mud, made things new and gave us a new life to live in Him. Thanks be to God.


January 14, 2008

Scriptures for January 20, 2008, Epiphany Two: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, even them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Donald Trump has a new show on the air called “The Celebrity Apprentice.” The point of the show is not for a business person to win a place as an apprentice in Mr. Trump’s corporation. Instead, the show is designed to earn money for the charities of the celebrities. Each week’s task ends with a celebrity delivering a check to an organization of their choice.

The first check was for more than $65,000. The money was earned during an afternoon of selling hot dogs. They did not sell thousands of hot dogs to earn that much money—they sold a few for a lot of money. In one case, a hot dog was sold for $5000. The point of the task was for the celebrities to use their fame and their connections to get large donations for the hot dogs. Some of them did a very good job making phone calls to people they knew who would be very generous. The team that used their celebrity to benefit the cause was the team that won.

The team that lost decided not to take advantage of their connections. One member, a former Playboy playmate, refused to call her extremely wealthy former boss, hoping to save his generosity for another day. In the boardroom, Mr. Trump fell all over her for ignoring the obvious advantage of having such a connection. “My friend (her boss) would have written you a check for $100,000 in a heartbeat and your team would have won the task.” She lost not only the task, but her place on the show. She was fired.

Name-dropping has become something like an art in our society today. It is necessary in some aspects of our world. In many job situations, you have to know someone to get your foot in the door, and the right connections can help you rise in the ranks of both business and other organizations.

The Corinthians were not name-droppers in the modern sense of the word, but at least a few took advantage of the name Jesus Christ. In God’s grace, the Corinthians had a sense of self assurance about their faith, an almost haughty understanding of their spirituality. They were a gifted congregation, both in word and in deed, able to do amazing things in the name and for the sake of the Gospel. Yet, they were also arrogant, thinking perhaps that they were a little better than others, a little more spiritual, a little more gifted. They also began to see themselves as gifted because of themselves, not because of what God had done. That is the whole point of the first letter to the Corinthians, to remind them that God is faithful and that He will get them through the good times and the bad.

The young lady on the show thought her celebrity was enough for a win, but she forgot the roots of her celebrity. Not that Hugh Hefner in any way can be compared to Jesus Christ, but it is a reminder that it does no good to name-drop if you do not life in the grace that has been given. It is not enough to say that we are Christians and that our gifts will do amazing things. Our sophisticated tongue and superior wisdom are useless without God’s grace. The gifts are not given for us to be an island, to use them on our own or for our own benefit. They are given to be shared with the community of faith, to build up the church. Faith is not simply a personal relationship with God. It is a relationship within the kingdom of God, the body of believers and through it we will be sustained until the day of Christ’s return.


January 15, 2008

Scriptures for January 20, 2008, Epiphany Two: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

John 1:29-42 On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water. And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. Again on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? And they said unto him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou? He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day: it was about the tenth hour. One of the two that heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He findeth first his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him unto Jesus. Jesus looked upon him, and said, Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter).

As I look out my window, I see a couple dozen houses, homes to my friends and neighbors. Together we make up a neighborhood. We watch out for one another. We pray for one another. We invite each other our homes and our lives for friendship, safety and to help one another. I have to admit that at times I wonder if it isn’t a little bit too crowded. The houses are fairly close. The neighbor kids use my driveway to drive their little motorized bikes. Cars drive by, and neighbors walk their dogs past our house. We’ve found too many piles left behind by inconsiderate neighbors unwilling to deal with their pet’s messes. There are several stray cats that drive our own house cats insane. These inconveniences have made me long for a house in the country, away from it all.

We were driving in the country today, on our way to a memorial service in a very small town near San Antonio. There were large stretches of country that were barren – just golden fields. Every so often we would pass by a house set all by itself in a field. My first thought was “How lonely that would be.” While I get annoyed at times with my neighbors, I do not think I would like to live alone in the country. I wouldn’t feel safe. I would have to run to the store instead of popping next door to borrow a cup of sugar. Who would I share my Christmas cookies with? Who would I invite to my barbeques? How would anyone know if something was wrong? Who is there to see that my car has moved out of the driveway today or take care of my cats when I am away?

John the Baptist was a loner. He was strange, not living up to the standards of the typical holy man of his day. He attracted great crowds, but he wasn’t part of the community. I doubt anyone was inviting him over for tea in the afternoon or a barbeque in the evening. They came to hear him preach, to be baptized, but he was a loner. That may have been part of the attraction. The listeners had nothing invested in the relationship. They could listen and when they were done listening, they could leave. John’s words might have made a difference in their lives, but they might not have.

Jesus brought a different kind of ministry to the people. John was like the house in the middle of the country, alone in the field. Jesus dwelt among the people. He drew them into a relationship with Him. He made them part of His community, and then sent them out to bring in others. Andrew listened to Jesus, and in the hearing knew that he’d found something new and different. He went to his brother Simon (Peter) and said, “We’ve found the Messiah. Come and see.” Simon Peter became part of that community. Jesus was revealed at His baptism and then John testified about what he saw. Then the people followed Jesus, lived with Him and served with Him. They learned and grew and were transformed by His grace. The baptism may have been a very intimate and person moment in the life of Jesus Christ, but it was just the beginning of a very public and personal relationship between God and His people.


January 16, 2008

Scriptures for January 20, 2008, Epiphany Two: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah.

When I was working in retail, I loved to set up shelving. We were given a picture of a shelving unit filled with merchandise and it was our job to make our inventory look like the plan-o-gram. Someone in the corporate office developed the plan using the merchandise that was ordered and sent to all the stores. This helps to keep stores uniform, which is helpful to our customers as they shop in different places. If a certain item is in one place at one store, it was supposed to be in the same place in another store.

It was not always easy. It was often like trying to place the pieces of a puzzle together. Though the stores used shelving units that were supposed to be identical, they weren’t always the same. The developers in corporate had a perfect shelf unit or pegboard to work with. We often had shelving units that were falling apart, or pieced together from leftovers. In one store, we still had the ancient display tables that were completely different than usual shelving units. We had to lay half the merchandise on tables even though it was meant to be hung from hooks. If the pegboard was cut even a fraction of an inch differently than the one in the plan-o-gram, the entire display went off kilter.

We ran into another problem. The plan-o-grams were designed with a specific item in mind for each hook and shelf. However, manufacturers are constantly changing and redeveloping their products. The stationary aisle was especially difficult. We would set the hook up to hold a hanging card with one pen, but the manufacturer changed that item to ‘buy one, get one free.’ Instead of a two inch by six inch package, the package arrived as three inch by six inch. That one inch difference made it impossible to fit that item where it belonged in the display. The manufacturer did not know the impact of their decision. It was probably a good change – better for the customers, retailers and themselves. However, it made our job much harder. It took hours of work to rearrange the items and sometimes those changes made a difference in the way items were sold. One inch of cardboard might have meant fewer sales on some other item, perhaps even the eventual demise of a company. That might sound extreme, but it could happen.

We don’t know what impact something we do will have on the lives of others. There is a theory called the “butterfly effect” which says that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could cause a tornado in Texas. This seems absolutely impossible, but the flap of a wing changes the world around it which causes ripples that grow and grow and grow until the conditions are perfect for a tornado to form. That might sound extreme, but it could happen.

John the Baptist had a big impact on the world. His preaching made a difference in the lives of a few and those few went on to make a difference in the lives of others. We certainly know what an impact Peter had on the Church and the world. We also see it in Andrew, but not so much. He is remembered in the scriptures as the one who had faith enough to give Jesus five loaves and two fish to feed thousands. He is also remembered for inviting his brother Peter to “come and see” the Messiah. Even though Andrew is not one of the better known apostles, his invitation had far reaching impact.

Small actions can have huge impact. We don’t know when a kind word will change the course of a day for thousands of people. We don’t know that planting a flower might make a neighborhood more beautiful. We don’t know how one small act of kindness might change the life of a person who is suffering. We don’t know how our witness might bring the Gospel to a new generation of preachers. All we know is that God has done great things for us. He has even put words of praise in our hearts and in our mouths. That song we sing might just change the world.


January 17, 2008

Scriptures for January 27, 2008, Epiphany Three: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Isaiah 9:1-4 But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian.

Zebulun was the tenth son of Jacob, the sixth son of his wife Leah. He became one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe that eventually settled to the east of the Sea of Galilee. The name Zebulun has two possible meanings. It could mean “gift.” Leah saw Zebulun as a gift, particularly in her sadness over Jacob’s rejection of her. It could also mean “honor,” and it stems from the idea that Leah hoped that her sixth child would finally bring her the honor due to her from her husband. The people from the tribe of Zebulun were known to be scribes and they are remembered for their sacrificial willingness to fight for Israel.

Naphtali was the sixth son of Jacob, the second son of Rachel’s servant Bilhah. The tribe of Naphtali settled north of Zebulun, also just to the east of the Sea of Galilee. His name came out of Rachel’s grief over her own barrenness, “with great wrestlings have I wrestled my sister.” When blessing his sons, Jacob said of Naphtali, “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” Naphtali had an independent spirit, set apart by geography and topography as it was from the rest of Israel. The people from the tribe of Naphtali were fighters, and like Zebulun they gave their lives sacrificially for the sake of the whole nation.

Both these tribes were conquered by the Assyrians, exiled and lost forever. There are still some people who claim to be from the lost tribes, but between the exile and the intermingling of foreigners with those left behind, there is some question to the credibility of that claim. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were located in the same region that came to be known as Galilee, where Jesus roamed and did much of His work. It was home to the Gentiles, foreigners. They were not Jews, and yet Jesus spent time with them. He took His message of hope so that they too might know God’s grace. Though the tribes were lost, Jesus fulfilled the promise found in Isaiah that people who walked in darkness would see a great light. He was the light.

Though Zebulun and Naphtali were burdened by the Assyrians, burdened to the point of being lost forever, Jesus went to break the rod. The captivity of the Northern Kingdom would end. Would the tribes return to their homelands and once again build a nation? No, but the people would be freed from an even greater oppression. That which was lost would be found. That which was forgotten would be restored. What was once divided would be made whole again. The wholeness would be greater than just the restoration of Jacob’s sons, it would include peoples from every nation.


January 18, 2008

Scriptures for January 27, 2008, Epiphany Three: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 Jehovah is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ... One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion: in the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me; He will lift me up upon a rock. And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me. And I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah. Hear, O Jehovah, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Jehovah, will I seek. Hide not thy face from me; put not thy servant away in anger: Thou hast been my help; cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

It is cold and rainy at our house today. Even inside I can feel the chill. As I look out my window, I see a damp and gloomy world around me. The lawns are winter brown and the trees seem lifeless. The clouds make it a little darker than it should be at this time in the afternoon. The house is dark, too, because there is no sun to shine through the windows. The temperature is not quite cold enough to change the precipitation to snow, which might make it appear a little bit prettier.

The kids left this morning for a retreat at a camp near Dallas. I was a little concerned about the weather, especially since this same retreat was ended early last year due to an ice storm. Knowing that our temperatures are hovering on the brink between rain and freezing rain, I have been praying that the weather would not ruin their weekend.

Victoria called a few minutes ago to tell me that it was snowing. They were just a few miles from the retreat sight, so I did not have to worry that the roads would be too dangerous to continue. She was so excited because she loves snow. Our last few homes were in places that did not get much snow, culminating in Texas where we’ve seen just a few flurries since we moved here four years ago. She is even considering northern colleges so that she might get to enjoy winter. She doesn’t remember what it was like in Washington when we got several feet of snow every year. She doesn’t remember how hard it is to walk in snow or shovel it. She doesn’t remember how the cold dampness can seep down to your bones.

I like snow. Well, I like the way it looks. I think I could live in a snowy place if God would make it snow only on the lawns and trees. The glistening white of the snow on a clear day after a storm is beautiful. I just hate to have to be in the snow. I hate having to drive on the slippery roads. I hate having to shovel the sidewalks. I hate when my clothes get so wet that they are difficult to get off. No matter how much I hate snow, I can’t deny that it is beautiful, almost miraculous.

It didn’t snow much in England, but I remember one time when it did. I had a long black wool coat I used to wear all the time. It kept me very warm when it was cold. One day it was snowing while I was waiting for the kids to get out of school. As I waited by the door to pick them up, I noticed the snowflakes falling on my coat. I had never really noticed a snowflake in such detail as I had that day. The flakes landed and stuck perfectly on my coat, making it possible to see even the smallest details of each one. It was almost as if someone were dropping confetti on me from heaven. They were, of course, six pointed stars. They sparkled on my coat and I was awed by such simple beauty in God’s creation.

God is so good to put such beauty and perfection in something as tiny and insignificant as a snowflake. If there is so much goodness in such a small part of God's creation, imagine how wonderful it will be to stand face to face with Him. The glory of those snowflakes offered just a glimmer of the magnificence of His Glory! What is particularly wonderful about this is that there is beauty even in those things about this creation that we do not always like or appreciate. Even the snow, that is cold and often inconvenient, has a purpose and a beauty to it. I sing for joy at God's marvelous hand in the world.

If there can be such glory in a snowflake, we can only imagine what we will see when we come face to face with our Creator. No wonder the psalmist asked to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. There we won’t face the cold damp of winter or the danger of slippery ice. We’ll be in the presence of God Himself for all eternity.


January 21, 2008

Scriptures for January 27, 2008, Epiphany Three: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius; lest any man should say that ye were baptized into my name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void. For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.

We had a visit yesterday during our Sunday school hour from a local imam of the Muslim faith. He came to give us a brief lesson about Islam and to answer any questions we have. It was an interesting class and though I disagree about some of things he said, I appreciated being able to hear his voice and better understand his faith. One thing I found very interesting was his answer to a question about the different types of Islam in the world. He said the major difference between sunni and shi’ite is how they chose their leaders. He said it is an unfortunate part of our world that there has to be a difference, but he acknowledged that even Islam is divided by ‘denominationalism.’

Elton Trueblood, the Quaker author, educator, philosopher, and theologian, once said, “There is no vital religion in the world today that is not sectarian, and there cannot be. The reason for this is rooted deeply in human nature. We naturally form into groups and find our best life in reasonably small fellowships. Like-minded fellowships in different committees strengthen one another in conscious loyalty to a heritage. Such groups are called denominations. There is nothing very dangerous or surprising about this and certainly there is nothing about it that is unique to religion. We do it in everything else, as the existence of lodges, political parties and service clubs so abundantly testifies. It is very curious, indeed, that a man who takes for granted the existence of separate organizations for Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Clubs should profess to be shocked by the fact that Christians are organized in a similar way.”

Paul writes about the division that had been happening in Corinth. Some of the followers were focusing on the evangelist from whom they had heard the Gospel, rather than focusing on the message they brought. They were loyal to Paul or Apollos or Peter rather than loyal to Jesus Christ. There were some very real differences between those fellowships. Paul preached to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews. They were gathered around his message because it met them in their experience and understanding. Peter was sent to take the message to the Jewish community. He preached to them in a way that helped them juxtapose their heritage and faith to this new understanding of God. Apollos preached the Gospel with a baptism of repentance like John, which is a message with which many people identify. Human beings have a hard time accepting a free gift, even one like the Bible, if is not accompanied by some word of Law.

These men preached to their audience and their audience was drawn by the message they preached. What Paul was writing to the Corinthians, however, is that there is not a different message. There is only the Gospel. It is not necessarily a bad thing that the people of Corinth were gathering together like birds of a feather, but he wanted them to realize that they were not divided. They were one in Christ. Paul, who is among the greatest of the evangelists and preachers, did not want anyone ‘following him.’ He was really nothing. It was the message that mattered. He was calling the people in Corinth to a life following Christ, not man.

I think it is interesting that Paul makes a big deal about not baptizing many people. His point with this statement is that it is not Paul who baptizes, and it is not in his name that anyone is baptizes. It is God who does the work of grace that is found in the baptism we offer and it is in His name that we are baptized. We will continue to gather around the Word and Sacraments in fellowships with people that are like ourselves. It is natural for human beings to do so. However, we are reminded that we should not be following denominations or pastors, opinions or practices. It is in Jesus Christ that we will find hope, peace and grace. And it is in Jesus Christ that we are made one body with all those birds of a feather that are flying together in their own communities of faith.


January 22, 2008

Scriptures for January 27, 2008, Epiphany Three: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23 Now when he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, The people that sat in darkness Saw a great light, And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, To them did light spring up. From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left the nets, and followed him. And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him. And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.

John the Baptist was quite a figure in his day. He was well known, even if he was not very well liked. He was odd, wearing strange clothing and keeping a strange diet, but there was something charismatic about his presence. Crowds were flocking to the Jordan to hear him preach and to receive his baptism. John was visited by men of means and power, although they did not want to be his disciples. They wanted to keep an eye on his ministry. He was a radical and it was necessary to control the radicals for the sake of the nation. He was eventually arrested and beheaded.

The first part of our scripture today seems uncharacteristic for Jesus; although at this point in His ministry we don’t have many experiences on which to base our assumption. When John was arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. John’s arrest was probably a serious event in Jerusalem: front page headlines and breaking news. The leaders were looking for more unrest and the attention John gave to Jesus would have made Jesus the most likely one to watch. We might have expected Jesus to work out of Jerusalem, after all that was the center of religious life in Israel. But Jesus went to Galilee of the Gentiles.

When we consider the atmosphere in Jerusalem at the time it might seem as though Jesus were running away. Yet, we hear that this was all part of the plan all along. We heard about the prophecy in our Old Testament lesson for this week. Jesus would come out of the area known as Zebulun and Naphtali. Matthew recognized the connection when he quoted Isaiah in our passage for this day. During Epiphany, we are reminded that Jesus came to bring the message of hope to all the nations. He came to be a light in the darkness. He came to bring peace between peoples. Zebulun and Naphtali were once tribes of Israel, but they were lost when the Assyrians took them into exile.

Certainly there were Jews in the region around the Sea of Galilee, the disciples had Jewish heritage. We don’t know much about their heritage. Were they strictly observant Jews? Did they travel to Jerusalem according to the Law? Did they attend meetings at the temple and synagogues regularly? They were fishermen, and while the Jews took the Sabbath seriously, did those fishermen really put down their nets for the Sabbath?

Jesus ran into those fishermen one day when He was walking near the Sea of Galilee. According to our Gospel lesson from John last week, Andrew and Peter had already met Jesus, but then they apparently went back to fishing. Now Jesus found them and called them to join Him. It always amazes me when I see their response to this call. “Straightway they left their nets.” Other versions use the word “immediately.” Can you imagine dropping your work and following a man with no notice? In our day we would think it is irresponsible to do such a thing. Jesus found two other fishermen, James and John, and called them to join Him. They left their boat behind—again an irresponsible thing to do, yet they did so seemingly without thought or concern.

We look at these men and we are taken aback by their dedication to Jesus’ ministry. Would we do such a thing? Would we drop our work and walk away from everything to follow Jesus. This is a point that is often preached in our churches in relation to this text. But we have to ask, is that what Jesus calls us all to do? Jesus had many followers. Some of them actually traveled with Him from place to place and town to town. However, what of the people who stayed at home? What of the mothers who took their babies to be blessed and then returned to their housework? What of the businessmen in all those towns who returned to their shops when Jesus left? Did they have less faith than the disciples who dropped everything? Certainly not. Jesus does call some to extraordinary ministry, but for most of us, He calls us to live our life of faith in the everyday experiences of our lives.


January 23, 2008

Scriptures for January 27, 2008, Epiphany Three: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in his temple.

Lydia was a businesswoman. She was a seller of purple, an expensive cloth. It was highly prized because it was a mark of great wealth. The purple cloth was made from a dye extracted from snails. Most dyes in that day were made from plants, so the colors were often muted and faded quickly. Purple was different. The color was intense and permanent. It would have been noticeable if there was even just a small stripe of purple on a robe compared to the other colors. By the forth century A.D. purple was reserved for the Caesar and his closest advisors. During the excavations at Qumran, a purple ball of wool was found still as bright as the day it was dyed. She met a man named Paul who introduced her to the story and grace of Jesus. She received that word with joy and became an active Christian disciple. God had work for her to do.

Dorcas was a seamstress who was known for making clothes for the poor widows in her community. We do not know much about her, but it seems she was a woman of some means because her charitable works were numerous. She was a Christian who lived with a community of Christians in Joppa. Her name has become synonymous with charity and numerous charitable organizations bear her name. The only other thing we know about Dorcas is that she died. Her death brought great grieving to her community and they sought the aid of Peter. Peter came, prayed over her and she was raised. God still had work for her to do.

Phoebe was a Christian woman who was from the church in Cenchrea. We know even less about Phoebe than we do about Lydia and Dorcas. She is commended by Paul to the church in Rome in his letter to that congregation. It is believed that she was the bearer of that letter to Rome. She is described as a deaconess, so she was a leader among the Christians. Paul was able to trust her with a very important task: the delivery of a letter that helped a new and growing church—and the church today—understand the life of faith that Christ calls us to live. God had work for her to do, too.

These three women are remembered on Sunday as co-workers of the Apostles. They were servants, willingly helping others. They supported the Apostles with their resources and with their communities with their lives. They were called by God’s grace to serve the community and they responded with joy, hope and peace. They touched the lives of so many that it is odd we do not know more about them. But then, we aren’t necessarily called by God to be famous or to have a large impact on our world. We are called by God to serve our neighbors, to share the light of Christ and to help them through their sufferings. We do not do this for reward. We do not do it so that we will benefit in any way. We do it because we know God is faithful to His promises and that He will fulfill all He has proclaimed through Jesus Christ. We live in hope—not wishes and dreams, but expectation of what will be—and in that hope we continue revealing that light that is Christ to the world.


January 24, 2008

Scriptures for February 3, 2008, Transfiguration of our Lord: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Exodus 24:12-18 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them. And Moses rose up, and Joshua his minister: and Moses went up into the mount of God. And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: whosoever hath a cause, let him come near unto them. And Moses went up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount. And the glory of Jehovah abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

The story of Pompeii is a tragedy. We know about what happened in that town at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius from two major sources—archeology and the letters of Pliny the Younger. Those letters described what happened the day that the volcano erupted burying the town and the people of Pompeii. Archeological digs since the town’s rediscover in the mid-eighteenth century have given us an image of what life was like in the ancient Roman Empire. Pompeii was a suburban town, with people from every class represented. The people of Pompeii had no idea what would happen on that day in August 79. Unfortunately, there were plenty of signs—earthquakes, tremors, dried up wells—but they did not recognize those signs.

Ironically, the Romans celebrated Volcanalia, the festival honoring the Roman god Volcanus, on August 23rd, just one day before the eruption. The Romans had a system of religious faith that included multiple gods. Each god represented some aspect of life and the people worshipped them in relation to those things. There was a god for war, for peace, for rain, for procreation. The festivals were meant to placate the gods so that they would be blessed by them. The signs in nature were interpreted as emotional responses by the gods to the people’s actions. Floods were a sign that the rain god was upset. Barrenness was a sign that a woman had sinned. A volcano eruption was a sign that the fire god was angry. Despite the signs around them, the people began August 24th with a sense of assurance because they had just offered sacrifices to Volcanus.

Imagine what it must have been like at the foot of the mountain when Moses went to talk with God. Though the God on that mountain was the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they did not know Him very well. They had spent four hundred years in Egypt. The Hebrews had lost touch with their God. They knew the foreign gods and recognized that the signs of nature could be interpreted as communication from the divine. It must have been frightening to the people to see that cloud descend down the mountain as their leader was climbing up. Was it a bad sign? Was Moses going to be safe? What did the fire mean? Would this God really save them from their suffering?

Forty days and forty nights are a long time. We begin to worry if someone is out of our presence for even a day or two. How could Moses survive up there? For Moses it was an extraordinary experience. For forty days and nights he was in the presence of God, learning how to lead God’s people. He learned about the tabernacle, the laws, the worship. He received the tablets of stone. When he came off the mountain, he retained some of the glory of God. It shone in his own face. By then, however, the people had forgotten and they were worshipping an idol, running from that which frightened them by trying to placate the gods in a way that they knew. In less than forty days they forgot the one who had delivered them out of bondage and returned to the ways they had known for four hundred years.


January 25, 2008

Scriptures for February 3, 2008, Transfiguration of our Lord: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Psalm 2 Why do the nations rage, And the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against Jehovah, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, And cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: The Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, And vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, For his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him.

I don’t usually talk about politics. Though I sometimes share my opinion about things, if even indirectly, those opinions are usually about things that really do not matter one way or another. I recognize the fact that half of this list probably disagrees with me when it comes to politics. This is not a political blog, it is an inspirational devotion. So, while our opinion on the politics of the day might be tempered by our religious perspective, it is not necessarily a topic appropriate to devotional writing. The other reason I avoid politics is that a number of readers are from other nations. American politics might have an impact on their life in the future, but it is not a topic that will enhance their spiritual life.

It is impossible, however, to ignore the reality of our world at this moment—politics are a part of our lives. Unless we never listen to the news or pick up a newspaper, we can’t avoid the topic. Even if we do avoid the media, it is a topic that will inevitably come up in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces. Our neighbors have political signs in their yard. Political discussions are happening in our churches. There is no doubt that an important election is just a few months away because the world around us has politics on its mind.

It is sometimes interesting, sometimes disturbing, to listen to the debates and discussions about the upcoming election and the candidates. Some people are deeply rooted in their opinions and discussion is about converting others to a similar point of view. To them, any difference in opinion is a condemnation of a person’s sanity, intelligence or even faith. It is not the opinion that is questioned or debated, but it is the person who has the disagreeable point of view that becomes the focus of the discussion. The person with an opposition opinion becomes an enemy, someone who is less in some way.

This happens in all aspects of life. It happens in religion, in science, in academia. It even happens between tea drinkers. Try starting a debate about regular tea and sweet tea someday. The person who is passionate about his or her opinion will often put down the other point of view. I don’t think that this is the way a majority of people act. Most people can sit down and have a discussion without becoming nasty or arrogant. Most people recognize that there are different points of view.

The psalmist asks why the nations want to revolt against the Lord God Almighty. The question is not a cry of arrogance against the other nations, but a question of surprise. When we sit down with a person with a different point of view about politics, we often think to ourselves, “I just don’t understand how he or she can think like that.” However, we don’t do that because we are so certain that we think they are wrong, we do it because we see the world from an entirely different perspective. The psalmist knows the loving grace of God and simply can’t understand a perspective that can’t see that grace. The psalmist is amazed by this point of view because he or she knows that any revolt against the LORD is fruitless.


January 28, 2008

Scriptures for February 3, 2008, Transfiguration of our Lord: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

2 Peter 1:16-21 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.

I usually take a minute to look back over my archives to see what I have written in the past using the scripture for the day. On those days when the previous writing is still relevant, I re-post it so that we migh benefit twice from the same message. At other times, I like the direction of the message but I find a new example or experience to share. As I was checking the past, I realized that I had used this text on September 11, 2001. There is no reference to the horrific event that happened that day, so the writing must have been completed early or I simply could not put into words my feelings about what had happened. I suspect the first must have been true.

In that writing, I talked about how people interpret the signs in creation in relation to the coming of Christ. “Prophets and prophetic interpreters watch for things to happen and they try to decipher what they mean and how they relate to the biblical descriptions of the last days.” This was certainly true in the days following the bombing of the World Trade Center and other disasters that day. Many people used the disaster as a launching point for their prophetic utterances. Grief and fear made people flock to religious centers, to gather for prayer and worship, to comfort one another and seek answers to the questions on their hearts. Many voices were willing to give answers, but so many of those voices did not agree.

What I have learned is that many of the prophetic voices of our day are speaking not from God’s power or Spirit, but from a sense that if they speak it loud enough or long enough, then it will happen. It is humorous to watch a prophet explain away his mistake, justifying his misinterpretation by reconciling it with actual events. Many prophets will wait to release a ‘word’ until after he or she can make it fit the circumstances of the day. “See, I received this word, but now I see it is true and reveal it to you.”

Peter writes, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” And, “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” So, how do we tell? How do we know which voices are right and which are false? What is the focus of the prophecy? Who is the subject of the ‘word’?

Thomas Aquinas lived in the thirteenth century. He was a teacher and a theologian. The thirteenth century was a time of philosophical rebirth. The work of Aristotle was making a renaissance, very popular among the educated in that day. Thomas Aquinas studied the works of Aristotle and found connections between his philosophy and that of the Christians. He believed that truth is known through both reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation.) Natural revelation is available to all human beings as they use observe and experience the world in which they live. Supernatural revelation comes to men through the scriptures, the church and prophets.

Some prophetic utterances are worth our attention. God does still speak to His people. We are reminded, however, that we are to discern that which comes from God and that which comes out of the desires of men. Is that prophetic word confirmed by that which has been revealed to us already? Does it stand up to the light of Christ? Aquinas found the Gospel in the midst of that which was popular in his day and he taught the people how to balance faith with intellect. He didn’t change the Christian message to fit into the society of his day but developed a method of using philosophy to explain Christianity. The false prophets are those that change the message to fit their prophetic utterances.


January 29, 2008

Scriptures for February 3, 2008, Transfiguration of our Lord: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew 17:1-9 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: and he was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. And Peter answered, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, I will make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, save Jesus only. And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead.

My mother had two rings. Both of those rings looked like rather large diamonds, between two and three karats. One had a silver colored setting, the other was gold. One was a diamond, the other a cubic zirconia. She always wanted a large diamond on her finger, but our family never had the kind of money necessary for that type of jewelry. She bought the cubic zirconia to give her the feeling of having the ‘big rock’ until she could afford it. Then she saved her money. Eventually she had enough to purchase the real diamond, albeit a low quality rock. She was proud of her efforts and wore her ring with pleasure. When she got sick at the end of her life, she stopped wearing the jewelry.

After mom died, we knew that one of the few real treasures she had was that diamond ring. The house was cluttered: housekeeping was never her strength and though Daddy did a good job taking care of her when she was sick, the clutter was not a concern. So we cleaned. We organized the things that might be of use to someone else, threw away the garbage. We looked for the ring as we went through her things. We were careful to look closely through everything. We searched every pocket and dug to the bottom of every purse. We found one of the rings in her jewelry box. We thought it might be the real diamond, but we weren’t sure. We had to find both rings for comparison.

We found the second ring tucked into the corner of a window sill. She must have taken it off when she was sitting on a chair near the window and put it there for safekeeping. It didn’t make sense, and we thought that it must be the cubic zirconia because it was just lying around. We looked at both rings. Now, none of us were expert gemologists, but we though for sure we would be able to tell the difference. However, a low quality diamond and a high quality cubic zirconia look amazingly similar. We cleaned them, hoping that would make it clear. We considered the setting, thinking that might give us a clue. We eventually took them to a jeweler because that was the only way we would find the truth.

The answer didn’t make sense – the diamond was the ring we found on the window sill and the cubic zirconia was the one in the jewelry box. I’m sure that she put the cubic zirconia in the jewelry box when she purchased the diamond and that it had been there for a long time. The diamond was probably on the window sill because she wore it often. She loved it. But one day she had to take it off and then she probably never put it back on. It was no less important and she probably hoped to be well enough one day to wear it again.

In the transfiguration, Jesus experienced a moment of glory. Peter, James and John witnessed this miraculous event where Jesus was transformed into a divinely shining being standing among the great men of their faith. Moses, the father of the Law and Elijah the father of the prophets, stood for everything on which their faith was built. Peter wanted to capture the moment, to build a temple on the spot to honor Jesus and hold on to the glory. Jesus said “No.” He told them to keep it a secret. He told them to hide their experience away until the future day when “the Son of man be risen from the dead.”

Then Jesus went to the cross and there He died for our sake. That moment was the real moment of glory. It was not beautiful. It was out there for all to see. It was a horrible and horrifying experience not only for Jesus but also for those who loved Him. Yet, it was the diamond in the rough. The transfiguration, as glorious as that moment must have been, was a false glory. It was a mountaintop experience that was used to compare to the real glory that would be found on the cross. It seems backwards to us. It seems upside down. Didn’t Jesus deserve to be honored on that mountaintop? Of course He did, but He knew the real glory would come on the cross, where the word and work of God would be complete. Peter, James and John would not know that until later. They would see the truth after the resurrection.


January 30, 2008

Scriptures for February 3, 2008, Transfiguration of our Lord: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Psalm 99 Jehovah reigneth; let the peoples tremble: He sitteth above the cherubim; let the earth be moved. Jehovah is great in Zion; And he is high above all the peoples. Let them praise thy great and terrible name: Holy is he. The king's strength also loveth justice; Thou dost establish equity; Thou executest justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt ye Jehovah our God, And worship at his footstool: Holy is he. Moses and Aaron among his priests, And Samuel among them that call upon his name; They called upon Jehovah, and he answered them. He spake unto them in the pillar of cloud: They kept his testimonies, And the statute that he gave them. Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings. Exalt ye Jehovah our God, And worship at his holy hill; For Jehovah our God is holy.

I have to admit that I have never read the Bible cover to cover. I’ve read the whole thing numerous times. I’ve read every book, studied many of them in depth, but I never actually got through reading the book from Genesis to Revelation. I did read Walter Wangerin’s book, “The Book of God” which is the Bible in novel form. I’ve heard the stories many times though the lectionary readings in church. I know several people who have managed to read the book from cover to cover and they were greatly blessed by the experience. Perhaps one day I will make it happen.

I think the reason that I have not accomplished the task is that I’ve set up unrealistic expectations. Most of the “Read the Bible” programs are arranged to get it done in a year. To do it in one year, it is necessary to read about three chapters a day. That is not a problem on some days, but on others it is quite difficult. Then once you get behind, it is even harder to catch up. I usually give up on the programs after a few weeks. Lynn Bowen Walker in “Queen of the Castle,” admitted a similar problem. She decided not to try to follow one of those unrealistic programs and read as she was able. It took her seven years. Thanks to her encouragement, I might try again but this time do it at a pace that I can handle. Then, if something happens and I can’t read one day, it won’t be too hard to recover.

I’m not sure it matters. It is an honorable accomplishment, but the Bible is not necessarily meant to be read as you would read a novel. After all, it is a library of many different books. These are all books that have a different perspective in time and space. The writers have put down in pen and ink their experiences of God. They’ve been guided by the same power, pointing at the same God. Their stories show the various aspects of God. They fit together in the same way that the history section in the library fits together. I don’t think anyone goes to the library with the goal of reading every book on the shelves in the order in which they have been shelved.

The books of the Bible have a common purpose but each book also has a unique purpose. Some show us what God has done. Others tell us who God is. Yet others help us to see what God is doing. The books reach out to different audiences, and though the entire book is meant for all, the books speak to us in particular ways at specific times. I think sometimes we assume that reading the Bible from cover to cover will make us know and understand everything there is to know about God. It will certainly help us to grow. Every moment we devote to reading and studying God’s Word helps us to grow in faith and in knowledge of God. However, we will never fully know Him.

Those who have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation have accomplished something great and honorable. Many of them have a real heart for God’s Word and have studied it extensively. Many of them can quote verses and quickly find references because they know it so well. Some people have even memorized whole books. But even though the Bible is the most accessible revelation of God to His people, there is much more to know about Him than could have been written in a book. About the life of Jesus, St. John wrote, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.” Imagine what it would be like if everything about God could be written?


January 31, 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

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die… Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

“The ink is black, the page is white, together we learn to read and write. A child is black, a child is white, the whole world looks upon the sight. A beautiful sight.” This song was made popular in 1972 by the group Three Dog Night and was a statement about the Brown vs. Education decision of the United States Supreme court which outlawed racial segregation in schools. Sammy Davis, Jr. made the original version of this folk song using a verse that was not used in later versions. “Their robes were black, their heads were white, the schoolhouse doors were closed so tight, nine judges all set down their names, to end the years and years of shame.” The issue of segregation demands that people be seen as opposites, just like the colors black and white. However, we can’t separate people so easily. Though skin color makes us different, there are too many things that we share to think people can be separated by just one trait.

It is so much easier to look at the world as dualistic. White verses black, tall or short, fat or thin. These are ways we can define people and things, but are there really only two choices? Go to a paint store and ask for white paint thinking they guy will just hand you a can of paint. There are numerous types of white. Can we really tell the difference between then? Yes. Try comparing ecru to ivory and you’ll see a difference. Most people would not know if you’ve painted ecru or ivory on your wall, but if you put them side by side you can see the difference. Are there really just black and white people? The world is filled with many skin tones. Some people who are ‘white’ have deep tans and look darker in color than some ‘black’ people. How do we discern one from another?

When we consider good and evil, we think again in dualistic terms. There is good and there is evil and neither the twain shall meet, right? The reality is that we live in a world where it is difficult to separate good and evil. In some places, theft is considered evil. In other places, theft that serves a virtuous purpose is good. Is it possible for us to do only good things? Even though we try to do only good, all too often the things we do turn out to be less than good. If it is less than good, is it still good or is it evil? Where do we draw the line?

In this passage, the serpent told Eve that if she ate the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, she would be like God, knowing good and evil. This phrase was not meant to define the world as dualistic, but instead to show that God knows everything. It is like saying that Adam and Eve would be like God, knowing everything from A to Z. There is not only good and evil, there is good to evil and everything in between. There are times when we have to choose the best of two evils. Which is better—to shoot a dying horse or allow him to die naturally? Both options are evil, but a choice has to be made. It is the consequence of living in a fallen world.

Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly.” He did not mean that we should go out in the world purposefully sinning against God and man. He meant that if, as you are living in this sinful and fallen world, you have to sin, do so boldly knowing the grace of God. The whole statement is “Sin boldly but believe more bolder still.” In other words, if we have to make a decision to do something that is less than good, do so with the knowledge of forgiveness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adam and Eve were created and God called them “good” as He did for all of His creation. They lived in harmony with God and with the rest of creation. Then the serpent (representative of human desire) made them aware that there is more than ‘good’ and they sought to know more. They thought that being like God would make them better, to give them insight into more ‘good’, but the reality is that everything that isn’t good is less than good.