Welcome to the January 2009 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




Holy Spirit






St. Peter














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 2009

January 2, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 11, 2009: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Kathryn Davis did a series of paintings called “The Seven Days of Creation.” She represented each day with color, shape and texture using watercolor, pastel, metallic paint and collage medium. The paintings can be viewed at Fuller Theological Seminary, a diverse community of people from all over the world and many different Christian denominations. The paintings are used in the study of the story of Creation at the school. They can also be viewed online at Kathryn Davis Creation Series. The paintings show Kathryn’s image of the creation story, from her point of view and her creative mind.

As I looked at her vision of the creation, I wondered how I might represent the seven days with my own point of view and gifts. I like her use of different materials and color although I think I would define the aspects of the creation more clearly. My favorite of the seven is for the fifth day when God created the fish of the sea and the birds of their air. The birds and fish are subtle but present in a powerful way. I like the other paintings also, however I’m not sure they capture the creation story as well, particularly the painting for the first day. But then, I think that day would be the hardest of all. How do you capture “formless void” and "Day and Night" on canvas? How do you take common earthly elements to portray the incredible thing God did on that first day?

This is probably one of the hardest things about the creation story for us to wrap our minds around. In the beginning there was nothing. The scriptures call the earth a formless void. What is that? If there was an ‘earth’ how could it be formless? How could it be void? And how can you recreate something so outside our limited earthly experience? I’ve tried to imagine what my painting would look like and I’m not sure I can even ‘see’ this with my creative eye. A black canvas would not even do well, because it isn’t formless and it isn’t void.

Yet, as I think about this passage, it seems to me that the formless void is much like an empty canvas. The point of these words is not that God had nothing to work with but that God had a vision and when He spoke that vision came to life. It took only a word from the mouth of God for the formless void to become light and dark. By His word the light and the dark were divided and He gave them names. We should not be confused at this point by the use of these names. The celestial bodies have not yet been created. The light and dark, Day and Night, are not as we know them. This aspect of the first day is as difficult to put to canvas as the formless void. The light, the Day, is Christ: love, mercy, hope, grace, joy, generosity, justice and all things good. The dark, the Night, is the absence of those good things.

The formless void in the creation story is like an empty canvas to God the master painter. His vision of what would be is not limited like ours. We may not be able to find a truly fitting way to put it on canvas, but God spoke all of creation into existence, beginning with the spiritual foundation of all that there is. We don’t hear about Jesus until later, much later, in the history of mankind. Yet, Christ was there, at that moment, and it is through Him all things were created. On the first day God brought to life His imagination, everything He desired for that formless void was started with just a word, His Word.


January 5, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 11, 2009: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

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 humorous moment often portrayed in movies, stage or television. There is usually a crowd of people milling about making too much noise. A character needs to tell another character something very important, but very personal or secret. The character tries to whisper it in the other’s ear, hoping that the words will be heard above the noise. “I can’t hear you” is the response time after time. Finally, the character gets so frustrated that he or she screams out secret. Of course, a split second before the words leave the character’s mouth, something happens to stop the noise and everyone in the room hears the secret. The shout is much louder than anyone might expect, making it doubly humorous to those of us watching. It is usually followed by the comment, “You don’t have to shout.”

Public speakers learn how to talk so that they will be heard, especially if they are facing a room that has uncontrollable noise. In most cases, it is best to speak with a normal: not too loud or soft. Sometimes it is helpful to use a soft voice, making it necessary for the listeners to focus on hearing the words. This is especially true in groups with young children. Teachers of young children learn quickly that raising the voice only raises the noise level in the room. It is sometimes better to talk in a whisper because the children realize that the words being said might be important and the only way to hear them is to be quiet.

There are times, however, when it is necessary to get a crowd’s attention. Another humorous moment often used in movies, stage or television is when a person tries to get everyone to listen. They speak with attention drawing words like “excuse me” or “may I have your attention.” They even raise their voice, hoping to be heard. The crowd ignores the call for attention until someone makes a deafening noise with a whistle or a loud shout. When attention turns to them, they point to the person who wants to speak and the message is delivered. We are shocked when this happens in real life and it does bring absolute silence because everyone is curious about what might demand or create such a loud noise.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is the story of Elijah, who is running away from Jezebel. He makes it to a cave on a mountain and waits for a word from the Lord. He hears a great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire, but God was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle whisper. Then Elijah knew the Lord had come to speak with him.

So, we hear God in the still small voice, the gentle whisper. There are other ways that God speaks to us that are quiet and subtle like in the creation and in the love of other believers. How often do we miss that small voice because we are so busy listening to the chaos of our lives? So, we are reminded that God does not speak only with that still small voice. The psalmist describes God’s voice as powerful, full of majesty. It breaks the cedars and shakes the wilderness. A quiet voice does not rattle the world, a thunderous voice does. Sometimes God speaks in a way that will get our attention.

The psalmist writes, “The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters.” This brings us back to the image of God at the beginning of creation, speaking order into the chaos and something out of that formless void. He has not stopped speaking into the world He has created. His voice still makes the world tremble. But, even more so, He gives strength to His people. We have nothing about which to be afraid. God is King and He will bless us with peace.


January 6, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 11, 2009: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Acts 19:1-7 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples: and he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And they were in all about twelve men.

An acquaintance once told me that when she was waiting to board an airplane she struck up a conversation with another person waiting in the line. He asked where she was from and she answered with the name of a mid-sized mid-western town. He was so excited and asked, “Really? Do you know my Aunt Rose? She lives there, too.” He didn’t give a last name, just naturally assumed that she would have to know the woman named Rose in that town. She laughed and answered that her town was much too big for her to know everyone. And though he seemed surprised, he accepted her answer.

I live in a relatively small town and I couldn’t possibly know everyone. I don’t even know all of my neighbors. I know many of them and can tell you the names of those who live in the dozen closest homes, but I don’t know everyone on my street by name. I might recognize some of the cars, but not all, since I can’t possibly see every car that passes each day. I wave at neighbors as they walk their dogs, but I don’t talk to them all and I can’t even be sure which houses are theirs. It is even hard in a smaller community like our church to know everyone by name. The same is true in schools, at large companies and at most of the stores where we shop. It is impossible for one person to know everyone.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus didn’t just stay. After all, as the divine Son of God, He is eternal and able to do anything even that which is beyond human ability. However, in the flesh He was just as limited as you and I. He can’t be in a hundred places at a time. He can’t know ever person personally, by name or even by face. In flesh Jesus is just as trapped in the bondage of space and time. He spent a few years, a blip on the clock of eternity, in the flesh building the foundation for the work that would be done forever after. He knew a few men and women personally, taught them face to face. Then He took care of the final business of His purpose—the cross—and won for us the same eternal life He possessed. Then He had to go away.

But He didn’t really go away. Instead, He sent the Holy Spirit to be the hand of God in this world and to be a part of our life. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have the gifts and the opportunities to be like Christ in this world. We continue His work. We are little christs to our neighbor. Jesus does not need to be here in the flesh where He is limited by space and time because He is here in the Spirit in our hearts and in our ministry to the world. We can’t do it on our own, no matter how prepared or spiritual we think we are. We need the power of God through the Holy Spirit to truly work for Christ.

The people whom Paul met did not have the whole story. They’d heard about the coming kingdom through the message of John the Baptist and were even baptized by Him. However, they had not yet heard about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They had a foundation for faith, but they did not have everything they needed. They were probably living decent lives, doing good things for their neighbors. But it wasn’t enough. Paul gave them ‘the rest of the story’ and they received the power of the Holy Spirit. At that point they became part of the ministry of God, part of the work of Christ, part of the Church that was started in the life and love of Jesus.


January 7, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 11, 2009: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Mark 1:4-11 John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem; And they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water; But he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.

There is a new program on television called “True Beauty.” I was not sure if I wanted to watch this program because it seemed like it would be just another one of those reality based shows where the contestants do everything they can to win the end game. The thing that makes this different is that the contestants do not even really know what the end game is. Ten people (four men and six women) have been invited on this show because they are physically beautiful people. They also have attitudes that aren’t quite so beautiful.

They think they are competing to be the most beautiful (physically) person in the world. In reality, they are being judged on their character. Will they do what is right? Will they act responsibly? Will they care for other people’s needs? In the end, the people who are kicked off the show might just be physically attractive, but they aren’t really ‘beautiful’ because they have proven themselves to be selfish, arrogant and mean. We watched the premier this week and actually enjoyed it. The challenges are simple but powerful. Will they help the delivery man? How do they respond when a waiter trips, spilling drinks and upsetting food all over them? Will they take a peak at the other contestants’ folders if given the opportunity?

You could almost tell from the beginning which beauty was going to get kicked off the first episode of the show. She was self-centered in every way, shape and form. Everything she did and said showed an ugly inner character. She failed every test, and when confronted about those failures she lied and made excuses. Even as she was walking out the door she claimed to be a good person and that they wrongly judged her.

I wonder how we would judge John the Baptist in today’s world? I’m sure he was unusual in the days of Jesus. The writers of the Gospels are so specific about his wardrobe and diet that we have to assume it was not typical. Camel’s hair is not comfortable and locusts don’t taste very good, but they were probably not unheard of in that day. The poor did not wear linen and eat steak. But even then, I’m sure John stood out in a crowd, but his odd taste in clothing and food did not keep the crowds from gathering around to hear him preach. Would the crowds gather today? Would we believe his words like they did?

We might be fascinated with his character, like we are so fascinated by the characters on those reality television shows. And human nature doesn’t change. Perhaps we would rush out into the desert to hear him preach. Perhaps we might even get caught up in the excitement of the experience and step into the river to be baptized. But in the end, would we believe? Would we understand? Would we really see the Christ toward which John was pointing? It is easy to say “Yes,” but we don’t know. If we were in the same position, we would not have the benefit of the Holy Spirit as we do now. They didn’t, and I imagine many of those who listened to John ignored the Christ for whom he was sent to prepare the way.

I’ve often wondered who witnessed the baptism of Jesus. Did those who were gathered see what Jesus saw? Did they hear the voice? The stories do not make it clear if it was solely a personal experience or if others were able to witness the same things as Jesus. In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist testifies to seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. He knew because God told him that would be how he would recognize the Messiah. Who believed? Some must have because Jesus did gain a following. Those who truly had faith, though, were few. Many people fell away when Jesus began preaching the hard lessons. John’s message is so much easier. It is easier to be repentant than to accept the grace God gives. But in faith we know that we can’t fix our sinfulness. We can’t defeat death on our own. We can’t even overcome sin by our own power because sin has overpowered us. The power comes from the Son who was baptized that day in the wilderness.


January 8, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 18, 2009: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] And the child Samuel ministered unto Jehovah before Eli. And the word of Jehovah was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of Jehovah, where the ark of God was; that Jehovah called Samuel; and he said, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And Jehovah called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know Jehovah, neither was the word of Jehovah yet revealed unto him. And Jehovah called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And Eli perceived that Jehovah had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Jehovah; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And Jehovah came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel said, Speak; for thy servant heareth. [And Jehovah said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even unto the end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons did bring a curse upon themselves, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever. And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of Jehovah. And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he said, Here am I. And he said, What is the thing that Jehovah hath spoken unto thee? I pray thee, hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide anything from me of all the things that he spake unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is Jehovah: let him do what seemeth him good. And Samuel grew, and Jehovah was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah.]

A million dollars is a lot of money, and yet a million dollars is not so much that it would last forever. Many lottery winners learn that lesson quickly. For those who work so hard for ever dollar, a win is like a dream come true. It is like a gift. And they receive it with the attitude that their life will be changed so dramatically that they can change their lifestyle. They quit their jobs; they buy bigger and better homes and cars. They purchase everything they have ever wanted without fear of what might happen tomorrow. Many become extremely generous, not necessarily with charity but with their friends. They share their newfound wealth in frivolous gifts and extravagant parties designed to buy everyone’s love. Then, suddenly, often within eighteen months of winning the prize, they realize it is all gone.

How is it possible to spend a million dollars in such a short period of time? After all, it would take a person with an average salary twenty years to earn, and spend, that much. But, we don’t purchase the types of things that a lottery winner thinks are acceptable. We don’t throw parties that might cost a whole year’s salary.

Earned money seems to have so much more value. We take care not to waste our pennies, knowing that tomorrow we might face a difficult financial situation. But we see money from a lottery win or a gift as free money, meant to be enjoyed. Sadly that free money is not as life changing as we think it might be. Often, the affects are negative rather than positive. Too many lottery winners spend before they realize how much they really have, forgetting that they will be required to give a percentage to the government in taxes. They often quit their jobs in a way that severs any relationship to the people and places that have supported them in the past, leaving nowhere to go when times get tough. They are more vulnerable to salesmen, and conmen, spending beyond their means with the expectation that they’ll get lucky again. They often find themselves at the end of the free money with dire circumstances and unexpected debts. They think they are above it all, protected somehow by this wealth. They even consider themselves better than the people that really matter, and destroy those relationships with foolish and selfish behaviors.

It wasn’t free money, but Eli’s sons were given their positions in the Temple by inheritance. They didn’t work hard to have the power or authority of priests of God. They took advantage of their positions, using them for their own gain. They did nothing for God’s people; they did not serve the Lord. They were given all they had and they did not value it. Samuel, on the other hand, did not inherit his place at the Temple. He was given to Eli as a servant for the Lord by his mother Hannah, who vowed to God that if He gave her a child, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service. Samuel was very young, far from his family, alone except for his mentor Eli who was aging, blind and incompetent. He couldn’t even raise his sons to do well at the work they inherited.

We talk so much about inheriting the kingdom of God when we are baptized into Christ Jesus, but it is important to remember that there is more to that gift than just receiving the grace. We are also called to be partners with God in the work of the Kingdom in this world. When we remember that we are more than children, blessed by our position within God’s world, we listen for His word, act upon it and are blessed even more so by the glory He receives. He then lets none of our words fall to the ground, like Samuel, and uses them to grow His kingdom and change the lives we touch with the ministry to which we have been called.


January 9, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 18, 2009: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it… For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee.

I have an account on facebook. Facebook is one of those friendship/networking sites, where people connect through interests, geography and shared experiences. It began as a way for college students to stay in touch with classmates and teachers, but it has expanded to include millions of users. You can write messages on your friends’ walls, send them virtual gifts and ‘poke’ them. One of my favorite activities is sending ‘flair,’ which looks like the buttons you might pin to a coat or backpack. The flair has witty sayings or funny pictures. Some of it includes serious messages. People make flair as a tribute to their favorite book or movie.

One of the popular subjects for flair is friendship, which makes sense since facebook is all about friends. There’s flair with “BFF” (Best friends forever) and “Thanks for being my friend.” A lot of the flair says things like, “Friends bail you out of jail, but best friends sit next to you saying, ‘that was awesome.’” Or, “Friends ask you why you are crying, but best friends already have a shovel to bury the guy that made you cry.” One of my favorites is, “Best friends know all about you, but love you anyway.”

When I read the beginning of this psalm, I can’t help but think about the Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The words are as follows, “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you way, Santa Claus is coming to town.” It goes on, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” This idea of someone being able to see and know the intimate details of our lives is somewhat frightening to many people, especially when that person is an elderly gentleman in a fur suit. Perhaps that is a little flippant, but I’m sure that the idea of an omnipotent God disturbs some folk. I think for most people, the idea of having a best friend who knows us totally is hard enough to accept. I guess that’s because we think of omniscience in terms of Santa Claus. If we’ve done something bad, he won’t bring us our gifts.

But God is like a best friend. He knows all about us and loves us anyway. This is very comforting to me. I went back to former devotions on this text and realized I used it twice during the two months I was dealing with my ailing father. In the midst of the trauma and decisions, I must have found a great deal of comfort in these words to be drawn to it twice in such a short period of time. But it is good to know that when everything else is falling apart, God is with us. He is there to care for us. He has a plan for us. His grace will win out even when it seems like nothing will ever be right in our world again, because He is faithful and He is present. As we consider the depth of this promise, that He knows us and loves us anyway, be can go forth in faith to do whatever it is to which He called us to do, knowing we are never alone.


January 12, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 18, 2009: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall bring to nought both it and them. But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body: and God both raised the Lord, and will raise up as through his power. Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body? for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

Iris (name has been changed out of respect for her memory) was my friend from when we were just little kids. Our parents were friends and we lived fairly close together out in the country. Even after my family moved to the city, we continued to enjoy that friendship. Iris was invited to all my birthday parties and we spent several weeks during each summer at each other’s houses. We loved to camp out in the woods behind her house when we were old enough to be ‘on our own.’ We even roughed it, using a hole in the ground instead of the cozy indoor plumbing in her house.

We became friends with different people in high school and we had much different interests. For awhile we attended Girl Scout meetings together, I even rode home on the bus after school with her and her mother would take us. She stopped going, but because I enjoyed that troop so much, we made arrangements that I would still go home with her and her mom would make sure I got to the church where the meetings were held. My mom would come get me from the meetings when they were over.

One day, my friend brought another friend home with her. There had already been some evidence that Iris had chosen a group of friends who were involved in drugs, but that day I saw it for myself. Iris and her friend smoked a joint in her basement. I left them alone and went to find a quiet place to read a book. That day I decided that we no longer had anything in common. I stopped going to Girl Scouts and we lost touch.

Unfortunately, my friend died at a very young age. Her death was unexplained; the reports denied it was drug related. Whatever the cause, her life had been wasted. She had a learning disability that was not diagnosed as it might have been today and she used it as an excuse to never accomplish anything. She accepted her failures as a fact of life and found comfort in the company of others who didn’t care about the future. She was drawn into the world of people who willingly threw their lives away following a path of abuse and addiction. That became her home and her life.

Paul talks about the use, and abuse, of the body in today’s lesson. He is addressing the issue of the Corinthian attitude about the Law. They thought that nothing they did in the flesh had any bearing on their spiritual life. Paul agrees that all things are lawful, that the rules of the past are no longer binding to the person who has been saved by God’s grace. But, he goes on to say that all things are not beneficial. It was fine for a Christian to eat meat that has been given as an offering to a foreign god because it had no meaning to the spirit of the believer. However, is everything beneficial? No. Some things are harmful to the body, to the soul and to the fellowship of believers.

In this case, Paul discusses fornication with the prostitutes of the foreign gods. Will a believer lose his eternal soul if he fornicates with those priestesses? God’s grace is always bigger than our failures. He has overcome our sin and has defeated death despite our inability to stand firm in His promises. However, sin is very powerful. Drugs at first offer a moment of bliss apart from a world of pain and suffering, but they eventually take over, harming the flesh and life of the addict.

We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Though we might enjoy the things that tempt us, let us always remember that our life is a gift from God and our body is His temple. Sin often seems harmless at first, who is harmed by one joint in the basement? But it would do us well to ask is the same as Paul. Is it beneficial? We are called to make a commitment to the body of Christ, and if our actions are not beneficial, then we should answer like Paul. “It might be lawful, but I will not be brought under the power. This is for the sake not only of the one person’s flesh, but the entire body of Christ. So, it does us well to keep away from those things that might bring harm to ourselves or others.


January 13, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 18, 2009: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51 On the morrow he was minded to go forth into Galilee, and he findeth Philip: and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

It is hard to believe, but we have lived in Texas five years already. It has been a great place to live and we have definitely enjoyed our time here. It’s been great for the kids, and Bruce is happily working at a terrific company. I’ve had some great opportunities to work at jobs that were satisfying and that made a difference in the world. It is also nice living near family, since my sister lives here in Texas, too.

She lived in Austin when we first moved to San Antonio and we were excited about finally being near enough to enjoy one another’s company. We planned on meeting for lunch regularly, to get together for holidays and take part in important family moments. About three months after we moved in, my sister called to make lunch plans. When we met, I knew she had some sort of news. “Don’t tell me. You are moving away.” I was kidding, but she was serious. Her husband found a job in California and she was leaving in a few months. This was terrific news! Her husband was not happy in his current job and this new position was just what he needed. But it was also sad news because it meant that we would have to cancel all our plans. I didn’t want to believe her, but I knew it must be true.

I know it was tough for her to give me that piece of news that day because she was as excited about living near family as we were. But it was news she had to share. And it was news that we had to celebrate with her. Of course, the day she called to tell us that they were moving back to Texas was even better. That day it wasn’t hard to share the news. I don’t know if I was the first person she told, her children and friends also needed to know. She may have even shared the news with people she met along the way, because some news is just too good to keep to oneself.

With whom do you share your news? I’m always glad when Victoria calls me with something exciting that has happened. I used to love calling my mom, too, when there was happy news. She was one of the first people I thought of when I had something to share. Throughout the years I’ve had friends who have been my confidents. I tell Bruce everything, and my kids. I’ll share news with friends at church or parents of fellow students at my kids’ schools. Some things are just too good to keep to yourself.

Philip was excited about what was happening in his town. John the Baptist was preaching a good word about God and baptizing people in the Jordan. He told his followers that someone greater was going to come along. They were expecting a Messiah because Moses and the prophets had written about him. So, when Philip met Jesus, he knew this was something that he should not keep to himself. He found Nathaniel and told him about Jesus. Nathaniel didn’t believe Philip right away because the news did not match his expectations. “What good can come out of Nazareth?” he asked.

Nazareth in Jesus day was a dirty small town with average folk and even a few shady characters. It wasn’t the type of place you would expect to bring forth someone as important as the Messiah. Though Nazareth was not the kind of place that would see the birth of kings, Nathaniel was not necessarily putting it down. But there were certain expectations. How could the Messiah possibly live in a place like Nazareth? There is no power, no prestige, no position available in that town. How can this man overcome his lack of credentials to become the promised leader of God’s people?

Philip didn’t argue, he just said, “Come and see” and in doing so gave Nathaniel the chance to believe that his news was true. Jesus showed Nathaniel His credentials, His power and authority. But the thing that made Nathaniel believe was just the beginning. Jesus promised that they would see incredible things. This news of the coming Messiah was the start of something really new in the world.


January 14, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 18, 2009: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Or Confession of St. Peter: Acts 4:8-13; Psalm 18:1-6, 16-19; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5; Matthew 16:13-19

Matthew 16:13-19 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Rituals for transitional moments are a big thing in the military community. Retirements, moves and promotions are often accompanied by parties with gift-giving and speeches. The gifts are often plaques or statues representative of the job that was accomplished or the mission of the unit to which the member belonged. We have framed pictures of planes and helicopters, with coins or other insignia, all over the walls of our home. Bruce has a few of the more meaningful gifts on display in his office at work. These things bring back fond memories of people, places and accomplishments from his life.

There was a guy in Little Rock who was an outstanding artist, talented in caricatures. He was often contracted to make pictures of the guys to use as gifts for those transitional moments. These gifts were so much more personal because the artist used very real aspects of the person’s life, both personal and professional. Bruce received one of these pictures when he was promoted and it is hysterical. He had an “X” on the floor of his office where airmen who were called to his office for reprimand were told to stand. It was a fearful spot among the airmen because they knew what they were in for if they were asked to stand there, so the artist included it on the picture with the words, “You don’t want to stand here.” There were plaques on the wall with places he had been and things he had accomplished, a toolbox since he was a mechanic by trade and a few things from his personal life.

Bruce decided to have one of these pictures created as a gift for me for Mother’s Day. He gave the guy a picture of me, which he recreated beautifully in the midst of the chaos that was my life. There was, of course, a computer on my desk with my website represented. I have a bible in one hand and a soda in the other. A sheet of paper with “School Volunteer” is on the desk along with chocolate, books and reminders of my job history. In a very prominent place, the artist included a big circle with the word “sports” with a great big red “X” through it. I’m wearing a button that says “housewife” and I’m saying my favorite phrase, “You know…” The artist did not know me, so these things were the aspects of my life that Bruce told him to use. It is interesting to see the aspects of my life that are important to the people who love me.

I’ve wondered what I would have asked the artist to draw if I had contracted the picture. There probably wouldn’t be that different. I might have included a bookshelf, some cats, fresh flowers. But Bruce caught the things that definitely meant something to me, especially at that moment in time. What would they include about you if they were to make a caricature of your life? Are there things you love that should appear on the desk? Do you have favorite foods or activities that should be represented? Do those you love know about those things, or have you kept some of your deepest loves and desires hidden away from the world? How might the picture change through different phases of your life?

Icons are pictorial representations of important people and moments in Christian history which use conventional images to depict the people and their faith. The icons are typically printed on wood and are used by some Christians for devotions. They are not objects of worship, but are objects used to help focus the faithful in their prayer and devotional life. Certain symbols are often used for specific people. Pictures of Jesus often include a sheep, reminding us that Jesus is the Lamb of God. St. Peter usually is carrying a key, reminding us that Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom.

Sunday, January 18th is the day we remember the Confession of St. Peter. Pictures representing this important moment in time have Peter holding a scroll with the words, “Thou art the Christ.” Jesus commends Peter for making such a bold confession, especially after sharing how the rest of the world sees Him. Jesus answers, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Centuries of argument revolve around the meaning of this statement. Who, or what, is the rock? Is it Peter? Or is it the confession he made. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” We are reminded in the icon that although Peter was the one to make the confession is focused on the words of the scroll. The foundation of God’s church is something much firmer than an imperfect human being. Peter, just minutes later, rebuked Jesus for doing what He had to do. But the Word God gave to Peter that day in Jesus is the fullness of the humanity He came to save as well as the fullness of the God who would accomplish the task.


January 15, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 25, 2009: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 And the word of Jehovah came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of Jehovah. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them… And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them; and he did it not.

There are several different “nanny” shows on the television. These shows show a family in desperate need of help in caring and controlling their children. Most of the kids in these shows are violent, nasty, rude and extremely willful. They want what they want and they want it immediately. The most common problem with these parents is that even though they tell the children “No” they don’t stand firm in the answer. They give up easily because they don’t want to fight with the kids. It is easier to let them have their way than to be the disciplinarian.

The reasons for lack of discipline are many. Some parents just don’t know how to do it. Others are so busy with their own lives and jobs that they do not have the time to develop a good pattern of parenting. These parents do not listen to their children and are completely blind to their needs. Some just want to be their kids’ friends, and they know that friends would support everything they want and ‘need.’ These parents simply do not understand why the children don’t reciprocate when the parents need cooperation.

So, the nannies come into the home and teach the parents different techniques that will help them overcome their problems. The nannies are very honest in their assessment. If the parents are wimps, they say so. If they are lazy, they tell them. The parents are so often offended by the evaluation and they complain about the work that needs to be done, but eventually they see the difference in their children when they use the nanny’s suggestions and they work hard at better parenting.

The most important advice these nannies give to the parents is about consistency. It does no good to threaten a child over and over and over again if the child will never experience the consequences of their disobedience. The parents learn how to give a warning and then follow up on it. In this way, the children realize that the parents mean what they say and say what they mean. The children learn how to act appropriately when the parents are consistent.

Now, I have to admit that I like to watch those nanny shows because it helps me appreciate my kids. They are not perfect in any sense of the word. They have misbehaved. They have been disobedient. They have been rude and self-centered and demanding at times. They have even uttered the dreaded “I hate you” on a rare occasion. But my kids are great and I am very proud of them. Despite those moments when they drive me crazy, they have been an incredible blessing in my life.

Some people remind me that my kids are great because Bruce and I have been great parents. Perhaps that’s true, but we have been far from perfect parents. No one is perfect, except Jesus. We are, as Martin Luther like to say, “simul justus et peccator,” which means, “We are at the same time saint and sinner.” We make mistakes, even mistakes about the discipline we have given to our children. Sometimes, in the heat of battle, we have made threats that are too harsh for the offense. Knowing the importance of consistency we often stood firm on our warning.

However, there is a lesson we can learn from God in today’s lesson. Sometimes it is right to repent. God had disobedient children who needed to experience the consequences of their actions. In this case, it was the destruction of their wicked city. God is consistent, but He’s also merciful. There is a place for a loving parent to change their mind. Sometimes the punishment is too big for the crime, and in God’s grace, complete destruction was too big. So, He sent Jonah to warn them. They repented, changed their ways, and mourned their failure to be all they could be.

God changed His mind and spared Ninevah. I think in this world where consistency is so important, many are bothered by the idea that the omniscient God who knows everything from the past into the future could, and would, change His mind. Was He wrong when He threatened destruction? No, He wasn’t wrong, He had hope that they would change. We, as parents and as His children, can learn from this that it is OK sometimes to change our mind. We can be merciful, and should be merciful because we know that we often fail. If God, who is perfect, can change His mind, we can be like Him and change ours, too.


January 16, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 25, 2009: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Psalm 62:5-12 My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: In the balances they will go up; They are together lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, And become not vain in robbery: If riches increase, set not your heart thereon. God hath spoken once, Twice have I heard this, That power belongeth unto God. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth lovingkindness; For thou renderest to every man according to his work.

We’d been stationed in California for six years, a long time for a military member to be in one place. Until that assignment, Bruce had not been anywhere more than a couple years. The base was a stopping point for many because the work done there was not done very many other places. It was also a good place to live, so many people did everything they could to plant roots and stay put. We even thought there was a possibility we would stay there until retirement.

However, the best laid plans often go astray and we began hearing rumors of changes to the mission of the base. The airplanes with which Bruce was assigned were going to be moved elsewhere and there’d be no job for him there. Instead of waiting to be sent to another place, we decided to work on getting an assignment that he would enjoy in a place that we would like to live. It was a hectic and scary time of uncertainty.

We owned a house in California that we would have to sell. With so many changes expected at the base, we knew that the market would become saturated with houses for sale. We wanted to guarantee a good price, but we also wanted to ensure the sale. We wanted to put the house on the market, but did not want to do so until we were absolutely certain we’d have to leave. There were so many questions and concerns that I almost became sick with worry. I was trying to take our future in my hands and make it happen my way, and whenever I tried it seemed to make things worse.

One day I realized that I couldn’t do it myself. I stopped and said, “God, I can’t do this anymore. You are going to have to take control.” For someone who has never experienced this type of revelatory moment, it is almost hard to believe that it could be as simple as giving up. But from that moment, everything seemed to fall into place. We got word that we would be moving to Washington, our place of choice. We found a realtor who sold the house almost immediately. We were able to get our household goods organized and ready for packing. We found a place to live in Spokane, found a preschool for Victoria, and managed to move in without any problems.

“Let go and let God” seems almost cliché at this point, but it is the best word I can give to those who are in the midst of a time of uncertainty and transition. Trust in Him. He is there, taking care of everything. We make it harder for Him to accomplish His good purpose for our lives when we try so desperately to stay in control.

The psalmist writes, “Trust in him at all times.” The psalmist, probably David who was having troubles of his own, knew that the best way to deal with trouble was to trust in God. David had so many enemies. His enemies wanted him dead or at least off the throne. His life and his honor were at stake. However, he knew that he could not defeat his enemies on his own. He had to wait on God, for God’s plan is always right and good.

I love the way God is described in this passage. He is a rock and a high tower. Not only is God the foundation on which our life is built, but He is also the refuge to which we can flee to be safe. He is our strength and our hiding place. In Him we can find rest and restoration. We need not carry our burdens because He will carry them for us. Trust in Him, for He will take care of those who rely on Him alone.


January 19, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 25, 2009: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none; and those that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and those that buy, as though they possessed not; and those that use the world, as not using it to the full: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

Kate Hudson (Liv) and Anne Hathaway (Emma) play best friends in the movie “Bride Wars.” They met as young girls when their mothers took them for brunch at the Plaza Hotel in New York. There was a wedding that day, and the girls became entranced by the beauty and magic of the grand party in that special place. They played wedding together, always pretending that they were at the Plaza. As they grew, the dream grew with them and they promised to be a part of each other’s weddings at the Plaza.

As it happened, they both became engaged at the same time and were anxious to plan their wedding quickly. The problem is that the Plaza is often booked years in a advance. They went to the best wedding planner in the city, Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen.) She is able to make the impossible happen, and did so for Liv and Emma. There were three openings at the Plaza for the upcoming June, two on the 6th one on the 27th. That made the decision easy; one friend would choose one day and the other friend the other. Unfortunately, the next bride in Mrs. St. Claire’s office also wanted a June wedding. Somehow the dates were messed up. Liv and Emma ended up with the same date. The battle ensued and the two friends became obsessed with destroying each other’s weddings.

In the first meeting with Marion St. Claire, Liv and Emma heard the outlook of their wedding planner. She thought that the wedding day was not simply the beginning of a new life. She thought unmarried people were ‘dead’ until they found the one person with whom they belonged. “Your wedding day is the day you come alive.” In the end, Mrs. St. Claire realizes that perhaps it is possible for people to have those long lasting relationships that can survive anything outside of marriage. She sees it happen between Liv and Emma, both of whom eventually marry the right man and live happily ever after.

Today’s passage is written in the context of marriage. Paul believes that it is best for Christians to stay single because there are far fewer distractions than those who have chosen the married life. However, Paul does not believe that everyone can or should choose to remain single. Marriage, and the sexual activity that comes with marriage, is a gift from God and is a blessing to those who choose that lifestyle.

This passage is simply a warning to those who have allowed marriage, and the wedding ceremony, to become the most important thing in their life. Like those women in the movie, too many people become obsessed with the idea of marriage and a wedding, to the point that all else pails in comparison. As a matter of fact, for Emma, the wedding became even more important than the marriage and she lost sight of everything important. Paul is calling all Christians to remember that time, and life, as we know it is passing and the day will come when everything we think is important will be gone. We are, in the midst of the life we live in this world, are to look forward to the life we will live in the presence of God. We’ll approach everything, including our worries, from an entirely different perspective when we stop putting the earthly things ahead of the things of God.


January 20, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 25, 2009: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Mark 1:14-20 Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel. And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.

The kitties have lots of toys with which they like to play. Some of their favorites include furry little mice and plastic balls with jingle bells inside. They bat these things around the house until they disappear under a piece of furniture and they stay there until we find them some other day. They also have this cube that has holes in the sides through which they can run and in which they often lay down to take a nap. I’ve also seen the two of them wrestling inside, which is interesting because it isn’t quite big enough for them both. One of their favorite toys, especially Tigger, is this furry thing on a string that is connected to a stick. We hold on to the stick and move it around so that the furry thing flies every which way. The kitties chase after it, often catching the furry thing and playing with it as if it is a small animal they’ve caught for dinner. We wrestle it out of their clutches and begin the process all over again.

The best time is had when we combine the cube with the string on a stick. We drop the furry thing through one of the holes and the kitties chase after it, as if it fishing hole and the kitties are the fish. It is funny to see them jump through the holes and grab it, dropping into a roll while holding on to their prize. The cube often rolls over with them, taking it across the room and ripping the stick right out of our hands.

Despite the fact that the kitties have a lot of toys, their favorite seems to be those toys on a stick. Perhaps that is because it is the one toy with which we can be actively involved in their play. They like the interaction with us as well as the fun they have playing with their toys. We continued to buy them replacements as they have been broken or worn out from wear. We’ve bought many other types of toys for them over the years, some have been good and some have gone untouched. But the furry thing on the stick is the one toy that really makes them happy.

It takes the right bait to catch a fish, just like it takes the right toy to make the kitties happy. Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, and told them that they would be fishers of men. What does that mean? What ‘bait’ will they be using? Jesus ‘caught’ Andrew and Simon (Peter), then went on to ‘catch’ James and John. They were fishermen, the language of Jesus’ call to them made sense. They knew how to fish, but this was a totally knew thing they were going to do. It took Jesus time and many lessons to teach them how to do the work He was calling them to do. We, too, have to learn what it means to be fisher of men, especially in our world today. Do we cast out nets and hope to collect a bunch of ‘fish’ or do we throw out a line with special bate hoping to catch just one at a time. What do we do with the fish when they are caught? These are the kinds of questions we have to ask ourselves as we go forth in faith in our calling.


January 21, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, January 25, 2009: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Or Conversion of Paul: Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 67; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 21:10-19

Acts 9:1-22 But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight. But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus. And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God. And all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of them that called on this name? and he had come hither for this intent, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests. But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ.

I watched one of those nanny shows yesterday. The family was not in the usual chaos that is found on those shows, but the oldest son was beginning to become uncontrollable. When the nanny entered the house, she saw immediately that the boy was just picking up the habits and practices of his father, treating his mother exactly as he saw it done by his father. The father considered his wife a servant, calling for her to get him everything he wanted, eating dinner on the couch while the rest of the family sat at the table, physically playing with her rougher than appropriate, insisting he does work around the house but falling short on his duties while she picks up the pieces.

Throughout the show, the man kept saying, “We didn’t bring her in to change me, we brought her in to change the kids.” He could not understand how it was necessary for him treat her any different. “I’m allowed to say those things, he’s not.” And yet even with that attitude he never stepped in to help his wife or corrected his son’s conduct. He did not realize that it would never change if the children saw it as acceptable behavior on his part. The nanny told him that as the boy grew and became stronger, his actions would become dangerous. It was already hard for the wife to keep him in control. He hit her, knocked her to the ground as if she were a football player, and pinned her to the floor during one scene. He was also verbally abusive, treating his mother just like his dad treated her. He was learning that it is ok to be assault a woman physically and verbally. If nothing changed, he would be a violent and abusive man as an adult.

In the end the husband and father realized that he did have to change. He saw that his attitudes and actions were making life impossible for the woman he claimed to love and he began talking to his son about appropriate behavior. He also began modeling a better way. He helped around the house, got his own drinks, and began eating with the rest of the family. The nanny did not make teach the family as many techniques as we usually see on those shows. Instead she worked on the father’s aggression and the mother’s self-confidence, making them a stronger partnership for raising the children. It involved a change in perspective, seeing the world from a new point of view.

The scriptures for this week teach us that faith means changing our point of view. It means seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Jesus turned our world upside down, calling us to live within this great and wonderful world while being different. Faith means that we are called to take God into our neighborhoods, to share a word of hope that comes from the reality of God’s grace. It means trusting in God, leaving our burdens at His feet and letting Him bring about the change that will truly make a difference. It means looking at those parts of our life that matter to us, like our marriages, from a new point of view, remember that God is not only a part of our individual lives, but that He’s in the midst of our relationships, making them new as well. Faith means being called to do a whole new thing in the world.

Sunday is also the day we remember the Conversion of St. Paul. In this story we certainly see the world turning upside down for the man who was named Saul. He learned that the work he was doing against Jesus was not the work God wanted him to do. He learned that Jesus is real and that He has something even greater planned for Paul. We know that Paul accepted his calling and changed the world. But we also see another man in this story, Ananias. His change was not so dramatic and his impact seems much less than Paul’s. However, Ananias had to face his fear, approach a man who could order his death and be a vessel for the miraculous healing of God.

Without Ananias, Paul may have never set out on his journeys, may have never preached the Gospel in all those cities. The message of Christ may have never gone beyond the Jewish people. We might not be who we are today if Ananias had not trusted in God. When you think that it won’t make a difference whether or not you see the world from that new point of view, remember the difference Ananias made by going forth in faith and doing what God called him to do.


January 22, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of Jehovah thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of Jehovah my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And Jehovah said unto me, They have well said that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, that shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

We have a new president in the Oval Office and I’m sure the list of people desiring a meeting is growing by the day. The list will include businessmen and politicians with ideas about how to solve the nation’s problems. Reporters will want their turn to get President Obama’s point of view and writers who would like to be the person to tell his story. Artists will want to create portraits and photographers will want an inside track to his life and work. Foreign leaders are already making travel plans to be among the first to invite President Obama on to the world stage through their nation. Though I’m sure much of the business of the White House will be taken care of through Mrs. Obama and the staff, there will be those who want to meet with the president for his opinion. Military leaders, people from Education, mayors and governors from all over the country are included in the list of people who want to have a moment of his time.

That list also includes religious leaders. There are those who want to offer spiritual guidance for President Obama. Others simply want to share a prophetic word about the future and the things that need to be done today. The leaders will include those from the Christian churches of our nation and world, but also leaders from every other religion. All have a right to share their point of view with the president and hope that he will take their word as true. This is where it gets difficult for a man in his position. When two leaders come in with opposing points of view, which is right? Which advice does he accept; which advice does he reject? How does he know which word is really the word of God?

When two equally authoritative and trustworthy leaders speak prophetic words, the only way to know for sure which is from God is found a few verses after today’s lesson. “when a prophet speaketh in the name of Jehovah, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which Jehovah hath not spoken: the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him.” While this is helpful to know which words were from God, it doesn’t help us make the decisions we need to make.

We don’t have to be dealing with such lofty work when dealing with prophetic words. Jesus was the prophet about which was written in Deuteronomy, and He dealt with the simplest and most personal issues. He spoke about pennies, not trillions of dollars. He talked about loaves of bread rather than world wide famines. He dealt with people’s hearts and not the national policies of Rome.

Then He called us to continue speaking His prophetic word into the world. This is frightening, given the consequence of speaking presumptuously about God’s will. Perhaps this is why most people would rather keep their faith as a personal experience and stay out of the public, or even the religious, forum with their point of view. They are afraid to talk for fear that they are not really hearing God’s voice, especially when that word is different or even contradicts the words given by people in positions of leadership, authority and power.

Yet, we are called to speak God’s Word into the world, the word of hope and peace that comes only from God. Sometimes the things about which we argue, about which we differ, do not really matter. We fight for all the wrong things, often for very good reasons. Justice matters, but what happens when “justice” is defined differently by those of faith who differ? We are called to speak prophetically, but we must ensure that when we speak we make it clear whose voice we are using. All too often we insert our voice, presumptuously, into God’s mouth. I hope that all those seeking to meet with the new president will remember this, and duly respect those who have another point of view. That point of view might just be the one God has given to be spoken. In the end, the terrible burden is on President Obama to decide what is right and true. It is a burden I am glad not to have to carry.

Since the questions are so great, it is up to us to remain in prayer at all times so that when God calls us to speak, we’ll be so familiar with His voice that we will know. And, we can in trust that God’s Word will not fall void, that He is now as ever amongst His people working for peace and hope according to His good and perfect purpose.


January 23, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Psalm 111 Praise ye Jehovah. I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart, in the council of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of Jehovah are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honor and majesty; and his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: Jehovah is gracious and merciful. He hath given food unto them that fear him: He will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath showed his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his precepts are sure. They are established for ever and ever; they are done in truth and uprightness. He hath sent redemption unto his people; He hath commanded his covenant for ever: Holy and reverend is his name. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: His praise endureth for ever.

I love to take pictures of flowers. It is the subject I tend to use to finish off a roll of film. A walk through a garden might mean a dozen photos, and I’m always looking at flowers in my own garden for ‘that perfect picture.’ There’s something about the symmetry of the petals and the brilliant colors that always catches my eye and my lens. And the flowers don’t always have to be growing in a garden. I usually take pictures of cut flowers I bring home. I must have dozens of photographs of cultivated long stem roses, just because they are so beautiful.

I think it is easiest to praise God when we are in the midst of His creation, perhaps because it is so beautiful. The most breathtaking, and inspiring, moments of my life have often been in extraordinary places. There’s nothing like standing on top of a mountain, seeing the snow-covered range go on and on seemingly forever. At night, the sky above those mountains are filled with so many stars that they would be impossible to count. A beach at sunrise, with nothing obstructing the view of the rising sun, is amazing. Standing at the foot of a giant redwood is beyond imagination. A field full of bluebonnets, a rainbow sweeping over a plain, and a perfectly still mountain lake can raise in us a sense of wonder and praise like little else.

We are also awed by the power that God has given to the creation. The roar of a lion, the thunder and lightening of a storm, the constancy of the waves crashing against the shore reminds us that we are just a small part of God’s great big world. They are not always pleasant. It is fearful to be in the path of a tornado or a hurricane. The tiniest mosquito can spread life-taking disease. Yet, even these parts of creation have a purpose and are given by God to do His will. A raging wildfire that is out of control is frightening, yet a necessary part of the natural process of forest growth and renewal. We don’t always understand these things, especially when they cause us harm, but God is still worthy of our praise.

In today’s Psalm, the writer praises God for something much different than the tangible blessings of creation. It is difficult to see God’s work as it relates to God’s people. Yes, we have the stories of the Exodus, but we were not there to cross the Red Sea with Moses and the rest of Israel. We can read about the miracles of Jesus and believe in His healing power, but we have not experienced His physical touch. The psalmist knew God’s mighty works among His people, and yet those works were little more than a memory, handed down by generation after generation. Yet, these are still worth our songs of praise. God did these things, and in them we see His power, faithfulness and grace.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is a hard saying for most of us. Fear in our world is a bad thing. We fear terrorism. We fear disease. We fear losing everything we owe. We fear those things that can bring us harm. We don’t want to fear God; He has been so good to us. His faithfulness and mercy is beyond comparison. Yet, He is fearsome. This is not to mean that we should be afraid of Him. Instead, we are to be in awe of Him. “Holy and reverend is his name. “ Holy and awesome is His name. If His name is awesome, how much moreso is He?

And so, we are called to praise Him, not only for the beauty of His creation or for the goodness of His dealings with His people. We are called to praise Him because we fear Him. We know of His power. We also know of His mercy and grace. He is faithful. Wisdom is seen in the lives of those who live according to His good and perfect Word; not in the things we can see but in the things that are.


January 26, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know; but if any man loveth God, the same is known by him. Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him. Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge: but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak. For if a man see thee who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble.

Jack, on the show “Will and Grace,” loves the singer Cher. As a matter of fact, he believes himself to be an excellent impersonator because he knows so much about her. One day, Jack was in a coffee shop with his friends and a person came in who looked amazingly like Cher. Well, it was Cher, but Jack thought it must be an impersonator. He complimented the person, agreeing that the costume was terrific, but also claiming that there were problems with the image. In an attempt to convince Jack that she really was herself, she sang a few lines of one of her songs. He laughed and told her that she was doing it all wrong. Then he showed her the right way to sing her own music. He was so convinced that she was a fake that he missed the truth.

Cher is very popular among impressionists, both male and female. Perhaps it is her iconic uniqueness. I think male impersonators like her because though she is very feminine, she has some masculine traits, making it easier for them to recreate. She wears outrageous costumes and has numerous mannerisms that are easy and fun to act out. She also has an exciting voice and a wealth of music that can be used. There are many impersonators who are able to do an excellent job impersonating Cher. However, there is only one Cher. No matter how much they look, sing or act like her, they are not Cher.

There is only one God. We know this is true and Paul makes it clear in today’s passage that the other gods in this world are nothing. But Paul also reminds us that there are things—idols—that are like gods in the eyes of many people. They are nothing, not real, but they do hold the place of God in the lives of those who believe. All those things, or people, in which we put our trust and faith, are gods to us, even though they are not God and are really nothing when compared to God. They are impersonators, given the power and authority of a god even though they are nothing and have no power or authority.

Paul writes, “We know that we all have knowledge.” Lots of people know about God. They have read the scriptures and have prayed. Many people go to church and hear God’s word read and preached. They sing the hymns and do the work of the Church. They serve in the community and live a moral and faithful life. Yet, knowledge is not the center of a relationship with God. Love is. And in this we all fail. We lose sight of God because we are easily distracted by the imposters. Like Jack, we do not recognize the real thing because we are caught up in our own knowledge of what we believe God should be.


January 27, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Mark 1:21-28 And they go into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching: For he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes. And straightway there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus thou Nazarene? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? a new teaching! with authority he commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. And the report of him went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about.

We lived in England for four years and we attended a local village church for two of them. We became very active in the work of that church and the neighboring churches. Bruce sang with the choir. I joined a prayer ministry and worked with a committee that planned millennium events. Even the children, though they were young, we able to get involved by serving as acolytes and helping in other ways during church and community gatherings. We attended Bible study and potlucks, suffered through freezing temperatures in an unheated building and became close friends with the people in and around that village. It was a wonderful experience.

Though it was not unusual for military members to occasionally visit the church for worship, few became as active as our family. This made it especially difficult when it was time for us to leave. The rest of the members of that church had been around for a very long time, sometimes generations. So they planned a farewell party to celebrate our life together and wish us well in our new station. It was a sad by lovely party, with lots of food and fellowship. They also had a special worship service for us, during which they prayed for our safety and good fortunes in our new life. The vicar asked me to give the message that day, a sort of testimony about our time in England and how God had touched us while we were there.

I had no problem answering this request because I knew it would be wonderful sharing our story with those friends who’d become so important to us. As we planned the service, however, it became apparent very quickly that Antony intended for my message to be more than a few brief words of thanks. He gave me the lectionary scriptures for the day and helped me work out some sermon ideas. I was nervous about this because it was the first time I had ever preached. I had several weeks to think about my words, put some order to the chaos and practice what I was going to say, but I was never able to manage putting those words on to paper. I was honestly a little worried when I stood in front of the congregation. Could I really do this? But I spoke from my heart and in the end it was a powerful message of gratefulness to God for His many blessings.

When it was over, several of the members commented about how they wished I had done it sooner. They felt touched by God in the words and recognized God’s grace in the message. I was embarrassed by the comments, but I also recognized that something extraordinary had happened. God spoke to our hearts that day, through a simple woman who simply wanted to say thanks. That’s what happens when people preach God’s message of Good News to the nations: He touches them with His power and His authority to bring healing and wholeness.

Jesus entered into the synagogue that day as a lowly son of a carpenter. He was not an experienced preacher and it was not expected that He would preach. He didn’t have the training and had not been studying interpretation for years like the scribes and teachers of the Law. They got their authority from the Torah, but also taught with their interpretive biases. Interpretation tends to obscure the message given by God, and that is what had happened to the people in Jesus’ day. They’d lost touch with the God who’d set them free, and had been burdened by the Law as it was understood by their leaders.

There was power in the words of Jesus, but His power did not end there. Neither did His authority. The people were amazed by both Jesus’ words and His actions. He spoke about the Kingdom of God in a way that was obvious to everyone—this guy knew what He was talking about. His authority set the people free from the things that had bound up their faith with words that were self-authenticating. He didn’t need anything outside of Himself to make His message true. He was speaking from the heart, not only His heart, but from the very heart of God.


January 28, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.

The scene is set in a cozy kitchen with three generations of women preparing a festive family meal. The grandmother and mother ask the little girl if she knows why the food is so delicious. She doesn’t, so they show her the product that gives everything that slow roasted, homemade taste. Then they tell her that it is an old family secret. “Don’t tell anyone,” they say. “I won’t Mommy,” she answers. And then she turns around and says to the first person she sees, “I have a secret.” She couldn’t stay silent. Of course, since this scene takes place in a television commercial, the people don’t really want the secret to stay hidden, although the women don’t want everyone knowing how easy it is to make such a great meal.

There are different reasons for giving away a secret. Some do so because they want to ruin the secret for the one keeping it. They want to embarrass the secret-keeper or make life more difficult. Some might reveal the secret because they just don’t realize how hard it might be on the secret-keeper. They make a mistake, not on purpose but they just can’t keep silent. Another might tell the secret because it is a message they can’t keep to themselves, because it is such good news. As for the little girl in the television commercial, I’m sure she’s not trying to ruin the secret. She probably just can’t keep this good news to herself.

Jesus came and preached with authority. His actions authenticated His words, glorifying the God from whom He received His power and His purpose. The people were amazed by His words and His actions. Yet, even with such obvious authority, there was one thing that the people just couldn’t seem to do. They could not stay silent. Sometimes the command for silence does not make sense to us. Wouldn’t Jesus want the world to know the extraordinary things He was doing? Why didn’t He want the world to know His identity? On several occasions He told the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Wouldn’t it have made it easier if they just knew?

On one occasion, in Mark 7, Jesus healed a man who could not hear or speak. When the healing was complete, Mark tells us, “And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.” Of course they told others. This was news too good to keep to themselves! We are left to wonder why this should be a secret. Why doesn’t Jesus want others to know? Of course, He knew that there would be opposition to His ministry, people who would want to put a stop to His work. If too many rumors were started, they would lose the impact. They would be little more than rumors, changed in the passing from one person to another. Truth and credibility would be lost. Yet, I understand why they could not keep this good news to themselves.

In the Gospel lesson for this week, Jesus commands the demon to be silent and get out of the man whom he was possessing. The spirit did indeed obey Jesus, but it did not do so quietly. “And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” In this case the call for silence was so that the demon would not disrupt the holiness of the moment. They were in a synagogue. The people had come to worship God. This incident might have happened with little fanfare if only the spirit had been silent. The spirit knew Jesus, better than most people would know Him while He lived and ministered. It knew Jesus was the Holy One of God. It was too early for this information. It was not time. And it came from the wrong source. Who would believe a demoniac? Jesus silenced it, but it did not go down without a fight.

Ironically, this incident is a foreshadowing of another battle Jesus would have to fight. The scribes and teachers of the law were, in essence, possessed by an understanding of God and the scriptures that was burdensome for themselves and the people to whom the ministered. Jesus came preaching something new, but it was not unfounded. The people recognized the authority by which He spoke. They saw the truth. They knew He was right. But the leaders did not want to lose their authority. They, like the unclean spirit, wondered what Jesus wanted with them. “What are you doing here?” they ask. Jesus came to set them free. But it would take God’s Word, God’s power, God’s grace to make that happen. All too often our words continue to hold us hostage, so we would do well to recognize the difference between when we should remain silent and those times when the good news is too good to be kept to ourselves.


January 29, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 8, 2009: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31 Have ye not known? have yet not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth: moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.

For Isaiah, God is the “Holy One of Israel.” This title appears twenty-six times in the book. This might have been hard to believe for some of the people to whom Isaiah ministered because they were facing such a difficult time in their history. They were defeated and exiled in a foreign land. It seemed that the nation of Israel would no longer exist. They brought on the troubles themselves, as had been warned by the prophets God sent, by not seeing God as He is, that Holy One. It is a vicious circle in which we get trapped when we forget our God. Isaiah brings the people a word of hope in the midst of their despair.

So, in chapter 40, Isaiah asks a number of questions about God. “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding?” And finally, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”

When we are comfortable, we lose sight of God and forget the unmerited blessings of His grace. Throughout the history of God’s people, there were times when she looked elsewhere for hope and peace and strength. They allied with neighbors for protection, sought encouragement from foreigners, all the while forgetting the God and King who provided them all they would ever need. They turned from Him, and in doing so lost touch with the One who could and would protect them.

So, just as the people thought there was no hope, Isaiah calls them to remember their God. He offers a word of hope that the God they have forgotten has not forgotten them. They just have to see that the things and people to whom they had turned will not be able to provide them with all that they need. Only God can measure the water or the heavens with His hand. Only God can weigh the mountains and hills. There is no one who has, or can, tell God how to be God. He did not ask for human advice in the creation of the world or learn from human teachers. There is no one like God.

So, Isaiah asks, “Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning?” Yes, they have heard and they are called to remember. God is greater than their problems. He is above all creation. He can raise up kings and bring them down again. God is their strength. He is their hope. He is their refuge. He is the everlasting God, creator of all things. In Him they will find their comfort and salvation.

We aren’t exiled, but we are facing our own problems. Have we forgotten, too? Had we become too comfortable in the things we thought would bring us comfort, losing site of the God from whom all blessings flow? Have we lifted up false gods and put them as our priorities, turning our back on the only One who can provide all that we need? Isaiah calls out to us today, just as he called out to the Israelites so long ago, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding.” He is faithful and we will find our hope in Him.


January 30, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, February 8, 2009: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely. Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem; He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds. He counteth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. Jehovah upholdeth the meek: He bringeth the wicked down to the ground. Sing unto Jehovah with thanksgiving; Sing praises upon the harp unto our God, Who covereth the heavens with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth, Who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, And to the young ravens which cry. He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, In those that hope in his lovingkindness… Praise ye Jehovah.

When I was much younger, I loved to watch the horror movies. There was something about the adrenaline rush that comes from that sense of fear experienced in the theater, even though the action was not real. After awhile, the films became more funny that truly scary. They follow a certain format. You can easily figure out the bad guy, who he is and when he’s coming. The music gives you clues to when the hacking will begin. There’s always some barely clothed young lady running through the forest. It is the same stuff, over and over again. We would get scared, but not really. We usually left the auditorium in tears from laughing so hard at the absurdity of the movie and at our own reaction.

One of the last horror movies I went to see was when I was still living at home. I went with a friend to the cheap theater in town. We decided to do the movie there because it was the film we wanted to see and it had already moved out of the regular theaters. Besides, who can pass up a movie for a buck? Now, the cheap theaters are never in the best part of town. We were two young women in the bad part of town and we decided to go at night, but we felt safe.

We felt safe until we sat down in the movie theater. Perhaps it was just shock at how different the culture was of the other people attending, but I have to admit that we were frightened. All around us gangs of young people were rough talking and cursing. There was even some physical pushing and shoving among the groups. At this point I could not tell you if the behavior was in fun or if we had found ourselves in the middle of a turf war. All I know is that my friend and I did not enjoy the movie. Though we stayed through the whole thing, we spent most of the time trying to stay anonymous in the crowd. After the movie we arrived safely at the car. There was probably no reason for us to be afraid, but that does not diminish the reality of how we felt that night: alone and in a position of vulnerability.

In some cultures, of course, there are those who take a certain pleasure in fear. They enjoy making people tremble because it gives them a sense of power and control. If you are afraid of them, they can manipulate you to do whatever they want you to do. You’ll give them information, possessions or your service just to remain safe. It seems odd, then, that the psalmist would write, “Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him.” God does not pleasure in our fear the way a hoodlum or a dictator might. In the case of God, the idea of fear is not like it is for the horror movie makers. We fear, not because we are afraid, but because we know God is awesome. He can do things that no one else can do.

The psalmist completes the thought begun in verse 11 with, “…in those that hope in his lovingkindness.” Fear of God is not a fear that will make us cower and tremble. It is a sense of awe in what God has done and what God can do. He takes pleasure in those who put their hope in His lovingkindness. This is a much different type of delight. It is a delight that will do what is best for those who fear, to guard and protect, provide and bless. For this, He deserves our praise.