Welcome to the January 2011 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes
























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

A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2011

January 3, 2011

"Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us." Romans 5:1-5, ASV

My house is quiet. Bruce is back to work, Zack is back and school, and Victoria went off for a reunion at camp. The kitties are here with me, but they are happily napping the day away. When go shopping later this afternoon, I’m sure I will find the roads relatively clear of traffic and the aisles of the store fairly empty. The world is getting back to normal after the long and hectic season of the holidays.

I think most people might have found it a little difficult to get back into a regular schedule, but I'm sure most of us are still happy and relaxed from the time off before things get crazy around the job. We won't see those Christmas credit card bills for a week or so. The end of the year reports aren't due until the end of the month. Tax forms will have to wait for a few weeks until we get the records we need to fill in all the numbers. Though we have to get back into a normal schedule, we usually get a few days of peace before we get back into the chaos of life.

But we know it is coming. We know that the meetings will catch up to us and that the deadlines will be here soon. We know that the new year will bring changes to the way we do business and we'll have to learn new ways of doing our work. We know that today's peace will quickly give way to the hustle and bustle of the everyday.

So, now is the perfect time to set our feet in the right direction. How will we face the times ahead? Will we forget the peace and joy of Christmas and leave Christ in the manger? Or will we grasp the reality of what we just experienced and take it into our daily lives? Will we continue to live by the faith we gained not only when Christ was born, but when He died on the cross? Will we face our tribulations with the faith that God's grace will get us through, and in getting us through, He will build us into a people who dwell in peace every day.

We easily share Christ's peace during the holidays because we are surrounded by good will and happiness. Now, as we go into the new year, let us continue to share the love of Christ and His peace with the world, so that everyone might have the faith to rely on God's grace to get through the hard times. We don't know what tomorrow will hold, the promises for this day are a mystery. But we know that God is close and that we can dwell in His grace no matter what will come. Grasp hold of the hope God promises and go forth in faith, knowing that His peace is always close by those who have the love of God.


January 4, 2011

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue; whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in that world by lust. Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge self-control; and in your self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:1-11, ASV

My art desk is a mess. So is my guest room. I have a basket full of art supplies on the floor in my den. There's also a table in the garage that is covered with stuff. Over the past few months, these places have become centers for holiday projects. Minor art projects were done in other places and the materials just dropped on my art desk. The guest room was used for gift wrapping. The table in the garage has been used to collect Christmas decorations and supplies. The basket full of art supplies were meant for a specific project that is nearing completion. I need to clean and organize these areas. It is time to clean up my mess.

I have to clean up my messes because now is the time for new projects. I need to clean the guest room for new guests. I have a couple of paintings I want to do. I need that table in the garage cleared so I can collect all our Christmas decorations as I take them down in the next week or so. I can't do new work until I get rid of the old messes. Sadly, once I get these places clean, I'm sure they'll get messed up again as I get into these new projects.

Our life in Christ is an ongoing process. We get washed once, in baptism, but we tend to wander through the mud. Like my messy spaces, we must be diligent about keeping ourselves moving forward, growing in our faith and doing the work that God has called us to do. We can't change what Christ has done for us, but we are called to a new life: a life of renewal and right living. If we don't pursue virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love, it is as if we have not even experienced the saving grace of Christ.

I'm sure that my art desk will get messy again. I'm sure my guest room will not be very hospitable. I'm sure that table in the garage will be covered with stuff again. I'm sure I'll end up with another box on the floor full of materials for yet another project. I'm also sure that I'll fail to live up to the expectations of Christ. Yet, by God's grace we can go on, day by day, doing the best we can in the knowledge that God has completed the work and that He has given us everything we need to participate in His saving grace.


January 5, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, January 9, 2011, Baptism of our Lord: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

"The voice of Jehovah is powerful; The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty." Psalm 29:4

We spent New Year's weekend at the beach. We watched movies, did a puzzle, played games, and ate meals together. We visited the aquarium, shopped in the souvenir shops, walked on the beach, and played a round of miniature golf. The kids and I even went swimming in the resort's outdoor heated pool! It was a wonderful time with family; I don't think I've laughed so much in a long time.

There is a stretch of road along the bay in Corpus Christi that is lined with beautiful, and surely expensive, houses. I convinced Bruce we should go house hunting: surely something is for sale along that route? Of course, there's no way we would be able to purchase anything we found on that road; one house, a lovely one story with five bedrooms overlooking the bay is just under a million dollars. Even the houses that did not have a direct view of the Bay are well over $300,000. But it sure was fun looking.

Unfortunately, when we got to the end of the road, we didn't know which way to go. I was only vaguely familiar with the landscape, and sent Bruce down the wrong road. We thought we would eventually get to the highway, but we didn't realize we were on a causeway that ended at the back of a military base with a permanently locked gate. The only way to go from there was to backtrack. We eventually found the right road and continued our adventure.

Now, we weren't really at the end of the road, we were simply blocked from going any further. We could have even gone on the base with our own military identifications, but the gate was locked, so the road was a dead-end. How disappointing it would have been if we had wanted to be on the base! We would have had to drive all the way around the small body of water to the front gates.

What always strikes me as amazing when I'm at the beach is how limitless the water seems to be. Corpus Christi is on the Gulf of Mexico, and I know that if I traveled far enough, I would find land again. But as we look at the horizon from the beach, the water seems endless. We know, thanks to centuries of adventurers mapping the globe and those who have made it possible to see the earth from the sky, that there is land at the other end.

But how must it have been for those who lived in Jesus' day? Yes, there were those who traveled by boat, and who knows how far they might have gotten, but most people barely knew what was happening beyond their small villages. They might travel to bigger towns for worship or festivals, but even then travel was limited. Some people, rarities, might have told stories of being in far off lands, but to the average person those were just stories. Lands End England is called that because the people thought that was the very end of the land. They didn't know the earth was round. They didn't know that there were continents on the other side. They didn't know what existed beyond the coastlines.

To them, the coastlands represented the end of their known world and the beginning of the great unknown. It represented the world beyond their world. The realms of kings were very small. The great cultures of the past were relatively limited. The Roman Empire seemingly ruled the world, and yet it was about the same size geographically as the United States and despite its power in it's world, it had little or no effect on the rest of the earth. Even the gods were limited: most people worshipped personal gods that were only able to influence the immediate area. Why worship a god that can affect unknown people in unknown places, especially if those people might be an enemy? Yet, the promise in the Servant's song is that God will send someone who will have an impact on the entire world: even the coastlands wait for his teaching.

This servant will reach far beyond our expectations. He will be specially loved by God. He will be remarkable. But even more than that: He is the promise.

As we look back into the history of God's people, the covenants were promises of land, power, and perpetuity. He also promised salvation and forgiveness. In the passage from Isaiah, we see that the servant is given as a covenant for the people. Though some understand the servant to be Israel herself, we know that this was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Israel may have been a sign of the covenant, but Jesus is the covenant. The signs are the things He would do: open the eyes of the blind, set the prisoners free. Just as Israel was meant to be a light for the nations, Jesus is a light for the entire world.

The beginning of the fulfillment was seen at the manger, as Christ is born into the world and made one of us. But for thirty years we hear little about His life. A few stories linger about His childhood. Some stories are found in extra-biblical literature. Some have even suggested that Jesus went to 'the coastlands' as a young man, traveling to England or the Orient to be educated. Those stories tell of an amazing young man who learned and taught among the priests and sages of other lands. But it was at His baptism that His ministry truly began. It was then when the man received everything He needed to be the covenant that was sent to God's people.

We often wonder why Jesus, who was perfect, had to be baptized. He was the incarnation of the living God: Christ, Messiah, Son, Emmanuel. He did not need a baptism of any sort, yet He went to John to receive a baptism for repentance. He had no sin to be forgiven or separation from the Creator which needed reconciliation. He was the living Word of God in flesh.

Yet, Jesus was also man. His baptism was far more than just an act of example for the rest of us. He went under the waters of the Jordan because through this act He identified completely with you and I, taking upon himself the very nature of man and all that goes with it while still remaining without sin. His baptism also defined His identity, as God reached out of the heavens to claim Jesus as His own Son. By going to John, Jesus demonstrated His humble obedience to the will and purpose of God. It was right for Jesus to be baptized, even if John thought it was wrong.

Finally, it was at that moment when the Holy Spirit washed over Jesus. Some of those stories of Jesus' childhood suggest that He had the spirit from the beginning. Perhaps He did, but at His baptism Jesus fully received the power to be the Christ, the savior of the world. He was fully man and the divine incarnate, but at that moment He was revealed as the One whom God sent to be the covenant for His people.

John was not willing to do as Jesus asked. “But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” The English translation of this passage falls short of sharing the conversation between John and Jesus. It is not as if John said “no” once and then gave in, more likely John argued with Jesus. Finally Jesus answered, “Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffereth him.” This is how God willed it to be, so John gave in to Jesus’ request.

That day at the Jordan, Jesus was claimed, anointed and sent into the world to do God’s work. The baptism of John was one of repentance, but Jesus made it something new. At the Jordan Jesus did not need to be forgiven, He was sinless. He did not need to be claimed, He was the Son of God. He did not need to be anointed; He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not need to be sent, for His purpose was always to do the will of God. But at the Jordan, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. He became the promise that we receive by faith through our own baptisms.

The new covenant was different than the old because, as we heard in the Old Testament lesson, it was given for everyone; it was given for the whole world, even those beyond the edge of the world. It was given for unknown people in unknown places, and at unknown times. It is a lasting covenant. He is a lasting covenant, given for us as He was given for them.

Peter learned the reality of Isaiah's prophecy, perhaps the hard way. At first Peter preached to those who adhered to the same religious ideas and practices as himself but then God spoke to him in a miraculous way. Peter had a vision that showed him that God does not choose people just because they fit in a certain category. He wanted to be offended because Cornelius was not a Jew, but he realized that God’s mercy is not given just for those we want to receive it. God loves all nations. Christ does not play favorites. The wisdom of heaven is impartial. Jesus Christ did not come for only a few people or a chosen race. God’s mercy reaches farther than our corner of the world. He came for our family and friends, our neighbors and even our enemies. He came for those people we like and for those who drive us crazy. He came to be the covenant that would transform the world.

We aren't like those who only saw the world through the limits of their understanding. We know the earth is a big place. We know that the water doesn't go on forever. We know that there is land on the other side. We also know that the gods who controlled small places were nothing but false gods and that the God we worship reached far beyond anything we know. He is God Almighty and is worthy of our praise. He grants His grace to the world, not just those we choose.

And so, we are called to ascribe to God the characteristics due to Him. He is glory and strength. His voice is over the waters, as it was over the waters in the beginning and at Jesus' baptism. He speaks and it is done. His voice is powerful and full of majesty.

The images in today's psalm are almost frightening. God's voice breaks the cedars. It shakes the wilderness. It causes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest bare. What must it been like to be at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized? The heavens opened up and they heard a voice from heaven. Did it bring the people to their knees in fear and awe?

His voice may make us tremble, but His love calls us to sing His praise. Through faith in Christ we enter into the Temple of God and join with the heavenly beings singing "GLORY!" The Almighty God has done everything necessary to reconcile us to Himself. He sent Jesus to finish the work of salvation that was begun even at the first sound of His voice. He sent Jesus to be the fulfillment to every promise. Through Jesus, He claims us as children, anoints us with the Holy Spirit and then sends us into the world beyond our own coastlines to share His grace with those who do not yet know Him.


January 6, 2011

"Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows shall be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond-tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets: before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity." Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, ASV

The American Standard Version uses the word "vanity" in this passage (and throughout the rest of the book. It appears at least thirty times.) Other translations use the word "meaningless." To be honest, reading the book of Ecclesiastes can be a little depressing, since the teacher seems to think everything is meaningless. Life is meaningless. Work is meaningless. Everything is meaningless. You might as well just enjoy life, but even that is meaningless. What's the point of living if everything is meaningless?

In this version, the Teacher says, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." We should not understand this word in modern terms, as an excessive belief in one's gifts or beauty. Vanity was understood as boasting in vain. In other words, it means trumpeting ones own horn is useless. What point is there in boasting about one's youth when you will eventually die, just like the elders? What's the point in boasting about your work when the fruit of your labor will go to someone else when you die?

But the Teacher does not say everything is useless. He says everything is pointless without God. Life is meaningless without God. Work is futile without God. Youth is not worthwhile if it is experienced without God. That's why the Teacher tells us in today's passage to remember God when you are young. If you aren't young, it isn't too late. But to make your life worthwhile, now is the time to remember your God, for it is in Him that you'll know real life and peace. Everything you do in His grace is worthwhile.


January 7, 2011

"And he abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him." Acts 28:30-31, ASV

Things were always crazy at the camp of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit, at least on the classic television show. The characters were always busy with the work of the camp or the silliness that got them through the long, hard days. Some conflict always made things a little more interesting, and the relationships created a tension that made us laugh and cry and even learn a thing or two.

On one episode, things were as crazy as usual by not being very crazy. The camp was low on supplies, especially light bulbs, which made the work and leisure hours difficult. Charles made a mistake in surgery, which gave B.J. and Hawkeye fodder for their wrath. Klinger stole a light bulb out of Colonel Potter's tent, for his office, though Colonel Potter had hoped the bulb was stolen from someone else. Meanwhile, B.J. received a book in the mail, and since it was a rare means of entertainment, it was passed from person to person to be read. This storyline was made all the more interesting by the lack of light. Unfortunately, the final pages of the book were missing. This was particularly disturbing since the book was a very well written mystery and everyone had a different idea of whodunit. They needed to know!

After arguing about the possible conclusions to the mystery, they finally called the author to find out the ending. But after hanging up the phone and spreading the news, Colonel Potter informed them that the answer couldn't possibly be right. "He was in the closet and couldn't have done it." At that point they were ready to kill everyone in the book. Fortunately a truck came into camp with all the supplies they needed, but we never did find out the answer to the question.

Have you ever read a book that was so interesting that you couldn't put it down? Have you ever stayed up late into the night to finish a book because you just could not stand to wait until the next day to find out what happens? Have you ever been frustrated by an experience like the one on M*A*S*H? What would you do to find out the answers to your questions? Have you ever read a book that left you hanging with an ending that is less than satisfying?

I'm always surprised when I get to the end of the book of Acts to find the story left in the middle of Paul's experience. We know from history that he was eventually martyred in Rome, but the scriptures leave him in the midst of a very successful ministry. He's preaching and teaching without being hindered. Some timelines about his life and ministry have him leaving Rome for about five years, and even visiting Spain. Wouldn't it be nice to have those years and his eventual martyrdom actually recorded in the scriptures? Don't you want to know what really happened after this last word?

I don't know why the last page of their book was missing on the television show, but their troubles made from some funny moments for the viewers. As for the ending of the book of Acts, I think it was left open for a reason. If we heard the end of the story about Paul, we might have thought that the story about Christianity ended, too. By leaving Paul successfully preaching the Gospel, we see that even though there are endings, the Word goes on. The story wasn't over with Paul or any of the Apostles. The story wasn't over with the next generation of Christians, the early Church fathers or the saints throughout time. The story isn't even over with us. How big would the bible have to be to continue telling about the people who are impacted by God's Word? We are the story, and it will only end when God is finished. Even then, the story will go on for eternity.


January 10, 2011

"Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-20, ASV

I was scanning the headlines on my Internet news service and I found one that said, "Pilot program helps seniors relive chronic pain." I quickly clicked into it because I could not believe that anyone was trying to help the elderly relive pain. What purpose could that possibly hold? What good could come out of causing pain in the bodies of our seniors? As it turns out, there was a typographical error in the headline. The program was designed to relieve pain, not relive it.

One of my favorite bits on the Jay Leno show is called "Headlines." Jay looks at newspaper headlines and other clippings that have outrageous errors. Sometimes it is a typographical error that changes the entire meaning of the headline; sometimes it is a poorly worded headline that can say something inappropriate. He shows photographs that were poorly composed, showing plants growing out the tops of heads or other objects jutting out of unfortunate places. He likes to show stories of stupid criminals and odd name combinations in wedding announcements. These headlines and other clippings are often hysterically funny.

Sometimes these mistakes are funny, but sometimes they can be problematic. A typographical error in a headline about a politician or a poorly worded article about a businessman can ruin their reputations. A bad photo can destroy a model or an actor's chances at another job. An inappropriate joke can destroy a life.

The problem that Jesus faced with the religious leaders and the understanding of God's Law is that they had twisted God's good word into something burdensome. They interpreted God's Word to suit their own ambitions, and they used it to elevate themselves. They had a holier-than-thou attitude while not walking the talk. They forced others to do that which benefitted them while allowing God's intentions to be lost. The people may have wanted Jesus to do away with the Law, because it was so impossible for them to live up to, but Jesus came for another purpose. He came to make everything right. He came to turn the world upside down so that the Law, God's Word, was heard as it was meant to be heard, not as others desired it to be heard.

So, when Jesus says, "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law," He is not insisting that the people live according to the interpretations of the religious leaders. He was making known the errors that were more likely to destroy than to save. Jesus calls us, then, to live according to God's Word as He meant us to live, not as the leaders demanded. Can we exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes? Yes, we can, because our righteousness is not dependent on our ability to keep God's Law, but in Christ. Through Him, and His Word, we are saved. And because we are saved, we live in the forgiveness of Christ, according to His grace, doing all that He has commanded us to do.


January 11, 2011

"And they come unto Bethsaida. And they bring to him a blind man, and beseech him to touch him. And he took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes, and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, Seest thou aught? And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking. Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked stedfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, Do not even enter into the village." Mark 8:22-26, ASV

Have you ever read a bit of scripture that simply doesn’t make any sense? As we have been finishing up our year long reading of the scriptures in Sunday school, we all agree that there are just some things that don't make sense. Sometimes the passages take several readings or explanations from others. I've taken my questions to pastors or bible teachers, or sought information from the Internet with the hope that perhaps they have some insight that might help me. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it only makes things more confusing. Commentaries often give several interpretations of the scripture. On one bit of scripture Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”

So, I have these bits of scripture that I keep filed away in the back of my head in the hopes that one day they will make sense. Often, when I’m not really even studying that particular passage, something will spark a thought that will clear up my confusion. Or, I read the passage again and something clicks. The confusion is gone as God grants clarity to the passage and understanding of His Word. Our Christian journey is not some one-time event in which we are granted perfection. It is a lifetime of growing in faith and continued learning toward a more perfect understanding of God’s grace.

This story is such a comfort to those of us who do not always see clearly that which God is speaking through His scriptures. Jesus touched the man twice. The first touch brought blurred vision, but he could see something. Then Jesus touched him again and he saw clearly. As we study the scriptures from day to day, there may be scriptures that we do not fully understand. We should not give up or doubt that we will ever understand. Jesus will touch us again and again and again until we see clearly. When you have a bit of scripture that seems confusing, pray and tell your Father what you see in the words. He will touch you again and help you to see His truth with clarity.


January 12, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, January 16, 2011, Second Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; (Psalm 40:1-11, NRSV); 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

"And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus." John 1:37, ASV

I went to college to be a teacher. I thought about being an art teacher, but there was something about the possibilities that frightened me. I wasn't sure I could deal with high school kids. I didn't know if I could handle the work in the art program at my college. I decided to do Elementary education because I was certain that it would be easier. I took the coward's way out, I took the easy path.

I don't regret the life I have. I have the most wonderful husband and great kids. I love our home, the life we have carved out for ourselves in our little corner of the world. As my kids are growing older, I'm rediscovering some of the gifts and talents I once used. I'm painting, pursuing photography and writing for publication later this year. Yet, I often wonder what successes I might have had if I had taken the harder road.

All too often we choose the easy way out, thinking that it would be better to keep our goals attainable rather than reaching beyond our abilities. We do this to avoid failure and rejection, but choosing the easy way is no guarantee. And the rewards of success in the hard things are more than we can imagine.

I was struck by the words of Isaiah, "It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." It was not enough for God's servant to save Israel: he was sent to be a light to the whole world. As it turned out, Jesus would have failed miserably if He had gone only for Israel, for they rejected Him. It was the harder path, the path that took Him into the whole world that brought salvation and peace. We may want to choose the easy path or do what we think is best, but God knows better than we can ever know.

John had a pretty good thing going. He was followed by many, sought out by men for baptism and to hear his teaching. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees seemed to be interested in what he had to say. He had disciples, men who had committed to his cause, who were with him as he ministered. He could have been a powerful force in and around Jerusalem, perhaps even as a military leader. Certainly there were others who were fighting the Romans, and a powerful leader was what the people were looking for to save them from Rome. It must have been hard for John to point Jesus out to the crowds, because he was certain to lose followers if they knew the truth. But John had to do what God intended. He was not meant to be a powerful leader, but instead was born to point the way to Jesus. When he spoke the words, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" some of his disciples followed Jesus.

Now, the disciples may have had the prophecy from Isaiah in mind when they followed Jesus, after all, John called Him the Lamb of God. Certainly this man would be the leader they were expecting. Certainly He would accomplish their every hope and dream for freedom and prosperity. He was the Messiah, right? He was the One who would fulfill God's promises. It was probably pretty easy to follow Jesus, knowing that He was the One. Would they have followed Him if they could have seen what would happen in a few years? Would they have believed if they knew He would die? Jesus was the hard path, but did they know that? Or were they taking the easy way out?

John was rough and harsh; Jesus was clean and gentle. John preached about repentance and wrath; Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. Which would have been the harder path to follow?

I love the answer of the disciples when Jesus asks, "What seek ye?" They answer, "Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou?" Have you ever found yourself in the odd position of being asked a question by someone you have long sought but never expected to actually meet? Have you ever been tongue-tied when meeting a person of importance or celebrity? I imagine that's what happened with Andrew and the other disciple. Why else would they ask, "Where are you staying?"

It is like the time I met Rick Springfield. I was at a gas station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with my mom and a friend. It was late at night and we were headed home. But we needed a quick break to use the rest room and get something to drink for the rest of the ride home. While in the rest area, we overheard the whispers about the bus in the parking lot. "It's Rick Springfield," they said. Well, we were teenage girls and Rick Springfield was our Justin Bieber. We had to meet him. So, we found some paper and stood halfway between the rest area and the bus, excitedly waiting for him to pass.

When he passed by, he graciously gave us his autograph, despite his own exhaustion from his concert that evening and the late hour of the night. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity, to impress him with something humorous or intelligent. Instead, I said something completely stupid. In the end, he gave me a sweet smile as if he knew I was over my head with excitement (he'd probably experienced it a million times with other girls.)

We've all had those experiences, and they don't always come because we are faced with a star. Sometimes we are tongue-tied by the circumstances or the words of another. What do you say when your daughter notices the mole on an elderly woman's face and says, "What's that?" What do you say when your best friend wants to buy the most hideous wedding dress on the rack? What do you say when blue haired Aunt Bertha brings that disgusting Jell-O salad she's been trying to get you to eat since you were a child? Sometimes we just can't find the right words.

I can just imagine Jesus giving Andrew and his companion a sweet smile, knowing that they would be His followers and that they would eventually learn the right questions to ask. The question He asked was, "What are you looking for?" He wanted to know what they thought they might find with Him. Were they looking for the Messiah? Were they looking for the easy path? Were they looking for the latest, greatest prophet in the land? He wanted to know why they would leave John to follow Him. "What are you looking for?" is the same question He asks us.

We might not always like what we find when we follow. We might think that we've chosen the better way, whether it is the easier or harder path, but when the circumstances become difficult we begin to question our choice. I wonder how often the disciples thought about returning to their fishing boats or their homes. I wonder if they ever regretted the choice they made to leave John and follow Jesus. I wonder if Jesus ever wished that He could take a different path.

Jesus did not see the kings rise up or the princes bow down to worship Him. He saw the rulers of His world reject Him and deny His words. Yet, He did not concern Himself with His failures; He went forth in faith knowing that He has been anointed to accomplish God’s will in this world. His ministry was never about Himself or His work, but it was to point to the One by whom He was sent. He was the servant through whom God would draw His people, both Jew and Gentile unto Himself.

Isaiah writes, “But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God.” I get it. I've felt the same way. I often wonder if the work I do online and in my church life have any impact on others.

But these words remind us that when we are disappointed and discouraged, we need only look to the promises and remember that God is with us to help us do all that He has called us to do. While we do not see evidence of our work in this world, we can trust that God is doing something we can’t see and He is faithful.

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

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is still relevant to us today, since we are beset by divisions, immorality and other troubles just like the early church. Even more so, we need to read the words of Paul’s greeting to that congregation, for it sets our hearts and minds in the right direction. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul had some very real issues to deal with in his letter, but he began by pointing them back to their salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ.

How easy it would have been for Paul or John the Baptist to take credit for the salvation of millions. Yet, when John’s disciples were drawn toward Jesus, he did not try to hold on to them. He told them that Jesus was the anointed one, the chosen Messiah. He pointed out Jesus and sent them on their way. Paul’s words have been read for nearly two thousand years and he has been a witness who has pointed a multitude of people to Christ. Peter found Jesus because Andrew pointed to Him. Andrew found Jesus because John pointed to Him. John found Jesus because God Himself pointed to Jesus and revealed Him to be the One for whom they were waiting.

Jesus brought a different kind of ministry to the people. Jesus dwelt among the people. He drew them into a relationship with Him. He made them part of His community, and then sent them out to bring in others. Andrew listened to Jesus, and in the hearing knew that he’d found something new and different. He went to his brother Simon (Peter) and said, “We’ve found the Messiah. Come and see.” Simon Peter became part of that community. Jesus was revealed at His baptism and then John testified about what he saw. Then the people followed Jesus, lived with Him and served with Him. They learned and grew and were transformed by His grace.

But following Jesus is never an easy path. Jesus did not receive respect or appreciation for the people He came to serve; we can't expect to experience anything better. It is much easier to take a path that leads us to a place we want to go rather than the place where God wants us to go. Transformation means change; education means seeing the world through new eyes; faith means sharing God's grace with others, including our enemies.


January 13, 2011

"And further, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written uprightly, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads; and as nails well fastened are the words of the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, ASV

A few years ago, when Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" was in the theatres, I had a discussion with a friend about the origins of that particular telling of Jesus' story. The book, "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich" was available in bookstores at the time. My friend read it and was willing to accept those teachings as equal to the scriptures. Unfortunately, I was able to point her to another book (I know longer recall the name) which also had a claim to authenticity that told a completely different story. Both had ideas and details similar to those found in the scriptures and both had discrepancies.

As a theologian (she would not have considered herself a theologian, but everyone who studies about God is one), she had to make a decision of which story was true, which story was right. She wanted to give one of these books the status of inspired by God, equal to the Bible, but in reality they were little more than a story from a human's perspective and understanding. Both writers claimed to have had a vision. Both writers may have had those visions. Those visions may have been different, for a purpose. They may have seen God's story from their own point of view. Or, they may have told God's story from their own biases and opinions. We can't really know which is why we should not elevate human writing so high.

But it is good to study, to read and to see what other people think about God. It is easy for us to get so caught up in our own visions and understandings that we lose sight of the reality that God can not fit into the boxes we try to keep Him in. The problem with both books on the passion is that they limited the reality of God. They rejected the possibility that someone else's vision or understanding could also be true. The second book, having been released shortly following the movie, even discounted the first (which was from 1862.)

The wise, so the teacher tells us, are those whose words are both a goad and a nail. It pushes us in the right direction while keeping us firmly in one place. Even moreso, however, the words that are acceptable are those which have come from one Shepherd. The wise do not teach their own visions or understandings, they don't teach their own biases or opinions: they teach God's Word. And the Teacher tells us what that Word is: Fear God and keep His commandments. Everything else will be judged, right or wrong, good or bad. So, let us keep our eyes, our hearts and our minds on the one Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He has shown us that fearing God and keeping His commandments means loving God and our neighbor. This Word pushes us in the right direction while keeping us firmly in one place.


January 14, 2011

"And they forgot to take bread; and they had not in the boat with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned one with another, saying, We have no bread. And Jesus perceiving it saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? And they say unto him, Seven. And he said unto them, Do ye not yet understand?" Mark 8:14-21, ASV

I tend to take 'the back way' anytime I can, to avoid the traffic lights and the traffic. There is a road I take regularly, a country road that is located within the city limits but outside the city. There are a few houses, a ranch or two and a trailer park along this road, as well as a soccer complex for local soccer leagues. The road is very straight but barely wide enough for two cars with plenty of dips, bumps and potholes. The speed limit is only 30 miles per hour. There is the possibility of loose animals, heavy traffic, pedestrians without a sidewalk and even wild deer, so it is understandable that the city has set such a low speed limit.

I have to turn left from a busy parkway with a slight uphill grade to get to this road. The road itself begins with a small hill, so if I have to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass before turning, I have to press more heavily on the accelerator to get over the hill. The end of the road is nearly visible from the top of the hill; it is a straight shot for about a mile. It is very easy to forget that you are pressing the accelerator and to reach speeds of 40+ miles per hour very quickly. If you don't let off the gas, it is likely that you will be speeding within a short space of road.

Unfortunately, the city police know that this road is the perfect place to find speeders. They sit, barely seen, just beyond the hill, waiting for drivers who are not paying attention to their speed. I know this because I was stopped one day. The policeman was very nice and since I have an excellent driving record, I was let go with a warning. I promised not to speed on that road again, and I am usually pretty aware of the pitfalls of that road when I choose to drive on it. But, I'm human and I forget. I get up and over that hill and keep pushing the accelerator until I'm back up at 40 miles per hour. Thankfully, I haven't had to learn the lesson twice! So far.

Whenever I read today's story, I think to myself, "Are the disciples really that dim-witted? Can't they see that Jesus has given them incredible signs to prove that He is worthy to be trusted? Can't they understand the lessons that He is teaching them? After all, He fed five thousand and then four thousand, both times leaving basketsful of bread. By His power and His grace, He has more than enough for everyone, and then some to share.

But no matter how many times Jesus amazes them, they continue to see the world through human eyes. They need to learn the lesson over and over and over again, and even then they don't understand. We see these lessons through Jesus colored glasses, with the power of the Holy Spirit to give us understanding, and so we assume they must be dense. But how often do we ever learn the lesson the first time? Do children always learn what we teach them? Do they only make mistakes once without failing ever again? Even with the Holy Spirit, we are often unable to understand what Jesus is trying to tell us.

It is easy for us to lose track of our speed and to stop paying attention to the things Jesus is trying to teach us. We may have to learn the lesson over and over again: we are no different than those disciples. We can see the miracles around us, experience the grace of God, and still ask God where to find the grace.


January 17, 2011

"Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them; For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them; for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of. But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light." Ephesians 5:1-13, ASV

I was reading an article by Amanda Chatel about the craziest diets throughout history. It is an appropriate article as many people are probably struggling with their New Year's resolutions. I don't know how many people thought about losing weight this year, but some suspect that the number is near 90%. I don't think it is that high, but I'm sure many people have thought about how much healthier and happier they would be if they were a few pounds lighter. I'm sure they've looked at the possibilities. There are certainly plenty of people who have an opinion about how to eat better. As we'll see from the diets in the article, we may find our modern ideas are just as silly in a hundred years. Sadly, some of these diets are still used today!

Take, for example, the Victorian era vinegar diet. Lord Byron used vinegar, along with tea and raw egg, to create vomiting and diarrhea which led to an unhealthy skinniness. A friend offered the advice only a decade ago that vinegar would help me be rid of the flab on my arms. Another diet listed that I've heard about recently is the tapeworm diet. This diet, popular at the turn of the century, meant purchasing a capsule which held a tapeworm. The pill was swallowed, and the tapeworm was released to set about the work of devouring the contents of the stomach. Though these pills are illegal in the United States, I have heard they are still available and used.

The cigarette diet, the drinking man's died and the sleeping beauty diet all take activities that people enjoy and use them for weight loss. It may be true that smoking cigarettes, drinking booze and being drugged into a stumper will cause the loss of a few pounds, but the means of that weight loss is more harmful than good. The cigarettes, alcohol and drugs simply transferred the desires that caused the weight gain into other forms, but they also took away the ability to do other things.

I remember being told to chew my food thoroughly, although I can't imagine what my parents would have thought if I followed the chewing diet, which has the eater chew the food until it slides down the throat without swallowing. The Breatharian diet has you skip meals and go outside to take a deep breath instead. The air and sunshine are all you need to live! Breatharians believe that if you are in harmony with the world around you, you won't need to eat. Cotton balls are used to create a feeling of fullness so that the dieter won't eat as much. (This is apparently a tip used by models.) The Prolinn is some sort of miracle fluid that is supposed to cause weight loss.

On of the most ridiculous ideas in this article is the Slimming Soap diet. Soaps with the names "Fat-O-NO," or "La-Mar Reducing Soap" were sold with the expectation that they would cause weight loss. This diet from the 1930's was very popular, but the only real benefit from the diet was that everyone was very clean. Instead of actually losing weight, women were scrubbing themselves raw, and they had extremely dry skin from all that soap.

We may laugh at these ridiculous weight loss ideas, but we are really no different than those who believed the hype in those eras. We believe that an all carb or no carb, all protein or no protein, all vegetable or no vegetable, all coffee or no coffee diet will make a difference. We think that if we only eat twice a day or if we eat six tiny meals we'll lose weight. We buy the diet books, follow the diet plans, join the diet programs. We chase after the best trainers or join the hottest gyms. And then we follow those trends until they are proven false by some expert a week, month or year later.

We really are smarter than that: we are capable of making good choices without following every voice that tells us what they think is good for us. We are also capable of knowing God's grace. We may want to take the easy way out, following someone else's interpretation without really considering for ourselves what God intends, but we must be careful not to believe every voice. Some of them lead us falsely. Some of them are dangerous. Let us, therefore, believe Christ and live in the light, for in the Light all that is pleasing to the Lord will be made clear.


January 18, 2011

"In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4, ASV

One of my favorite stories when I was a child was a picture book called, "The Hungry Thing." Written by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler and illustrated by Richard E. Martin, this book tells the tale of a hungry monster that wanders into a town one day. He had a huge sign on his chest that said, "Feed Me." When the townspeople asked, "What would you like to eat?" the monster answered, "Shmancakes."

Now, this answer confused the townspeople. "Shmancakes! How do you eat them? What can they be?" The 'experts' offered some ideas. A wiseman said, "Shmancakes are a kind of chicken that falls with the rain." A cook confidently announces, "Shmancakes, I've read, are better to eat when you stand on your head." A small boy answers, "I think you're all very silly. Shmancakes… sound like Fancakes… sound like… Pancakes to me." The townspeople give the Hungry Thing some pancakes and he eats them all up.

The pancakes are not enough for the Hungry Thing, though, and they go through a series of foods that he pronounces as nonsense words. He wants Tickles, Feetloaf, Hookies, and Gollipops. With each request, the adult townspeople offer silly descriptions for the food, but the boy helps them discover what the Hungry Thing really wants. The process seems to take forever, so the adults ask the boy "Isn't there a quicker way?" They boy begins offering the Hungry Thing different types of food using the real name, but he quickly realizes that he just has to call it with a name that rhymes with the real thing and the Hungry Thing will eat it. He offers the monster Foodles and he gobbles them all up. Then the townspeople try with smello and fanana. Finally, looking nearly full, the Hungry Thing asks for Boop with a Smacker. This time the townspeople listen to the boy and offer the monster soup with a cracker. Then the Hungry Thing was done. He turned his sign over to show the words, "Thank You."

Sometimes children see things more clearly. The adults in the story tried to make feeding the Hungry Thing far more complicated than it needed to be. They made up strange and silly descriptions of food that did not exist, thinking that the monster would not settle for normal food. But the boy saw the rhyme; he understood the simplicity of it.

The same is true of faith. We like to make everything so complicated, reading the scriptures through the eyes of our experience and knowledge. We try to explain everything, or explain away everything, to make it suit our best interests. We try to rely on our own intellect and abilities to understand God. And as we saw in the story about the Hungry Thing, we often discover that our ideas are just foolish. This is why Jesus points us to the humble, innocent faith of the children, who see things so much more clearly than we do. When the townspeople saw the Hungry Thing through the eyes of the boy, they were able to make great things happen. When we become like little children and see God through those eyes, we'll do the same.


January 19, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, January 23, 2011, Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

"For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18, ASV

I've gone fishing, but I'm not really a fisherman. I remember catching catfish in my grandmother's pond when I spent time at her house during the summers of my youth, but it isn't a hobby I pursue. If I had to choose between fishing and almost anything else, I would likely choose the almost anything else. It isn't a bad way to spend time. It just isn't a way I like to spend my time and I don't identify with the language Jesus uses in today's Gospel lesson.

Yes, we all understand that Jesus means that the disciples will draw people into the kingdom of God, but what would Jesus have said if those first disciples had not been fishermen? What if he'd come across men who were building a wall or plowing a field? Of course, those ideas are used elsewhere, but how could this chapter be rewritten to fit the lives and understanding of carpenters or chefs? What does Jesus say to the writer or the artist? The accountant or the librarian? The CEO or the janitor? We are all called to be 'fishers of men' but we don't all have the aptitude or the talents to serve God by casting nets or using a fishing pole.

This brings into light the question of vocation. What is my vocation? I've been a mom for a long time, and I'll always be a mom, even when my children are grown, but my responsibilities for them grow smaller every day. By next fall both kids will be in college. Victoria will graduate soon after that. Eventually they'll both have jobs, homes, spouses and kids of their own. I'll still be mom, but they won't need me the way they did when they were young. So, I've spent the past twenty plus years 'fishing' for my kids to be faith-filled and faithful children in God's kingdom. What's next? Are two fish enough?

So, I've been asking myself what I should do next. How will I use my gifts to share God's kingdom with others. How will God use those gifts to fish for more people? Though I am asking these questions at a time of transition in my life, I think these are questions we can all be asking constantly. "How can my gifts be used to draw people into God's heart?" "How does my work in this world benefit the Kingdom of God?" We don't have to be fishermen to draw people into God's kingdom, but sometimes our work doesn't seem very appropriate jobs within the kingdom of God. After all, will there be accounting work in heaven? It is no wonder that we tend to separate our work for God from our earthbound work, they seem to be part of two separate worlds.

Jesus chose fishermen and then sent the fishermen into the world to do the job in a new light. He chose you, too. He didn't choose you simply for church work and He doesn't remove you from your every day tasks. He calls you to be transformed so that your every day tasks will shine light in the world. We are to fish for people, paint for people, build for people, cook for people, lead for people, mop for people, change diapers for people and even crunch numbers for people. Whatever we do can become a way for God to draw people into His kingdom.

What good would it be for everyone to be fishermen? We'd have a lot of fish, but man can not live on fish alone! That's why it is so important for us to have a congregation full of people with different gifts and vocations. How much more can we get done together, sharing what we have to offer as individuals, instead of trying to be the same thing as everyone else?

Of course, we run into trouble with this point of view because with different gifts and vocations we see the world from different points of view. One wants to focus on beauty while another focuses on numbers. One wants to plant seeds while another wants to build towers. One wants to cook food while another wants to clean up messes. This may not seem like a cause for division within the church, and yet how many of our arguments are centered in the way we use our resources? Should we be a church that serves the poor or teaches the Bible? Should we be a church that shares the Gospel in new and creative ways or should we continue proven methods? Should we be conservative or liberal? Should we be spiritual or practical? How should we accomplish the ministry God has given to us?

The problem with these questions is that it puts the focus on what we are and what we can do rather than on God. The disciples weren't chosen because they were fishermen; they were given the freedom to live out their faith in the world that they knew. Jesus does the same for us. And He puts us into community so that we can join our gifts into one body. Unity is not about being the same, but about being centered in the heart of God with a common purpose: to draw more people into that heart.

Paul addresses a serious question among those early Christians, a question that still divides us today. What is baptism? Which baptism is right? The requirements and expectations of baptism are different for different churches, so much so that one is not acceptable to another. Too many people have been re-baptized in an effort to do it "right" but we have to ask ourselves, "Who is it that you are following? Paul? Apollos? The leader of that church? While baptism is an important part of our life in Christ, the question we must ask is not "Have you been baptized?" but rather, "To whom do you belong?" The answer must be "Christ" first and foremost. And when Christ is the answer, then there is no division, despite our differences.

Paul brought the focus of the Corinthians back to the work of Christ. Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter) were most likely great preachers. From the stories in Acts, we can see that they all were quite convincing in their arguments and adept at sharing the Gospel message. We can also see that they all had a slightly different vision of the future of the Church. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews. They would reach these different people in different ways. Peter used the Old Testament witness and the experience of historic faith to share Christ. Paul reached out to a wider, more diverse audience that needed a different type of ministry.

Despite their differences, Paul, Apollos and Cephas were united in the same mind and the same purpose, to share the message of the cross. Of course as Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.” How much easier it would be if we could say that the message of the Gospel is that everyone will have enough food and clothing and a roof over their head. How much more inviting it would be if the message we were called to take into the world is that everyone will be free from oppression and safe from all harm. We would be overflowing with believers if our purpose was to meet the needs of every person no matter what the need.

But the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It is spiritual, but seems so far from spiritual. The message of the cross is that all men are equal – not in their ability to be righteous, but in their inability to be right with God. The work of the cross is that the Son of God, the Word made flesh, came to die so that we might be forgiven. To accept a message such as this, we must accept that we are sinners in need of a Savior. To believe it is to die. This is why the message was foolishness. To the Jews, they were made right with God by their acts of worship, by their sacrifices and their offerings. To the Gentiles, there was no need to be made right with God for they were good by nature. How many today still think righteousness is either earned or innate? Too many people believe this, even in the church.

Jesus Christ came to teach a different message. He came to restore people to God. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali had been located in the same region that came to be known as Galilee, where Jesus roamed and did much of His work. But they were lost at the time of the exile. It was now home to the Gentiles, foreigners. They were not Jews, and yet Jesus spent time with them. He took His message of hope so that they too might know God’s grace. Though the tribes were lost, Jesus fulfilled the promise found in Isaiah that people who walked in darkness would see a great light. He was the light.

When John was arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. Was Jesus running away? We might think so if we did not have the prophecy from Isaiah. God promised that the Messiah would come out of the area known as Zebulun and Naphtali. Matthew recognized the connection when he quoted Isaiah. During this season of Epiphany we are reminded that Jesus came to bring the message of hope to all the nations. He came to be a light in the darkness. He came to bring peace between peoples. Zebulun and Naphtali represent all those who were once tribes of Israel, but were lost. God had not forgotten. But God was also reaching beyond them to all people. Different, and yet all the same in Christ.

It is good to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. It is right to teach one another how to live in our faith. But none of those ministries define our relationships with God or one another. We are called as Christians to be of one mind and purpose, not that every Christian is gifted to serve in exactly the same way. Rather, we are called to share the foolish message of the cross as we are able from the place where we are with the gifts we have been given.


January 20, 2011

"Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work." 2 Timothy 2:20-21, ASV

We know Halloween is coming when the store shelves are filled with candy and costumes. We know Easter is coming when those same shelves are covered in baskets and fake grass. Christmas is coming when fake trees sprout and the stores are filled with colorful and sparkly decorations.

What season is evident today? Tax season! I can tell that it is time for families and businesses to take care of paperwork because those store shelves are filled with organizers, computer programs and ledger books. The Liberty Tax dancer is hanging out on the corner, again and small booths have appeared with tax preparers in the most unusual places.

I spent the morning going through paperwork. With Zachary headed to college, it is necessary for us to go through the processes of filing for financial aid. To do the FAFSA, we must file our tax forms. For me to file my tax forms, I have to go through the pile of papers that I've been "filing" in a box near my desk for the past year. Most of those papers just need to be shredded and put into the recycle bin, but I'm sure there are a few receipts and other important forms that need to be saved. I know I can't complete any of my other paperwork until that task is done.

I did start the FAFSA today, even though I haven't yet done my taxes or cleaned out my box of papers. There was information that I could fill in without knowing exact numbers. Yet, that task will not be complete until I do the other work. I can't expect that the work will have been worthwhile until that final report is printed.

God loves us, and we are saved not based on our work or our maturity. God uses us to share His Gospel no matter what point we are in our journey of faith. Even if we are a brand new Christian, God's word can be spoken in a powerful and life-changing way. However, if we are going to be purposely evangelistic, it is important that we are prepared. Those life-changing words are fruitless if they are like the seeds that are planted on the path, in the rocks or in the weeds. For the work to be truly good, for the work to accomplish great things, let us purge from our own lives that which will keep us from finishing, so that those who hear the word or see it lived out in our lives will receive it with great joy and lasting impact.


January 21, 2011

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also." Matthew 6:19-21, ASV

One of the celebrities whose Facebook page I follow asked the question, "What is the most treasured possession you have on earth?" I haven't posted an answer because I am having trouble with my answer. I automatically thought about my faith. Of course it is the thing I treasure most, but is it a possession I have on earth? The same can be said about another answer: salvation. The next most appropriate answer is anything to do with my family. I do treasure my children, but they are not my possessions. That has been made abundantly clear in the past few years as they have both grown up and are pulling away. I treasure my husband more than any other person in the world, and of all the people in the world, he is the one I can possess, just as he possesses me. Even so, I'm not sure I can even all Bruce my most treasure "possession."

The fans posted similar answers. Another popular answer had to do with pets. Though the animals are living things, in the eyes of the law they are considered possessions. Anyone with a cat will know that no one can possess them. We can feed them, play with them and clean their litter boxes, but I'm not so sure we can possess them. Another person posted that he treasured the love and respect of his kids. One person responded "First, Jehovah God." Various names were used like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. To me, it is even more difficult to possess Him than anything else. How do you possess God?

A few respondents made these points to the other fans. A few actually answered with material possessions. One talked about a memory book and another about old photographs. Another mentioned a beat up old car. One person has the handwritten copy of the hospital bill from when his father was born.

Since the celebrity is a television judge, I can imagine the reason for asking the question has something to do with a court case or a news headline. Perhaps someone has considered a family member a possession and in doing so has created conflict that needs mediation. Perhaps someone has stolen something important to another, causing the victim to demand reparations. I'm sure if this is related to the television show, the judge will make a point about what it means to possess and what things can be possessed. She may question what should be possessed and what should be set free or let go.

What is the most treasured possession you have on earth? Perhaps the more appropriate question for Christians is "What do you treasure most." We can answer God, faith, family, pets to that question. But in answering the question about our most treasured possession on earth, we can see what things that possess us. Do we treasure photos of family? Memories from our past? Items that have a monetary value? Do we treasure something that we can't live without? Something that makes our life more interesting or easier? Do we treasure non-tangible things like love, respect, faith or salvation?

Identifying these treasures, we can consider how we are possessed by them. Do they lift us up and help us to be what God intends? Do they hinder our relationship with God and the work He has called us to do? Do we put them first, turning our back on the One who has given us ever good and perfect gift, even those things we think we possess?


January 24, 2011

"When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when Jehovah thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them; neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you, and he will destroy thee quickly. But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth." Deuteronomy 7:1-6, ASV

Did you spend the weekend considering your possessions and what might be most treasured in your life? A friend and I were discussing the question at lunch the other day and we thought another question we might ask is "What would you take with you if you had to leave in a hurry?" The answer to that question often includes important paperwork, as well as family photos and heirlooms. Is there something you couldn't life without that you would go out of your way to save in an emergency, besides other living beings?

Land was a most treasured possession for the Israelites because the Lord gave it to them according to His promises to their forefathers. In the book of Deuteronomy the people were about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. They knew that it was God leading them and that God would give them the strength to accomplish the work. Moses encouraged the people during their desert wandering and in the book of Deuteronomy gave them everything they would need to know to continue living in God's grace.

In today's passage, Moses warns the people to remain faithful to God and to avoid that which might cause them to turn from Him. The people who lived in the Promised Land did not know Jehovah their God, they worshipped other gods. It would be very tempting, especially if they bound themselves to those people through marriage, to worship the gods of those people. Unfortunately, the people were not always faithful. They worshipped the gods of foreign people and forgot the Jehovah and His grace.

They forgot that they belonged to God, that they were His very own possession. We might find this language difficult to understand, especially since we think of God in terms of being our father. As mentioned on Friday, we can't really count our children as possessions because they are living, breathing individuals. We don't own them. We love them. And God loves us. So, we have trouble hearing this language describing God's people as His possession. Don't we have free will? Aren't we created to be like Him? Aren't we living, breathing individuals, children of God? How can we be possessed?

But we are His chosen people, we belong to God. This is especially true for those of us who are Christian because we've been bought with a price, the blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We aren't possessions like a book of photos or an important document. We are beloved children who have been acquired, captured by God's grace not to be imprisoned or enslaved, but to live in a relationship with Him. As His children we are holy people, separated for God's purpose. As you think about the things that you possess in this world, remember that you are possessed by the One who is greater than all of creation. As His possessions, let us live as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, held by His grace.


January 25, 2011

"And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins: but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also beareth witness to us; for after he hath said, This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws on their heart, And upon their mind also will I write them; then saith he, And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Hebrews 10:11-18, ASV

Our three kitties received new collars for Christmas. I decided to wait until I made it to City hall to register them before putting the new collars on; it is easier to put the tags on when the collars are not on the cats. Unfortunately, Delilah has been without a collar for a couple weeks. Somehow she wiggled out of hers and it is lost in the house, probably under a bed. Samson has also been without a collar for the past two days because his old one broke. I registered them with the city yesterday and got their 2011 license tag, so this seemed like the right time to put their new collars around their necks.

They don't like the collars. The main goal in lives of my kitties, especially Delilah and Samson, is to be rid of those collars. They do everything they can to get them off. I've even seen them help each other try to break free of the bondage. Since this is the first time Delilah and Samson have had the city tags on their collars, they are especially bothered by them. Delilah hid from us for a few hours after we put it around her neck. I've caught her chewing on it. Samson seems to be tolerating it so far, but I think he's just trying to give me the confidence to stop watching him. I expect that both of their collars will disappear within the week.

Tigger has been more tolerant. He enjoyed a few hours without a collar last night, but when we managed to catch him, he stayed still as it was put around his neck. He hasn't tried to lose his collar for several years. He is nearly seven years old, so I suppose that he has simply gotten used to it being there. He may not even notice it anymore. Hopefully the kittens will get to that point, also.

Many of us have grown up in the Church; we have been a Christian for as long as we can remember. We don't know what it is like to be a new Christian, learning to live according to live with new expectations. For some, the obligations of Christian living are more like the cat's collar, a symbol of bondage and a lack of freedom. But as we grow in faith, we find that living in our faith is not a duty to be done but a natural response to the grace of God. The Word that we've heard with our ears and read with our eyes becomes written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We no longer think about the things we have to do and we effortlessly do the right things. Like Tigger, we don't think about it anymore.

This is a lifelong process. We still fail to live up to the expectations of our Christian faith, even when we have had faith for a lifetime. But we continue to learn and grow and mature in the faith God has given us, and that Word that is written on our hearts becomes more clear and more natural for us to live.


January 26, 2011

Scriptures for Sunday, January 30, 2011, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

"Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:25, ASV

We are in the process of getting my son ready for college. Each step along the way we've had to ask the question, "What must we do?" What must we do to apply to colleges? What must we do to apply for scholarships? What must we do to apply for loans? The list of tasks is long and often depends on the work of others. Zack needs to get paperwork from school. He needs to get letters of recommendation. He needs to recall his school years so he can list his accomplishments. We have to go over the check-list until we are certain that we have everything we need. Only when that is done can we mail the envelope or push the send button.

We can't decide that we want to do things our own way. Some steps may not make sense. We are invited to fill in the FAFSA beginning January 1st, but we can't complete that paperwork until we do our taxes. We can't do our taxes until we have all the paperwork, some of which doesn't even arrive until the end of January. So, we do the FAFSA once so that it can be given for scholarship applications that are often due before we can even do our taxes. Then, when we can finally finish our taxes, we have to correct the FAFSA. Wouldn't it make more sense to do this in a different way? Unfortunately, if we do it our way, we might just miss out on the deadlines.

When Zack asked friends and mentors to write those letters of recommendation, they asked the same question, "What must I do?" They wanted to write a letter appropriate to the situation. What is the institution looking for in an applicant? What is the focus of the scholarship? What must I do to help you succeed in this?

We often ask the question "What must I do?" in our relationships. What must I do to be your friend? What must I do to earn your trust? What must I do to receive your forgiveness? What must I do so that you'll love me? Perhaps this sounds odd to you; perhaps you don't think that there should be any "must do" in our relationships, and yet how often do we do we do this with even our relationship with God?

In the passage from Micah, the Lord speaks of all the wonderful things that He has done for His people. And how do they response? "What must we do?" They list a number of sacrificial measures in the hopes that they will provide God with the necessary actions to earn God's mercy and grace. "What sort of offerings would be suitable? Should the offerings be burnt? A year old? Thousands of rams? Tens of thousands of rivers of oil?" Micah even lists sacrifice of the first born, a religious practice among the pagan peoples among whom God's people had dwelt. Does God require those sacrifices?

Our answer to the question "What must I do?" is not likely to include child sacrifice, but we do have our list of requirements. Do I have to go to church every Sunday? Do I need to serve on a committee? Give a certain amount of money? Volunteer in a certain way or place? Do I need to choose a certain community of believers? Perform certain rituals? What must I do to receive God's grace?

Isn't it interesting that in this passage from Micah, it is God who speaks first. "Look at everything I have done for you. Consider all my saving acts." Yet, the people still ask, "What must I do?" God has proven over and over again that He is merciful and that He loves His people, and yet they still want to control their own salvation.

"What must I do?" is a good question as long as we ask God, because in it we admit that we are His creation and we are responsible to do as God requires. Sadly, we often put our own words in God's mouth and claim that what we are doing is according to His Word. The scriptures certainly tell us about the sacrifices at the temple, the pilgrimages to take, the work that needs to be done. Unfortunately, those requirements have been built on years of human interpretation of God's intention for His people. The answer to "What must I do?" is not what we choose, but that which has been revealed to us: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Of course, this means we have to discuss the meaning of justice. What is mercy? What is humility? These are much harder questions to ask than "What must I do?" We do so much better if we have a check-list to follow. Once we mark all the steps we can just slip it in the mail or push the send button. But in matters of faith, it isn't quite so easy. People on every side of those questions that rattle us today firmly believe that they have God's intention on their side. They firmly believe that they are doing what is right. They believe that their understanding of justice is what God means. Perhaps I should say "we" instead of "they" because we all fall into the trap of believing that we are the ones with the answers.

In the passage from Micah, God reports all the good things He has done for His people, and yet they still ask "What must I do?" We are no different. We can read the story of what God has done for us, know Jesus and understand the work God has done for our sakes and we still ask "What must I do?" as if our actions will make God's work real. Oh, there are things we can, and should, do as Christians, but none of our actions will ever make us right with God. We are right with God because of what He has done. And when we are right with God, we naturally respond with mercy and humility.

In the Psalm for today, the congregation asks the question, "Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?" This was used as part of their liturgy. The people waited by the gates of the Temple and did not enter until they heard the conditions. The liturgist responds, "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh truth in his heart; He that slandereth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his friend, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah; He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; He that putteth not out his money to interest, Nor taketh reward against the innocent."

How does anyone enter with such strict requirements? Do we all walk blamelessly? Do we do what is right? Do we speak the truth from our hearts? Are our tongues free of slander and our actions free of evil? Do we always refrain from speaking ill of our neighbor? Do we hate evil and honor those who love God? Do we always keep our promises, give without expecting something in return or act for the sake of others above ourselves? Of course not.

So, who can dwell in the tent of God? In the ancient days, the only person allowed in the Tent of Meeting was Moses, and even he had to follow certain rules to enter into God's presence. Was Moses perfect? Did he always do everything right? Did he always trust God's word and walk humbly before Him? No, Moses failed, and because he failed he suffered the consequences. He did not enter into the Promised Land with the people of God. He died on the other side of the river. Yet, despite his imperfection, Moses is called righteous and blessed by God, and he was able to enter into God's presence and live there because he believed in God and trusted in Him.

Our troubles come, like Moses, when we try to do things our own way. Moses suffered the consequences when he did not follow God's plan. Entering into the Promised Land was never something the Israelites could earn by strict compliance to laws; it was a gift and proof of God's faithfulness. Despite Moses' rightness with God which allowed him to enter into the Tent of Meeting and dwell in God's presence, Moses turned from trusting in God to do his own thing. He turned to his own wisdom and in doing so, lost sight of God's wisdom.

Paul writes, "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." We think we are pretty wise. We study the text and reason through the information we have been given about God. We approach the questions of life from an intellectual point of view. We seek facts, compare ideas and come to a conclusion. And that conclusion might make a lot of sense. But no matter how hard we try to be wise, our conclusions are still based on human wisdom. We still see the world through glasses that are tainted by our own culture, geography, time, age, gender, expectations and experiences. Actions that I believe to be right will look evil to someone from another time and place. No matter how wise or strong we are, God is always wiser and stronger than us. Despite this, we constantly try to do things our own way.

God has expectations and He spells them out so that we can try to live up to them. But our salvation is never dependent on our ability to do so. God's love and mercy does not demand anything from us. God's love and mercy elicits a response: He has transformed us for a purpose. We are blessed to be a blessing.

So, we ask another question, "What does it mean to be blessed?" Jesus' idea of blessedness is counter to our expectations. According to the world, blessedness is visible to others. It is seen in our happiness, our wealth and our health. Blessedness is often thought synonymous with happiness, but the sort of happiness that comes with faith is not giddy pleasure, but rather a deeper, inner joy from God. The word "bless" means "may God speak well of you." What is it that God seeks from those He loves? What about our life might He speak well of?

Jesus had a way of turning the world upside down, or at least our understanding of the world. Blessedness is not found in our happiness or in visible prosperity. Blessedness is an attitude that looks to God for its fulfillment. The blessed are not those who deserve to be rewarded, but rather those who see that which God has done and is doing in the world. The poor in spirit do not appear blessed because they seem to have no hope, but they are blessed because God has given them the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn have no joy, but they are blessed because God will give them comfort. Those who are humiliated will be raised and those who are hungry and thirsty will be fed. They are blessed because God has promised to save those who trust in Him.

What must you do? Trust in God, even when it does not seem like you are blessed. Jesus tells us that blessedness does not look like we might expect. Blessedness means that God has raised you out of a world that requires sacrifice and obedience to rules that are not according to God's Word, trusting in human wisdom and expectations. Blessedness triggers a response of thankfulness and praise, and in the attitude of mercy and humility, trusting in God's faithfulness, we live as He has called us to live, blessing the world with God's grace.


January 27, 2011

"Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called: I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Yea, my hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spread out the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. Assemble yourselves, all ye, and hear; who among them hath declared these things? He whom Jehovah loveth shall perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him; I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit. Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Jehovah thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the grains thereof: his name would not be cut off nor destroyed from before me." Isaiah 48:12-19, ASV

The teaser read, "What school has an acceptance rate of less than one percent? The answer may surprise you…" and the link sent you to an article about a university that you'd never guess. The article from the Bloomberg News was titled, "Getting Into Harvard Easier Than McDonald's University in China." Apparently, the acceptance rate at Harvard is seven percent, but at McDonald's University in China, it is less than one percent. Only seven out of one thousand applicants are accepted.

The university is the first step to a career of rising through the ranks at the fast food chain. In one case, a student competed against 43 other workers to become an assistant manager so that she could attend a five day course. We may think that McDonald's is a dead end job, but the career opportunities are excellent. The current chief executive began as a management trainee forty years ago. Now he makes millions of dollars a year. For those in China, the opportunities to advance are even greater because the company growth is phenomenal. They are hoping to expand by a thousand stores in the next few years.

In the scriptures we looked at yesterday, Paul writes, "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:25, ASV) Many Americans laugh at those who would choose a career in the fast food business because it seems unimportant and a waste of good talent. Yet one of those interviewed for the article about the university in China said that she would rather continue to climb the corporate ladder of McDonald's than pursue a career in the banking business. Her father is unhappy about her decision, but she sees that there is definitely opportunity in the company. He thinks she's foolish, but perhaps we'll be seeing her name in the corporate leadership roster of McDonald's one day.

God knows best. In faith we can make that comment and believe it, but intellectually it is different to live sometimes. We pray for one thing, but God gives us something else. We want to have a job in a well respected company, but we find ourselves flipping burgers in McDonald's. What we don't know is what will come out of tomorrow. For the one woman in the story, the better choice is to go for the foolish opportunity, because she is certain that she'll have much greater success. The same just may be true for us. The opportunities we have may seem foolish and we wonder about God's wisdom: how could this be the path God wants me to follow? But God laid the foundation of the earth. He knows best. The experiences you are having today might seem foolish but they might just be exactly what God knows you need to succeed at the opportunities you'll face tomorrow.


January 28, 2011

"Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father. So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:11-22, ASV

The San Antonio Spurs are our local NBA team. They play in the Alamo Dome, and they are definitely the favorite team for most San Antonians. Another favorite in San Antonio is the Stock Show and Rodeo. The event, which lasts for weeks and takes place in many different venues, includes activities for everyone. There are events involving food like chili cook-offs and a cowboy breakfast. One hall is filled with vendors so that ranchers, farmers and every day folk like you and I can buy the latest, greatest products for ranch, farm and home. There is a carnival, party venues and concerts. There are animal competitions, and many local students present animals they have raised from babies for prizes and the opportunity to sell. They even have an old fashioned cattle drive right down the main streets of downtown San Antonio.

The center event of the Stock Show and Rodeo is, of course, the Rodeo. The Rodeo takes place in the Alamo Dome, which requires the installation of tons of dirt on the floor of the stadium. It takes days to accomplish the task, and is pretty amazing to see happen because the Alamo Dome is truly transformed.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to transform the Alamo Dome back and forth from Rodeo venue to basketball court during the Stock Show, so the Spurs have to go on the road for the entire time. They call it the "Rodeo Road Trip." The Spurs players are definitely at a disadvantage for the next month because they have to deal with the stress of travel and playing as visitors in someone else's stadium. They have no "home" for a month, no comfortable place to practice, no home advantage.

Those of us who have been Christians for our entire lives probably do not understand the reality of today's scriptures. For us, Christ has been part of our lives for as long as we can remember, and so we never felt like foreigners. However, the entire concept of faith in Christ is something that we can not by our own power control. We were foreigners, outside the covenant promise of God. It is only by the faith God has given us that we are made citizens of heaven. And now, as His children, we are sent on a "rodeo road-trip" of faith, into the world to share God's grace with others. We don't have the home advantage. The people we meet are not always fans. We face difficulties that would be easier to deal with if we were in a place that is comfortable and safe.

I don't know if God will be with the Spurs during the next few weeks, but I know God travels with me no matter where I go. And with Him at my side, I need not worry about being a foreigner in a foreign place, for His Word goes out and does His work according to His Will and purpose, making peace in the world and drawing people into His kingdom for eternity.


January 31, 2011

"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for all have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, ASV

Disney's "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" was first released on January 25, 1961 and is therefore fifty years old this year. Of all the videos we've purchased over the years (and we've purchased many of the children's stories), this video is the one that my kids watched so much that it wore out. We had to buy a second copy because they loved it so much. At this point I should probably buy it on DVD because I'm sure we'll be watching it again once there are grandchildren.

In honor of the film's fiftieth anniversary, the "moviefone" website has a list of 101 trivia questions involving the film. As is typical of Disney films, the technology was ahead of its time and was a solution to economic difficulties. The movie almost did not get made because Disney could not afford it. But Xerography made it cheaper and easier to put the animation onto the film. Walt Disney did not like the technique, perhaps because it takes away some of the hands on creativity of the artists and because it was necessary to make the characters more angular and stylized, instead of soft and rounded. Nevertheless, the technique became the standard until 1977.

One of the techniques used to help keep the amount of work to a minimum was the use of looping in the animation of characters in the background. A few loops of puppies were created and run underneath the animation of the nearer scenes, sometimes changing the size or direction to give the impression of different action. Due to an error in continuity, the final scene has a total of at least 150 dalmatians instead of just 101. It took a total of 113,760 frames to create this film, and on those frames you can count (if you can count that high) a total of 6,469,952. Pongo has 72 spots, Perdita has 68 spots and the puppies each have a total of 32 spots.

One of the interesting bits of trivia on the list was about Glenn Close who starred as Cruella De Vil in the live action version of the film. It is said that when she first appeared on stage in full costume, the dog playing Perdita, the mother dog, was truly afraid of her. I wonder how they managed to get the dog to work with Ms. Close. Or perhaps the fear gave Perdita an appropriate character trait for the film.

The film still gets high ratings despite its old age, a classic story and exciting visualization guarantees that the Disney Company will be able to bring the film out of the 'vault' every seven years for a few long time. Generations of children will watch the film, will get scared of Cruella De Vil and frightened for the cold puppies as they escape. It is a story of goodness overcoming cruelty and the power of community to get things done.

And though we don't make direct reference to the movie, Victoria and I often think about it when it is cold outside by referencing that moment when it seemed like the puppies were ready to give up. One of us will say, "My toes are cold" and we'll continue naming body parts that are cold. In the film, Pongo says, "C'm on, Lucky boy. We can't give up now." But Lucky answers, I'm tired and I'm hungry and my tail's froze… and my nose is froze and my ears are froze. And my toes are froze." He wants to lay down in the snow and stop trying. But Pongo doesn't let him give up. He picks up the puppy and continues their trek home.