Welcome to the January 2019 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


















God's Heart



Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2019

January 1, 2019

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, WEB

Today is the first day of a new year. We spent last night counting down the minutes until the ball dropped (those of us who could stay awake that long) and we cheered when the clock struck midnight. The neighbors shot off fireworks and the city celebrated with a huge party. I’m sure many people woke late this morning struggling to get out of bed after partying late into the morning. We do all this because the calendar tells us that one year is over and a new one has begun.

The change of the calendar reminds us to number our days. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wondering what happened! The past year passed so fast; I couldn’t believe how fast as we passed from one month to another. “It’s June already?” “What happened to September?” “What do you mean it is time for Christmas already? We just celebrated Easter!” Day by day we live our lives not really realizing the time is passing, but we are forced to think about it when we get to the end of the year.

We make a big deal about this day; many people are taking it as a chance for new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions are promises we make to become better in the next year. I once saw an article about how we should not do so right now. It suggested that at this time of year our bodies are in low gear fro winter and we have little willpower. We will likely fail and then feel like a failure. The writer suggested waiting until the spring when the natural cycle will increase our energy and will power to help us achieve our goals.

We think about changing our lives in these days after Christmas because, well, we’ve all overindulged a bit during the past month or so. We know we need to eat better after eating so many sweets and treats since Thanksgiving (or perhaps even since Halloween!) We know we need to exercise, do better with our money, and take care of our relationships. None of us come out of the holidays unscathed and we think that we can immediately change ourselves in a way that will make all things right in the world.

But the wisdom in the above post is true. Because we are tired and weak in flesh and spirit, it is unlikely that we’ll keep those resolutions. We give ourselves much, too much, credit. We need time to heal and to strengthen. If we are to make any resolutions, it should be to return our lives to some sense of normalcy, and then we can pursue the life changes that will make our world a better place. We have to pay all our debts before we start putting extra money away. We have to get rid of the holiday cookies before we can begin a diet of leafy greens. See, we go into the holidays and lose all control, and then on January 1st we try not only to return to the status quo but to go twice as far! That’s like thinking we can run a mile in the wrong direction and yet go back two miles in the right direction in a smaller amount of time.

On this New Year’s Day, however, instead of focusing on our own ability to become new, perhaps we should focus on what God is continually doing in and through our lives. This is a brand new year, but then every day is a new day. We have a chance to make a new beginning with every breath we take. Instead of remembering the past or focusing on the future, now is the time to praise God. It is fun to celebrate the coming of a new year and to set goals for ourselves for the coming year. At this time, however, it is even more appropriate to remember the source of our greatest gifts and transformation. Jesus Christ brought the dawn of a new day; He is the source of all our new beginnings. Through the grace and mercy of God we are changed, transformed and set on a journey where our pasts are forgotten and our futures are set in His blood. According to our calendar today is the beginning of a brand new year. Let us begin this day with praise and worship for the One who has brought through the past into today and who will be with us until the end of all the ages.


January 2, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, January 6, 2019, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and Yahweh’s glory has risen on you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Isaiah 60:1-3, WEB

My husband bought me a lovely necklace for Christmas. Unfortunately, it was not my size or my style. I have never asked to return any of his gifts before because I believe it is important to honor the time and the thought that goes into each one. This time, however, the gift would have been a complete waste of money, a trinket that would sit unused until it was handed on to our daughter one day. He told me we could go back to the store and buy something I would like, but I had another idea.

I have had a ring that was my mother’s. I received it when she died twenty years ago, but since my fingers are bigger than hers were, I could never wear it. Instead of buying a new piece of jewelry, we had her ring resized. Now it is on my finger and it is the best present he could have given me. I know it was hard for him to make a choice; I wasn’t very helpful in giving him ideas for Christmas. I don’t want or need anything. He wasn’t much more helpful. We both have enough; we love each other very much and want to give each other the world, but we have realized that the “stuff” that goes under the tree doesn’t prove our love. We’ve realized that the daily graces are more important than anything we can wrap with paper.

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

An episode of “Everyone Loves Raymond” is the perfect example. Ray entered his parents’ home with a box filled with musical CD’s. At some point in the past, Ray had ruined his father’s record albums and he wanted to make up for the mistake. He had bought them a CD player and was excited to show his father how he could listen to his music again with the CD’s. “Where is the player I bought you?” he asked. “Ask your mother” his father answered. Ray discovered that the player was on a pile of gifts he had purchased for them, technology and electronics that would make their life easier. They weren’t interested. Ray asked his mother about the pile and she said, “What would we need an electrical knife for?” The gifts were useless. By the end of the show, the family decided that Ray should not buy presents for his parents any longer.

I had a hard time with gifts this year, too, but I still prefer to go to the trouble. I admit that I did buy a few gift cards, but I also made sure that there were thoughtful gifts for those people to whom they were given. I agree with my friend that it is foolish to be trading money back and forth. Gifts mean something. They tell a person that you have something you want to share or that you recognize something special about the recipient. Getting a book about roses for a gardener tells them that you know they like to garden and you thought about them when you saw the book. The thought is as important as the gift itself.

This Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany, the day when the wise men met Jesus. We give gifts at Christmas because of the example of those men. They gave gifts to Jesus that had deep and important meaning to His purpose. These foreign wise men from far away recognized the star in the sky as a sign of the new king. They traveled a dangerous and difficult journey to worship this child. The gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense foresaw the work of Jesus. The gold was a symbol of royalty and wealth. It had a practical purpose, too. The holy family had no wealth and the escape to Egypt would be expensive, so the gold paid for the care and protection of Jesus. The frankincense was a sign of Jesus’ ministry, a foreshadowing of his role as High Priest and the perfect Lamb sacrificed to atone for the sins of the world. Myrrh was an expensive ointment that was used only for the anointing of the dead. By giving this gift to Mary and Joseph, they pointed to the day when it would be used for Jesus’ own flesh. It indicated the importance of Jesus’ death in the purpose of His life.

Who were these wise men? This is a question that has plagued theologians for nearly two thousand years. Matthew tells us that the magi came from the east, and yet the prophecies we identify with these wise men speak of visitors from Arabia. Traditions have arisen over the legends of these visitors. Our understanding of this particular aspect of the Christmas story is based on those traditions, not the biblical witness. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to tell us the story of the wise men. All he tells us that they came from the east in search of the king of the Jews born as indicated by the appearance of a new star in the sky. He also tells us that when they found the baby, they presented him with three rare and costly gifts while worshipping. That’s all we know. Everything else is based on interpretation of Matthew’s story through the eyes of the Old Testament.

Many experts suggest that they were from Iran, about eight hundred miles from Jerusalem. We do not know how many wise men traveled to see Jesus, but we base the number on the gifts given. It is likely that the three gifts were brought by a caravan of people, not only numerous wise men, but also family, servants and soldiers.

Matthew’s purpose of his Gospel was to prove that Jesus was the one for whom they had waited. His style and order seems to be in line with typically rabbinic education, suggesting that Matthew intended his work to be a catechetical document for teaching the faith to new believers, particularly Jewish ones. This is why we look to the Old Testament texts for answers to our questions about these wise men.

Isaiah and the psalmist give us some hints about the place from which the wise men came. Isaiah tells us that many camels from Midian and Ephah would come, and that all from Sheba would come. The psalmist says they are from Tarshish, Sheba and Seba. All these places were probably in the general vicinity of southwestern Arabia, near Yemen or even Ethiopia. Travelers from these places would go north on the east from Arabia along the Red Sea and the Jordan, turning toward Jerusalem just east of the city to cross the river.

Wherever the wise men began their journey, they likely would have entered Jerusalem by the East, or Golden Gate. It was the only gate to face the east and it was the largest and most impressive gate into the city; an impressive caravan with wise men or kings would likely have entered by this gate. I’m not sure that it matters to this story, but the East Gate is the one through which the Messiah was expected to come. The gate leads to the Temple Mount and is just opposite the Mount of Olives. It is the gate through which Jesus entered on Palm Sunday for His triumphant parade into Jerusalem. The Muslims walled up the gate in 810 A.D. to halt the coming of the Messiah. The gate remains closed today, although we know that no walls will keep the Messiah from coming again.

While these facts may not be significant for the story of Epiphany, it perhaps gives some insight into Matthew’s description of the wise men coming from the “east.” Matthew may have wanted his readers to be looking east as they studied the story of Jesus. Perhaps not literally, but it may have been a literary device that would come full circle later in the book. Matthew writes in chapter 24, “For as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Is the east important because it tells us where the Magi live, or because it makes us look toward the second coming of Christ?

If Matthew’s purpose in writing the Gospel is to help Jewish believer learn the story of Jesus, then it is helpful to look at this story in light of the Old Testament texts. The prophecies all point toward places that may have had some connection to historic Israel.

We are familiar with the story of Midian from the scriptures. Midian was a son of Abraham by his concubine Keturah (Genesis 25). Joseph was sold to the Midianites (Genesis 37). Moses lived in exile in Midian, and married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest. The relationship was not always good, as God instructed Moses to destroy Midian. In the book of Judges, Israel is oppressed by Midian, and Gideon is sent destroy Midian. Ephah is the son of Midian.

Sheba is said to be in, or near, Ethiopia. Sheba was another son of Abraham by the concubine Keturah. History suggests that there was a thriving civilization in Ethiopia during the days of Solomon. According to tradition, the Queen of Sheba returned to her country after her visit to Jerusalem with a son she bore with Solomon, King Melenik. He founded the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia. A small Jewish community still thrives there today. There are those who believe that Solomon also sent the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia with the Queen of Sheba, to keep it protected from the enemies of Israel. Ethiopian Christians continue to claim they are the keepers of the lost ark. Ethiopia continues to have strong Jewish and Christian communities, as well as a strong Muslim community. The three religions live in peace, working together for the betterment of the nation and the people.

Sheba seems to have a much different relationship with Israel than Midian and Ephah, one of mutual respect. In the days of Solomon the nation of Israel was wealthy, powerful and independent. It was a place where the roads of the world crossed, where the best products from all over the world found a place in her marketplaces. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and delivered magnificent gifts of gold and incense, for which Sheba was world renowned. Isaiah seems to be promising a restoration to the Golden Age, and the people were searching for a Messiah that would restore them to their place of prominence in the world.

It is interesting that we use this as a text as a prediction of the wise men from Matthew’s Gospel, but perhaps he was thinking of this text, too, when he was telling the story. Sheba is not a surprise, since the people had long had a relationship with Israel, but what about the Midianites? Perhaps Isaiah was telling the people that the Messiah would come for Israel’s enemies, too. After all, the forgiveness of God is available for all.

The psalmist mentions Tarshesh along with Sheba, whose kings will come to honor and give tribute to the king of Israel. Of course, Tarshesh was also a nation that honored Solomon; there was a great deal of trade done between the two nations. The location of Tarshesh is in doubt, as some think that it is in Phoenicia, an ancient Semitic culture along the Mediterranean. Others specifically name it as Carthage, a city in Phoenicia. Yet others think it is Tartessian, a city in Spain that had open trade with Phoenicia. It is a city far away from the land of Israel, and apparently one that had a good relationship with Solomon, perhaps even religious ties to the Jewish people.

Now, while Matthew may have written with the intention of uplifting and training Jewish Christians, there is no doubt that the Christ child came to save the whole world. Isaiah wrote about the light that will shine out of Israel, the glory of the LORD which will rise out of His people. The light will draw all nations to Jerusalem, strangers and foreigners will come to worship the God of Israel. Though the visitors may not have been as detached from the faith as we have suspected, the light no doubt did not come for Israel alone.

The light first appeared as a star in the sky leading magi from foreign lands to a humble house and a young boy. There, the magi found the true light, the true King, the Messiah that had been promised. While Israel may have looked forward to the day when they would be restored, Epiphany shines the light on the real mystery of faith: that the mercy of God is available to us all.

Israel never expected that the Gentiles would understand God’s hand in the world, and yet it was God who made the light shine into the entire world. Paul realized quickly during his ministry that he’d take the Good News to those outside Israel. He was the least of all the apostles because he was made an apostle apart from the twelve. But from the very beginning Paul knew His mission: to take the Good News to the Gentiles. It wasn’t clear to earlier generations that God’s salvation would reach beyond His people. We are adopted by God’s grace. Paul’s message was given to all nations, to the kings and authorities drawn to the light.

Epiphany is defined as “a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.” The story of Epiphany talks of wise men, or kings, or magi following a star toward the fulfillment of a promise. They saw the star rise in the east and they followed it. The journey ended in Bethlehem where they saw the true Light. Isaiah writes, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Jesus Christ was the rising light and His birth was the dawn of a new age.

Our lessons focus on what God does for the poor and oppressed through much of the church year. Many of our lessons talk of how God will tear down the thrones and topple the wealthy. But in today’s lessons, we see that there is also a place for the rich and the powerful in His kingdom. The light draws all people, young and old, rich and poor, those who lead and those who follow. Rulers are called to the light, and encouraged to live faithfully for the sake of God’s people. God can do His work in their lives and through their vocations, too. It is our prayer that all our rulers will live in the light. The ruler who knows God does what is right. When the king rules with righteousness, the people prosper under his care.

We may never see another ruler like Solomon or a Golden Age for any nation, but the promise has already been fulfilled. The Messiah has come; there is no turning Him away. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem and honored by strangers near and far. He has already crossed through the Golden Gate and finished the work He was sent to do.

On the day of Epiphany, we recognize that God revealed the divine nature of Christ to the world. We see this most clearly in the gifts they presented to the child, and this is where Matthew really points to Jesus as the Messiah. The gold, frankincense and myrhh establishes for us the truth that Jesus came to live and to die, King of kings and Lord of lords, High Priest over all and Lamb that was slain. He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God; death and the grave could not keep Him down. He lives again so that we might live.

Life comes through forgiveness, and forgiveness is offered to all men through Christ. It is given to those who hear God’s word and believe. Our present rulers might fail us, as the kings of Israel often failed God’s people, but we have a King that will always be faithful. His light still shines in this world even though it seems like it is dark as night. But there is something wonderful about the night: that is when we can see the stars. The wise men found the baby by following a star, but now we are the stars that draw men to Christ.

The irony of the Christian message is found in Paul’s writing to the Ephesians. The divine mystery, though once secreted from the world is now made visible in the life and grace of Jesus Christ. It is still a mystery; it is still a thing that cannot be fully understand by human power or knowledge. It is given as a gift, but it has been given to the whole world. It is not hidden any longer. The light shines for all to see. We might enjoy calling ourselves part of a chosen people, but we haven’t been chosen to be separated from the world. We have been chosen to take the light of Christ to others, to shine the grace of God that all might see Him and receive the faith He has to give. We have been chosen to share Christ that all might believe.


January 3, 2019

“You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10, WEB

The holiday season is a time of great generosity, not only toward those we love, but toward strangers in need. I’m sure nearly all of us put at least a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket or donated a can of corn to a food bank. We pick angels off trees and fill boxes with toys. There’s something special about the season that makes us want to do something for others. It doesn’t matter the identity, people of every religion and no religion find a way to do good for the world during the holidays. We are reminded, however, that our life in Christ is meant to be one of selfless generosity all year long.

So, as you are making and starting your resolutions for the new year, have you thought about adding something that will make a difference in someone else’s life? I saw an idea about putting money in a jar all year long, a dollar for every number of the week (one dollar on the first week, two dollars on the second week, etc.) By the end of the year, that small amount of money in a jar will add up to $1328. This savings challenge can then be used for Christmas presents or to plan a special trip. Or, you could use that amount to do good works in your city. Imagine what $1328 could do for the organizations that help abused children or the homeless!

Do you have a few hours a week? I’m sure the local charity thrift shop could use another hand. The food banks are always looking for people who can fill grocery bags for those who come for help. The elementary school down the street needs people who can help in the library or office, and they are often looking for mentors to spend time with the children who need a little extra help. Do you have an elderly neighbor who could use a helping hand? What about the lonely coworker who could just use a listening ear?

We just celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we’ll be reminded sooner than we expect of the incredible sacrifice for our sake. This work of Jesus is not just given for our personal benefit. We are saved so that we’ll continue to share the grace with the world. We are blessed to be a blessing. There’s no reason to wait until December to do the work of God in this world. As a matter of fact, there is always something we can do to make a difference. There is always someone who is hungry or cold or lonely. There is always someone who could use our hearts and our hands and our resources. What will you add to your life to make the world a better place?

The best part is that God has already planned this for you. He has already set the path to this good work you can do to glorify Him. Now is the time to pray, to listen, to watch. Do not be afraid when you see what God has prepared for you. Do not make excuses that you don’t have enough time or resources. Do not ignore the wonderful opportunities that He has waiting because you will find that God will give you all you need to make it happen. God gave you an incredible gift in the manger when Jesus was born. We certainly do not need to do anything to receive the gift. As Christians we have been recreated by His grace to do good works, to walk in His gifts to make a difference in the world.


January 4, 2019

“My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress - I will never be greatly shaken. How long will you assault a man, would all of you throw him down, Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence? They fully intend to throw him down from his lofty place. They delight in lies. They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah. My soul, wait in silence for God alone, for my expectation is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be shaken. With God is my salvation and my honor. The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us. Selah. Surely men of low degree are just a breath, and men of high degree are a lie. In the balances they will go up. They are together lighter than a breath. Don’t trust in oppression. Don’t become vain in robbery. If riches increase, don’t set your heart on them. God has spoken once; twice I have heard this, that power belongs to God. Also to you, Lord, belongs loving kindness, for you reward every man according to his work.” Psalm 62:1-12, WEB

I often see a meme on Facebook that shows a cabin in the middle of the woods, far from civilization with the caption something like, “Would you stay here for a large amount of money without a computer or television?” It tells you to share if you would. I have to admit that I might for a few days, but they usually make the time period a month or more. I have the opportunity to hide away in a cabin once in a while and I confess that I take a TV and DVD player and watch movies. I even use the data on my phone to check on my Facebook timeline once in awhile. Could I live without the technology for a few days, a month or a year? I don’t know. I guess I could, but I won’t lie. I like my computer and I justify much of my use as ministry. After all, I do spend hours a day researching and writing, not only this devotion, but also the Bible studies we use at church.

It would be comical, if it were not so sad, how we have come to rely on our computers so much. The first thing I do in the morning is turn on the computer and check my Facebook. When I come home from an appointment or from running errands, I sit down to see what is going on in the world. I even turn the data on my phone and check if I’m out too long during the day. I am always shocked at how work stops when there are computer problems. Cashiers in the grocery stores are unable to ring an order because they can’t add numbers or even find the prices without the computer. Too many young people cannot even make change if the machine does not do so for them. We use our computers for everything now. We send quickly typed emails or search free e-greeting sites for the perfect card rather than handwritten notes to our family and friends. Many of my Christmas greetings came as memes on Facebook rather than in an envelope with a stamp.

I have often wondered what I would do if something happened to my computer. I would have to get it fixed or come up with the money to buy a replacement. My life is tied up in this computer; certainly this entire ministry is stored in the memory. I could certainly use more time without it, time to just be quiet and listen to God. I miss it when I do not write; it is a time I spend alone with God, reading His Word and listening for His voice. Oh, I manage to pray at other times, but it is strange to realize that I am most aware of my time with God when I am near the computer.

The technology that has made our life easier has also made it more difficult. We quickly discover how much we rely on these things when they are not available for us to us. They are not innately bad, for they help us in so many ways. Yet, when we feel we can’t live without them, when a broken computer means our life will seemingly end, then we have made them too important and they become like gods to us.

Today’s Psalm is a song of commitment to God in the midst of difficulty. David was faced with men who wanted to remove his crown. He knew that only God’s grace could help him keep his kingship, his trust was in the One who could save Him. Our computers are just things that God has given us to use in this world to make our lives easier. He even uses it to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the world. However, sometimes our reliance on these things make us miss hearing what God has to say to us because we are so busy punching keys that we don’t listen for His voice. May we never forget that they are perishable and only God is worthy of our trust and love.


January 7, 2019

“When Elisha had come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and lying on his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door on them both, and prayed to Yahweh. He went up, and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. He stretched himself on him; and the child’s flesh grew warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house once back and forth; and went up, and stretched himself out on him. Then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. He called Gehazi, and said, ‘Call this Shunammite!’ So he called her. When she had come in to him, he said, ‘Take up your son.’ Then she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground; then she picked up her son, and went out.” 2 Kings 4:32-37, ASV

I love Penn and Teller. They are entertainers, giving the audience more than the shock and awe of a normal magic show. They are humorous and educational. Most of all, I like their honesty. When they do a trick, they show how it is done, so that the people will understand how they have manipulated the natural to create something that appears supernatural. The tricks are still amazing, perhaps even more so because we’ve seen how it is done. Once I saw them do a trick with tissue ghosts. They were able to make these tissue ghosts fly into the air without use of strings. When the trick was complete, the camera zoomed out to show that Penn and Teller had been hanging upside down for the entire trick - perhaps five minutes long. Have you tried to hang upside down for that long? It would be difficult, especially without showing signs of in the face, hair or mannerisms. The trick was a joke, there was no magic involved in making those tissue ghosts fly, but the overall affect was stunning.

Magic is nothing more than manipulation of the natural even though it sometimes seems supernatural. Like that trick with the tissue ghosts, the world uses manipulation to make us think we are seeing one thing while the reality is very different. This happens mostly with people; manipulators use the circumstances for their own best interest, trying to get others to do what they want done. There are even people who claim to be Christian that have done this; they use their gifts to make it seem as if they have more power than they really have. Unfortunately, there are many people who are willing to take advantage of people’s faith by creating the illusion of God’s power when they are really just manipulating the circumstances to their own advantage. False prophets, healers and teachers are abundant in our world today.

Some of the stories in the Bible make it seem as if this is the way God does things, so the false teachers use the stories to appear as men of God. There are stories about prophets feeding many, healing the sick and raising the dead. There are stories that describe water being made clean and these make the prophet appear to be magicians, bringing something out of nothing. In the story of Moses, Pharoah’s magicians could do nearly everything that Moses did with his staff, but there was a difference. The magicians were manipulating nature, Moses trusted God.

The difference between the miracles of the prophets and the magic of the false prophets is that the real does not need to put on a show. They do not manipulate the circumstances, but instead take their troubles to the Lord in prayer and seek His hand and power to make a difference. They do not do their healing for an audience, often denying that anything spectacular even happened. The actions of Elisha in today’s story appear as though he is performing some sort of magic. As a matter of fact, I’m sure I’ve seen magicians do something similar in their act – as if covering the person with their body will create some sort of change in the person. With Elisha, it was not magic. He was obedient to God’s instruction and God healed the child. Elisha did this behind closed doors and only with prayer to the One who could bring the child back to life.

God can’t be manipulated. God can, and certainly does, move among His people when they worship Him in spirit and truth. He answers prayer when it is asked with a humble heart for His glory. There are too many who create the illusion of God’s blessings by manipulating the circumstances to appear as though God is moving. Beware of those who claim to be doing God’s work but are really doing what benefits their own lives and ministries. They are not real and honest, for the illusion is nothing more than a manipulation of the natural and is not at all from God. God’s grace is not a show, it is for God’s people so that they will turn to Him and live.


January 8, 2019

“A man’s heart plans his course, but Yahweh directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9, WEB

I never really understood the phrase “you have your work cut out for you.” This usually means that the task that lies ahead is a difficult one. Yet, when you think of it in terms of Kindergarten craft projects, you’ll see that it is good to have the work ‘cut out for you’. The teacher does the cutting to make it easier for the students. Though the prep work might be hard, it makes it easier for the teacher in the long run. A room full of Kindergarteners with scissors can be chaotic. Some children are not able to cut very well, or might cut something improperly, ruining the project. Yet other children go overboard with their creativity, using more materials or time than are available. By preparing the materials, a teacher limits the actions of the child for the sake of the whole class. There are always opportunities for the children to let go, but sometimes a teacher has to cut the work for the students.

The Lord is much like a Kindergarten teacher. He has prepared our way. We have our work cut out for us, by our Father who knows what is best for us and for the entire world. Yet, if we look at that phrase as it is understood, God certainly has His work cut out for Him. We seem to make it difficult for Him, making our own plans, choosing our own course. Yet, just like when a youngster decides to do whatever they want during arts and crafts time, we soon discover that our own choices are not always the best. We discover that time is lost and we make mistakes that ruin the project. Our improper use of the materials ruins the experience for others because there is nothing left for them to use.

This simple scripture for today is seen by the world as foolishness. We want control of our lives; we want to be able to do things for ourselves. Individuality is seen as the ideal, each person doing whatever they feel is best. However, this attitude is selfish and leads to selfish behavior. As a parent, I was glad to know that in school my children were given opportunities to share their gifts within an environment where every child had a chance to share theirs.

God has created each of us as individuals, but we dwell in community. We make it difficult by trying to do everything our own way, planning our own course. However, God is still in control. He cuts out our work for us, directing our steps for the benefit of the whole. We can rest in this knowledge, knowing that God has carefully planned our life in this world and will help us through.


January 9, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, January 13, 2019, Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and flame will not scorch you.” Isaiah 43:2, WEB

Have you ever heard the voice of God? I have, but I have told few people about the experience. Unfortunately, when I have admitted to having heard the voice of God, the response was less than charitable. The cynics asked why He would talk to me, the skeptics wondered if anyone else could hear the voice. They wanted details like how loud and what sort of voice. They wanted to know if it was a booming, thunderous male voice or the still, sweet voice of a woman. I can’t describe it in those terms. It was a very personal moment. Perhaps it was just in my head, but that does not make it any less real. I heard a voice as I would hear someone speaking right next to me, though it was very different.

So, how do we describe something that is beyond description? The scriptures tell us about the ways God speaks to His people. He spoke out of a burning bush to Moses, but to Elijah His voice was like a whisper. He came to Mary and Joseph in words from an angel. He even spoke to Balaam out of the mouth of a donkey. The psalm for this week describes God’s voice a thunderous, powerful. It is not God who breaks the cedars, but God’s voice. His voice strikes like flashes of lightning. It shakes the desert, twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. The response of God’s creation to this voice is awe. “In his temple everything says, ‘Glory!’”

This is not an image of God with which we can easily identify. We tend to prefer the idea of God’s still, sweet voice, the quiet calling of a Father to a child. Thunder and lightning bring fear to our hearts. We tremble at the thought of God’s voice shaking the desert, twisting the oaks and stripping the forests bare. If He can do that to His creation, what will that voice do to us? Instead of expressing awe, we are offended by an image of God that might denote an iron fist over His creation. We are willing to ascribe to Him the glory we know He deserves, but we’d much rather keep Him confined to a softer image. We like the idea of the shepherd king or the mother hen protecting her chicks. We like the image of a loving father or a brotherly friend. There is little room for wrath in that perception of God.

So we have difficulty when the scriptures we read include both hope and wrath such as our Old Testament passage for today. Isaiah spoke of hope in times of trouble, hope for a return to the homeland and restoration for the people of Israel. Yet, in the same text, Isaiah speaks about the destruction of others. He gives the people of Egypt, Cush and Seba as a ransom for the people of Israel. Persia conquered those places and it was the Persians who allowed the Jews to go home. The wrath was necessary for God’s grace to be complete.

What would then happen to the exiles? They had been away from home for so long. The text from Isaiah is a promise that they would return soon to Jerusalem. The Jews were in Babylon for seventy years, but life in exile was not nearly as bad as we might suppose. As a matter of fact, the Jews who were taken to Babylon were often the educated and gifted. They were well respected among the strangers, given decent jobs and wages. Many had accumulated wealth and property. They were in exile for so long that many of the Jews who had been taken captive were dead and it was their children receiving the promise. They were captives but they were not necessarily slaves. Would they really want to leave the only life they knew, the good life they had created to return to a desolate and barren place?

The promise from Isaiah is a reminder to those wondering if they should go: the Lord God Almighty, their Creator and Redeemer, loves them. They are His chosen ones, called by His name and created for His glory. He dwells amongst them and they are His. It might seem foolish to leave the good live to go back to the unknown, but that unknown is the life to which they have been called and for which they have been created. We do not know or fully understand the ways of God and we might be even be offended by the method by which He guarantees salvation to His people. But we are offended because we put God into a tiny box, making Him to fit only our desires and our perceptions.

Oswald Chambers once said, “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specifically designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.” God is far more than we can imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and to serve Him to His glory. Yet, with our words we still try to make Him fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The psalmist in today’s passage knows that God is far bigger than human reason and understanding can imagine. We see only a part of the entirety of God.

In England, the tallest building in any village was the church. The church was the center of the community. All life passed through at one point or another, if only to be baptized, married or buried. The church was used as place for village meetings. In times of danger the church was the strongest building and often became fortress to protect the people. Once clocks became readily available, the village standard was kept on a clock that was installed in the tower. The church bells were used to call people together and to inform them of important announcements. Different tunes were used for different purposes. Joyous ringing might mean the village was celebrating a wedding or a birth. A mourning piece announced a death. Certain tunes would call the people for a meeting and others would bring believers together for worship. Everyone understood the meaning of the bells and acted appropriately.

Church buildings rarely dominate the skyline today and church bells are barely heard. Many churches are not even built with a tower anymore, and few even consider the cost of bells worthwhile. We have radio, television, telephone, email, and social media to share news. There are public buildings separate from the churches where we gather to do the business of living together in community. Church is only for church these days.

We live in a multicultural society where the church is not the center of most people's lives. In those days when the church played a more prominent role, the lines between church and state got confused and even lost. People were Christian because everyone was Christian. Yet many were not quite Christian. They went to church because it was expected, but did not understand much about what they believed. Martin Luther discovered this problem in the early 1500's when he was visiting some village churches. The parishioners had no idea what it meant to be a Christian. Luther wrote the Small Catechism to teach and inform the people about the faith. There are still many who suffer the same trouble. There's something missing from their lives.

It is almost as if they can hear the church bells but they have no idea what the ringing means. The call to worship draws them in but they don't understand what it is they have gathered to do. In faith it is easy to look out at all of creation and see the hand of God in all that there is, but without faith the world just looks like it is revolving on its own. God is not visible to those who do not see with the eyes of their heart.

The psalmist understood this problem. This song of praise calls us together with words that give honor and glory to the One who created. Yet, in the call to worship the psalmist found it necessary to tell us to whom we should attribute the praise. “Ascribe to Yahweh, you sons of the mighty, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name. Worship Yahweh in holy array.” God is the divine King, the only one worthy to be praised.

Despite all that, we do not always recognize the presence of God. There are times when it seems like God is nowhere to be found. The Jews were in exile. Perhaps they believed that God had abandoned them. Why else would they be in such a terrible state? Near the end of their exile, God spoke to His people and promised that they would be saved. God created them, not just their bodies but also their nation. They are His, called by His name. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and flame will not scorch you” He promised.

Water and fire. During Israel’s history some of the most important moments were when God led His people through one or the other. Noah was protected through the flood. Lot was saved from the fire at Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses was guided through the waters of the Red Sea. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego lived through the fiery furnace. Water and fire were elements that brought death, but also cleansing. Only by God’s power could His people overcome the destruction of either water or fire. And He always promised to be with His people in the midst of it all.

Just as God was quiet during the exile, He was also silent in the days before the coming of the Messiah. The people knew the prophecies, they knew that God would fulfill His promises to His people, but they did not know what to expect. They thought they understood and they were watching and waiting for the deliverer. Their expectation was of a powerful man, one who would become king and save them from the Romans. When John the Baptist began preaching about the Kingdom of God, it was easy to assume that he was the one for whom they were waiting.

In today’s Gospel lesson, John answered their questions. “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Later, Jesus approached John for baptism. John was just a minor figure in Luke’s version of this story; he does not even talk to the Lord Jesus. But the voice of God does.

Luke tells us that Jesus was praying as He was baptized, and that while He did so the heavens opened and a voice spoke, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” I wonder what this sounded like to those who were watching. Did they hear the words of God or did they hear something like thunder? The voice of the Lord is powerful indeed. At this moment in time, Jesus identified Himself completely with the human race, taking upon His shoulder the burdens of life, of sin and of death. He truly became one of us. Yet, at that moment God embraced the One whom He had sent, anointing Him with power and glory as the beloved Son. There are few places in scripture where we can so clearly see Jesus as He is: fully human and fully divine.

This moment was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He would spend three years preparing the world and His disciples for His true purpose. At that moment, Jesus not only passed through the waters of baptism, but also the fire of baptism as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him to give Him the power to minister in this world. John told the people that Jesus would come and do something more. The water was not enough. They had to go through the fire as well. At His baptism, Jesus was the first to be baptized with fire as the Holy Spirit came upon Him. John’s baptism only prepared them for the greater gift that was to come.

That gift came to the Jews at Pentecost, when the tongues of fire came upon those who believed. The disciples went out into the world preaching the good news of Christ and baptizing in His name. Those in Samaria, however, did not receive the Holy Spirit when they heard the Word of God. When the disciples learned that the people of Samaria believed; Peter and John were sent to check out the evangelistic efforts in that place. It was then that the Samaritans went through their own Pentecost experience, when the Gentiles also received baptism by fire and the Holy Spirit was given also to them. In this way, God made the nations His own, calling them by His name and marking them for His glory.

God’s Word is powerful. His voice brings us through the water and the fire and makes us one of His own. In baptism, we take on His name and become children of God. There are times when it is difficult to notice God’s presence in this world, particularly in times of pain and confusion. Yet, in faith we can hear God’s voice calling to us, reminding us that He is always near. His voice is heard in the thunder, it rattles the deserts and changes us into new creation.

The churches may not be the center of life in many towns in our world today, but God is no less available to those who believe. We who are baptized followed our Lord Jesus into the water and fire. We are all beloved, named by God as one of His children. We have been given the Holy Spirit to make us part of the one body. Though we continue to be sinners, we are made saints by the grace and God will always be with us. He loves us and He will not allow us to be destroyed.

He is the Lord, the one who reigns over the water and the fire, who gives strength to his people; He blesses us with peace. He calls us to worship Him, the only one worthy to be praised. He is bigger than we can imagine; His majesty is sometimes frightening, but we need not fear. God’s voice can level a forest, but He uses His voice to call His people to hope and peace. We are called to a life that glorifies God. The journey might not be easy. We may have to walk through the waters of a flood or face the fire, but God is with us. He has called us by name. We can rest assured that God is with us through it all.


January 10, 2019

“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138, WEB

I read an article recently about our purpose in life. The author suggested that everyone take time at the beginning of this new year to consider the question. What is my purpose? When we usually think about this question, we think we have to answer with some great accomplishment. We think we have to save the world or discover a cure or impact a large number of people. We think big and in the long range. It is overwhelming to think that the purpose God has given us is so big and we wonder if it is unattainable.

The article included a number of quotes about the purpose of life. My favorite is from Robert Byrne, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” While it might be true that some of us will accomplish something great and world changing, that is not true for most of us. We may leave a legacy or impact a few people in our lives, but our names will probably never be on the most influential people lists now or in the future.

Many of the answers in the article were very personal. One wanted to be a caring partner. Another wanted to find joy. Another said that our purpose is to do what we do best, to use our talents. The author writes, “...try to turn your answer into action. If you conclude, as Tolstoy and Einstein did, that the mean of life is helping others, that should help motivate you to do more of it. If ‘love’ is the answer, then love more. If it is to ‘find your bliss,’ then get searching for it.” It does not good to search for our purpose if we are not going to do anything about it.

As Christians we should begin with our faith. God certainly did create us for a purpose; He created us to worship Him. Now, we as Christians understand this and we center our life on our faith in God. However, God created all people to worship, even those who reject Him. They just don’t realize it. They turn their faith to others; they often have faith in self, and so their purpose is often self-centered. If we were created to worship God, then our purpose is to glorify Him in all we do.

We need to remember that we don’t have just one purpose in our life. The author is wise to consider his purpose on a regular basis because it changes through time. When my children were small, they were my purpose. I was given charge over them to raise them into being people who love and serve and glorify God. Paul says, “You are our letter, written in our hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:2, WEB) My children are my letter, and their lives are truly a great accomplishment. They will probably never be on any most influential list, but they will impact their world some way. Now I have a different purpose, and though it is not quite so clear, I am happy to glorify God with whatever tasks are set before me daily.

See, we should consider the question of purpose in the long term because it gives us goals. If we think our purpose is to save the world or discover a cure or impact a large number of people, then we will do what we need to do to get there. We will go to school, we will chase after opportunities that will accomplish that purpose. We may not accomplish that big purpose, but we can trust that God will use that work to accomplish His will in the world. In the meantime, we have other purposes. Considering the question on a yearly basis gives us short term goals. What is my purpose in 2019? Even that is long term. What if we considered our purpose on a daily basis? What am I to accomplish today? An even better question is this: how will I glorify God today? That’s our true purpose, to glorify Him with all we do. It might seem insignificant to the world, but God will know and will bless you for your faith.


January 11, 2019

“Finally, be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tender hearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were you called, that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘He who would love life, and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil, and do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:8-12, WEB

From the diary of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg was a German Lutheran missionary and leader of the church that was being established in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. In one of his diary excerpts, Muhlenberg talked about a conversation he had with another missionary named Alexander Murray. Murray was disappointed because talks between different church bodies, the English and German churches, were not going well. Murray thought it was an ideal time for cooperation and for the welfare of the church so that German Lutherans could be educated in the English academies and prepared to serve. He was concerned that if there were not enough leaders, then the people would turn away from the Church and Christ. Muhlenberg understood his concerns wrote this in his diary: “I said {to Alexander} that one could travel from one pole to another in a few minutes on a map, but in practice things went much more slowly and laboriously. It is something fondly to be hoped for that all the walls of partition made by human hands may be done away and Christ be all in all.”

I think there is a lot of wisdom in this statement for us today. We want every issue to be solved today. In some cases, it is vital that the issues be solved immediately because people’s lives are at stake. Unfortunately, nothing happens quickly, particularly when it comes to politics. I mean politics, which is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group, both in the secular world and in the religious world, because no matter how much we wish differently, politics rears its ugly head in every aspect of our life. And we all know how slowly things work when politics are involved! Anyone who has served on a call committee for a church will tell you that it can take two to three years to finally select the one who will serve as pastor.

We are human beings, we see the world through our own opinions and biases. Unfortunately, that means we will disagree with our neighbors. We don’t know why the churches in the late eighteenth century were having a problem with agreeing to work together, but we do know the same thing happens still today. And while many will say that the Protestant Reformation is at fault for the division in the Church today, we need to remember that Peter and Paul had disagreements when they were working at organizing the Church two thousand years ago.

We will get frustrated because the Church is filled with fallible human beings. However, we can trust that God is working in the lives of all Christians. We will disagree, but Peter writes that a blessed life comes from being Christ-like, even when the circumstances in our life seem overwhelming. When we face opposition, we should not try so hard to make things happen according to our timeline. When we do so, we lose sight of the One from whom we receive the greatest blessings. God knows what He is doing and He will accomplish His will despite our human failings. Meanwhile, living the Christ-like life will help us to take time to think about our response to the things that happen around us, to keep us from overreacting and causing harm to ourselves and others. In Christ we will be blessed.


January 14, 2019

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:26-28, WEB

This snippet appeared in Reader’s Digest, “Jerry Parr, a Secret Service agent who helped save President Ronald Reagan’s life during a 1981 assassination attempt, was inspired to join the Secret Service after seeing the movie ‘Code of the Secret Service.’ The film’s star? Ronald Reagan.” The thread of God’s grace is woven intricately throughout lives, often in ways we do not realize until long after they happen. That thread for Ronald Reagan may have been lifesaving.

I am reading Philip Yancey’s book on prayer. Throughout the book, Philip has included sidebars of stories and testimonies about prayer in people’s lives. Some of those people are celebrities, but many are people that Philip has met along his journey of faith. He lists only the person’s first name, so you don’t know which is which or who is who. I was reading one of those sidebars, a testimony from a man named John. He began a homeless ministry, a coffeehouse, in a big city which led to the organization of Sunday morning worship for those who are involved in the ministry. As I read this story, and the things John learned about prayer from his work with the homeless, I realized I was reading the words of my cousin John. It was his story. I may not have even realized it if I had not visited that ministry and attended that Sunday morning worship. I am sure I would not have known it was John if I had not heard him preach. I was able to appreciate his thoughts on prayer even more because I had seen his experience with my own eyes.

We often say it is a small world; I’m sure everyone has one of those stories. We were living in England, attending the chapel on the Air Force Base where my husband was stationed. We usually went out to breakfast after the service with others with whom we worshiped. One Sunday the breakfast club was very small, just one friend, my kids and myself. Our friend was telling us about an upcoming trip. She was headed to the area of Pennsylvania where we grew up to do a little family research. She knew her ancestors came from there and she wanted to go see cemeteries to make heritage connections. Intrigued, I asked what name she was following. She said, “Hoppes.” Now, understand, we knew each other by name, but never really got to know last names. I answered, “Carolyn, we are from the Hoppes family.” As it turns out, she is from a group of Hoppes family that moved to Indiana a long time ago, but we have a common relative from back in the 18th century.

Years later, we were attending a church in Little Rock and one day a young woman approached me at worship. “Are you Peggy?” I answered yes. She said, “My mom is Carolyn.” She knew from her mom that we attended a church in that city, but it was by accident or rather ‘Godincidence’ that she walked into ours. Our connection so many years before gave the young woman a connection in a strange city during a time of transition in her life.

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite texts because it reminds me how much God is in control of the world in which we live. His grace is woven so intricately throughout our lives that we may do something or meet someone today that will have an impact in a day, a year or even decades later. In some cases, the impact is seemingly insignificant, but at other times it might just be lifesaving. Sometimes we do not even know the impact those experiences have on others or ourselves, yet sometimes God gives us a glimpse so that we know that He will make everything work out for the good of those who love Him.


January 22, 2019

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18, WEB

We just got home from an emergency trip back to Pennsylvania to attend to the funeral and final details for my husband’s mother. We are never happy to travel for this reason, but it was made especially difficult by the suddenness and the weather. There was the potential for heavy snow and the promise of extreme cold. The snow did not arrive as expected, but it was in the single digits the day we left for home. I wanted to pack my heavy coat in the suitcase because I knew I would not need it after we arrived at the airport. I didn’t want to have to carry it all day, but it was necessary for those first few hours. What I wanted was not what was good for me.

Sheep have a tendency to desire whatever is on the other side of the fence. Somehow it looks better so they often harm themselves trying to get there. Don’t we all suffer from “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” envy at some point? We know people with nicer houses, bigger cars, better jobs and we wish we had all those things. We think to ourselves, “If only...” and even work hard to achieve our goals. Our motives aren’t always to keep up with the Jones’; sometimes we are simply unsatisfied with what we have and we desire something different.

Yet, things aren’t always better on the other side of the fence. Suppose our neighbor has a greener lawn, but what we don’t see is that they also have a water leak in one of their pipes. So, the lawn is well watered, but their water bill is extraordinary and the excess water is causing damage to the foundation of their home. The lawn looks lovely, and perhaps they don’t even know they have a problem, but one day it will surface and they will have difficult times while dealing with it. Though this is a hypothetical situation, there are often underlying causes that we do not see. We envy our neighbors with all their lovely things, but what we do not know is that the marriage is failing because it takes too much work to maintain the lifestyle. We may want the great job without realizing the stress can cause disease and substance abuse. We envy without really knowing and we run great risks pursuing things that are not intended for us. God knows what we need and gives abundantly.

The shepherd knows what is best for the sheep, but they think that if only they could get on the other side of the fence they could get that delicious plant to eat. Meanwhile, they harm themselves trying. We think we are pretty smart when we figure out ways to get everything we want, when I reality we are quite foolish pursuing those things. God asks us to be content with our life as He has given, to seek His wisdom and live by it. James writes of that wisdom, that it is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Imagine if everyone followed that kind of wisdom, there would be no need to envy one another. That wisdom comes from God and is given to us in Christ Jesus.


January 23, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, January 27, 2019, Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

“He began to tell them, ‘Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4:21, WEB

I don’t know who has it better: those of us who live in this modern age, who truly know how big and vast the heavens truly are, or those who lived before the telescope who could only imagine what is happening in that sphere above the earth. For them there was constancy in the stars, but mysteries also. The comets and the planets that move visibly to the human eye acted as signs or omens. This may seem superstitious to us, but it was one way of explaining what they could not explain. Perhaps that is why it is better to live today. We know what it is and what is happening, so we do not have to rely on our imaginations or superstition to understand that which is beyond our understanding. Yet, our scientific minds have lost a sense of mystery, and perhaps that sense of awe, because we know that a comet is only a comet and not a sign of impending joy or disaster.

Though we see God’s hand in His creation and it speaks to us of His glory, the stars and planets and animals cannot speak. The creation speaks of God with praise but we cannot learn of God’s will through their words. We can see God’s magnificence, but not know His mind. So we need something more. We need a voice that tells us how to live in relationship with the Creator. The trees bud and the flower blossoms in the right time of year, but they do not have a spirit that can choose to please the Father. Such a gift has been given only to the human race. It is only to men and women that God has given the chance to know Him and to choose to follow or reject His will.

Our psalm includes these two different perspectives: the awesome praise of the creation that cannot willingly obey the Lord and the words that make it possible for us to follow Him. The second half of this psalm talks of God’s Law, the Word which is not spoken by the creation but only by the Creator. It is perfect, it is right and it is true. We can certainly glorify God with praise like the rest of creation, but we have been given something greater. We have been given the opportunity to live a life that glorifies God by our actions and our words. Yet we are imperfect. We fail. We do not follow God’s Law perfectly, so we turn to God for help. It is by God’s word that we can approach the throne of grace with the request found in verse 14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Yahweh, my rock, and my redeemer.”

I have been writing and teaching a study on the book of Revelation. I began the class with a brief study into the book of Daniel. We know Daniel’s story, mostly from Vacation Bible School. It seems like every year Daniel appears in the Lion’s Den or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego get thrown into that fiery furnace. He’s also known for his prophecies about the end times, which is why we went to the book in the first place.

Yet, as I studied his story, I realized that there is a more important reason for studying his story. That’s why it is the focus for an upcoming women’s retreat about prayer I have been organizing. Daniel’s stories teach us how to face the difficult times of life, and prepare us for the end times to come. Those stories give us keys to the character of one who lives in hope and peace when facing difficulty. Those stories teach us how to be faithful people of prayer.

The Israelites had been in exile in Babylon because God used foreign powers to discipline His disobedient children. In exile God’s people were far from God, though the separation had happened much earlier. They did not know the law and they did not live according to the Word of God.

Daniel lived for more than seventy years as a captive in a foreign land. Despite the struggles, Daniel remained faithful and yet he also succeeded in the Babylonian government. He remained hopeful over the years because he knew God’s promises from the book of Jeremiah. He knew that God would return His people to Jerusalem after seventy years. King Cyrus of Persia did indeed return God’s people to their home and allowed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. Though Daniel died in Babylon as an old man, he lived to see God’s faithfulness.

Today’s Old Testament text reports the next part of the story. Once the temple was rebuilt and the people resettled - and God’s promises fulfilled - Ezra gathered the people together to hear the Law. They filled the square and stood for hours while they listened to the words in the book as they were read. Ezra read beginning early in the morning until midday; the Levites translated and interpreted the Word for the people. They were cut to the heart as it was read, they mourned about how they had been living.

The reading of the Law cuts us to the heart because we see that we are far from God. Yet, God’s Word is a gift, and we should rejoice at what God has spoken to us because we can always find words of grace even in the midst of His Law. He does not seek to punish us; He speaks to give us guidance and discipline to make us disciples. He cuts to our heart not to break it but to grasp it in His hand and make it His own. We might be sad when we realize what we have done wrong, but we can go forth rejoicing in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises.

We often get it backwards. We hear God’s Word but think that we have to get things right with our lives before He can fulfill His promises. Too many people wait to go to church to hear about God’s forgiveness until they feel worthy. They refuse to receive God’s grace because they think they have to earn it. They try to obey the law, making it a burden. They believe that once they get it all right, then God can fulfill His promises. We can never get it right.

God did not wait until His people were worthy of His Word; He fulfilled His promises of redemption and restoration before they repented. He sent them home when He promised to do so, and then showed them the life He intended for them. He answered their mourning with His grace. “Do not cry over the past. You are forgiven and you are mine. Rejoice!” That is what He does for us. He calls us into His heart through baptism and offers the forgiveness that has been bought with the blood of His Son. We spend our lives listening to His Word, learning and growing in His grace. Sometimes we want to mourn as we realize the things we have done wrong, but God says “Rejoice” because the promises have been fulfilled. For the joy of the LORD is our strength.

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players...” I am not sure this is true, but from the stage we are reminded that the troop needs many different kinds of players to make the whole. There are stars and there are members of the chorus. There are lighting people and those who take care of the costuming. The troop even needs those people who carry the heavy props on and off the stage, the ticket sellers and the people who clean up after the show. Everyone has a job and everyone is needed.

The same is true about the Church. We need people with a variety of gifts to be able to do the work that God has called us to do. We need stars and we need extras. We need bit parts and we need understudies. We also need directors, producers, back stage crew and even the audience. Everyone is part of the whole and without every part, we cannot function. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the different members of the body of Christ. Some seem more important than others, purposed for greatness and vital to the mission of the Church. Yet the others - those parts who seem unimportant - are also part of God’s plan. Without them the Church would not be whole.

I once talked with a woman who heard me share some thoughts on the scriptures. I had spoken about my fear of being in front of the group: knees shaking, heart pumping, hands sweating. She wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth because I seemed so calm. I was telling the truth; I was really nervous, but I was blessed to be able to give the message so I willingly faced my fear. She told me that she was blessed by the message and she wanted me to know. She also told me that she was unable to do such things. She said, “I could not have stood there and did that if I was afraid.” I answered her that she had other gifts, like the gift of encouragement. I reminded her that people like me who get in front of the crowds to speak need people like her to encourage us to do so. She thought she was unimportant, but her ministry to me in that conversation was as great - even greater - than anything I might have said in my speech. For it is the encouragement of the little toes that keep us mouths moving.

In today’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus returning to the world after having been sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. He had been tempted by the devil and faced the temptation down with the Word of God. He refused to be led astray by the desires of the flesh: hunger, greed or fame. After the temptations, Jesus was prepared to begin His ministry and to face the people who would cross His path. They would be tempted by the same desires - to be filled, to be satisfied and to be recognized. Many would seek Jesus for the wrong reasons and try to use Him to fulfill their own agendas.

After His time in the wilderness, He was strong and ready to face the world that would not understand His purpose or want what He had to give. They were looking for the fulfillment of certain promises and they would do what they could to ensure that they received those blessings, missing out on the real message God was sending to them in and through Jesus Christ.

I think it is interesting that this passage begins on such a high note. Jesus was gaining fame based on the things He was saying and the things He was doing. He was a charismatic figure in the country; He returned home after His time in the wilderness with something new, a spirit about Him. It was the Spirit of God. He’d been anointed at His baptism and He grew in power as He faced the trials of temptation. He returned new and renewed, ready to preach and teach according to God’s Word.

We often think of Jesus hanging out on hillsides, drawing people into His presence with His words and His actions, but in this passage from Luke we see that He did not ignore or reject the established meetings of the Jews. He wasn’t worshipping God in the meadows or forests, but was worshipping God in the company of other believers. He was welcomed in this forum, welcomed not only to visit but to be a part of the conversation.

Jesus had a reputation by the time He returned to Nazareth. He had some fame and the word of His teaching was spreading all over the region. By the time He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, most of the people in that town had heard some story about Jesus. There were probably some expectations, especially since Jesus was a local boy. If Jesus could do and say things with such amazing power and Spirit, then He would surely do even more in His home among His own family.

Jesus said that He came to preach good tidings to the poor. He came to bring sight to the blind. He came to heal the wounds of the people. These were all answers to promises God made throughout the Old Testament. God was proving, once again, to be faithful. Since Nazareth was among the lowest of all cities in Israel, this must have been Good News. Perhaps they would finally be filled, satisfied and recognized. Perhaps they would finally be accepted as a place of God’s blessings as He filled their stomachs, satisfied their needs and healed their hurts. Perhaps Nazareth would be the shining light, the place where God revealed His glory to the world. There in their synagogue they were hearing the fulfillment of scriptures. Perhaps today would be the day their desires would be fulfilled.

What were they expecting? We will know better when we hear their response in next week’s lectionary. What we do discover in this week’s lesson is Jesus’ purpose. He came to set people free, to bring healing and wholeness to their lives. He came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Now is the time. Today is the day.

Our scriptures this week show us the ways by which God makes Himself known to His people. He could very well use a burning bush like He did with Moses or a still small whisper as He did with Elijah on the mountain. However, miraculous signs and unexplainable phenomenon make it difficult to really know God’s will and understand His purpose for our lives. So God also makes Himself known to us in very real and tangible ways. For the Israelites, He gave the Law. Their knowledge of the Law was restored as they heard it read by Ezra after the temple was rebuilt to its former beauty.

For the people in our Gospel lesson, the reading of God’s Word was a regular part of their lives. They went to the synagogue to hear the Law and the Prophets read and explained by those who were able to do so. In our Gospel passage Jesus reveals Himself as the Word made flesh this to the people of His hometown. God also reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to His people. In using our gifts we build up the whole body of Christ, the manifestation of God’s love in the world.

In the final years of his life, Daniel prayed relentlessly for his people and for God to be faithful. They had forgotten God’s Word, and he prayed for mercy. Daniel knew the promise and expected its fulfillment, but he still knelt and prayed until he was ill for the sake of Israel. He seemed to be all alone, but he trusted God and remained hopeful until the day when God proved faithful.

There are times when it seems like we are the only ones working in the church, and times when there seems to be nothing of importance for us to do. However, God has brought us together by the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest His love in the world. Each one is important, willed and purposed to glorify God. We are part of one body, one body that is called and gathered to do God’s work in the world. Our gifts are not for our own benefit, but for the whole community, giving for us to love and serve one another and the Lord today. The scripture has been fulfilled, and we have been called as God’s people to Rejoice! and to confess God’s faithfulness to the world.


January 24, 2019

“The whole earth was of one language and of one speech. As they traveled east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they lived there. They said to one another, ‘Come, let’s make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the surface of the whole earth.’ Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. Yahweh said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. Come, let’s go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth. They stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth. From there, Yahweh scattered them abroad on the surface of all the earth.” Genesis 11:1-9, WEB

I took several years of French classes in High School. My knowledge of the language is very limited. I did not learn conversational French, and I lost what little I knew from lack of use. On a trip to France when we lived in England, I made an attempt to use the few phrases I could remember. It was in a Disney Store in a mall, and the young man behind the counter knew I was not French. He responded to my simple hello with an endless monologue. I had to say, “Stop, I don’t speak French!” He laughed and said, “I know, I was having fun with you,” in perfect English. We laughed and he asked me if he could stow away in my suitcase since he always wanted to go to America.

Throughout the world there are thousands of different languages. Even if you travel across the United States, you will find regional dialects and word usage that is difficult for someone from another place to understand. The biggest problem in political, theological and social justice debates is the misunderstanding between people because they define the key words differently. Watch any conversation in the comment section of a Facebook post and you’ll see how quickly it goes awry because of semantics. It is even more difficult when we try to understand something that has been translated from another language. In the language of the Eskimos, there are many different words that are translated as the English word ‘snow.’ It is difficult to fully understand what a person is saying without the specific word in Eskimo. The same is true about Greek. There are several words in Greek that can be translated into the English word ‘love.’ A misunderstanding of the word ‘love’ can cause disagreement about doctrine. Why are there so many languages?

All languages have a common root, although that ancient language has long been forgotten. Language is not always a barrier. You can go to an opera that is sung entirely in Italian and understand what is happening. Missionaries often visit other countries with very little knowledge of language and no knowledge of the regional dialects, and are able to communicate with the people and serve their needs. A Lutheran can attend church in Germany and know what is happening throughout the service because the liturgy rises above language. Music is a language that crosses borders.

The common root of it all is found in the story of the Tower of Babel. The people of Babel were the first agrarians. When humans were hunter gatherers, they spent all their time and energy on the business of survival. But when they learned how to plant seeds, they didn’t need to travel so far to support a community. They had learned how to harvest water, to tame the land, to work together to have food enough for a large group. They were no longer nomadic. They settled down and stayed in one place. They had time to do things other than survive. They built permanent homes and other buildings. They were beginning to form business methods, writing, art, government and religion. They established temples for their gods. This freedom gave them time to ponder life, the universe and everything. They believed in the gods, but they also began to see themselves in a new way. They were not only stronger than the animals, they were intelligent. They could build things. They could create things. They could transform things. They began to think like gods.

God confused the language of the world because mankind was trying to be like God. They joined together as one body with one voice to build a city that would bring glory to themselves. They worked together to build a tower to heaven. The tower was more than just a ladder. The people wanted to make a name; they wanted a reputation. Archaeologists have found ziggurats throughout the Middle East, including one that they believe is actually the original Tower of Babel. These towers were designed to reach toward the heavens to impress the gods so that they would bless the people with prosperity, health and wealth. Yet in the story of the Tower of Babel, we get the impression that they were building it for another reason. They were afraid that they would lose it all and that they would be scattered. They didn’t want to go back to the old nomadic ways.

The Tower of Babel must have been an extraordinary accomplishment because God saw what they did and He knew that it was not good for the people to reach too high. He is pleased when we use our gifts and develop our talents. He created man to be co-creators with Him in this world. He wants us to reach to the sky. But we can’t become gods and we shouldn’t try. Fear manifests as ambition. If only we could become great, then we won’t have to worry about losing it. If only we could become immortal, then we would own the world. But we can’t become immortal by our own human deeds, so God scattered the people and confused their language so that they could not become something that they were never meant to be.


January 25, 2019

“Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.” Acts 2:1-4, WEB

In the days when Jesus walked the earth, the variety of nations and languages represented in Jerusalem during the Pentecost season was diverse. Luke tells us in Acts that there were “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” We know, at the very least, the people in Jerusalem spoke Latin, Greek, Hebrew and/or Aramaic. The visitors to Pentecost likely spoke many foreign languages.

Despite the many languages, people did manage to find ways to communicate and trade. They were able to dwell, even temporarily, in the city. Pilgrims from the four corners of the known world visited Jerusalem, both believers and non-believers. During a festival like Pentecost, the city was full of strangers. They had to buy food at the market, haggle for rooms, and make offerings at the Temple. Though there were diverse languages, they found a way to communicate. Look at any modern city and you’ll see that we’ve even learned how to build structures that reach toward heaven.

As we heard in yesterday’s devotion, God confused the language of the world and scattered the people because they were trying to be like God. That was what got Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place. It is also what gets us into trouble on a daily basis. That is sin, and we are all guilty.

The scattering would not be permanent. God continued to work in the lives of His people, choosing the nation of Israel as His own, guiding their footsteps and saving them from the dangers of this world. They often wandered from the love of God, but God was always with them. In Jesus Christ, God reconciled Himself to His people once and for all. By His blood and resurrection, we were brought back into a right relationship with God. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised His followers that they would be given the Holy Spirit, so that they would speak with one voice for the glory of God.

The confusion that God created at Babel was about more than working together. At Babel, God limited their ability to seek immortality by human efforts. It was something that they couldn’t do anyway. Our mortality was based in the reality that we rebelled against God. Human beings are imperfect, broken creatures. We fail. We sin. We can never be good enough to accomplish the impossible. Immortality is impossible for man. But God didn’t intend for mankind to live separate from Him forever. He didn’t intend for us to be divided by our language or religion. He wanted us to be one, as He is One. And so He promised that there would be another way.

That promise was fulfilled at the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples like tongues of fire and they began to speak in words that people understood, despite their language. They spoke in the language of God: love and mercy which leads to reconciliation.

The promise of Pentecost is not that we will be able to understand one another even if we speak different languages. It is about becoming one people again: His people. The power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We are unified; we are made children of God and heirs to His eternal kingdom not because we have done anything right or have earned the honor. God comes to His people and by His Spirit grants them faith and gifts to make His name known throughout the world. We are called to be Christ’s body, to share the Gospel and to bring others into the unity of the Church. The language that we now speak is not English or Spanish or French. It is faith. And that language unifies those who believe in God. By His power we continue the work that Jesus began when He dwelt among the disciples.

They could not have accomplished anything without the Spirit. The Word would have been spoken to deaf ears. They message would have been lost to those unwilling hearts. On that Pentecost day, when the wind blew and the fire came, everything was changed. At that moment, God reversed what He did at Babel. Though He once confused the language and sent people to the four corners of the earth, at Pentecost He gave the world a language that everyone could understand, the Gospel message of forgiveness and grace.


January 28, 2019

“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10, WEB

I was watching a show in which the host was interviewing an unusual couple. The woman was thirty; her boyfriend and the father of her son was seventeen. It was an illegal relationship. They had been in a relationship since he was just fifteen. They went on the show to prove that their love was real; they hoped it would keep the woman out of prison. The woman considers herself a victim in this and despite the advice she was getting, she was defiant. It wasn’t fair! She didn’t think she was a criminal! She was not a predator; they are in love and everyone should just leave them alone.

She claimed that she was set up. What she meant was that she thought the show was going to have a different focus and she became angry when she was told the reality of her situation. She could get fifteen years in prison. She was pointing her fingers at all the other guests. She claimed that it was their fault that she was in danger. She refused to see her own responsibility; instead of admitting her own guilt, she attacked those who were trying to help make things right. She wanted to make herself look good and the others look bad. In the end justice will be served.

We might judge the woman harshly for her actions, but stories like this should cause us to think about our own actions. Don’t we fail to do what is right? Don’t we try to make ourselves look better than we really are? Don’t we claim to be victims even though our own actions are what brought on our difficulties?

I’m a pretty good person. I am certainly not without fault; I have not kept the commandments perfectly. Sin has manifest in my life. I haven’t done anything criminal; I hope my failure has not done too much damage to my neighbors. I have been disobedient to a least a few of the Ten, if not according to the letter, then certainly according to the spirit. I have not committed adultery, but I have felt lust. I don’t think I’ve born false witness against my neighbor, but I admit that I’ve gossiped. I have taken a few things that are not mine and while none of it was of great worth, stealing even a nickel is a sin.

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther talked about the Ten Commandments not only from the point of view of the “thou shall nots” but also as commands of how we should live. About the Eighth Commandment, Luther wrote, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” It isn’t enough to keep from telling a lie, but we should do our best to help uplift our neighbor's reputation. By pointing fingers at everyone else, the woman lost the chance to make things right in her little corner of the world, including for herself.

We like to point fingers, too, mostly because it takes the attention off our own faults. That is, if not in words, definitely in action, bearing false witness against a neighbor. Even more so, it is a rejection of the reality of our own sinfulness. If we do not admit our sin, we do not need a Savior. Then there is no need for faith in Jesus. There are many who prefer to ignore the reality of sin. They prefer to think of Jesus as a good friend, an excellent example, a teacher who showed us a good way. They reject that Jesus was born to die to atone for our sin. They are shocked and offended by the cross. They separate the wrath of God in the Old Testament from the love of God in the New, without seeing that both are not only true but necessary.

H. Richard Niebuhr said, “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” It is shocking to hear it put so bluntly, isn’t it? The cross is God’s wrath fully revealed for our sake. We are sinners in need of a Savior. And yet it is so easy to think of ourselves as good. It is easy to justify some actions because they seem like the right thing to do at the time. It is easy to make excuses when we fail. It is easy to avoid responsibility by blaming others with pointed fingers.

We can’t be good on our own, but Jesus makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence and to receive that which God gives so freely. At His throne, we find mercy and forgiveness. It is there that God takes away our burdens and makes us free. It is there He helps us through all our trials and suffering. We get to the throne through the cross because it is there that we see that God does know our suffering and that He can overcome anything we bring before Him.

It is all about grace. We can’t live up to the expectations of God’s commandments, but God is with us through it all. He looks on us with love; He provides the way for us to go. He calls us to follow Him so that we will experience the blessings He desires for our lives. We can confidently sing with the psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands,” because God is faithful to all His promises.


January 29, 2019

“Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2, WEB

The military life can be difficult enough with constant moves, the fears of the unknown and the impact the job has on the family, but it is magnified when the active duty member is transferred overseas. Family members must live in a strange culture and is far from the people they know and love. The world is certainly getting smaller, as the Internet provides more access today than it did a couple decades ago, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Unfortunately, the divorce rate after a transfer to an overseas station is higher than normal because many spouses just cannot take the stress of that type of assignment.

Knowing the difficulty, the Air Force tried to build morale by assigning sponsors to those transferring into an overseas assignment. We received letters as we prepared for our move, encouragement and suggestions. The wife of our sponsor recommended a book I could read called “Sarum” by Edward Rutherford. The book described the building of Salisbury Cathedral and gave a history of the British Isles. While the book itself did not give me practical advice for living in a foreign country, it did give me a love for the place we would be living for four years.

The greatest joy of our time there was the opportunity we had to visit so many wonderful places: castles, cathedrals, ancient sites and ruins. We learned so much history and were awestruck by the beauty of the place.We managed to visit Salisbury Cathedral several times, as well as the ruins of the ancient city of Sarum. I was somewhat disappointed because there was scaffolding all around the cathedral every time we went to visit. It was impossible to get a good photo without some sign that there was maintenance happening. It makes sense, though. That building was nearly a thousand years old. It was still standing because of the constant care.

We might not have that problem with our churches here, but who hasn’t run into the frustration of getting through road construction. I’ve seen pictures from all over the U.S. of roadways that have been under construction for years, even decades. One suggested that a road would never be complete, another that Jesus would come before the road was open to traffic. We are constantly complaining about this road or that road, those “works in progress” that never seem to be finished.

I was reading an article today that said that we are works in progress. We might not think of ourselves as cathedrals that need repair or roads that will never be finished, but the reality is that we are not perfect and God is constantly working to make us better. Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith, but it is work He will not complete until the day He comes again. Until then, we struggle through the days knowing that we can’t do what we know we should do or that we aren’t the people God has created and redeemed us to be. We go through our days in the hope of one day having all the scaffolding removed so that we can see Him with clear eyes and pure faith without the stain of sin on our lives.

For now, however, we have friends and family, fellow Christians who slog along beside us, stuck in the traffic on those unfinished freeways, trying to see the glory of God through construction materials, witnessing to one another about the grace that has saved us. No matter how much work needs to be done, we can trust that God is transforming us by His Word and by His Spirit so that we will one day we will stand before the throne of God finally perfected and glorifying Him forever.


January 30, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, February 3, 2019, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

“In you, Yahweh, I take refuge. Never let me be disappointed.” Psalm 71:1, WEB

And now you know the rest of the story. Most of us can hear the voice of master storyteller Paul Harvey as we read the words in that sentence. Paul Harvey had a way of spinning a story that took the listener on a journey into the unknown. The twists and turns left us wondering where we would end up. Finally, he hit us with the final twist, the surprising conclusion to the story that left us amazed. He took us to a place we did not expect, a place that made us laugh or think about the lessons to be learned.

We began reading this story from Luke last week, hearing that after a successful tour through Capernaum, Jesus went home. In the synagogue Jesus read from the book of Isaiah the prophet. The passage was a passage of hope; it was a promise of healing and release. It was the promise of an anointed one, the One who would restore Israel. This was good news and Jesus told the people that it had been fulfilled in their hearing. In Jesus they could see the beginning of something wonderful as God worked through the anointed one. He had been doing amazing things in Capernaum: healing people, casting out demons and preaching the kingdom of God.

The people rejoiced and they were amazed. They wondered about what they heard, but they did not immediately reject Jesus. They were ready to receive Him and to receive all the good things He could give. They were ready to see the miracles and experience the power of God as He had given to the people in Capernaum. Jesus gave a one sentence sermon proclaiming Himself the fulfillment of God’s promises and the people spoke well of Him, amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. The hometown hero had come home!

Instead of enjoying the good feelings of the people, Jesus answered their enthusiasm with a challenge. “Doubtless you will tell me this parable, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in your hometown.’” He knew they would very quickly demand the signs He’d given to others, requiring even greater signs to convince them of the truth of His words. He knew they would not believe Him or believe in Him. When they rejected Him, He would go on to teach and preach to people and places that would believe, perhaps even the Gentiles.

The people were not infuriated because Jesus was claiming to be something they did not expect. They were mad because Jesus proclaimed that God’s gift would be sent to all those who believe, no matter who they were. It was not the proclamation that Jesus was the promised anointed one from God that turned the people to fury. Instead it was Jesus proclamation that the gift of God’s grace would be sent to those who believe, no matter who it might be. The people in Jesus’ hometown thought they deserved the gift more than any other because Jesus was their son, but that gift was being offered to the world. The Jews thought that restoration and redemption would lead to greater things for Israel. Instead, Jesus came to and through the Jews for the sake of the whole world, to bless all people with God’s mercy.

Last week we watched as Jesus stood up in the synagogue in His hometown and told the people that the scripture about the Messiah was being fulfilled in their presence. This week He added that they wouldn’t get it. They would miss the truth. They would not believe in Him. He told them that they would reject the one for whom they were waiting. They were impressed and astonished at His first lesson, and then angry and upset at His second. They were so offended that they tried to drive Him over a cliff to His death. He escaped and went to teach another congregation in the synagogue at Capernaum.

We don’t really understand Jesus’ challenge to the people. Why not give them a sign of His power and authority? Why not do a miracle or two amongst the people who were His family and lifelong friends? What would it have hurt to grant a wish or two in His old neighborhood? The trouble is that they were seeking the wrong things; they were motivated by selfish desires rather than God’s grace.

The people in Capernaum were astonished by His lesson; they heard the authority in His voice and in His word. There was a man in the congregation who had a demon. The demon spoke out against Jesus. The demon identified Jesus as the Holy One of God. Jesus told him to be silent. Isn’t it interesting that in the previous passage, Jesus identified Himself as the Messiah but He knew that they wouldn’t believe, and then in Capernaum He rebuked the demon for saying the same thing in a place where people might believe?

The demon left the man at the word of Jesus, and the people were amazed. “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” The word got out into the region about the things Jesus could do, and the people came to Jesus for more. The demons kept crying out "You are the Son of God," but Jesus did not allow them to tell the people that He was the Christ. Jesus was not yet ready to be identified as the Messiah. He had too much work to do.

It was difficult for the people of Nazareth to see Jesus as He is because they knew Him as He was. How could this boy they knew from childhood be the promised Messiah? We would think that they would be more supportive than strangers, but it was too ridiculous to believe. They asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” At least of a few of my readers have seen the truth of this. They have left home and become successful in their vocation, but their old neighbors can’t believe it. The shy girl could never become a motivational speaker. The kid who was constantly caught smoking behind the woodshed could never become a pastor!

I have had the opportunity to give teenagers a spiritual gifts assessment on several different occasions. Despite the fact that they are young, the assessments were amazingly accurate. They showed the gifts we were beginning to see in those students. It was interesting to watch them take the assessments. In many cases they have not yet had the opportunity to experience the things that were asked. No one had asked their opinion about some issue in the church. They did not have a home to offer for hospitality. They did not think that they’d the opportunity to become active with Bible studies, not realizing that their Sunday school classes were just studies geared to their age.

Many of their answers were timid. Several of them complained that they had no gifts. We know this is not true, but these young people had just not yet discovered the talents or any opportunities to use them. Music, writing and artistry are always the easiest to spot, even at such a young age. But we did not know how they would fare when it came to hospitality, leadership and the pastoral gift? It was amazing to see that even these gifts became obvious in the results of some of these teenagers. As a matter of fact, within the small sampling of students, we saw an incredible variety of gifts, each one having something to offer the congregation and the world.

I suppose that one of the problems we face in the church is that we do not look at teenagers as active members of the body of Christ. They are new, fresh and learning, not ready for the responsibilities of ministry. We rarely give them the opportunity to serve, except perhaps as acolytes or raking leaves on the playground. We don’t try to help them discern their gifts, to learn who they are in Christ and what He is calling them to do. They don’t think they are old enough to have a say. Even our high school students, who have become individual members of our congregation through confirmation, do not take responsibility for their place in the body of Christ. They are often not given a voice, and so they do not speak. They don’t care much about the business of the church, so they do not vote. They do not yet understand that God has called them to serve, to use their gifts for the sake of the community and the world.

I could hear them saying, “Ah, Lord Yahweh! Behold, I don’t know how to speak; for I am a child.” Yet, in our passage for today, God answered Jeremiah’s fears: “Don’t say, ‘I am a child;’ for you must go to whomever I send you, and you must say whatever I command you.” Unfortunately, we see youth as being immature and unready. We do not give them to opportunities to use their gifts or even help them to discern their gifts, thinking they are too young. Yet God calls all those whom He has anointed with the Spirit into ministry, young and old alike. It is our task to help them grow in their understanding and in their faith, giving opportunities for service and the respect they deserve as they follow God’s calling for them.

It is still hard when those students come back after years of college, now grown and working in the world in ways we might never expect. Like those who questioned Jesus, we look at them with eyes that remember the past but do not look at them through God’s eyes. It is made even worse by our fears. It is nerve wracking to go home again. We have to be so careful with our words. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or say something that they might misunderstand based on our history. Even as I write WORD on a daily basis I think twice about saying certain things because I know personally many of the people who read it. “What will so and so think of this? How might it affect our relationship?” we think to ourselves when we are writing our notes. “Will they be offended or embarrassed by this story if I use it?” I know many pastors look forward to moving to a new church just so they can use the examples they’ve gathered from the old congregation. One pastor said to me, “I can finally use that story in a sermon” as he was moving on.

But Jesus was not just sharing stories; He was telling the people that God was fulfilling the scriptures in their very midst. The Messiah was coming and He was there, with them. He was saying, “I am the one you have been waiting for.” Now, this was good news and they received it with joy, but their joy did not last long because they realized that He was not what they were expecting.

Is anything God does really what we expect? I suppose sometimes we get it right. We can let very broad expectations of God and see them realized. He won’t flood the entire world: at least not again, because He promised. The sun will rise and the moon will go around the earth because God set them in motion and keeps them going. Spring will come again. We know that God will appoint leaders to lead and preachers to preach and that He will bless His Church. The trouble is that we do not always understand what that means. We aren’t always sure that our expectation is what God intends. Is the leader we have chosen really the one God has sent? Or, do we choose Barabbas over Jesus?

It is hardest when we are dealing with our own relationship with God. I sometimes wish that God would talk to me like He talked to those characters in the Biblical stories. I think to myself, “How can Jeremiah doubt what God is saying, after all it is God telling him to be a prophet.” Jeremiah himself admits that God knew his calling before he was even conceived in the womb. “God knew what He was doing” Jeremiah says. But, when God calls, he doubts. “Lord! I do not know how to speak for I am just a child.” Sounds like a good excuse to me.

I think sometimes we prefer to offer excuses so we don’t have to respond to God’s call because God seems to call us to work that doesn’t fit our expectations. We don’t think we are old enough or eloquent enough. We don’t think anyone will see us as credible or having any authority. We make excuses: “But God, who am I to do that? Who will listen to me? How can I say what you want me to say? How can I make a difference? Can’t I have just a little more time?" The real reason we reject the call is because we are afraid, but in doing so we reject God and show that we do not trust that He will provide everything we need.

We are so much like Jeremiah. Though we may not be young, we have our own excuses for arguing with God about the work He is calling us to do. Abraham and Sarah thought they were too old. Moses didn’t think he was eloquent enough. Jonah was angry and didn’t want to share God’s grace with his enemy. We argue, too. Are we too busy? Too sick? Too tired? Are we too young or old? Are we the wrong gender? Are we in the wrong place? Is this the wrong time? We think we know better than God, and so we offer Him our reasons why His plan just won’t work.

Perhaps we reject His call because we are not enough like Jesus. See, Jesus willingly spoke the words that needed to be said, both to the people in His hometown last week and to the people in Capernaum this week. They needed to know that they had mistaken expectations, that they were seeking the wrong kind of Messiah. They needed to know that God would not prove Himself and that God had more to do than meet their physical needs. There were those in the world who needed to hear the call to repentance, the invitation to confession, the promise of forgiveness.

God has called us to be like Jesus, to share the Gospel with the world. He has called us to heal and restore, to warn people to repent, to invite them to confess and to offer them the promise of God’s forgiveness. He doesn’t choose us because we are perfect for the job. He doesn’t call us because it fits into our schedule or because He thinks we are strong enough. He chooses us and gives us everything we need to make His work happen. Even when we complain, however, He bows down to hear us and He responds with an overflowing heart. “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” God chooses us and makes us apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles or healings, helpers, leaders, or speakers of divers kinds of tongues, in His time and way.

But Paul adds a word of caution. God gives us His gifts for His purpose, not our own. And God’s purpose is wrapped in love. Paul says that prophetic voice is nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal if it does not have love. This passage, often used in the marriage ceremony has a much deeper purpose. It is not just about the romantic love between a man and a woman, but is about the love of God that is manifest through the Church which He created. The words of this love chapter that are used so often at weddings may mean something very special on that day, but what marriage is perfect? Are we really able to avoid breaking some of the exhortations? Are we always patient with our spouse? Are we always kind? Do we really manage to live together without envy, boasting, arrogance or rudeness? Unfortunately, we all have moments when we demand our own way, when we are irritable and resentful. We can probably all think of a time when we have even rejoiced in wrongdoing. We can remember a moment when we refused to bow down and respond to an overflowing heart.

But love - the love of God - bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love - the love of God - never ends. We are reminded by this passage that though we have amazing and powerful gifts from God, everything of God is to be built on His love. The gifts are given to be a blessing to the Church and to the world, but they are nothing without love. Paul told the Corinthians that they were missing the most important gift of all: love. Everything else was meaningless if they did not lay it on the foundation of love.

This is what happens when we take God’s grace with our own motivations, our own desires in the forefront. Jesus’ response to the people of Nazareth doesn’t sound like it was wrapped in love. However, they needed to see Jesus as He is, not as they perceived Him to be. The challenge was given to them because they had the wrong expectations. The people of Capernaum saw Jesus through different eyes, eyes that needed to see God’s grace. They had no expectations, so received the Word with faith. The response to Nazareth was wrapped in love because they needed to be challenged to see God in a different way.

Imagine: you feel a tug at your pants or skirt and look down to see a small child with a face full of expectation. You acknowledge them, and they tug a little more to get you to come down to their level. They want to tell you something, so you bend over or kneel so that you can look them in the eye. They say something delightful like “I love you.” It might be hard. It might hurt the back or the knees, but it is worth every ache and pain to hear those words. You wrap your arms around that child and say “I love you, too,” because it is impossible not to respond to that overflowing heart with an overflowing heart.

Oh, I’m sure I’ve missed a few of those moments, especially with my own children, because I didn’t take the time to listen. I was too busy to bend over and listen. It was an inconvenient moment; I was in too much of a rush to take the time. My knees or back were aching from hard work. I regret missing those moments not only because of what they would have meant to me, but because I know ignoring that child at that moment was hurtful. Thank goodness children are so able to forgive and forget and they give us second chances.

The psalmist says, “Turn your ear to me, and save me.” The American Standard Version translates this, “Bow down to me.” I suppose in some ways this idea of bowing down might seem degrading, especially when we think of protocols that require subjects to bow down to royalty. But we are the children, calling out to our Father to listen and He does. We pull on His robe and ask Him to bend over to hear us. “I love you” we say, which means “I trust that you will take care of me.” Faith means trusting that our Father will provide everything we need, including His overflowing heart.

Unfortunately, not everyone will listen to what we have to say. They’ll be offended by our words. They won’t believe we are who we say we are. They will try to run us out of town. We need not be afraid, however. God loves us. He calls us. He gifts us with everything we need. God knows us better than we know ourselves, because He has known us even before He formed us in our mothers’ womb. And we go forth in faith, obediently fulfilling our calling in the world, trusting that God will provide everything we need, even if it seems to be a ridiculous task. God knows our failing, but He also knows how to use our imperfections to His glory. We don’t know what to say, but He touches our lips and fills our mouths with His words.

The thing to remember is this: approach everything you do from the reality that is Gods’ presence in your life. We are called to speak God’s words which are filled with power and authority. Most of all, they are filled with love, calling people to a new life: to healing, forgiveness and the overflowing heart of God that fills us with peace. The psalmist writes, “In you, Yahweh, I take refuge. Never let me be disappointed.” We take refuge in and deal with the world from there. Like Jeremiah, we might have to speak tough words to the people. Like Jesus, we might have to leave those who are expecting the wrong things from us. But as we dwell in love, in God’s heart, and do what He has called us to do, we will find ourselves in the right place at the right time doing the right thing to make the world right, according to God’s word.


January 31, 2019

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:1-5, WEB

The subject of bullying often finds its way on the news and other media. There have always been bullies, not only in the schoolyard, but even in the adult world. There are politicians, corporate bosses, even church people who are bullies. It has become an even bigger problem in today’s world because there is no escaping the bullies. Children could be safe at home, but now the Internet allows the bullies to enter even into the sanctuary of their bedroom. It takes courage and wisdom to stand up to a bully. Sometimes the one who is picked on learns to fight back, but that is not really the best way to deal with the problem, especially from a Christian point of view.

I once saw a story about a young boy who had been picked on for several years, and was at times too frightened to go to school. The bullies waited for him, threw things at him and hit him with books. He never knew when he left for school if he would return home unharmed. He was not physically strong, which is why the bigger boys used him as their punching bag.

One day, he decided to do something to change the situation. He signed up to perform in a talent show at his school. His talent was to show his skill in jujitsu to the students. He did not enter to win the contest, but he wanted the bullies to see that he could defend himself. He won second place, got the prize for the most popular act and earned the respect of those who had beaten him for so many years. He could have used his talent to harm the bullies, but he decided there was no value in returning evil for evil.

When we are harmed by the worldly actions of the people who surround us, we are very tempted to seek revenge in the same manner. When someone attacks us physically or with words, we tend to fight back. When someone questions our faith or commitment to Christ, we do the same to him or her. Yet, this young boy realized that it would be fruitless to return the violence. So, he showed his power without harming another, and received thunderous applause.

When it comes to our Christian walk, we need to expect that we will be bullied by the world. They do not understand our perspective or attitude, so they will do everything they can to put us down or make us like them. However, our life in Christ should be different. We are commanded to love our God and our neighbor. Jesus taught that we should love our enemy and do nothing to bring him or her harm. Jesus taught that it is better to suffer persecution for the Gospel than to turn to the ways and methods of the world.

The boy who was bullied overcame the world, not by fighting it, but by showing his gifts. As Christians, we are to obey God, live by His commandments, and show the world our gifts. The world will continue to disagree with our perspective. They will bully us because of our love. They will beat us to make us act like they do. However, the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has overcome this world and its foolish action. Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ no longer need to live according to the ways of this world, but according to the love and commands of God. When we do so, the world will see the light of Christ and they will know we are Christians by our action.