Welcome to the January 2023 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





Upside Down




















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

A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2023

January 2, 2023

“For we who have believed do enter into that rest, even as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, they will not enter into my rest;’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said this somewhere about the seventh day, ‘God rested on the seventh day from all his works;’ and in this place again, ‘They will not enter into my rest.’ Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good news was preached before failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defines a certain day, today, saying through David so long a time afterward (just as has been said), ‘Today if you will hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.’” Hebrews 4:3-7, WEB

It is the beginning of a new year and though a change of calendar is a human construct, there are many things that we need to change. We’ll all spend the next few weeks trying to remember to write 2023 on our checks and documents. We need to recycle our old calendars and hang new ones. There are new laws we need to obey. Now is the time for holiday clean-up as we begin to take down our decorations and open the credit card bills. Those of us who have made commitments to new devotions or resolutions will have to work all that into our schedules. Though there’s not much difference between December 31st and January 1st, it is a whole new year, and we’ll have to adapt.

I sat down at the computer to write the morning and realized that my work would be harder. I have to write the code for a new archive page, and I have to update all my other pages with links to the new page. The work is even harder at the beginning of a new year because I have other updates to do. I sometimes remember to get this work done in the days leading to the calendar change, but there isn’t much time during the holidays. I can already see that the things I promised myself to get done today will probably be pushed aside, getting a bad start to my new year.

This is exactly the time that we need to treat ourselves with grace. We are going to fail at some point. I often joke that New Year’s resolutions often last about three weeks, and then we slip back into our old ways. We begin the year with high expectations. I even posted my plans for the year as “lofty goals” yesterday. It was overwhelming to see everything written in one place. I have to admit that I was already having doubts that I could accomplish it all. I’ve established a way to keep track to keep myself accountable, but I can see that failing after just a few days.

The problem is that when we fail, we often give up. “I can’t do this,” so we don’t even try. We revert to our old ways because they are comfortable, and they are so much easier than change. This is where the grace comes in: we need to forgive ourselves for our failures and then recommit to the new thing. It takes time to change. It takes time to develop new habits. The other thing, though, is that sometimes we set goals that are too lofty, so we need to have grace when we need to adapt. I suspect that I will have to change my goals. Perhaps I won’t use as many books for the study I’m preparing. Perhaps I’ll have to set aside a devotional for another year. Perhaps my paintings will have to be different than I originally planned. Sometimes we set goals without considering the rest of life. We can’t do it all, even if we think we are superman.

It is the beginning of the new year, and we all have great plans, but let us remember as we begin that God has set the best example for us. His grace is sufficient for us; He forgives when we fail. If God can forgive us, why can’t we? We need to be kind to ourselves, to give ourselves room to grow which means that we won’t always get it right. Sometimes the best lessons we learn are when we can’t accomplish what we want to do. It is good for us to establish goals, but let us also remember to give ourselves the grace to fail and start again. The basis for our God has done this for us, we can do it for ourselves, too. If believe that God forgives us, then how can we keep from forgiving ourselves?


January 3, 2023

“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.” Colossians 3:12-17, WEB

My mom was a seamstress. She made all sorts of clothes, including costumes for my sister and I for baton competitions and recitals. I loved my costumes that were made with velvet and beautifully bedazzled with rhinestones. She made plenty of other clothes, too, although I confess I didn’t like everything she made for me. I had some pants that were made with stretchy polyester fabric that had bright, bold patterns. They weren’t in style, which made my life as a teenager difficult. I know better now to appreciate her gift and the way she managed to give us so much with limited resources.

We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich. It made sense for her to make us clothing instead of buying new things at the store. She was the manager of a fabric store at a mall and could buy fabric at a discount. She had first choice at the remnants. She sometimes made outfits to display in the store that became part of our wardrobes. I remember really wanting to have jeans like my peers in those days. The funny part is that I don’t wear jeans anymore, and many of my pants have as bright and bold patterns as those when I was a kid. I still don’t think I’d wear some of those clothes, but I appreciate the care she gave in creating them.

I read a story this morning about something similar. A woman was recalling a Christmas when times were tough for her family. Her favorite part of Christmas was the annual program at her one room school house. There were two things she remembered about those programs: the secret Santa presents and her new clothes. They were farmers, and the crop did not come in as expected and her mother told the children that there would be no new clothes for the Christmas program at school. Her mother had a plan, though. She took the children to a box of clothes that they used to play dress-up and found two pieces with good fabric. She measured the children and then sat at her sewing machine. By the next day, the children had new skirts. Then the mother decided that they needed new blouses, so she found a suitable piece of linen she could sacrifice and some bits and pieces. The next day they had beautiful new blouses.

In the story the woman recounted that she could not remember the secret Santa gift she received that year, or even many of the gifts she’d received over the years, but she remembered those new clothes. She appreciated her mother’s creativity and concern to make things alright in a tough time. Not just alright, but wonderful.

The holiday season is over, and we are all just coming up for air. We are probably reviewing all the good things that happened over the past few months, and also thinking about those things that didn’t quite go as we expected. My son works for a shipping company, and they’ve been crowded with people sending back the things that just weren’t right. I’m sure at least a few people were disappointed that they didn’t get the latest gadget or the hot new toy. Maybe you are among them. Sometimes the disappointment comes because there just wasn’t the resources to buy those special gifts.

As we begin this new year, let’s think about those gifts in a new way. They may not be what we wanted, but they were the givers way of sharing their love in the best way they knew how. The woman in the story accepted her mother’s sacrifices, creativity, and concern with grace, remembering years later what an impact her mother had on her life. It is true that sometimes wearing those bright, bold, polyester pants was a humbling (perhaps even humiliating) experience, but I can look back on those days with thankfulness that my mother did her best and that she did it because she loved. Let us all appreciate the gifts we have been given, whatever they are, because in doing so we not only thank the givers, but we also glorify God our Father.


January 4, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for January 8, 2023, Baptism of Our Lord: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 3:13-17

“Yahweh will give strength to his people. Yahweh will bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11, WEB

I once took a short cruise on the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, I suffer from motion sickness, and it was not a pleasant experience. The cruise was one of the gambling trips that go a few miles out from the shore to international waters and then anchor for a few hours. I had taken some medicine that worked for a while, but once we stopped and the boat just bobbed in the water, I began to feel the motion. It didn’t help that the gambling was inside where there was an extreme odor of ammonia. I sat down on the deck to try to feel better, but then I couldn’t move. I was alone and so had no one to take care of me. I needed a fizzy drink and someone to get me out of the sun. But all I could do was sit and stare at the endless water.

We were only a few miles from shore, but no matter which direction you looked, it was endless water. That always strikes me as amazing when I'm at the beach is how limitless the water seems to be. We know, thanks to centuries of adventurers mapping the globe and those who have made it possible to see the earth from the sky, that there is land beyond the horizon, but it still seems like the water goes on forever.

How must it have been for those who lived in Jesus’ day? Yes, there were those who traveled by boat, but most people barely knew what was happening beyond their small villages. The Jewish people were particularly terrified of the water. Unlike most people in our day, they didn’t travel far from home. They might travel to bigger towns for worship or festivals, but even then travel was limited. Some people, rarities, might have told stories of being in far off lands, but to the average person those were just stories. There is a place in England called, so named because the people thought that was the very end of the world. They didn’t know the earth was round. They didn’t know that there were continents on the other side. They didn’t know what existed beyond the coastlines. I’m sure the same could be said about other ancient civilizations.

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

We worship a covenantal God. Throughout the scriptures we see that He made covenants with His people. He made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Those covenants were accompanied by signs, such as the rainbow for Noah and circumcision for Abraham. Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign for all the promises. He is the sign that God will remember His promises, that we are made children of God, that the Law has been fulfilled, and that we will have a King forever. He came to fulfill all God’s promises, to be the covenant that will last.

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

It is Jesus who stands between the holiness of God and the godlessness of this world. We are not worthy of God’s grace, but Jesus is the sign that God will favor us with mercy and forgiveness. He makes us righteous. He gives us life. We are His and as His, we are also children of God.

It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be born. He had to complete the work that God sent Him to earth to do. That included opening the eyes of the blind, making the lame walk and the deaf to hear. He was sent to minister to the crowds and tell them the Good News. He was sent to teach and heal and forgive. He was sent to die. But before He could do all these things, He had to identify with the people He came to save.

Jesus was who He was. He was the incarnation of the living God: Christ, Messiah, Son, Emmanuel. He did not need a baptism of any sort, yet He went to John to be baptized, a baptism for repentance. He had no sin to be forgiven or separation from the Creator which needed reconciliation. He was the living Word of God in flesh. Yet, Jesus was also a man. His baptism was far more than just an act of example for the rest of us. His baptism defined His identity, as God reached out of the heavens to claim Jesus as His own Son. By going to John, Jesus demonstrated His humble obedience to the will and purpose of God. It was right for Jesus to be baptized, even if John thought it was wrong.

John was not willing to do as Jesus asked. “But John would have hindered him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?’” We don’t see the nuances of this conversation in the English: John did not just say “No,” he argued with Jesus. Finally, Jesus answered, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is how God willed it to be, so John gave in to Jesus’ request.

John, who recognized that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world, knew he was not worthy even to touch Jesus’ sandals. How could he possibly baptize the One whom he knew had no need of baptism? Jesus did not need to repent, so for what purpose was Jesus to be buried in the Jordan? For John this was a moment of submission and obedience to God’s will and acceptance that God sometimes calls us to do things we do not want to do and that we do not think we are worthy of doing. It is through weak, broken vessels that God fulfills all righteousness.

It is no wonder that people wondered whether or not Jesus was the one for whom they were waiting. He came out of nowhere one day to be baptized by John. John recognized Him, but what is it that he saw in Jesus? Even John asked Jesus if He was the one. John was Jesus’ cousin; he must have had some knowledge of Jesus’ story. Whatever John knew, he saw Jesus as a righteous man, right with God and right with man. Jesus was not like the others who came to be washed of their sin.

After Jesus was baptized, a voice called from heaven claiming Jesus as His own Son. What did this sound like to the crowds? What kind of voice did they hear coming from the heavens. It was an audible voice as God’s words addressed the people. He announced and identified the man Jesus as His beloved, His chosen One. Yet, as we look at the description of the voice of God in the Psalm for today, I can’t help but wonder how it sounded to those listening. David wrote in today’s psalm that the voice of God is like thunder. It breaks the mighty cedars, brings forth fire and shakes the wilderness. The voice of the LORD is like a tornado, tearing apart the forests. Such a voice would make me tremble. What must it been like to be at the Jordan the day Jesus was baptized? The heavens opened up and they heard a voice from heaven. Did it bring the people to their knees in fear and awe?

Perhaps the voice of God that day was like thunder, but Jesus was there to bring peace to the world.

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

Like John, we don’t think we are worthy. We are tempted by so many things, and it can be very difficult to overcome when we constantly face temptation. Our Father knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our spiritual life. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall into the temptation; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy so that we can try to be like Him.

It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be born. He had to complete the work that God sent Him to earth to do. That included opening the eyes of the blind, making the lame walk and the deaf to hear. He was sent to minister to the crowds and tell them the Good News. He was sent to teach and heal and forgive. He was sent to die. But before He could do all these things, He had to identify with the people He came to save. By identifying with us, He could serve us from a place of empathy and kindness.

When Jesus was baptized, the water poured over Him. When He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit poured over Him. It was at that moment when Jesus became His ministry. We know so little about his life before that day, we have just a few stories about his birth and childhood. His life between thirteen and thirty is a mystery filled with legends. Some have made claims, including those who say that Jesus spent years in England, learning from the Celtic druids. There are also claims that He went east to the Orient to study. We simply do not know. There is no authoritative record of those years of Jesus’ life. All we know is that at about age thirty, He appeared before John the Baptist to be publicly anointed for ministry.

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

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

We aren’t perfect. Take a look at the past month of your life. Did you overindulge in the temptations of the world? There are those who do so knowing that the blood of Jesus forgives us, as if answering the question from Paul, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Paul answers himself, “May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?” By our baptism we are dead to sin, no longer bound to death and the grave. We have been given the greatest gift: through Jesus Christ every promise of God has been fulfilled. We have been invited into the New Covenant that is in and through Jesus Christ. How can we continue to live according to the world when we have been adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven? The holidays are over, but there are always temptations around us. Will you take advantage of the opportunity to overindulge? Or will you be trustworthy and walk in the light and life of God, glorifying Him every step?

The baptism of John was one of repentance, but Jesus made it something new. Today all those who come to the font of baptism in a Christian church are cleansed and forgiven, but we also experience baptism like Jesus. We are claimed as children of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and then sent into the world to share the grace of God with those who do not yet know Him. At the Jordan Jesus did not need to be forgiven, He was sinless. He did not need to be claimed, He was the Son of God. He did not need to be anointed; He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not need to be sent, for His purpose was always to do the will of God. Yet, He did it to become one of us. Now He calls us to be like Him.

Jesus presented His message with gentleness and love. He did not bring further hurt to those who were wounded, but rather spoke healing into their lives. He did not snuff out the passion that burned in people but fanned it with the truth so that it would burn brightly and rightly. He did not force His message on any; He simply spoke the truth and moved on. Those who did not listen to His words suffered the consequences of their rejection. Our passage from Isaiah describes the one whom God has chosen to lead His people. The people may have thought the Messiah would be a savior with a sword, but Jesus fought with an more powerful weapon: love. Jesus brought justice with gentleness. May He give us the ability to do the same.

We are called to live in our baptisms. We are called to live a life in which we are daily reminded that God is with us, walks with us and helps us to serve Him in this world. We are called to live the life that Jesus Christ modeled for us in the scriptures. His baptism was far more than just an example for the rest of us. He went under the waters of the Jordan because it fulfilled the purpose and plan of God. In that baptism, Jesus identified fully with humankind. He took on our brokenness. He became like you and me. There, in the Jordan, Jesus made a public confession of faith and God made a public acceptance of Jesus as His Son.

On this Sunday we remember the Baptism of Jesus and wonder what it means for our lives. After all, God forgives without water. God claims without witnesses. God anoints in His time and His way. God sends us into the world often without our knowing. Have you ever had something happen and not until after it was over realized that it was an act of God? Have you ever made a phone call or turned a corner to find there is someone at the other end who needs God’s grace? You were there because God sent you even though you did not know it at the time. So, why do we bother to be baptized?

Humans are physical beings dependent on our sensory experiences. When we are children, we know love by the touches and kisses of our mothers. When we are children, we learn about the world through our eyes, ears and mouths. Even as adults, we experience God and His creation with our senses. We see a sunset and we praise God for making such a beautiful world. We smell a roasting turkey, and we thank God for giving us a home, food, and a family. We touch one another and know that it is only by the grace of God that we would be so blessed. Even in our church services, we experience God through our senses. We hear the music and the Word. We see and touch God in the faces and the hugs of our fellow Christians. We smell and taste God’s grace in the Eucharist.

God knows that we need tangible things on which to grasp so that we can see and know the intangible, this is why the sacraments include physical elements. God is Spirit and we can know Him through spirit but such a knowledge leaves room for doubt. God’s promises in the Old Testament were accompanied by physical signs, like the rainbow and circumcision. These were signs to the people so that they would remember what God has done and will do for them. So, too are the gifts of the sacraments. Jesus is God’s new covenant with His people and in baptism we experience the promise of God in a physical and tangible way.

Though Jesus was God’s Son, the living Word in flesh, I imagine He too needed some assurance of His identity. Jesus received that assurance that day at the Jordan when Jesus began His ministry in the world. He was given a word from God: “You are my beloved.” He was washed with the waters of change and anointed by the Spirit. He then went forth to do everything that God promised that He would do. If He ever had a moment of uncertainty, He could remember His baptism and the promise that came when the heavens opened and God claimed, anointed, and sent Him into the world.

We have the same assurance, even though we live in a world that seems to be like the endless sea, full of temptations and problems. As we read through the scriptures about Jesus, we see the story of a man who lived in His baptism. Jesus woke and slept in the promise of God and lived every moment in between doing what God called Him to do. We can live as Christ lived even when we don’t think we are able. When we are tempted or feel unworthy, we need only say “I am baptized” and we’ll remember that God is with us, helping us to do His work in this world. This is living in our baptism, dwelling in the covenant that is our Lord Jesus Christ. His love makes us worthy to be all that He has called us to be. May we ever be submissive and obedient as Christ, dead to sin but alive to God in Christ our Lord, dwelling in His peace forever.


January 5, 2023

“Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was taken to his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But here he is now comforted, and you are in anguish. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.’ He said, ‘I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’ Luke 16:19-31, WEB

I have been taking down our Christmas decorations. I like to wait until Epiphany, but I was called to jury duty and did not know whether I would have time in the coming days. I need to try to get as much done as I can so that my husband can store the boxes in a timely manner. I’ve started with the Santa stuff, leaving the nativity on display. After all, the wise men haven’t even arrived to see Jesus yet. I wasn’t selected for a jury, so I will have time I didn’t expect. I should be able to get everything done this weekend, and life can back to “normal.”

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Christmas has pretty much disappeared everywhere. Even the clearance aisles are empty of Christmas merchandise. It is time to prepare for Valentine’s Day. Almost everyone has taken down their Christmas decorations. Very few houses are still lit up at night. Several trees are waiting on the curb for the garbage men to come. The radio stations are playing regular music again. Many people think the twelve days of Christmas end on Christmas day, but that is just the start. For the Church, Christmas is not over until tomorrow, Epiphany or Three Kings Day.

But tonight is Twelfth Night, in itself a special celebration, although not very popular in our culture today. It was a day of parties, with special pastries and ceremonies. In one tradition, a person was chosen to be the Lord of Misrule, and for a brief period of time the world is turned upside down. The rich become like the poor; the poor become like the rich. The world was restored to normal at midnight.

Another tradition included the taking down of all Christmas decorations. In those days, the trees and wreaths and houses were often decorated with fresh fruit and other foods. The food taken from the decorations was then eaten at the feast given on Twelfth Night. Since fruit and pastries were very expensive, it was appropriate to use them to decorate the tree and then even more appropriate to enjoy a special taste at the party. Twelfth Night, then, was really a very special time.

Most of us will barely notice that today is even special. It is a school and work night, so I doubt many will plan a party. I don’t know about you, but I’m partied out! Kings Cakes are available in the stores, but we won’t have those special fruits or pastries as they did in the past because they are much more affordable and available to us today. We don’t even put anything like that on our trees. If we use apples, they are glass or plastic, and will be packed away in boxes until next year.

Things are getting back to normal after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But for a brief moment, we can remember these old traditions and think about what they mean to us in our Christian faith. I doubt that anyone will celebrate Twelfth Night with a change in circumstances. I don’t see many rich folks becoming poor for a day while allowing the poor to become rich for a moment. Perhaps that’s the point of Twelfth Night, remembering our blessings and finding ways to lift up those who aren’t as blessed. After all, Jesus came to turn the world upside down.

Being rich will not send anyone to hell, but ignoring the fact that there are those in the world who are suffering will. The rich man in today’s story rejected Lazarus and refused to give him aid. In those ancient traditions, the rich learned what it was like to be poor by living it for a day. Hopefully they learned to have compassion, to see the need around them and to do what needed to be done. I’m sure some were more merciful during the rest of the year because of that brief moment on Twelfth Night. Perhaps we could use the same experience to help us see that there are many around us who need our help, our attention, and our resources. We are generous at Christmas, but by the fifth of January we are back to normal. Let us constantly remember, not just today but every day, that Jesus Christ turns the world upside down and that we’ll be remembered not for what we have accomplished on our own but for how we shared our lives with others.


January 6, 2023

“They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.” Matthew 2:9-12, WEB

God promised to send Israel a Messiah, a king who would deliver them from their bondage. The Old Testament is filled with words from the prophets and kings that speak of that promise and God’s faithfulness. The Jews longed for the day that the promise would be fulfilled. This was especially true at the time of Herod the Great’s reign. The people wanted to be a free nation with a proper king, a king from the House of David. They thought the promise was for just Israel and that the promise would be fulfilled with an earthly king.

The glory of Zion would not be prosperity, wealth, fame, and honor. That glory was to be the Light of the world. From the beginning, the Jews were chosen and blessed so that they would be a blessing. The Savior of the world was to come through them, and the world would see the greatness of God through their lives. Isaiah writes, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3)

Jesus Christ was the morning star; His birth was the dawn of a new age. He was Light and brought light into this dark world. A star shown in the sky at the moment of His birth, it was a light to the Gentiles. Far away wise men who were studying the skies looking for signs saw this new star appear. They were learned men who were aware of the prophecies of the Jews and knew the sign told of the birth of a king. The left their homes and traveled to Jerusalem seeking this newborn king of the Jews.

They went to Herod; certainly, the new king would be born in the royal household. But there was no child there. Herod called to the priests and asked of the prophecies found in the scriptures. They told him about the words of Micah that foretold of a king to be born in Bethlehem, a shepherd from the House of David. Herod told the wise men they would find the king there. He asked that they return and tell him the location of the child so he too could go and worship him.

Isn’t it amazing that the promised nation did not see the signs of the coming fulfillment? They did not see the light appear; yet foreigners knew something incredible was happening and traveled far to be a part of it. Even when the wise men informed all of Jerusalem of their quest, no one followed. Not one person went with them to find the newborn king. During Jesus’ life and ministry, many of the Jews still did not recognize Him, though He often showed Himself to be the fulfillment of the promises. From the beginning of Jesus’ life, from the moment He was laid in manger, His light shined to the entire world, not just the Jews.

The passage from Isaiah says, “All from Sheba will come. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will proclaim the praises of Yahweh.” The wise men fulfilled this prophecy by coming to honor the newborn king and by bringing Him gifts. The gold and frankincense were symbols of royalty and priesthood. The wise men knew that Jesus would be like the kings of old who not only ruled the people but also ministered to the Lord. But the wise men brought another gift, myrrh. Myrrh was a spice used for the burial of the dead. These strangers from a foreign land somehow knew that Jesus was to be more than an earthly king. The gift foretold of Jesus’ suffering and death.

The word Epiphany means, “a revelatory manifestation of a divine being.” On this day the Church recognizes that through the wise men God revealed His divine nature of Christ to the world. The promise of a King was not just for the Jews or for this life. Jesus was the Light, revealed by God in the light of the star that drew strangers into His promise. The Light shines for all the world to see but Herod and the people of Jerusalem missed it. Do you see the Light, and will you follow like the wise men of old? Thanks be to God for His revealed light, that by His power we may see and know Him even today.


January 9, 2023

“On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in my weaknesses. For if I would desire to boast, I will not be foolish; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, so that no man may think more of me than that which he sees in me or hears from me. By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, a thorn in the flesh was given to me: a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, and in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, WEB

Scientific studies show that gratitude improves your mental health. I was reading one article that was several years old that talked about how the need for mental health care has risen significantly. I’m sure that it is even higher today than it was then. As a matter of fact, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. After several years of decline, suicide rates began to rise again in 2021, especially among younger people.

Mental health care can be expensive and lengthy, so according to the article, professionals have had to confront this burning question: How can they help clients derive the greatest possible benefit from treatment in the shortest amount of time? Believe it or not, the answer they have found is gratitude. In the past many studies have suggested that people who consciously count their blessings are happier and less depressed.

Of course, many of those studies focused on people who were healthy. A group wondered what they might find if they focused on those who were seeking counseling services. Three hundred college students at their university were part of a study. The participants, all of whom struggled with issues of depression and anxiety, were separated into three groups. One group was assigned the task of writing letters of gratitude. The second group was tasked with writing their feelings and thoughts about negative experiences. The third group were not assigned a writing task. The finding was not surprising: those who wrote letters of gratitude were significantly healthier after a few weeks. This suggests that even brief exercises of gratitude have a positive effect.

What they discovered is that those who practiced gratitude had a perspective that focused less on self and more on others. They compared the percentage of positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first-person plural words) that participants used in their letters. The participants who wrote the letters of gratitude used less negative emotion words were mentally healthier. It was not just about a positive attitude, but a lack of negative. Just by changing our language from those toxic negative thoughts can make you feel better. This is true even when your life is filled with negative experiences.

Listen to Paul in today’s passage. We often think about Paul as an arrogant egotist, especially when it seems he is boasting about his role as an apostle. Yet, we see his humility, and gratitude, in this passage. The first verses of this chapter which I have not quoted talk about a “man” who had a significant spiritual experience. We know that the “man” is Paul himself, but he doesn’t want to be seen boasting about it. Instead, he boasts about his weaknesses. His thorn. We don’t know what that thorn might have been. Many have made guesses, but Paul was purposely enigmatic about what it was because we can all identify with having a thorn. Our thorns are different, so as we read Paul’s words, we realize that Paul’s attitude is how we should approach our difficulties.

Paul was grateful for his thorn. Whatever it was kept Paul humble. It kept Paul reliant on God. Paul took pleasure in his weaknesses. Have you ever really paid attention to Paul’s life, not just what is recorded in the book of Luke, but also what he reports in his letters to the churches? Paul was repeatedly beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, insulted, shipwrecked, rejected, hurt not only by enemies but by the people in Corinth whom he loved as a father. Too many of his problems came from Corinth.

He had every reason to be depressed and anxious. He had every reason to complain. He had every reason to turn away from the Corinthians and let them suffer the consequences of their attitudes. But instead, Paul wrote to his beloved, to show them his love, to help them walk on the right path, sharing his deepest hurts but also his greatest blessings which are not what we expect them to be. Paul could have focused on how terrible that the Corinthians had been and on how hard it is to have a thorn, he boasted that God’s grace is sufficient. Though he doesn’t specifically say that he is grateful, he glories in the weakness that reveal Christ’s power in him. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” He’s not strong in his own power, but God is strong in him. He shares his thorn so that we can see his attitude is positive despite the negative, he lived an attitude of gratitude. He even accepts his affliction for the sake of those he loves in Corinth. (2 Corinthians 1:6)

So, think about how you talk about your life. Is your Facebook feed filled with complaints about your life and your neighbors? Are your words filled with negative emotional words, or are you grateful even for the struggles of your life? Do you see the benefit of your thorns, and how your afflictions might help others? I imagine everyone who reads this devotional are thankful. I am sure you all praise God for the blessings of your life. But do you really have an attitude of gratitude? Can you write a letter without focusing on negative emotional words, even to someone who has hurt you? Let God’s power and strength put you on a path to good mental health by living that attitude of gratitude that sees the positive in the thorn in your side.


January 10, 2023

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 1 Corinthians 13, KJV

One of the first things we learn when we begin deeply studying the scriptures is that there are multiple Greek words that can be translated as “love.” The most familiar to us is the word “agape” but there are others like “philio” and “eros.” As we study the scriptures, it is helpful to know what word has been translated so that we understand the context of that particular passage. We know that though we have just one word for “love,” there are many different ways that love is defined. We might love French fries, but not as we love our spouse. We don’t even love our children the way we love our spouse. We are, perhaps, somewhat flippant when we use the word love, making it seem as though we have deep feelings for something that inanimate, and yet sometimes we don’t even have the type of love that is desirable between spouses.

We know the word “agape” and though it is hard to define, we have an understanding of what it means. We know that it is a deep love, the kind of love God has for us and the kind of love that we should have for God. We know that agape love sent Jesus to the manger and the cross. We know that it about more than French fries, and even more than our spouses. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon defines “agape” as “love, generosity, kindly concern, devotedness. Strong’s Concordance includes the word “charity.” This is the word that the King James Version uses when translating the above scripture quote. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not...” King James is not my favorite translation, but this might be one of the places that the translators did well. That’s why I use the KJV today. Except that we don’t define charity as they did.

We think of charity as an institution created to help poor people, or as the help we give to those who are needy. It has an almost negative connotation for us. How many of us have heard, or said, “No thanks, I don’t take charity,” when someone has offered us help? How many of us would be more open to that help if we understood it as the giver living out the meaning of “agape”?

Yesterday I talked about gratitude and how those who are thankful are healthier mentally than those who focus on the negative. It turns out that an attitude of gratitude has a direct connection to “agape.” That’s not the language of the studies, of course, but it is what the studies show. Christina Karns is a neurologist at the University of Oregon who has studied the impact of charitable giving and gratitude. She wrote, “It turns out that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. A region deep in the frontal lobe of the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is key to supporting both. Anatomically, this region is wired up to be a hub for processing the value of risk and reward; it’s richly connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a kick of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances.”

The practical findings of this study is that those who were more grateful had a stronger positive response to the action of giving. It felt good for them to see a charity succeed. They good feelings led to more charity. Their gratitude literally and physically shifted the value of charity to a different part of their brain, making the giver happier as a result. I suppose some might argue that giving to charities is not meant to make us happy, but to make life better to the receivers. But how much better is the exchange when everyone benefits? Once we have that attitude of gratitude, our little corner of the world is brighter.

Most of us can say we are thankful. We praise God for the good times, and we even know to thank God for our thorns. But we are called to love as Christ loved, to live “agape” which is more than just words or feelings. It is generosity, kindly concern, devotedness. Agape begins with an attitude of gratitude that leads us to actively love in a way that, yes, makes us feel good. Agape leads to a brighter, happier life and world. The researchers may have physical and scientific answers to the questions of what impact gratitude has on our lives, but we know that this is the way God created us to be. He is the one who did the wiring in our brains so that we’ll have an attitude of gratitude, give until it feels good, and be blessed into thanksgiving and praise. It is a wonderful circle in which we grow in grace and maturity toward the goal of being truly Christ-like in the world.


January 11, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for January 15, 2023, The Second Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42a

“He said to them, ‘Come, and see.’” John 1:39, WEB

I have developed several different studies over the years that I have presented at workshops or retreats. One of those has to do with spiritual gifts. I prepared for weeks and had plenty of materials; I was excited about the subject matter because I had recently discovered my own spiritual gifts. I was surprised because I had gifts I did not expect. I’m happy to have learned these things about myself because I’m now using those gifts to the glory of God. I was excited for those who attended the workshop the first time I presented it because I wanted to help expand their understanding of spiritual gifts so that they might see that they, too, had much more to offer the Church than they realized.

That first audience was made up largely of older church women. Those who are actively involved in church functions know that this group are those in most congregations who are always in charge of making the coffee and organizing potluck dinners. They all began the workshop believing that their gift was hospitality. It made sense; the tasks of hospitality always fell on their shoulders. It was also something they did well.

After I made my presentation, we gave the women a spiritual gifts assessment. We wanted them to see that God may have given them something more than they realized. We get stuck in the idea that we have one specific gift and we do not see the possibilities and potential that God has given to us. Some of the women did find hospitality high on their list of gifts, but it was not the only gift that was discovered that day. Some of the women were very surprised to discover that they had other spiritual gifts and even more surprised at what those gifts were. They shook their heads at the results and some even said, “I can’t do that.” This was particularly true of those who found high marks for the pastoral gift.

In my presentation, I made it clear that there are many ways for us to live out our gifts. The pastoral gift does not necessarily mean that we have to become ordained clergy. The pastoral gift is given to certain members of the Body of Christ to assume a long-term personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of believers. This doesn’t have to be a congregation; a person with the pastoral gift can mentor a small group or even an individual. If you have ever watched the Christian movie “The War Room,” you see the pastoral gift in action. The older woman takes a young wife under her wings, teaching her how to pray. She was not an ordained pastor, but she assumed a long-term personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the struggling young woman. I knew many of the women at that workshop would have been wonderful mentors to young Christians, and their gifts assessments showed it to be God’s intention for their lives. Yet, they continued to believe their gift was hospitality and they weren’t willing to go further.

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

However, I have learned that we don’t always see immediate change, that sometimes what we do is simply plant a seed. It is God who brings change to people’s lives. I will never know how many of those women went back to their churches and were given opportunities to do something different. Perhaps something I said gave them the confidence to boldly accept.

I might have thought nothing was getting through to those preschoolers when I was a teacher, but I often heard from parents later about how their son or daughter made a comment that surprised them. It surprised me, too, because it was something we had talked about in class, and I didn’t think they were even listening. I have nearly broken down in tears as I have seen others developing a deeper relationship with God. God has helped me to see that He is able to use the ministry we do each day, no matter how insignificant and inadequate it may seem to us. It is not in vain to help others to learn about faith and grow in Christian maturity, because God is the mover and source of our ministry. It doesn’t matter how we use the gifts He gives. What matters is that we use them, knowing that He is faithful and that He will give value to our work.

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

With a story so incredible, why do we reject the gifts and opportunities that God has given us to help others find the faith that gives them new life in Him? We are too afraid of getting splattered with the mud of this world that we turn away from God’s calling on our lives. In doing so, we reveal our own lack of trust in the God who can use the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things.

I was in a store the other day and there were teams of people resetting all the shelving. They were changing everything to make room for a new department. As I wandered those half-finished aisles, two things came to mind. The first was that it would take me forever to find what I needed until I got used to the new layout. Why do the stores do this to us? The second thing was how much I missed being part of that type of team. See, I worked in retail for a few years and my favorite task was setting shelves. I even worked for awhile on a store set-up team. Retail had its negative aspects, but I’d go to work on a that type of team again.

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

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

We ran into another problem. The plan-o-grams were designed with a specific item in mind for each hook and shelf. However, manufacturers are constantly changing and redeveloping their products. The stationary aisle was especially difficult. We would set the hook up to hold a hanging card with one pen, but the manufacturer changed that item to ‘buy one, get one free.’ Instead of a package of two inches by six inches, the package arrived as three inches by six inches. That one inch difference made it impossible to fit that item where it belonged in the display. The manufacturer did not know the impact of their decision.

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

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

Small actions can have huge effect. This is why it is important for us to follow God’s will in our lives. He gives us our gifts for a reason, and then He presents us with opportunities to use those gifts. Even if we don’t believe we have a gift like the pastoral gift, or even want a gift like that, He is able to use that gift through us to make a difference in someone’s life. Even if we use our gift to impact the life of just one person, that impact will spread like the ripples that grow from the flap of a butterfly’s wings.

John had a pretty good thing going. He was followed by many, sought out by men for baptism and to hear his teaching. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees seemed to be interested in what he had to say. Herod was fascinated by his teaching. He had disciples, men who had committed to his cause, who were with him as he ministered. He could have been a powerful force in and around Jerusalem, perhaps even as a military leader. Certainly, there were others who were fighting the Romans, and a powerful leader was what the people sought to save them from Rome.

Did John think twice before pointing out Jesus to his disciples? Did he reject his gifts and calling from God because he thought he was meant to do something else? He must have known he would lose followers. But John knew that he had to do what God intended. He was not meant to be the Messiah, but instead was born to point toward Jesus. He even told his disciples that he must be diminished so Jesus could flourish.

When John saw Jesus, he proclaimed the Good News. Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In the verses preceding our text, John answered the question of the Jewish leaders that he was not the Christ. He admitted that he’s really a nobody compared to the One who was to come; he was just the messenger proclaiming the coming of the One for whom they were waiting. They wondered why he was baptizing if he’s a nobody, but he said, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know. He is the one who comes after me, who is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to loosen.”

Last week we heard about John baptizing Jesus even though he thought himself unworthy to do so, but Jesus gave him the gift and the opportunity to do what was right according to God’s Word. With that act of obedience, John was blessed to be there when Jesus appeared on the scene. He witnessed the very thing that God told him he would see: the Holy Spirit rested on the one He sent. John saw the fulfillment of the promises; the One whom God planned all along was finally breaking into the world to accomplish His work of salvation. In today’s passage, John pointed to Jesus and told the crowds that Jesus was the One he was talking about. “See, that’s Him.” That confession of faith had eternal consequences because it pointed some of the first disciples to Jesus.

The Epiphany season is when we get to know Jesus before we begin the penitent period of Lent. In the next few weeks, we’ll study the Sermon on the Mount, focusing heavily on Matthew chapter 5, but before we get there, we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. He is the One we seek. He is the One God named even before He was born. He is the One who was chosen even before the beginning of time.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is one of four servant songs from Isaiah the prophet. These servant songs describe the Messiah, whom we identify as Jesus Christ our Lord. Today’s song is from the servant’s perspective and in it we see that the servant was not only sent to restore Israel, but to draw the whole world into God’s heart. Everyone is invited to experience God’s salvation. His grace reaches to the very ends of the earth. God knew from the beginning that He would send Jesus to save us. The promises begin in Genesis and continue through the books of Moses, the history of Israel and the words of the prophets. They are found in the poetic books, like the Psalms.

The disciples had expectations based on their understanding of those Old Testament promises. They were looking for a king that would save them from Roman occupation. They wanted to return to the glory days of David. It didn’t turn out as they expected. As a matter of fact, it ended horribly. Israel never got a new king. They weren’t saved from Rome. Jesus did not fulfill their expectations. Instead, He was slaughtered like a lamb on the altar of sacrifice, just as God intended. God was not sending Jesus to save them from earthly troubles, but to save them from sin and death. Jesus was the Lamb who was slain, He was the final sacrifice that made all things right again. Faith in the Lamb brings forgiveness and life just as God promised and John proclaimed.

When those followers of John first approached Jesus, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” They didn’t know how to answer at first, but then said, “Where are you staying?” That seems like a strange way to answer Jesus, perhaps their answer to the question is not unreasonable. After all, if they are going to follow Jesus they need to know where to find Him. Yet, Jesus’ question begs a much different answer, particularly in light of the message of John’s Gospel. John writes to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah for whom they were waiting. He writes to prove that even though Jesus did not fit the expectations of the people, He was exactly what God promised.

Jesus answered, “Come and see,” inviting them into a relationship with Him. Jesus answered their question with the words that every generation of Christian evangelist would use to invite others to know Jesus. They are the words we are to use as we do the work God calls us to do with the gifts He has given us. Perhaps we can help them discover what it is they are looking for.

Jesus’ question encourages us to consider why we are following Jesus. What do we seek when we go to church on a Sunday morning? Are we looking for entertainment? Are we seeking a place where we feel like there is someone who cares? Do we expect that God will hear our prayers and give us what we need to survive another week in the world? What are we looking for when we open our bibles to read at home or study with others? Are we looking for the answers we want or are we open to the answers God has for us? Are we willing to embrace the gifts and opportunities that God has set before us? We might just discover that God has something completely different planned than what we expect. The disciples learned that Jesus was never meant to be an earthly king when He was nailed to the cross. Will God nail our expectations to the cross, too, and give us the Savior we really need?

It did not take very long for the disciples to realize that following Jesus was not going to be the easy path. Jesus drew great crowds, but they disappeared when His words became hard to accept. “We have to eat His flesh and drink His blood? That’s ridiculous.” The words of the Sermon on the Mount are certainly not easy. Jesus’ expectations often set us on edge, even divides us, especially when we follow our own ways and not use the gifts and opportunities God has given to us.

We are beset by divisions, immorality, and the other troubles just as those in Corinth to whom Paul was writing. We need to read the words of Paul’s greeting to that congregation, for it sets our hearts and minds in the right direction. Paul had some very real issues to deal with in his letter, but he began by pointing the people back to their salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ.

By God’s grace, the Corinthians had a sense of self-assurance about their faith, an almost haughty understanding of their spirituality. They were a gifted congregation, both in word and in deed, able to do amazing things in the name and for the sake of the Gospel. Yet, they were also arrogant, thinking that they were more spiritual and gifted than others. They also began to credit their gifts to something they did rather than what God had done. Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to point them back to God, to remind them that He is faithful.

How easy it would have been for Paul or John the Baptist to take credit for the salvation of millions. Paul’s words have been read for nearly two thousand years and he has been a witness who has pointed a multitude of people to Christ. Yet, when John’s disciples were drawn toward Jesus, he did not try to hold on to them. He told them that He was not meant to be the Messiah, that Jesus was the anointed one. He pointed out Jesus and sent them on their way. Paul always pointed his readers that the grace they knew came from Jesus.

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

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

The words of Isaiah remind us that when we are disappointed and discouraged, we need only look to the promises and remember that God is with us to help us do everything He has called and gifted us to do. While we do not see evidence of success in our work in this world, we can trust that God is doing something we can’t see, and He is faithful. Our little acts, whatever they might be, can have a huge impact on our world. We are most blessed, as is the world, when we accept what God has planned for our lives and act obediently with the gifts He has given us.

Peter found Jesus because Andrew pointed to Him. Andrew found Jesus because John pointed to Him. John found Jesus because God Himself pointed to Jesus and revealed Him to be the One for whom they were waiting. We are called to do the same. We aren’t called to be saviors. Rather, we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen; pointing to Jesus so that He might draw them into a relationship. It isn’t about us, it never has been. Like the butterfly, we flap our wings and God brings change to the world we may never really see. Like John, we are nothing more than voices crying out in the wilderness with a song in our hearts and praise on our lips, pointing the way so that the world might see that which has been revealed in Christ Jesus. Like Andrew, we are called to invite others to “Come and see,” so that they will experience the amazing grace of the God who is faithful, who fulfills all His promises.


January 12, 2023

“Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6, WEB

I generally ask for no mustard on food I buy at fast food places. It seems they use a heavy hand with it, and though I like some mustard, I don’t like when the only thing I can taste is mustard. I love soft pretzels with a good German ground mustard, but the plain yellow mustard can be overwhelming if too much is used on a burger or sub sandwich.

Mustard seed is used as an example of the Kingdom of Heaven. Mark tells us that it is the smallest of seeds. Matthew and Luke tell us that if our faith is very small like a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains or huge trees. How could such a small thing do such big things? In terms of the Kingdom, the idea being taught is that even a little goes a long way.

It is interesting to note that mustard is a weed. Now, it has been used for millennia for medicinal and culinary purposes and it is cultivated in many parts of the world. There are more than a thousand different types of mustard. There is even a museum devoted to mustard. It has been used since the ancient times as a poultice and thought to be very beneficial to health. It was prescribed for everything from swollen tonsils to epilepsy. It was used for practical reasons, but it was still a weed. Pliny wrote, “It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand, when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.” It was valuable but it could become an annoyance. You can see dark green plants in the middle of fields sown with wheat or other grains, plants that were obviously not planted by the farmer. This is often mustard, whose seed is so light it is easily carried by the wind, or it is dropped undigested by a passing bird.

Mustard is a weed that grows where it is not wanted, is impossible to get rid of and grows so large that creatures can dwell in its branches. I might seem odd to say, but that’s the kingdom of God. God does the impossible with the annoying in the most unexpected places. We hate to think of Jesus as a weed, but He certainly was to many of the people who had to deal with Him. When we think of mustard, we realize that it is a much better example than we at first assume. It was used for medicinal reasons; it brings healing which is not always pleasant. Mustard plasters can help with respiratory ailments, but it often burns the skin. It is used to add flavor to bland foods, but it can overwhelm the flavor of everything else.

This reminds me of a story: two peasants took their goods to the market in town and did very well one day. They decided to use some of their profit to buy a special meal at the inn. It was strange for them because they normally could not afford to eat in such a place. As they waited to be served, they noticed two other men dipping their meat in a bowl of creamy yellow stuff. The men were using very little. The peasants assumed that the yellow stuff must be very expensive. Confident in their newfound wealth, they decided to show the other men what it means to live large. They ordered two bowls of the mustard and began to eat it with a spoon. One bite set their tongues aflame. Even their beer could not quench the heat. They left the inn and decided that rich food was too much for them and they never went into an inn again.

Jesus taught things that did not sit well with folk. They thought He was either insane or a child of the devil. His parables spoke of extraordinary things, and yet they did so in such ordinary ways. Everyone knew about mustard, but their experience was not always positive. Yet, Jesus’ parables gave a new understanding of even the ordinary things. We generally interpret this parable to mean that small seeds can grow into big faith. We can also see how God uses weeds to do wonderful things and that no matter how hard his detractors try, He’s not going anywhere.

We had one idea about how to understand the mustard seed and now we can look at it from a new perspective. The kingdom of God is different than we expect. It is helpful and healing, but it is also a weed that can be annoying to some. It can be cultivated or grow from a seed that is too small to even be digested in a bird. God is not going anywhere, and He is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can make nothing something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible. He did it in and through Jesus. Even today He is making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is making the seeds in our hearts grow, and He is giving life to the seeds that we plant.

God shows us through the scriptures the amazing ways He can use little things. He shows us how much He cares for the little stuff. Besides the mustard seed, Jesus approved of the widow’s mites. He used the little boy’s lunch to feed thousands. He called to the small tax collector and changed his whole world. He reminded us that He loves the sparrow and counts the hairs on our heads. If God has a high purpose for all these little things, how much more does He have for each of us? We might think that we have little faith, but we don’t need much because God is great. We may be nothing but weeds, but He will make His kingdom grow through our little faith when we trust in Him with all our hearts.


January 13, 2023

“Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:3, WEB

Things happen. Almost everyone has at some point gone through a period of crisis, and if you haven’t, you probably will. Crisis came come when we lose our jobs, when our relationships fall apart, when we experience health issues. Things happen that leave us disappointed and discouraged, hurt and angry. Time helps us understand what is happening, and the best thing we can do is find the courage to forgive. It takes work; lives are changed and the future is unknown, but the right attitude can get us moving forward toward wholeness and healing.

The hardest part of dealing with a crisis is sharing it with others. During one such crisis, we were embarrassed, and the feelings were too fresh. We didn’t want advice from people who did not know what was happening. Advice can be helpful, but it is often impractical or inappropriate. While it might be good advice for someone, it is often wrong for the particular person or situation. It can be frustrating to hear everyone’s ideas and it is so easy to become defensive, so we kept our crisis private. Unfortunately, it is impossible to hide a problem when it is written all over your face. Certain words bring tears. It seems as though no matter where we went, what we saw or heard, everything reminded us of the crisis.

We were rather cryptic with friends during that time, not really saying anything, but hinting that there’s a problem. A crisis is “any event that is, or is expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society.” While that might have been true of our situation, it isn’t really as bad as it might seem. It was interesting to see how many people actually understood. I learned that the crisis we were experiencing was not so unusual. It seemed as though everyone knew someone who went through the same thing.

Our friends were sympathetic, and I found it easier to deal with the whole thing as I heard their stories. I wanted to hide. I didn’t want advice. I didn’t want to deal with everyone’s opinions or ideas. But I realized quickly that they weren’t trying to tell us what to do, but to help us through. They understood that our crisis was a crisis to us in that moment, but there was hope and a future, even if it is different than what we expected. Our peace was shattered for a moment, but not really, because in the end we found the grace to get us through. That grace was shared by people who care.

I love the way Paul begins every one of his letters to the church. Somewhere in the first few verses we always find some form of the greeting we see in today’s text. Paul’s letters were sent to his churches that were experiencing some sort of crisis. Some of the problems were more critical than others, and the attitudes of the churches differed significantly. His words might seem like unsolicited advice. I wouldn’t doubt that at least some of the listeners became defensive; isn’t that how we react when we read bible passages that give an answer we don’t want to hear? But Paul did not write to get the Christians to do it his way, he wrote to encourage them in ways that would help them through their crisis with the help of Jesus’ grace.

He began his letters with the greeting because he wanted the Christians to know that he was not writing to start a fight. He didn’t want to upset them or give them unsolicited advice. He encouraged them to listen, to hear his story, to see that he understood and wanted to help. In this greeting, Paul also reminded them, and us, that grace and peace are gifts of God, and he encourages us to trust that God is with us to help us through our crises. We might want to hide from others during our crisis, but if we graciously give them a chance to share their experiences, we might just find peace and a good way through.


January 16, 2023

“But you, beloved, remember the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are those who cause divisions and are sensual, not having the Spirit. But you, beloved, keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. On some have compassion, making a distinction, and some save, snatching them out of the fire with fear, hating even the clothing stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep them from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:17-25, WEB

Today we remember the lives of two very different men. Both are considered renewers of society, but they lived in different eras and did not have the same impact on the world around them. The first man is Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King boldly proclaimed the equality of all men and women despite race. He was a pastor and took his preaching to the streets. At that time many people preferred to change things using violence, but Dr. King was passionately nonviolent.

George Fox came from a different time and place, but his preaching also impacted society. This 17th century preacher lived in England and became disillusioned with the church in which he was raised. He found no comfort in the teachings, so he broke off all relationships, even with his family. He became a traveling preaching, emphasizing the light of Christ in the hearts of believers, which is the true source of comfort and peace in this world. He preached against slavery and began the abolitionist movement in England. He also founded a fellowship of believers called the Quakers, as others followed his example and traveled to preach. They eventually settled down into communities that are known for a more mystical worship. When they gather together, they quietly wait for the presence of the Holy Spirit to join them, spending much of their worship in silence.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Fox approached the issues of their day from different perspectives, Dr. King on a more practical level and George Fox on a spiritual. Yet, both ministries were founded on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. They both undoubtedly faced persecution for their work: Fox was harassed and imprisoned, King was killed. Neither allowed it to stop what they knew should be done.

Our world is different than it was in the 17th century and even than it was in the middle of the 20th century. Yet, we continue to face issues that need to be handled, hearts still need to know the comfort and peace that come from life in Christ. The people need to hear the message of the Gospel, both in practical and spiritual terms. Everyone needs to know about the light that is Christ, the love from God that was incarnate in the man Jesus Christ. Though we may not ever do so in a manner that will be remembered like King and Fox, we are all called to share this message with the world in which we live. We will face persecution, but what matters most is that we keep our focus on the one thing that will truly change the world: our Lord Jesus Christ.


January 17, 2023

“My cry goes to God! Indeed, I cry to God for help, and for him to listen to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord. My hand was stretched out in the night, and didn’t get tired. My soul refused to be comforted. I remember God, and I groan. I complain, and my spirit is overwhelmed. Selah. You hold my eyelids open. I am so troubled that I can’t speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I remember my song in the night. I consider in my own heart; my spirit diligently inquires:’ Will the Lord reject us forever? Will he be favorable no more? Has his loving kindness vanished forever? Does his promise fail for generations? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he, in anger, withheld his compassion?’ Selah. Then I thought, ‘I will appeal to this: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember Yah’s deeds; for I will remember your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all your work, and consider your doings.” Psalm 77:1-12, WEB

Patrick Swayze met Lisa Niemi were just teenagers and they married in 1975, before either of them had any success in the entertainment business. Patrick Swayze, of course, became famous as an actor and Lisa was an accomplished dancer, actress, and director. They were married an incredible thirty-four years, and the marriage would have lasted longer if Patrick hadn’t died of pancreatic cancer in September 2009. They survived hurdles that many couples just can’t overcome, not the least of which is the fame that comes with careers in Hollywood. Despite a brief separation and the overwhelming demands of a terminal illness, the Swayzes’ last words to one another on Patrick’s deathbed were, “I love you.”

Lisa wrote a book about what it means to be a caregiver. The book, “Worth Fighting For” tells the story of those last years, a blessing because Patrick lived much longer than expected. They took advantage of every minute and appreciated each moment together. The story is, as might be expected, heartbreaking. But it is also inspirational and as Lisa says, “Life affirming.”

Lisa’s friends were concerned about the book. She said in an interview, “When I first went into it, I had a friend ask, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? Because it could be really tough. But the way I saw it, I wasn’t creating more pain; I was just talking about what I already had.” She said it was a painful experience, leaving her in tears regularly. Sometimes she had to stop writing for days or even weeks until she could face the story again. But she discovered that writing it helped her face the pain and realize that the story is not nearly as tragic as she thought it was.

She said, “When I started, I thought, ‘This may not be a good idea. We all know how it’s going to end.’ But once I stepped back from it a bit, I was surprised by how many victories we experienced. We were always getting good news. Things that were supposed to be dire turned out to be just fine. And when there are life-and-death stakes, it blows the bad up really big, but it also blows the good up. It was a pretty inspiring journey.”

Have you faced tragedy in your life? How did you deal with it? How do you deal with your successes or even your most mundane moments? It is unlikely that any of us will write a book about our experiences, even less that we’ll write a book that will inspire many. Our words will probably not even make it into print. I’m blessed with the ability to write and share my thoughts with others, but I know that these devotions have helped me in a very personal way; most days I think of these devotions as entries in a diary. Writing has forced me to deal with the good and bad in my life and in doing so I often have found good in the bad. You don’t have to be a good writer. You don’t even have to share the story with others. But speaking or writing the words can help you see the reality of God’s grace in every aspect of life, good and bad. Find the joy and the victories as Lisa found. It might be hard, but you will find laughter through the tears.


January 18, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for January 22, 2023, The Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1-9 (10-14); 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-25

“Yahweh is my light and my salvation.” Psalm 27:1a, WEB

I have a very strange claim to fame: it has snowed everywhere I have lived or visited, even places where it rarely snows. I went to Tampa Florida for Christmas one year and it snowed a few inches while I was there, even on the beach. We lived in the Sacramento Valley of California for a few years. It is a place that rarely has snow, but it snowed enough to cover the ground the day after our first Christmas. There was a half foot of snow on the Sutter Buttes, not far from our home. It snowed in England, Arkansas, and Texas. It is not unheard of in those places, but it is unusual. One reason why we love living in Texas is because it is unusual. I’m not a fan of snow.

There was a period of time when we lived in Washington State. Now, we expected snow in Spokane. It was on the cold side of the mountains and though winters were not extreme, it could get cold, and we often saw ice and snow. One year, however, was terrible. We went for weeks getting several inches of snow almost daily. It wasn’t so bad at first; we had fun in the snow and did the best we could to get around the ever largening piles of plowed snow that quickly blocked the sidewalks. I had to shovel a pathway daily so I could take our daughter to the bus stop so she could go to school. Sometimes I had to shovel twice. It never warmed enough to melt any of the snow, so it just kept building. By the end of the snow, the “tunnel” I created for our pathway was taller than our son. We had nearly a hundred inches of snow that month. I decided then that I would need to move south, that I’d seen my share of snow.

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

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

God is so good to put such beauty and perfection in something as tiny and insignificant as a snowflake. The glory those snowflakes offered is just a glimmer of the magnificence of God’s glory. There is even beauty in those things about His creation that we do not always like or appreciate. I couldn’t see the joy of those snowflakes after a few days in Washington, but they were just like those snowflakes that caught my attention so wonderfully a few years later. The snow which can be inconvenient has a purpose and a beauty to it. The psalmist invites us to sing for joy at God’s marvelous hand in the world.

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

According to the scriptures, the wise men who followed the star assumed that the new king would be born in Jerusalem. It made sense; where else would one look for the King of the Jews? They discovered from Herod and his priests that the king would come out of Bethlehem, so they went there to see and worship. Now that Jesus is grown, baptized, and beginning His ministry, we might expect that He must end up in Jerusalem. He was born both King and Priest, so He should have gone to the Temple to minister and preach, to work with the priests and serve God in His house. He should be in the center of Jewish faith and the politics of Israel in Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus went to Galilee and lived in Capernaum. Galilee couldn’t be much farther from Jerusalem, not only in geography but also faith and politics. It was set apart from the rest of Israel, and the people lived their faith as they were able, different than those in Jerusalem. It was there that Jesus went when He began His ministry. Why?

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

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

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

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

When John was arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. John’s arrest was probably a serious event in Jerusalem: front page headlines and breaking news. The leaders were looking for unrest and the attention John gave to Jesus would have made Jesus the next one they needed to watch. We might have expected Jesus to work out of Jerusalem, after all that was the center of religious and political life in Israel, but Jesus went to Galilee of the Gentiles. Isaiah wrote, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The light has shined on those who lived in the land of the shadow of death.” During this season of Epiphany, we think about Christ as the light in so many ways, and we identify with Christ as He reached out to the entire world. Our texts for this week show us how God remembers and fulfills His promises in extraordinary ways.

Was Jesus running away? It might seem so when we consider the atmosphere in Jerusalem at the time. Yet, this was all part of the plan. The prophecy from Isaiah promised that the Messiah would come out of the area known for Zebulun and Naphtali. Matthew recognized the connection when he quoted Isaiah in this passage. During Epiphany, we are reminded that Jesus came to bring the message of hope to all the nations. He came to be a light in the darkness. He came to bring peace between peoples.

There were Jews in the region around the Sea of Galilee; after all, the disciples were Jews. We don’t know much about their lives before Jesus called them to follow Him. Were they strictly observant Jews? Did they travel to Jerusalem according to the Law? Did they visit the temple and or attend worship at a synagogue regularly? The disciples in today’s Gospel lesson (Peter, Andrew, James and John) were fishermen, and while the Jews took the Sabbath seriously, did those fishermen really put down their nets every Sabbath?

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

Would the priests have answered Jesus’ call with such trust? I doubt it. Why leave cushy positions in the Temple where everything they needed was readily available for a life that was unknown with a guy they didn’t understand? Why follow this rising star that didn’t shine the way they thought He should shine? See, it is hard to see the light in a place where the people think the light is shining. The people of Jerusalem looked to the priests and the leaders to teach them about God, to lead them in faithful lives, but the leaders had their own agendas. They were shining a light, but was it the Light God promised? Would we leave our cushy (or our not so cushy but secure) lives to follow someone into the unknown?

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

Jesus does call some to extraordinary ministry, but for most of us, He calls us to live our life of faith in the everyday experiences of our lives. Jesus doesn’t look at education or position. He doesn’t pay attention to the outward appearance or the worldly traits. God sees the heart and Jesus knew that those fishermen, though imperfect, would follow Him to the best of their ability. What does He see when He looks at your heart?

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

We may seem divided, and the world uses our divisions as proof that there is nothing of value in the Church. But Jesus looks at our hearts. What does He see? Does He see that we are shining His light into our little corner of the world?

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

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

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

As light shines brighter in darkness, grace shines brighter in the lives of those who need it. Jesus could have found some well-educated and faithful priests if He’d gone to Jerusalem. They weren’t all callous, self-centered, and self-righteous. There were even a few who risked everything during the Passion to help Jesus. Jesus chose ordinary men because they could be taught and led down the path God intended. Jesus didn’t call the ones who thought they were divinely called to shine the light to the people; He called those who were living in the shadow of death. He calls us out of darkness into His light, too.

As we ponder why Jesus went to Galilee and why He chose ordinary fishermen, we are reminded that it is never about us, our geography, accomplishments or abilities. The focus is always about God; He is the One who does the work. He is the One who shines. He is the One who forgives. He calls us to join Him in the work, using our gifts and our resources for His purpose. Unfortunately, we don’t always remember that it is about Jesus. We think highly of ourselves, a lot more like those priests and Jewish leaders than the humble fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Paul brought the focus of the Corinthians back to the work of Christ. Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter) were all great preachers. From the stories in Acts, we can see that they all were quite convincing in their arguments and adept at sharing the Gospel message. We can also see that they all had a slightly different vision of the future of the Church. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews. They reached these different people in different ways. Peter used the Old Testament witness and the experience of historic faith; Paul reached out to a wider, more diverse audience. Despite their differences, Paul, Apollos and Cephas were united in the same mind and the same purpose, to share the message of the cross.

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

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

God is so good to put beauty and perfection in something as tiny and insignificant as a snowflake. There is beauty in those things about His creation that we do not always like or appreciate. I couldn’t see the joy of those snowflakes after a few days in Washington, but they were just like those snowflakes that caught my attention so wonderfully a few years later. The glory of those snowflakes is just a glimmer of the magnificence of God’s glory. The snow which can be inconvenient has a purpose and a beauty. The psalmist invites us to sing for joy at God’s marvelous hand in the world.

Jesus fulfilled The words of the psalmist teach us what it means to die; we are to humble ourselves before God. Peter, Andrew, James and John walked away from a life of security to face the unknown with Jesus. We are all called to live unique lives to His glory among their neighbors, friends, and family. However, God calls us to live, let us die to our old life and walk with Christ, sharing the light, the message of the cross, with the world. We are called as Christians to be of one mind and purpose, working together to use our own gifts to glorify God. We are called to share the foolish message of the cross as we are able from the place where we are with the gifts we have been given.

The psalmist wrote, “One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple.” This is what it means to die: to humble ourselves before God. The disciples walked away from a life of security to face the unknown with Jesus. God calls us too, inviting us to die to our old life and walk with Christ through the valley of the shadow of death, so that His light might shine through our lives and His grace be experienced by those who still dwell in darkness.


January 19, 2023

“Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ They said, ‘Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.’” Matthew 16:13-19, WEB

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

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

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

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

Icons are pictorial representations of important people and moments in Christian history which use conventional images to depict the people and their faith. The icons are typically painted on wood and are used by some Christians for devotions. They are not objects of worship, but are objects used to help focus the faithful in their prayer and devotional life. Certain symbols are often used for specific people. Iconography is the study of these pictures and if you know the symbols, you can identify the saint portrayed. St. Peter usually is carrying a key, reminding us that Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom.

Yesterday was the day we set aside to remember the Confession of St. Peter. Pictures representing this important moment have Peter holding a scroll with the confession. Jesus commends Peter for making such a bold confession, especially after sharing how the rest of the world sees Him. But Jesus reminds the disciples that the confession could not be made without God’s grace. God put the words into Peter’s mouth.

Jesus answered, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Centuries of argument revolve around the meaning of this statement. Who, or what, is the rock? Is it Peter? Or is it the confession that he made. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” In the icon, the scroll draws our eye, the symbolism focusing on the words. Peter is important, but the foundation of God’s church is something much firmer than an imperfect human being. Peter, just moments later, rebuked Jesus for doing what He had to do, but the Word God gave to Peter that day in Jesus is the fullness of the humanity He came to save as well as the fullness of the God who would accomplish the task.


January 20, 2023

“If then you count me a partner, receive him as you would receive me. But if he has wronged you at all or owes you anything, put that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self besides). Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even beyond what I say.” Philemon 17-21, WEB

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? What does the disciple’s life look like? We might think that it is easy to recognize the disciples by the things that they do and the life that they lead, but is it? Is the Christian who commits to a life of missionary service any more a disciple than the Christian who teaches Sunday School at the local church for fifty years? Is a pastor who goes through training, is ordained and spends his life committed to working with and for the Church more of a disciple than the blue haired lady who arrives early to church on Sunday morning to make the coffee?

Discipleship is about living your vocation. You might be called to a monastic life, or a life on the streets as an advocate for a cause. You might be called to serve in the food kitchen or be ordained into pastoral ministry. You might be called to be a mother, a janitor, a politician, a teacher, an artist, a writer, a plumber, an architect, an accountant, etc. There is no limit to what God can call us to do. What makes us disciples is that we obey God’s call and walk in faith, according to God’s Word. God will not call us to do something that goes against His Word.

And this is where we have to be careful. We are human. We have agendas. We have ideas and beliefs and opinions based on our worldliness. We tend to believe what we believe, and we ignore what we’d rather not believe. We will see in God’s Word what fits our human desires and justify our actions by twisting the Word. Then we stop seeing Christ in those who disagree, and we ignore the reality that there is as much truth to their ideas, beliefs and opinions as there is in ours. We believe we are disciples and that others are not. In other words, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all need Jesus.

There is something that is very obvious in the life of a disciple, however: forgiveness. We are forgiven, and we live forgiven. That’s what makes us disciples. That’s what Paul is teaching his friend Philemon.

We have always made assumptions about the story of Philemon and Onesimus, most obviously the idea that Onesimus was a runaway slave who was guilty of theft. We don’t really know the background. Why was he a slave? Was he in debt? Was he guilty of a minor crime? Was he captured in battle? These were all ways a man could become a slave. Why did he run away? Did he really steal something? We make these assumptions based on our knowledge, but as I’ve been reading about Paul and the culture in which he lived, I learned that there are other reasons why Onesimus might have met Paul.

Philemon was part of the church in Colossae. This was not one of the churches that Paul started, but he was familiar with the church because he knew Epaphras, Paul’s fellow worker who was instrumental in the beginning of several churches, including Colossae. It is possible that Philemon sent Onesimus to his friend Paul, either with news from the church or in a legal matter. See, if Philemon and Onesimus had a disagreement, it could be moderated by Paul. As Philemon’s spiritual father, Paul’s solution would have been seriously considered. We have such a negative understanding of slavery (as should be), that we don’t understand it from their point of view. Philemon was a Christian and likely a good master. We usually use this text as a springboard for a discussion about slavery, but there’s something even more important for us to see in this letter.

The purpose of Paul’s letters was to teach the Christians how to live a cruciform life. This means living in Christ, a life of imitating Christ with love toward God and others. The cruciform life is about humility, service, and forgiveness. The letter to Philemon is one of the best examples of this in Paul’s life. Paul certainly encourages Philemon to reconsider his relationship with Onesimus, accepting that his slave is now a brother. But in the quote above, note that Paul goes further than encouraging reconciliation. Paul offers himself as a sacrifice. “If he did anything wrong, send me the bill.” Paul is living, in an active and powerful way, the cruciform life.

We can’t be Jesus. We can’t die on a cross for the sake of all humanity. We could never restore the relationship between God and mankind by our willingness to stand in the gap. We can, however, be like Christ for our neighbor. We can stand in the gap. It might not be in response to a broken relationship. We can stand in the gap for those who are suffering, for those who are hungry, for those who are struggling. This might mean sacrifice, giving more than is necessary or even appropriate for the sake not only of Onesimus’ life, but for the relationship between Christian brothers. This is the life we are called to live: to imitate Christ as we do what we can to bring forgiveness to the world, even if it means some sort of sacrifice as we obediently live the cruciform life of humility and service to our neighbor in praise of Jesus who stood in the gap for us.


January 23, 2023

“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21, WEB

I was watching one of those romance style television movies when the man asked the woman, “If you had sixty seconds to get out of your burning house, what would you grab?” They were, at that time, just friends because the woman had another love interest. She didn’t have an answer to the question but had the opportunity to find out. She was home with her boyfriend when the fire alarm went on in their apartment. The boyfriend ran around unplugging laptops, grabbing phones and chargers, picking up as much of value that he could find. The woman, remembered the question and realized that there was nothing in that apartment that mattered that much to her, including the boyfriend. She broke up with him and returned to the other man who had everything she wanted in this world.

I remember facing a similar question a few years ago on someone’s Facebook page. “What is the most treasured possession you have on earth?” I didn’t post an answer, but automatically thought about my faith. That is the thing I treasure most, but is it a possession I have on earth? What about salvation? I also thought about my family. I treasure my children, but they are not my possessions which became clear when they have grown up and pulled away. I treasure my husband more than any other person in the world, and of all the people in the world, he is the one I can possess, just as he possesses me. Even so, I'm not sure I can even all Bruce my most treasure “possession.” Besides, he can get out of the house all on his own.

People posted similar answers. Another popular answer had to do with pets. Though the animals are living things, in the eyes of the law they are considered possessions. Anyone with a cat will know that no one can possess them. We can feed them, play with them, and clean their litter boxes, but I’m not so sure we can possess them. Another person posted that he treasured the love and respect of his kids. Some posted some version of the name of God, but to me, it is even more difficult to possess Him than anything else. How do you possess God? A few actually answered with material possessions. One talked about a memory book and another about old photographs. Another mentioned a beat-up old car. One person had the handwritten copy of the hospital bill from when his father was born. A few discussions began when commenters wondered whether someone’s ideas were really things they could possess.

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

The woman realized that nothing in her apartment was worth keeping. Of course, she also realized that there was something wrong with the relationship and she learned that there was a better life for her. As we identify our treasures, we can consider whether we are possessed by them. Do our treasures, whatever they are, lift us up and help us to be what God intends? Or do they hinder our relationship with God and the work He has called us to do? Do we put them first, turning our back on the One who has given us ever good and perfect gift, even those things we think we possess?


January 24, 2023

“When Yahweh your God brings you into the land where you go to possess it, and casts out many nations before you—the Hittite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite—seven nations greater and mightier than you; and when Yahweh your God delivers them up before you, and you strike them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them, nor show mercy to them. You shall not make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to his son, nor shall you take his daughter for your son. For that would turn away your sons from following me, that they may serve other gods. So Yahweh’s anger would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But you shall deal with them like this: you shall break down their altars, dash their pillars in pieces, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn their engraved images with fire. For you are a holy people to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:1-6, WEB

Did you spend any time over the past day considering your possessions and what might be most treasured in your life? Did you think about what you would take if you had to leave in a hurry? I’ve heard stories of people preparing to evacuate in the middle of a natural disaster. They make sure they have important paperwork, plus irreplaceable family photos and heirlooms. Is there anything you could live without that you would go out of your way to save in an emergency, besides other living beings?

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

In today’s passage, Moses warned the people to remain faithful to God and to avoid that which might cause them to turn from Him. After four hundred years in Egypt, the people who moved into the Promised Land did not really know Yahweh their God, they had worshipped other gods along with their neighbors. It would be very tempting to worship the gods of their neighbors, especially if they bound themselves to the people in the land which God was giving them through marriage. Unfortunately, God’s people were not always faithful. They worshipped the gods of foreign people and forgot God and His grace.

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

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


January 25, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for January 29, 2023, The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

“For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, WEB

We all know that the internet is a place where it is easy to get into a battle over the simplest things. I saw a post this weekend about how to cut a sandwich. Some people like to make triangles, others prefer to make rectangles. The comments beneath the post were funny. Some people talked about how triangles make the sandwich bigger. There were all sorts of posts showing the math, with equations proving the point. Others suggested that the triangles are bigger because there are more bites. It was a silly conversation, and I’m sure most of the people were arguing because it was funny. There were, however, some who were taking it seriously.

I confess I’ve had my moments when I’ve argued online. I’ve learned to be more careful, even when the subject lends itself to humor. People have a hard time distinguishing between humor and earnestness. I have explained the joke too many times online. Most people accept their error and laugh, but even then, some continue to argue. It is like there are people who argue for the sake of arguing, and it has become much more obvious online. We could probably use a few more peacemakers on social media.

St. Chromatius of Aquileia preached, “If you can see how great the merit of the peacemakers is, when they are no longer called servants but children of God. This reward is fully justified, since the love of peace loves Christ, the author of peace, to whom Paul the Apostle even gives ‘peace’ as a name: ‘He is our peace,’ he says. Someone who does not love peace goes in pursuit of discord, for he loves its author the devil. In the beginning the devil caused discord between God and the human race by leading the first man to violate God’s precept. The reason why the Son of God came down from heaven was to condemn the devil, the author of discord, and to make peace between God and the human race by reconciling its members to God and making God propitious to them. We must therefore become peacemakers so that we may deserve to be called children of God. Without peace, we lose the name not only of children, but even of servants, since the apostle says to us: ‘Love peace, for without it none of us can be pleasing to God.’”

“We must become peacemakers.” I know this seems like an impossible demand. There are a million reasons why we should fight, many of the worthwhile. The world is unfair, we should fight for fairness. We must fight for justice. We have the right to fight for what is ours. We should fight for the truth and for what is right. We believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We believe that if we don’t fight back, then we’ll be nothing but a doormat and the world will take advantage of us.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We fight because we do not want to suffer. We don’t deserve to suffer. We are afraid to suffer. It is not right for us to suffer. Yet Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we suffer for doing what He asks us to do. We must become peacemakers. There’s something very absurd about a person arguing about how to cut a sandwich. The same can be said about most of the arguments we

We disagree with at least half of what we see and hear as we scroll through our Facebook timelines and listen to the media. We disagree because we see the world in a different way, and we expect the others to see it as we do. We demand our way without even listening to the other. We expect the world to bend to our opinion or our point of view and we become angry when it doesn’t. Yet, we haven’t even taken the time to listen to the other point of view. I’m guilty of this, but we all have to admit that it is often difficult to listen when everything is confrontational. We’d rather fight than be a peacemaker.

Peacemakers don’t win. As a matter of fact, Jesus promised that the peacemakers will be persecuted.

On this fourth Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord, we look at the beginning words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As we consider the texts for this day, I’m taken by the number of ways we can understand them. There are perhaps dozens of different ways through which the Beatitudes might be preached. Some may see them with a purely social gospel understanding, others might consider the spiritual implications. There are those who consider these words a call to a certain type of behavior and others might think they are an unattainable ideal.

In the past few years, I have referenced the Beatitudes multiple times, from different points of view. I don’t think any one of these ideas is necessarily right or wrong. Each one simply fit the circumstances of that time and our needs. Take, for instance, the first beatitude. Should a pastor preach exactly the same sermon to the victims of a natural disaster as he would to a congregation of wealthy businessmen? No, because in one sermon he would need to project a message of hope to a people who have none and in the other he would need to speak to the congregation about their role in helping make a difference. One sermon would be about how God overcomes our tragedy and the other would be about how we respond and participate in God’s work.

Jesus had a way of turning the world upside down; He makes us look at the world in a whole new way. We think of blessedness as being successful, being a winner. But in today’s Gospel reading Jesus defines blessedness in ways we would never expect. The blessed are not those who deserve to be rewarded, but rather those who see that which God has done and is doing in the world. The poor in spirit do not appear blessed because they seem to have no hope, but they are blessed because God has given them the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn have no joy, but they are blessed because God will give them comfort. Those who are humiliated will be raised and those who are hungry and thirsty will be fed. They are blessed because God has promised to save those who trust in Him. Blessedness is an attitude that looks to God for its fulfillment.

John Stott wrote of the Beatitudes, “These characteristics do not describe eight separate and distinct groups of disciples. There are not some who are meek, while others are merciful, yet others called upon to endure persecution. These are eight qualities of the same group who at one and the same time are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted. They are the characteristics of the common, everyday Christians.”

The Beatitudes emphasize who we are rather than what we do. The Kingdom is not of this world. The beautiful attitudes and the blessings of the Kingdom are not economic but spiritual. Some may be called to lives of poverty, but the beatitudes refer to spiritual states. The eight blessings are given to every Christian. God favors the humble, those who trust in Him rather than their own strength. These humble people are those who yearn for God above all else. They become wholly dependent on God. Martin Luther wrote, “These eight beatitudes are nothing else than a teaching about the fruits and good works of a Christian, which must be preceded by faith, as the tree and main body or sum of his righteousness and blessedness, without any work or merit, out of which these beatitudes must all grow and follow.”

None of the eight Beatitudes are highly regarded by the world as being particularly blessed. Poverty, pain, humility, hunger and thirst are not signs of a blessed life; they are more likely to be considered woes or curses. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted are more likely to be viewed as foolish rather than as blessed.

When we are poor in spirit, in mourning, humiliated and hungry, it is difficult to be participants in the overcoming work in God’s world. Sadly, in today’s world it is often used as an excuse to be angry and to fight. We think we are justified in demanding that others make things right. We seek worldly solutions to our pain and suffering and expect our neighbors to save us. Yet the real salvation will only come when we fall into the arms of God’s grace. Blessed are those who look to God in their poverty, mourning, humiliation and hunger because they will be satisfied.

Jesus does not call us to overcome our troubles or wallow in them, but rather He encourages us to live in an attitude of trust and confidence that God is faithful to His promises. The beatitudes are the attitudes of God’s people living in faith. The students for today’s lesson were not the great crowds of people; Jesus was speaking to the disciples. This lesson is not given for those who are trying to earn their way to heaven but for those who believe in the work of God. The lesson is given for us, the Christians who have been saved by the cross of Christ.

It doesn’t seem like a wise lesson, does it? After all, it makes more sense to be strong in spirit, to celebrate life, to be assertive, and to satisfy our own needs. We would much rather be comfortable and happy. We would much prefer a life of wealth, health and popularity. However, Jesus never promised us a rose garden; He promised Himself. We can find blessedness in poverty and in mourning, not because there is anything good about these things but because we turn to grace in our suffering. Physical blessedness is found in pain because the pain makes us look to the One who can heal us. Spiritual blessedness is found in suffering because it makes us look to God.

On the face of it, Christianity is foolishness. Paul is right when he says so in today’s epistle lesson. After all, what good is it to believe in a God who can die on a cross? Why have faith in a system that allows an innocent man to take the consequences of the whole world’s sin upon His own shoulders? Is God so weak that He can’t protect His people from suffering? Is He so incompetent that He can’t save us in some other, more civilized way? The Jews wanted to answer these questions with wisdom that came from the tradition of their faith, and the Greeks wanted answers that could be studied philosophically.

The Christian message is viewed as foolishness because we are called to submit to the God that the world claims does not exist. We are called to love our neighbor, and yet the world says that we should love our selves. The Gospel tells us that God in flesh died so that we might have life. What foolishness! Yet, God is wiser and more powerful than anything we can imagine, and we know that He loved His children so much that He did everything necessary to reconcile us to Him.

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

In the passage from Micah, the Lord speaks of all the wonderful things that He has done for His people. And how do they response? “What must we do?” Israel responded by trying to find some way to make up for the sin against God; they looked for some act that would earn God’s mercy. They thought that bowing before God or giving some sort of offering would be enough to cover their sins. They listed a number of sacrificial measures in the hope that they would provide God with the necessary actions to earn His mercy and grace. “What sort of offerings would be suitable? Should the offerings be burnt? Thousands of rams? Rivers of oil?” The list even included sacrifice of the first born, a religious practice among the pagan peoples among whom God’s people had dwelt. Does God require those sacrifices? Does God even approve of those sacrifices? He has proven over and over again that He is merciful and that He loves His people, and yet they still want to control their own salvation.

Our answer to the question “What must I do?” does not include child sacrifice, but we do have our list of things we think God requires. Do I have to go to church every Sunday? Do I need to serve on a committee? Give a certain amount of money? Volunteer in a certain way or place? Do I need to choose a certain community of believers? Perform certain rituals? What must I do to receive God’s grace? We know that there is nothing we can do to receive God’s grace, but do we live fully in God’s grace without trying to earn it?

The answer to “What must I do?” is not what we choose, but that which has been revealed to us: to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Even this can only be done with God’s help.

So, this opens us up to a few more questions. What does it mean to do justice? What is mercy? What is humility? These are much harder questions to ask than “What must I do?” We do so much better if we have a checklist to follow. Once we mark all the steps, we can just slip it in the mail or push the send button. But in matters of faith, it isn’t quite so easy. The most ruthless conversations happen over these differences People on every side of those questions that rattle us today firmly believe that they have God’s intention on their side. They firmly believe that they are doing what is right. They believe that their understanding of justice is what God means. Perhaps I should say “we” instead of “they” because we all fall into the trap of believing that we are the ones with the answers.

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

In the Psalm for this week, the congregation asks a different question, “Who shall dwell in your sanctuary?” This was used as part of their liturgy. The people waited by the gates of the Temple and did not enter until they heard the conditions. The liturgist responded, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right, and speaks truth in his heart; he who doesn’t slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his friend, nor casts slurs against his fellow man; in whose eyes a vile man is despised, but who honors those who fear Yahweh; he who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn’t change; he who doesn’t lend out his money for usury, nor take a bribe against the innocent.”

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

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

Paul asked, “Where is the wise?” The wisdom of God is found in that upside down world of Jesus, where He was crucified for the sake of those who believe. We see God in hope and faith, but those divine attitudes are often invisible in the lives of those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Strength and power are not expected to be found in those who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers or persecuted. God turned the world upside down and brought blessedness into the lives of those whom the world has rejected. He is the foundation of our faith, the source of our blessings and the only One deserving of the glory. Paul continues, “Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: 31 that, as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.”

The Christian faith is foolishness, because it makes no sense in a world that honors the powerful, promotes the strong, encourages the self and puts the great onto pedestals. However, God has chosen to bless those who humble themselves before Him, beginning first with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we follow His path, and live as He lived, we might seem to have a life that is far from blessed. But God will shine through our weakness; through our poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger, thirst, mercy, suffering, humility and rejection He will be glorified.

God has expectations and He spells them out in the scriptures so that we can try to live up to them. But our salvation is never dependent on our ability to do so. God’s love and mercy does not demand anything from us. God’s love and mercy elicits a response: He has transformed us for a purpose. We are blessed to be a blessing. We who are foolish, and weak, and humble are chosen to be heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, to live in that Kingdom according to God’s Word. So, instead of asking what we should do, we wonder what it means to be blessed. The answer is counter to our expectations.

Life in God’s kingdom means trusting in God, even when it does not seem like you are blessed. We are blessed because God has raised us out of a world that requires sacrifice and obedience to rules that are different from God’s Word, trusting in human wisdom and expectations. True blessedness triggers a response of thankfulness and praise. In the beautiful attitudes of meekness and mercy, spiritual poverty and purity of heart, mourning and hunger, peacemaking and acceptance of persecution, we trust in God’s faithfulness and live as He has called us to live, blessing the world with His grace.


January 26, 2023

“When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on the earth (even though eyes see no sleep day or night), then I saw all the work of God, that man can’t find out the work that is done under the sun, because however much a man labors to seek it out, yet he won’t find it. Yes even though a wise man thinks he can comprehend it, he won’t be able to find it. Ecclesiastes 8:16-17, WEB

We live in a world that does not see God. As a matter of fact, many reject the idea that there even is a God, so they are blind to what we do see. Most Christians will say that they do see God, or at least praise Him, in extraordinary moments like when a child is born or they see a rainbow. Most of us have had experiences when we are certain we’ve seen God’s hand in an event in our life, like when we have felt the nudge to call a friend only to discover they needed a friendly ear to listen as they worked through a problem. We know God exists because we experience Him in many ways.

But most of us will also confess that we don’t pay attention most of the time, especially in the most ordinary, human moments. Do you see God as you are shopping for Drano or are fighting with your spouse? Do you experience God when you are stuck in traffic during Friday afternoon commute? We look for God when we are on retreat or when we are hiking in the woods. We look for Him in church and when we are volunteering in our city. We know He is there all the time, but we don’t pay attention to during the ordinary moments. Sometimes that means we miss the opportunity to serve Him.

One day when we were living in England, I had spent some time praying in the chapel which was a regular practice for me. I left the chapel and ran to the post office to pick up our mail, and I was in a very good mood. My prayer time was extraordinary. I had encountered God in a very powerful way, and I was experienced a joy that comes with close encounters with Him, a joy that was obvious to those who saw me. The post officer that gave me my mail that day asked me about my mood. “What makes you so happy today?” he asked. This was my opportunity to share Jesus. Instead of telling him about how much I love God and that my joy came from him, but just credited having a nice day. I acknowledged God’s presence in the spiritual moment of that day, but not the ordinary moment.

I have been writing these devotions for over two decades. I learned over the years that we can find God in the most common items or experiences. We spent a day in London, and with each turn I noticed some way God was touching our lives. I found myself asking, “What kind of lesson would God want me to learn from this?” or “What difference could my knowledge of God make in this situation?” I found many biblical concepts throughout the day, each one giving me a new understanding of God’s actions in this world. It is not possible for us to know everything about God. His folly is greater than our wisdom. His weakness is greater than our strength. He is eternal and almighty. But we will come to a closer relationship with God if we take the time to seek Him in every aspect of our life. He will be our guiding hand, directing our path into righteousness and truth in our worship times, our working times, and our leisure times.


January 27, 2023

“I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, ASV

January 25th is the day we remember the conversion of St. Paul, which is an amazing story of a man who was against the Church in every way, his work was to harm the people who followed the way. One day as he was traveling to Damascus to destroy the church there, Jesus appeared to him on the road, and he was transformed into the greatest Christian apostle. Much of the book of Acts records his adventures, and thirteen of the epistles in the New Testament are attributed to him. He encouraged faith and helped the new Christians better understand how to live their faith in the world. They were confused and uncertain about what it meant to follow Jesus, but Paul taught them about the grace of God and the cruciform life we are to live. We are equally confused and uncertain, which is why we look to Paul for advice and understanding. Remember, we celebrated the Confession of St. Peter on January 18th.

January 26th and January 27th are set aside for remembering the companions and helpers of the Apostles.

We often think about Paul as a giant, plowing his way through the world alone sharing the Gospel message with many. In some ways, Paul was just that. He was strong, courageous, and sometimes even seemed arrogant. He wasn’t, of course. He was simply passionate about what he knew to be true. It is hard to tell the difference sometimes, especially if we think of him doing this work independent of any others. However, Paul was in many ways humble, embracing the help of others.

We tend to skim over the opening and closing verses of Paul’s letters, seeking the meat of the passage and ignoring the chit chat. Since those books are letters, they are filled with greetings and instructions for specific people. He is always thankful for those whom God has called to work with him. He offers encouragement and advice, pleads with them to keep in touch and promises to find a way to see them again. Paul needed other people, and those other people played a vital role in Paul’s work and in the spreading of the Gospel.

January 26th was the day to remember Timothy, Titus and Silas, missionaries who worked with Paul. Each of these men traveled with Paul at some point. Timothy was with him on his second journey and eventually became bishop in Ephesus. Titus traveled with Paul when he went to the council in Jerusalem, and he became the first bishop in Crete. Silas was with Paul in prison in Philippi. We can learn more about these men in Acts and the letters.

Today we remember women helpers. It seems like the scriptures do not pay much attention to the women in Paul’s life, but we do know enough about these women to know that Paul accepted their ministry and help with his ministry. Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe were women of faith who lived out their faith in ways that impacted the world in which they lived. Lydia was a woman of wealth who heard about Jesus from Paul. After he shared the Gospel message with her, her entire household was baptized, and then her home became a center for his work. Dorcas was a charitable woman, making clothes for the poor. Phoebe was a deaconess near Corinth who touched many lives with her service.

These three women are remembered as co-workers for the Gospel. They were servants, willingly helping others. They supported the Apostles with their resources and their communities with their lives. They were called by God’s grace to serve the community and they responded with joy, hope and peace. They touched the lives of so many that it is odd we do not know more about them. But then, we aren’t necessarily called by God to be famous or to have a large impact on our world. Their stories help us remember that most Christians are ordinary people serving God in ordinary ways, just like us.

We are called by God to serve our neighbors, to share the light of Christ and to help them through their sufferings. We do not do this for reward. We do not do it so that we will benefit in any way. We do it because we know God is faithful to His promises and that He will fulfill all He has proclaimed through Jesus Christ. We live in hope, not wishes and dreams but the expectation of what will be, and in that hope we continue revealing that light that is Christ to the world.

On these days we also remember all those who have impacted the world through faithful service like these companions of Paul. There are those who stand out in the ministries we do, leaders who will always be remembered. But none of them have done the work alone: they have helpers and companions who have been with them along the way. While the Apostles had a huge impact on the Church, Paul the greatest, We can probably identify more closely with the companions. As we look at their work, we realize that they, too, have touched many lives by continuing the work Paul started.

We continue that work today, living according to our own calling, using our own gifts. We may never be remembered like a Paul, or even remembered like Timothy, Titus, Silas, Lydia, Dorcas or Phoebe, but we will be God’s hands in the world as we share our own gifts with those who need to experience God’s amazing grace. We are all companions of the Apostles, but even more so we are companions of Jesus, walking with Him in ministry, touching others and changing lives.


January 30, 2023

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, visible things and invisible things, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence. For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself by him, whether things on the earth or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.” Colossians 1:15-20, WEB

I made a painting that I called “Colossians 1:17.” I began with a black canvas, and I taped a cross in the upper right-hand corner. Then I covered the canvas with every color I had, using a dry brush technique that looks almost like chalk. I covered the canvas with swirls of color, which I wanted to look chaotic and yet as if it was all coming together into something beautiful. As I was painting it, I thought about the creation of the world, and how God spoke, and everything came into being. After I finished applying the colored paint, I removed the tape to reveal the unpainted cross. Christ was there before the creation of the world; He has always been present in the midst of it.

I called the painting “Colossians 1:17” because is one of my favorite Bible verses. Paul writes, “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” Some scientists recognize that no matter how much they know about life, the universe, and everything, there are still mysteries that we cannot fully explain. It is in this humble admission that they called the force in an atom that holds it all together the “Colossians Force.” Those who are much smarter than me might be able to give some scientific clarification, but there really are things in God’s creation that we’ll never fully understand.

I found this at a physics website. “The nucleus of the atom contains positively charged and neutral particles-to use a simplistic model. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for the ‘strong force’ which binds the nucleus together. There is thus an active force imposed on the universe, which actively holds the very atoms of the material world together moment by moment, day by day, century by century. Similarly, accelerated electrons circling the nucleus should quickly radiate all their energy away and fall into the nucleus unless there exists an invisible energy source to counteract this.” (http://www.khouse.org/articles/1997/60/) Some scientists are willing to accept the understanding that the invisible force that holds the atom together is God.

Christ is the image of the God we cannot see. He is the Word made flesh, the God of creation dwelling with us. He was there when God laid down the foundations of the earth and it was through Him all things were made. In Christ we see that God did not make the world and disappear, but that He has been with us always, planning even in the beginning the redemption that was to come. Everything is His, and through Him we are re-created and reconciled to God our Father in heaven, part of the body of Christ and blessed with eternal life in Him. One day we will be face to face with our Lord Jesus, and then we will inherit all that has been promised. Until that day we can know that we are never far from Christ. As a matter of fact, He is the very force that holds us together, even to the very atoms in our body. It might be a mystery, but that’s ok! Faith means trusting that God takes care of the things we will never be able to control.


January 31, 2023

“Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a huge millstone were hung around his neck and that he were sunk in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must be that the occasions come, but woe to that person through whom the occasion comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire.." Matthew 18:5-9, WEB

We used to live near a carwash that had one of those signs where they put messages for the passing traffic. They put up Happy Birthday messages and other congratulatory notes, special deals and money saving offers. They even put up words of inspiration. One message was a bible reference from the book of Exodus. “Do not make anything an idol,” the sign says, quoting Exodus 20:4.

Ironic, isn’t it? Many people, especially those who are willing to pay the high cost of car washes, tend to idolize their cars. Except for our homes, our cars are often the most expensive thing we own, so we want to take care of it. It is not just maintenance, however. We put a lot of work into finding the perfect car and a lot of money protecting it. Some people spend hours every weekend ensuring that their car is shiny and clean. Now, we can’t live without our cars. Most realty websites include a “walkability index,” which helps buyers know if that location is vehicle dependent. We need our cars to get to work, school, and leisure activities. I could walk to a grocery store, but I couldn’t buy very much because I would have to carry it home.

Many families have a car for every driver. I can’t imagine life without a car of my own. I am thankful for the freedom my vehicle gives me. I have put a lot of time and energy choosing the perfect car. I love my car, but I do confess that I’ve wondered if it is time to think about something new. I recently found a small spot of rust, and there are some stains on the upholstery. I probably won’t buy a new one because I am happy to not have a car payment in my monthly bills.

I hope I don’t idolize my car, but it seems like we spend a lot time concerning ourselves with the price of using a car. How many conversations have you had about the price of gasoline? Have you changed your life in any way to ensure that you will have enough money to fill the car this week? An idol is any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion, something beyond yourself for which you are willing to sacrifice, even at the cost of someone or something else. The ancients were willing to give their children to the gods so that the gods would bless their harvest. In other ages, the religious were willing to give their time, money and energy to appease the gods and seek their blessings.

The irony of the carwash sign is that the business itself exists for the care of cars, feeding a difficult temptation: idolizing our cars. Some people visit the carwash on a regular basis, at least weekly, to ensure their vehicle looks its best. So, while the carwash people are caring for the spiritual welfare of their customers and those who see the sign, they are at the same time leading us into temptation, drawing us into the trap of putting our cars above other things and people in our lives.

Exodus 20:4 is part of the first commandment given to Moses by God on the mountain. We are to have no other gods besides God. This means that we should not make idols of anything. Now, the car wash owners did not consider the irony of their post. They probably never thought of a car being an idol. I don’t think any of us do. Yet, we are reminded that in our daily walk with Christ, it is up to us to keep God first in our lives and to do whatever we can to help our neighbors with their daily walk. It is good stewardship to care for our cars. We just have to remember to put our things, whatever they are, in their rightful place behind our God without making sacrifices that will affect the lives of our neighbors in a negative way.