Welcome to the July 2007 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes





















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




July 5, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 15, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Deuteronomy 30:9-14 And Jehovah thy God will make thee plenteous in all the work of thy hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, for good: for Jehovah will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers; if thou shalt obey the voice of Jehovah thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

It seems hard to believe that more than a month of our summer vacation is over already. The last day of school was in May and we've already reached the month of July. It was a busy month with camps and our trip to Florida and it seems to have just flown by. Though there are a couple other activities planned for the rest of the summer, most of our time is free to do whatever we want.

This is fortunate because the children have a bunch of homework to complete before school begins again in August. When school ended, I told the children to get started on the homework early because they did not want to have to rush to get it cone in the last couple of weeks of summer. I think they picked up the books once or twice so far, but nothing has yet been completed.

We grumbled when we learned that the children would have so much homework over the summer, but it serves a valuable purpose. Three months of vacation is a long time, time enough for the good habits of the school year and the skills learned to be lost. Summer homework keeps the mind fit, the information handy and the habits practiced. Unfortunately, most kids wait until the last week before picking up the books, making it much, much harder for them to accomplish the tasks.

In the case of summer homework, obedience means doing the work at a good pace throughout the summer. The benefit of doing so is the reality that it would be much easier to accomplish at a slow, steady pace. The student does not have to relearn how to learn or cram to get it all done in a short amount of time. Cramming does not accomplish the task well. The homework, properly done, will make the student ready for whatever they will face in the fall. The homework, improperly completed, will leave the student wishing they had done more to prepare. They will suffer the consequences.

It is interesting that we use the phrase "suffer the consequences." When the consequences are negative, it might mean suffering. The student that does not complete the homework will fail the test and get a bad grade. However, there can be positive consequences with a job well done. There is no suffering with obedience, but blessedness.

When we read a passage like this, it seems as though God is telling us that if we obey Him, we will be rewarded with good things. The reality is that God has blessed us with good things and obedience to His commands will keep us from suffering the consequences of disobedience. Obedience does not earn us the goodness of God, but it keeps us within the blessedness of the relationship that He has already built with us.

"For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off." When we read the commandments of God we wonder how indeed we can keep that which God has given. After all, when Jesus talked about the commandments, He took them to an extreme. We might be able to live our live without doing murder, but Jesus told us that we should not even be angry at someone. How can we obey such a command? Perhaps the most difficult command for most people is the one about lies – can we really go through our life without lies?

What we learn is that obedience to these rules is not strictly by our ability to accomplish it, but by God's grace in our life. His Word is near us, in our hearts and in our mouths. So, obedience is simply living according to the Word that is near us, dwelling in it – in Him. It is not hard to dwell in the presence of God and to receive the blessings that come in such a relationship. Those blessings are not a reward for some good work we have done, but a natural – positive – consequence of our relationship with God.


July 6, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 15, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Psalm 25:1-10 Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, none that wait for thee shall be put to shame: They shall be put to shame that deal treacherously without cause. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Jehovah, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindness; For they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: According to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, For thy goodness' sake, O Jehovah. Good and upright is Jehovah: Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth Unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.

We began planning our Walt Disney World vacation in December. It was then that we made our reservations and began making the payments. During the next six months, we did all that was necessary to prepare. We paid off the vacation, made dinner reservations and did some research. We read several books about the parks and learned all the tricks to making it a wonderful vacation. We got advice from others who had been to Disney. When it was time to go, we were as ready as we could be.

When we arrived at the resort, the concierge was amazed at how many things we had planned – she was certain we must have been return visitors. We were scheduled for little known tours and had even arranged for special seating for the evening fireworks and light shows. Our itinerary was full, but well organized, leaving us plenty of time to do most of the things we wanted to do. Once we were checked into our hotel, the world seemed to disappear. We realized after three days that we had not even turned on the television in our hotel room. We had our computer along, but did not access the Internet. We never saw a newspaper and saw very little news. We were never concerned about missing our favorite television shows. We were in another world for a week.

It was a very pleasant week. While a Walt Disney World vacation is not inexpensive, it is worth every penny. The cast (Disney's name for the staff) are friendly and accommodating. As long as your request does not affect the welfare of the cast members or the enjoyment of the other guests, they will find a way to meet your every desire. Was everything perfect? No, we waited in a few lines and there was an occasional grumpy cast member, but overall it was the most delightful experience. It was so wonderful that we did not want to leave. Wouldn't it be terrific if we could live in Walt Disney World all the time?

Our Disney vacation was a mountain top experience, much like the mountain top experiences we have as Christians. When we are there, enjoying intimacy with our God, we want it to last forever. We often prepare for a long time to reach that place – seeking, studying, and prayerfully drawing closer to God. There on the mountain top is found true joy and peace. But our life of faith does not end at the mountain top. We eventually have to go back into the world.

Faith is meant to be shared. We are blessed to be a blessing. God has blessed us with certain gifts and certain opportunities through which we are to do His work in the world. Now that our vacation is over and we are getting settled back into the normal routine of life where things are not always perfect, I wonder if we can take the kindness and joy with us into the real world. It is easy to forget the giving, loving and caring attitudes in which we were immersed for a week. The same is true of our daily lives of faith. We are called by faith not to live on a mountain top separated from the world, but instead to take the lovingkindness of God into the world to share with others. It isn't perfect out here. We might suffer. We might face our enemies. But as we walk in trust and faith, we need not worry because God is with us and He will continue to bless us.


July 9, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 15, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Colossians 1:1-14 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ that are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth; even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.

Have you ever played a board game with a young child who is teaching you how to play? They begin by giving the most basic information, just enough to get the game started. Then, in the course of the game, they bring out new rules, especially when it will benefit them in the game. "You aren't allowed to do that," or "There is a rule that says I can…" are spoken long after they might benefit the other player. It is not that the children are necessarily willfully cheating. In many cases these children do not even realize what they are doing. Selective memory is something that plagues us all at some time or another.

Unfortunately what happens is that when children play these games with one another, they come up with some pretty interesting rules and teach them to others. Then, when the children play the same games with adults, the rules are accepted as real. When questioned, they respond "That is the way I learned to play the game." It is true; the children have played the game enough with their rules that they become the truth. I know that I still play Monopoly with some rules that I learned when I was still a child, rules that aren't found on any instruction sheet but that make the game more interesting.

It is easy to accept what has become common as real. That's what was happening in Colossae. The people had been given the Gospel message of Jesus Christ by a man named Epaphras. We know that Epaphras was a good leader, a sound teacher and a faithful minister because of Paul's words in this passage. The message they had been given was the message of faith, love and hope. Paul knew they had been given that message of truth.

Yet, things in Colossae were not perfect. Other messages were making their way into the thinking and faith of the people in that community. False teachings – several – had become part of the message they were sharing. Ritualistic requirements, mandatory self-denial, angel worship, diminution of Christ, special knowledge and reliance on human wisdom – both Jewish and Gnostic – were becoming the norm in the congregation. Paul was concerned that the message of Christ was being lost to the fallible human message that was being integrated into the Gospel.

Paul's letter lifts up the faith of the people in Colossae, but not by thanking them for being faithful. He gives all the credit to the One who deserves it – God. He thanks God for their faith, their love and their hope. He prays that God will continue to fill them with knowledge of Christ and keep them worthy to walk with the Lord. He lifts up Christ, reminding the people of Colossae that He is supreme and that it is by Him, through Him and for Him that we are saved.


July 10, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 15, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? Jesus made answer and said, A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, and came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on them oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow he took out two shillings, and gave them to the host, and said, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, I, when I come back again, will repay thee. Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among the robbers? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Sometimes I think that the hardest scriptures we deal with on a Sunday morning are those scriptures that have become so familiar to us. We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan hundreds of times. It is taught to us when we are small children, a favorite text for Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. It is in all the bibles that are designed for children and youth. It is a good story, a positive message and summation of all that God intends for our life of faith. In the story of the Good Samaritan we see God's intent for His Law and His Word – to love Him and our neighbor by showing mercy.

I suppose a story as familiar as this one really illustrates the idea that God's Word is in our hearts and our mouths. We can retell the story, almost verbatim. We can repeat the lessons found within. Yet, I wonder if we even listen to it anymore. When this passage is read on Sunday morning, will we actually hear the words or will we think to ourselves "I have heard this before" and then tune out for a moment. I wonder how many of us actually read the scriptures on this email beyond the first few verses. We know it so well that we just skim over the words, remembering it as it has been taught rather than listening for something God might be telling us today.

As I was researching for today's Word, I discovered some things that I didn't know about this text. I have always had this image of the robbers as being lost souls who just happened upon the man to steal his things so that they might have the money to eat and drink for another day. One writer suggested that the band of robbers was probably much more sophisticated than that – that they were organized with a purpose of putting down the rich and powerful, like Robin Hood, I suppose. If this is true, then the beaten and dying man was not some insignificant traveler, but was a man of consequence. Perhaps he was even a man who had put down the Samaritans for being heretical half-breeds. In that case, the Samaritan not only took care of a stranger that he happened to find on the road, but he took care of an enemy.

When we hear this story, we often think in very local terms – as we should. The Samaritan found one person who needed help and he did what he could to help. That is the way our faith leads us into service, one person, one day, one problem at a time. Yet, when we look at the problems in our world we often do so in a much broader sense, overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. When we look at hunger, we think globally and wonder how we will ever be able to overcome the problem, forgetting that the child next door hasn't had a decent meal in days because her mom's paycheck ran out before payday.

The Samaritan was humble; humble because he saw the need and took care of it without trying to be the one to solve the root of the problem. There is a place for us to work together to take care of the world, but we are called to do something much smaller – to see our neighbors in need and to have mercy on them. Sometimes we are so busy with the big things – thinking that we can be the one to solve the big problem – that we miss the beaten and dying person that has fallen on our doorstep. Humbleness and love of God makes us more aware of the local needs that we can solve on a daily basis even while we are joined together with others trying to solve the bigger problems.


July 11, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 15, 2007: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul.

Today is the feast day for St. Benedict and it is extremely appropriate to look at his life in juxtaposition to the scriptures for this Sunday. St. Gregory wrote of St. Benedict of Nursia, "He gave over his books and, forsaking his father's house and wealth, with his mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might achieve his holy purpose; and in this wisdom he departed, instructed with learned ignorance and furnished with unlearned wisdom." Benedict was in his mid to late teens when he made the decision to leave his family and turn his back on the world for the sake of the kingdom of God.

After about seven years at the monastery his nurse accidentally broke a clay sieve and was devastated over the incident. Benedict prayed to comfort her and while he was praying the sieve was miraculously restored. This incident brought a great deal of attention to Benedict, attention that he did not desire. He had opted to live a simple, quiet life of faith serving the God that he loved. The miracle brought notoriety and Benedict fled to a hermit-like existence at Subiaco.

At Subiaco Benedict established and enhanced a way of life for those who desired a closer and simpler walk with God. Benedictine life was not meant to be for those set away from the reality of the world, but was designed to put God in the middle of it all. The monks at Subiaco and at the other monasteries founded on the rule of St. Benedict worked with their hands and got dirty with the work of daily living. St. Benedict said, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.”

Prayer at a Benedictine monastery came after work. Benedict believed that humility was the first and most important form of prayer, humility in recognizing God’s presence in the ordinary. Thus, a person who works with his hands knowing that God is present in the activity is praying. Public prayer is next in importance; common prayer was the center of the common life they lived together. Least in importance was private prayer and is dependent on the individual’s gifts. Benedict wrote, “If anyone wishes to pray in private, let him go quietly into the oratory and pray, not with a loud voice, but with tears and fervor of heart. Our prayer ought to be short and with purity of heart, except it be perchance prolonged by the inspiration of divine grace.” That was all he had to say about personal prayer, except that he believed it was a natural response to the observance of a godly life. A person who lived well in the every day would easily grow in grace and maturity of faith.

As St. Benedict said in the rule of his order, prayer begins with humility, humbling ourselves before God and recognizing His presence in the ordinary. The psalmist for this week writes, “Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul.” The psalmist also writes, “The meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way.” This is the godly life we are called to lead – humble before God and merciful to our neighbor.

Benedict knew that the miraculous power of God was not something that should be used for his own benefit. He left when it seemed as though the people were focusing on him rather than Christ. He was afraid they might want to make him a saint, so he went to another place where he could live the simple life of faith working with his hands for the glory of God. His rule and the monastic order that bears his name continue to help the ordinary person – the average Christian like you and I – live a life that will glorify God and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

The Benedictines did not separate themselves from the world in which they lived or reject the things of the flesh. They did not sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. They did not try to solve the world's problems in big or miraculous ways. They met the needs of those who crossed their path, giving of themselves as they saw the opportunity. They shared the love and mercy of Christ with those who were suffering in their world. They learned to live for one another, to love God and their neighbor with their whole hearts. Most of all, they lifted their souls to God, humbly His presence in every aspect of their lives.


July 12, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 22, 2007: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Genesis 18:1-10a And Jehovah appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, My lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on: forasmuch as ye are come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.

There is a scene from the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" where Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is attending to the guests at a party she is hosting. Andrea (Anne Hathaway) and Emily (Emily Blunt) are her assistants. They were required to study the guest list of important people – with pictures and brief biographies – and were at Miranda's shoulder every minute. They were able to whisper information in her ear so that it would appear that Miranda knew intimate details about all her important guests. This ruse was a success and Miranda came off as the perfect hostess.

I think in many ways this defines the way we do hospitality in our society today. It matters who you are and if you are somebody, you are treated better than people who are nobodies. We go out of our way to ensure important people are comfortable and that all their needs are met, while ignoring the needs of those who have no wealth, power or authority. We plan dinner parties, giving ourselves plenty of preparation time so that we can ensure that everything is perfect. It is unlikely that we would ever offer a meal to someone who happens to knock on our door, especially if it is a stranger.

Things were different in Abraham's day. Abraham was a man of substantial means. Do not take his nomadic existence as a sign of poverty or lack of authority. Abraham had great wealth. His flocks were extensive. He had many servants. He was honored by kings during his life and travels. Yet, in this story, when a group of strangers came before him, he gave them great honor. We know that it was the Lord who visited Abraham that day, but Abraham did not know. He saw the three men and he ran to them, bowing down before them to honor their presence at his tent. It did not matter who they were – Abraham honored them because they were guests at his tent. He prepared a magnificent meal with the best flour and lamb. He gave them a place to rest and something to drink.

Can you imagine someone like Miranda Priestly giving such honor to a stranger that knocked on her door? In all likelihood, she would consider herself too important to bother with the visitor. She might deign to provide out of her resources for the needs of the visitor, but she would never serve them herself or treat them with such honor.

What about us? If a stranger came to our door today, how would we react? Most likely we would first concern ourselves with the safety of our family – keeping the door latched while we ensured that they had good cause to be at our home. We might offer them a drink of water and a light snack, but we would not prepare a meal out of our finest resources. If we discovered they were someone important, we might do more, but most of the time we just listen to their business and then let them go.

There is so much more we could discuss in this passage. Who were the three men? We know that the Lord appeared before Abraham, but were there angels with Him? Were the three a human way of describing the three-fold character of God? Did Abraham really see three men, or is that the image that God portrayed to Abraham since human eyes can not really 'see' God and live? What about Sarah? We do not hear her reaction to the prophecy by the men about her impending motherhood. She laughed. And when the men confronted her about her laugh, she lied. There is so much to be said about our human reaction to the presence of God. We don't believe it; we don't believe what God says to us. Yet when confronted with our doubt, we too lie.

Though there is so many themes in this passage, I think for this season of Pentecost that we need to see the example of Abraham's servant response to the visitor. How often do people cross our path that we ignore because they aren't important enough? As Christians we are called to see Christ in the faces of strangers, providing for their needs. When someone stands before us, are we willing to run to them, honor them and serve them, no matter who they are? We do not know when we might just be running to, honoring and serving the Lord.


July 13, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 22, 2007: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Psalm 15 Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh truth in his heart; He that slandereth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his friend, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah; He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; He that putteth not out his money to interest, Nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

This psalm speaks of an exclusivity of those welcome in the Temple of God. Who can live there? The answer is stringent – only those who walk rightly and do good works. It is a place for only those who speak truth and do no evil. It is for those who hate evil and love those who fear the Lord. This doesn't sound too hard, but it becomes more difficult when we consider the rest of the psalm. The ones who dwell in the house of the Lord honor their oaths even when doing so might bring them harm. They share their resources with others without expectation and never accept anything that might bring harm to another.

Can you do that? Can you honestly keep a promise even when you discover that keeping it might cause your own hardship? I fear that I've made promises to my children, many, that in the end I could not keep. I've promised them trips that had to be canceled because other, more important, things have come up. I have promised to purchase special things and have found that we did not have the money to make such a purchase. I have promised to love them always and quite frankly there are days when I do not like them very much. I get angry, frustrated, disappointed, and discouraged. These things always pass quickly and my love returns bigger and bolder than ever. However, for that brief moment I failed. I failed to keep my promise. I failed to be righteous. I failed to keep from evil or reproach.

The final sentence in this passage is "He that doeth these things shall never be moved." I like the translation found in the New International Version. It says, "He who does these things will never be shaken." When we do the things mentioned in this psalm – walk righteously, do what is right, speak the truth, do not slander, do no evil, do not criticize our neighbor, despise wickedness and honor those who fear the Lord, who stand by their oath, do not lend with interest or take bribe – we do not have anything to fear. We won't suffer the consequences that come from unrighteous actions. We will be at peace.

I would like to think that I can be welcome in the house of the Lord, but quite frankly the words of my mouth are not always right and my actions are not always just. I take advantage of my neighbor and I do not always do what I should do for their sake. Those who would be welcome in the house of the Lord is an incredibly exclusive group. As a matter of fact, I can only think of one who was truly righteous and that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the only one who will never be shaken, the only one who can dwell in the house of the Lord. That’s why we stand firmly on Christ Jesus. By His invitation we are welcome in the tabernacle and loved by the Lord. He makes us right with God and grants us the grace to enter into His presence. There, in Jesus Christ, we will find peace and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


July 16, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 22, 2007: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Colossians 1:15-28 …who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens. And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him: if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church; whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ…

Have you ever driven on a highway that climbs a mountain with a seemingly endless hill? Usually these hills are so long that it is difficult to see the top. You press the gas pedal to accelerate, hoping that you'll make it to the top. Some larger vehicles seem to have such a difficult time with this, it almost seems as though they are going so slow that they might end up going backwards back down the hill at any moment. Even if you could see the top when you began, it is impossible to see while climbing. You have to believe that there will be an end to the climb, but you can't see it from that vantage point. There are times when you think you have done it, the road seems to disappear and you are sure that you will be headed back down the mountain, but when you get to that spot you discover that it is just a brief break before the journey continues upward again. You can't be sure you have reached the top until you are actually moving down the other side.

There was a story called "The Little Engine that Could." It is about a little steam train without much power that has to climb a very big hill. He’s not sure he can make it, but with encouragement he tries. He builds up steam and speed as he approaches the hill. Then he begins the ascent. At first the climb is easy, but the journey becomes more difficult with each passing moment. He loses steam, and nearly loses hope, but he is encouraged to go on. He puffs to himself, “I can do it, I can do it…” I've driven on some roads with the same sort of hope. "I can do it, I can do it…"

Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to live as a Christian in the world? I don't just mean in our day and age, because Christians throughout history have dealt with difficulties – sometimes far worse than anything we can imagine. However, even in a society where a vast majority of people claim to believe in some higher power and moral code, the life of faith is like trying to drive up that mountain. Just as we think we have reached a pinnacle, we discover that there is more hill just beyond the crest.

We follow a God that is invisible. We believe in the Christ who is physically beyond our grasp. We can't really hear Him, as we might hear our neighbor and if we do the world considers us insane. We can't be entirely sure of our interpretation of the events and the words that have been given to us because we are biased by our own needs and desires. It is no wonder that so many people are atheist or agnostic. How can we be certain of something that we can't see? How can we trust someone that is invisible?

I once attended a workshop where the teacher was discussing this passage. He said that when scientists were first discovering the atom and learning about the miniscule parts of the atom, they found that there is an unknown force that holds it all together. We see an atom drawn on a piece of paper with lines and walls and we think that's how it really looks. Actually the atom just seems to 'magically' hold itself together. The teacher said that when the scientists saw this, they called that 'magical force' the "Colossians force" based on verse sixteen, "for in Him all things hold together."

We make it up the hill because we know that somewhere it has to end and then we'll be able to coast down the other side. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes we think our car is going to overheat or that we will end up going backward back down the hill. But we persevere and we complete the journey. That's how it is with our Christian journey. Sometimes it seems impossible. We don't actually see the end and at times it is hard to believe there is an end. It would be easy to say that eternal life is a myth and that none of it is real. Yet, by faith we persevere. We believe in God and keep going, by His grace saying "I can do it." He holds us all together. He is the force that gets us over the top.


July 17, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 22, 2007: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Today's WORD was first posted on July 18, 2004

Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Today at church, our pastor asked Vicki and I to help with the children’s sermon. We were supposed to be as much of a distraction as we could be. So, when he called the children up, we slipped into the front row. He asked the children to pay close attention to the story he was going to tell and then Vicki and I got started. I made a paper airplane which I threw toward the kids. Vicki and I discussed an article in our church magazine. I tore out a page, made a ball and threw it at the pastor. We called out to Zack who was acolyte today, trying to be as well behaved as possible. It is pretty hard when your mom is being so silly.

Needless to say, Vicki and I did our task well. Pastor finally had to stop telling the story and ask us to stop. Then he talked to the children about how distracted we can be by the things around us when we should be paying attention to more important things – like God’s word. When the service was over, several people suggested that perhaps I was having way too much fun being a distraction this morning, all in good humor of course.

It was fun, but I have to admit that even though it was what I was asked to do, my silliness even became a distraction. It took several minutes after it was over to stop giggling and I might have missed a bit of the sermon as my mind wandered thinking about things I could have done. The point of the lesson was quite clear, however. We don’t listen very well. Either we let the world around us become a distraction or we simply focus inward and we do not hear what others are saying.

What Martha was doing was not a bad thing. She was taking care of her houseguests, meeting their physical needs. However, she was worried and distracted by the work so much so that she was more concerned about herself. Jesus did not berate her for making lunch or doing the work of hospitality. He told her to stop letting the distractions of this world make her miss out on the greater things such as hearing the word of God.

When Vicki and I were playing during the children’s sermon, we were certainly a distraction to the children – fulfilling our task that our pastor asked us to do. However, in the process of doing this good thing, we also missed out on the story ourselves. Every day we go out into the world in faith doing what God has called us to do – serve Him by loving our neighbor. However, sometimes our good works can become so self-centered that we miss hearing Him as He speaks into our lives. We get burnt out because we begin to think we are the only ones who are doing all the work.

Whenever we hear this story, we are tempted to think Jesus is lifting Mary above Martha and teaching us to be like her. The reality of this story, however, is not that we should spend all our time sitting at the feet of our Lord, but that we should not worry and fuss over the distractions of this world that keep us from hearing Him. A balanced life of being Mary and Martha, listening and doing, is the way Christ calls us to live. We can’t know God’s will if we don’t hear His voice, and once we hear His voice, we can’t help but go out and do His will. In the meantime, let us focus our attention on the things that really matter – Jesus and all He has to tell us – so that we might live in the grace He has given.


July 18, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, July 22, 2007: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Today's WORD is just a few random thoughts about the stories for this week.

As I sat down to read the Gospel text for this week, I was taken aback by the length of the lesson. It is a relatively short passage, much shorter than I remember. It seems to me that we spend a great deal of time on this story – particularly women's studies. We always ask the same question – Are you a "Mary" or a "Martha"? And then spend our study time comparing the two women and their actions in this story. We generally come to the conclusion that most of us are like Martha and that this story is a reminder not to worry so much about things. It amazed me that we spend so much time on five brief verses of scripture.

I'm also interested in the juxtaposition of the Abraham story and the Martha story. It seems to me that in the Old Testament lesson, Abraham is being lifted up for being a servant to his guests. He is praised for honoring those strangers with a place to rest and a meal fit for a king. He jumps to his feet when he sees the visitors, bowing before them and offering them hospitality. While they eat, he stands nearby, as if waiting to meet their every desire. As we compare these actions to our Gospel lesson, it seems like that was exactly what Martha was doing. She was trying to provide the best hospitality to their friend and teacher, to meet His every need.

It made me ask some questions. Was Martha really put down for her active service? Did Martha really mean to put down Mary as lazy? What is the difference between the story of Abraham and the story of Martha? Why is service approved in one and disapproved in the other?

The problem was not that Martha was actively serving Jesus and the disciples. The problem was her worry. She was concerned about doing everything right, making everything perfect. She was concerned about the image that her family was portraying in front of Jesus. Mary appeared lazy. Without Mary's help, the meal might not be satisfactory. She was afraid that she could not accomplish the work and that Jesus would be disappointed. Her service was not centered on Jesus' need – thought it might have appeared that way. Her service was self-centered, focused on her need to please, her fear of failure. It was not a humble approach to hospitality, but a demanding and vain attitude. Abraham, on the other hand, was a man of substantial means who willingly and willfully humbled himself before his guests for their comfort. It did not matter who they were or what they wanted – he gave them his best.

This Sunday, July 22nd, is the lesser festival honoring St. Mary Magdalene. I have not studied any of the texts for this festival since Mary is given so much of our time around Easter. We hear her story from John each year, study her response to the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus. I mention it, however, because there are some who try to connect the Mary of our Gospel text with Mary Magdalene. As a matter of fact, I once heard a sermon in which the preacher suggested that these were the same woman, and that she was also the one who anointed Jesus. We must be careful not to identify all these stories with one woman when there is no real evidence that they are the same. It gives characteristics to each of the women that might not belong to them and muddles the importance of each story and their place in Jesus' life.

Finally, one of the things that I see in the texts for this week is the idea that when God is revealed to us we 'see' Him with our own eyes. In the Old Testament lesson we see that the LORD appeared to Abraham and then in the next verse it says, "He saw three men." Martha saw Jesus as a man who had needs. It did not matter that Jesus was able to feed more than five thousand on a hillside one day. She saw Him as someone to help, someone to serve. Mary saw Him as a teacher and in listening to His words she came to know God more intimately. Mary Magdalene saw Him as Savior who healed her, then as a missing body, then as the gardener. Finally, when she heard His voice, she saw Him as the risen Lord. Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. We can't see God, but we can see Jesus. He is the tangible – the flesh, the Word, the touch of God. With these texts we might ask ourselves the questions, "How is God visible in our world and in our life? How do we see Him?"


July 19, 2007

Scriptures for July 29, 2007: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]; Luke 11:1-13

Genesis 18:20-32 And Jehovah said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before Jehovah. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou consume the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And Jehovah said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake. And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes: peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five. And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for the forty's sake. And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for the twenty's sake. And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for the ten's sake.

Last week’s Old Testament text began to tell the story of this encounter between God and Abraham. In that story, the LORD appeared to Abraham at his tent and Abraham welcome the LORD with hospitality. Abraham was a friend of God’s and the references to him throughout the Bible point to a righteousness that comes from faith. He was a righteous man because he believed and because he believed God blessed him with His presence. I made note of the difference between God’s appearance and Abraham’s seeing, offering some of the suggestions that have been made about the three men that appeared at Abraham’s tent. As the story progresses, however, the two men are identified as angels. It is definitely worthwhile reading the entire story when studying a text.

Something I noticed as I was looking at the passage for this week is that different versions give translations that are different enough to bring about questions. In the American Standard Version, posted above, the first verse says, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great…” This sounds as if the cry is being made by the cities themselves. Since their sin is great, we are led to see that the cry is against God – in words and in deeds. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not care for the needs of others. They were selfish and self-centered, wicked in every sense of the word. That wickedness even manifested in the cry of judgment against God who was going to see if they should be judged. He went to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if the people were really crying out against God.

Other versions, like the New Revised Standard, say, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah…” In this case, the outcry comes from the neighbors of the wicked people. Their selfishness and self-centeredness has caused conflict and suffering in the other nations. Sin against other people is sin against God. In this case, God is seeking to know if the sin of the people on the plain was as great as the outcry made it out to be. The neighbors interceded with God, crying out in righteous indignation, asking Him for justice against the wicked. God heard their plea and He answered.

God also heard the plea of Abraham. We might be shocked at Abraham’s boldness in dealing with this situation with God. Yet, we have seen in this story that God is a friend to Abraham and that God has invited Abraham into this situation. God seeks Abraham’s council. Abraham is not trying to make a deal with God, or test the waters, or brazenly diminish the need for justice. He wants to understand the boundaries of God’s justice and the limits of His mercy. “Will you spare the cities for fifty? For forty? For thirty?” God agrees that if there can be found even ten righteous men in the city, He will not destroy it.

However, ten are not found to be righteous. Only Lot, Lot’s wife and his daughters were found righteous. Even the sons-in-law, those promised to his daughters, thought that Lot was kidding when he predicted the destruction of the cities. He tried to get them to repent, to respond to God’s cry for justice. They refused and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were lost. However, God is forever merciful. Though He could not save the cities for the sake of the few, He did save the few before He destroyed the cities. God’s justice prevailed, but so did His mercy.

Abraham was invited to intercede with God for the sake of the cities. While we might not have the opportunity or need to pray for the deliverance of cities, God calls us into a relationship with Himself, inviting us to intercede for those whom His mercy is the only salvation. We can boldly approach God with the question of where to draw the line between justice and mercy. We will discover that God knew all along the state of those for whom justice has been promised. It might seem shocking that justice would include the destruction of two cities and all the people within – including children, animals and other apparently innocent people. Yet, we do not know what God knows or see all that God sees. Sometimes mercy means ending the self –destruction of wickedness.


July 20, 2007

Scriptures for July 29, 2007: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]; Luke 11:1-13

Psalm 138 I will give thee thanks with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praises unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and give thanks unto thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. In the day that I called thou answeredst me, thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks, O Jehovah, for they have heard the words of thy mouth. Yea, they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah; for great is the glory of Jehovah. For though Jehovah is high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; but the haughty he knoweth from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me; thou wilt stretch forth thy hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand will save me. Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me: thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, endureth for ever; forsake not the works of thine own hands.

Several months ago I took an online class called “Words and The Word.” The class was meant to help us see images of God and concepts of faith in stories that are not explicitly designed to be Christian. We read several short stories, some of which were far from being religious in nature. Yet, as we read the stories with God in mind, we found themes that we might have missed if we had simply read the words on the page. Some things were easy to recognize such as the differences between good and evil. Yet, we often saw examples of redemption, justice, mercy, grace, hope, peace and joy in more than worldly terms. We saw these things in the biblical sense and identified how God’s hand may have been involved.

The stories took on whole new meanings when we looked at them through the eyes of faith. Perhaps these ideas were not as the authors intended – several of the authors would have never called themselves religious. Yet, once we put something on paper like a story or a poem, it is given to the reader to experience and understand from their point of view. We identify with certain characters and find purpose in the words that help us with our own situations. It was interesting how differently the students in the class saw the stories – some finding grace in the most unusual places and hope where there seemed to be none.

Over the years I have seen that happen with this daily devotional. I have been amazed many times when I have heard from a reader who has found some message in the midst of the writing that I never intended or saw for myself. Some pastors have shared that it has happened to them when they have preached. It probably happens to journalists, movie makers and even musicians.

There are a number of songs that I love that when I listen to them I have an incredible sense of the divine. The words themselves, when typed on a page or explained by the composer, seem to have nothing special about them. Yet, when I hear the songs, and sing along with them, I feel like the words are meant to be understood in a deeper, fuller way. I feel like the hand of God is in the midst of those secular pieces of music even though it was never intended to be that way. As a matter of fact, I’ve had people explain the intended meaning of songs to which I’ve put a spiritual meaning, but it doesn’t matter. I hear God’s voice in the music.

I think today’s Psalm touches on the reason for this – when we look toward God, we are more likely to hear His voice and recognize with great joy the touch of His hand. It doesn’t matter what it is – a sunset, a blooming rose, a screaming toddler, a timely coincidence, a song or story or poem. If we keep our eyes on God, we’ll see Him in the most mundane and non-divine aspects of our world. The Psalmist recognizes the incredible grace of God in this world and he or she begins this hymn with praise. It is a promise to keep looking toward God because God is love and truth. Even when we are far from the place that we identify with being God’s dwelling place, it does not matter for God is not limited by our constraints. The world provides means of distraction in story, song and poem, but when we face toward God we will see that He is found in the most unlikely places, even in our suffering.


July 23, 2007

Scriptures for July 29, 2007: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]; Luke 11:1-13

Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19] As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power: in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross; having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's. Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels, dwelling in the things which he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increasing with the increase of God.

Victoria and I were lucky enough to take a behind the scenes tour during our recent visit to Walt Disney World. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, because it is really all about the magic. However, I think the most amazing thing about Walt Disney World – particularly the Magic Kingdom – is how large it appears to be but how truly small it really is. As we enjoyed the tour, our guide told us to be aware of how far we were walking. The distance from one place to another was large. Then he took us behind the scenes, stood us behind one of the stores and showed us how close we were to both ends of that walk. One building was nearly right behind the other building, and yet we’d walked a long time to get from the front door of one to the front door of another.

Disney does not allow many pictures of the park from above because you can see how much space is required to create the experiences that happen inside the park. Unfortunately for Disney, Google Earth has made it easy for anyone to see what it is like. Our tour guide showed us a picture and pointed out a few of the more interesting things you can see. Take, for example, the ride called “The Haunted Mansion.” This ride appears to be in a normal sized mansion on a hill. When you walk up into the front door, there is no reason for you to believe that there is anything behind. Yet, inside it is an entirely different experience. It is hard to understand how they were able to fit so much into that tiny building.

When you look at the picture from the sky, however, you can see that hidden behind the façade of the ride is a large building that looks like a warehouse. It is through that building that you are taken for the ride. You can’t see it from inside the park. There is a parking lot directly behind some of the Main Street shops. From inside you would never know that the parking lot is just a few feet away. From the Google Earth map, you can see that Walt Disney World is far bigger than you can ever imagine. Just a few miles away is a complex of buildings and parking lots that is as big as the area you can actually see when you visit. From your perspective, the Magic Kingdom is huge. The reality is that though the park does seem big, it is tiny compared to how big it really is.

Some people might not enjoy taking a behind the scenes tour of Walt Disney World because it would take away the magic. Somehow, knowing that the Haunted Mansion is a huge ugly warehouse might make it less impressive. We like to think that somehow the Disney imagineers fit that long ride into a tiny mansion on the hill. Yet, to me, seeing behind the scenes made me realize how amazing Walt Disney World really is. Instead of simply experiencing a small enclosed world, we stepped into an expansive complex designed for the happiness and comfort of the visitors. For most of the visitors all they need to

There are those who think that faith in the Christian God is a very limiting experience. They would rather have a much larger vision of the divine force in this world. They think that limiting the story of God to the flesh of Jesus Christ puts God in a very small box. I suppose for many Christians that is true. They have such a limited understanding of the God of our salvation that they do not realize how vast is His kingdom. Instead of being limited to some small, narrow experience of the divine, faith in Christ opens a whole new world to those who believe. Instead of being bound by our own sinfulness and flesh, we are given the freedom to live whole new lives. Entering into the Christian faith is not limiting, it is freeing. We are free to be everything God has designed us to be, to experience His grace and to share it with the world.


July 24, 2007

Scriptures for July 29, 2007: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]; Luke 11:1-13

Luke 11:1-13 And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee? I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

In today’s passage, Jesus teaches us about prayer. The prayer He gives to His disciples – the prayer we call “The Lord’s Prayer” – is simple and yet it touches upon every aspect of our relationship with our Father in heaven. As we pray these words, we connect with God on every level – our praise, our needs, our sin and our thanksgiving. The words are honest and true. The prayer that He taught gives us the words to speak to the divine even when we do not think we have anything to say.

There are those who are bothered by the regular use of this prayer by Christians. Though it is a biblical example of prayer, given to us by Jesus, there are those who are concerned about how it has become rote and ritualistic to many. While it is true that there are Christians who are barely mindful of the words as they are spoken, perhaps at times all of us are that way; I do not think we should dismiss this prayer quite so easily. For Jesus, it is better to humbly pray the simple words of this prayer than to ramble on and on with words that are more show than prayer, indicating spiritual arrogance.

For some, the Lord’s Prayer is a heartless repetition of the same old thing. They feel it is better to pray from the heart, sharing with God the immediate needs and praise as they appear. It is good to be spontaneous with our prayer, like calling a friend out of the blue to wish them well or say a good word, those impulsive moments are wonderful opportunities to draw deeper into the heart of God. However, reciting a beloved prayer that is memorized from birth is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, how many times do we spontaneously confess our sinfulness to God and ask His mercy for our lives? Unfortunately, we are very good at asking God for everything that we need for our physical well-being and the well-being of others. We are even pretty good at praising God when things are going well for us. We fail in that we do not look to God to keep us from evil or ask His forgiveness when we fail.

The Lord’s Prayer brings us to our knees and reminds us every time we speak it that prayer is more than simply asking for stuff. We begin by praising God, but not just any God, a personal and intimate Father in heaven. We recognize that even God’s name is holy, as God is holy and that He deserves our worship. We are humbled by the fact that this God who is like a Father is also the Creator and Redeemer of the world. We ask that this world become all that God has created it to be, that His kingdom be visible and manifest in all that we do and say. We ask for the things that we need – food, shelter, clothing – but we are reminded that we only need things for this day, not for tomorrow. We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior asking for the forgiveness that comes from Christ even while we recognize that we need God’s help in offering forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. We ask God to be with us, to guide us, to teach us the paths of righteousness.

In verses five through eight, Jesus tells us a story of persistence. Now, we can take this to mean that we should keep asking for God’s blessings, over and over again until He provides what we are asking. Yet, I wonder if we can look at this in a slightly different way. What if persistence means saying – reciting – the same prayer over and over again? Using the words of the prayer which Jesus taught, not only regularly but daily, God hears and answers. There are some things that we ask that God can not or will not give us – not because it is out of His ability to do so, but because it is out of line with what He knows we need. How many of us ask for things that are simply not good for us. God has something better. Though He does listen to our specific prayers and desires, sometimes He has a different answer than we would like to hear. Sometimes He says, “Wait.” Sometimes He says, “No.” But when He does not provide what we want, He provides more than we could ever imagine.

Even as the Lord’s Prayer seems to limit our prayers, the reality is that it opens us up to even bigger and better things. By seeking God’s will, rather than asking God to satisfy ours, we find a greater freedom and a bigger kingdom than we could ever imagine.


July 25, 2007

No WORD Posted


July 26, 2007

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity… I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: it is a sore travail that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind… And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he will be a wise man or a fool? yet will he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned about to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor wherein I had labored under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skilfulness; yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity.

This passage is not very hopeful. In the New International version of the Bible, the first verse is translated “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” It is so hard for us to thing that everything we do has no meaning at all. We work many hours a day, week and month to accomplish our goals in life. We do it to feed our families and ensure that we have a nice place to live and a comfortable existence. We practice our hobbies so that we can be good at them. We read books to gain knowledge, follow the news to stay informed. We create friendships so that we will not be lonely, but will be happy and satisfied. We don’t think any of this is meaningless. It means something to us.

Yet, we are reminded that everything comes to an end. We retire from our jobs and others take our place. Our families grow up, our children move to new places. Though we hope that they will retain some of the things we have given to them, they do not hold on to everything. Our traditions die because they create new traditions. Sometimes they see the world from a different point of view and they take a path we would not take. Our hobbies come and go as our interests change with the trends of the day. Our memories fade and knowledge changes as researchers find other possibilities. Even our friendships end as we move on to other places or people.

It is interesting to think how differently people see the world. Everyone has a passion, a point of view from which they direct their lives and establish their priorities. For some, the priority is to have strong human relationships. For them, their work, play and socialization are focused on the people in their lives. For others, the priority is to accomplish something in this world. They work toward the goal, with relationships being secondary and sometimes even distracting. Some are on a spiritual quest, while others are firmly planted on the ground. Some see the world as being “a glass half empty” while others see it as “a glass half full.”

As we look at the pursuits of others, we wonder why they work so hard at chasing after all the wrong things. However, we too are caught up in the pursuit of meaninglessness. We see other perspectives and points of view as invalid or less important than our own. In the end, we learn that it was all meaningless. I remember when Felix was a young cat, just a kitten as a matter of fact. He loved to play with flies. We were living in England at the time and the flies were insignificant – so small that I often did not even know that they were in the house. Only if they were buzzing by my face did it make a difference to me. However, Felix knew they were there. He chased them all over the house. At times it would seem as though he were chasing after nothing. He’d rarely catch the flies, but we would be entertained for hours as he jumped, slid, pounced and flipped in every direction.

Vanities of vanities, all is vanity. At times it seems like this is true. The passage seems without any hope at all. Yet, as we are reminded of the truth that our pursuits are meaningless in the greater scheme of things, we are also reminded that there is a greater scheme. We look beyond ourselves, our points of view, our passions and we see that there is hope. Though our toil is in vain, our days are full of pain and everything we do in this life will either pass away or be given to another generation to waste or ruin, our hope rests in something much greater than ourselves. In knowing, and living, this truth, we will see that His purposes and pursuits are not so meaningless.


July 27, 2007

Scriptures for August 5, 2007: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Psalm 49:1-12 Hear this, all ye peoples; Give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world, Both low and high, Rich and poor together. My mouth shall speak wisdom; And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, When iniquity at my heels compasseth me about? They that trust in their wealth, And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him; (For the redemption of their life is costly, And it faileth for ever;) That he should still live alway, That he should not see corruption. For he shall see it. Wise men die; The fool and the brutish alike perish, And leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, And their dwelling-places to all generations; They call their lands after their own names. But man being in honor abideth not: He is like the beasts that perish.

Though it is still a few years away, Bruce and I have been discussing our options when we become empty nesters. We have joked about the possibilities, like moving in with each of the kids for half the year. Of course, neither of them will be ready to have their parents living full time in their homes for many years – if ever – so they aren’t thrilled with that idea. We’ve thought about places we might want to spend our retirement years even though we do enjoy living right here in Texas. We have some property where we could build a comfy little home to spend our later years. We do look forward to having the freedom to travel as much as possible, so have even considered replacing our permanent address with a recreational vehicle that could take us anywhere we would like to stay.

Bruce received an email recently with the perfect RV. It looks absolutely comfortable with all the amenities that we could ever desire. It even has a garage – a storage area below the living area large enough to fit a small sports car. Our future dreams include something small, made for two that would get us around wherever we decide to stop for a period of time. It is a beautiful machine and it is certainly fun to dream. Who knows how we’ll feel in five or ten years, but it is fun to consider the possibilities.

I have to admit that I have been somewhat envious of the lifestyles of some of our friends, who are able to pick up and fly off to exotic places on a whim. Other friends have beautiful homes and fancy sports cars. I don’t always want exactly what I see that they have, but I wonder if there will ever be a time when I’m not struggling to pay off the bills and get a little bit ahead. We’ve done a tremendous job of simplifying our lives recently, but there are college educations in our future and our employment situation is tenuous at best. We do not know what tomorrow holds for us, so we work very hard today to ensure some security. When the stress is at its worst is when I am tempted to long for that other life, to wish for the wealth that would give us the kind of freedom about which we dream.

Envy is not a helpful emotion. Of course, it can lead us to do things that are sinful against God and mankind, working deceitfully to gain the things we want to have but that are beyond our grasp. Most of us do not do those things, we settle for the life we are able to live, but we are never truly satisfied with what we have. We long for more. We work harder to try to get those things. We end up ignoring and forgetting the things that truly matter in this world. We forget that wealth and all things we can possess are perishable and that when we die those things will be left behind for others.

Wealth, in and of itself, is not bad or sinful. As a matter of fact, throughout the history of God’s people, He has used wealthy people to accomplish many of the things He intended for the creation. The problem lies in our attitude about wealth. We have to always remember that wealth is fleeting. Through we might build great estates to pass on to our kids, in the end we are left with nothing. When we die, it is all left behind. We face the living God with nothing but our faith and hope. When we pursue the things of this world and forget that it is all perishable, we lose out on something even greater.

It is fun to dream and perhaps some day we will do exactly what we have considered for our retirement. Through it all, we are reminded that our wealth can’t do anything to enhance our relationship with God or to bring salvation to the world. It is the love of Christ that saves and it is faith in His mercy and grace that will bring us home. When we know that our wealth is fleeting and perishable, we will live in that wealth with mercy and love. No matter what wealth we have, no matter what we decide to do with our future and our retirement years, those who live in the love of God will be blessed today and always.


July 30, 2007

Scriptures for August 5, 2007: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Colossians 3:1-11 If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.

A new movie opened in theaters this past weekend and the early reports show that it is meeting and exceeding all expectations. “The Simpsons Movie” based on the long running animated television show that has been popular for eighteen years. The weekend numbers show that this movie had the third highest grossing opening weekend for an animated film. In some ways film has come so far over the decades since the first movies nearly a hundred years ago, yet in many ways things are very much the same.

On December 21, 1937 the Walt Disney Studios released what was affectionately called “Disney’s Folly.” The full-length animated movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has been a beloved film for every generation since then. Though not the first animated full-length movie (several foreign films beat Disney to the theaters) it was a first in many ways. It was the first animated feature film to become widely popular in the English speaking world and it was the first in Technicolor. Using adjusted numbers, “Snow White” is the tenth highest grossing film of all time and is the only traditionally animated film listed in the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American films of all time from 2007. It even won an Academy Award. “Snow White” was called Disney’s Folly because no one thought that movie goers would be willing to sit through a ninety minute animated film. Walt’s wife told him, “No one will pay a dime to see a dwarf movie.” As we can see over history, animated films have been widely popular with children and adults alike. The weekend numbers from “The Simpsons Movie” prove that we are still interested in watching cartoons on the big screen.

When Disney makes an animated movie, the writers do not always stick by the actual story as it was originally written or told. We can see that in features such as “Cinderella,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” The same was true of “Snow White.” The story, originally written by the Brother’s Grimm, describes the dwarfs as neat and kind. The dwarfs, according to the story, were gold miners. The wicked queen is said to have visited Snow White three times, each time killing her a different way. At the end, it is not a kiss that brings Snow White back to live, but a clumsy prince who drops her and dislodges a piece of poison apple that got caught in her throat.

We have come to know and love the Disney version of this story in which the dwarfs are actually miners of diamonds. When Snow White stumbles upon their house, she thinks that it the home of seven untidy children. We see them as selfish and self-centered. They do not care for one another and do not seem to understand about love. They own a diamond mind and must have great wealth, yet they seem to be very poor in spirit. When they return from the mines, Snow White agrees to stay and to take care of them. She teaches them to love and to care for each other. When she is attacked by the evil queen, they love her so much that they willingly suffer with her and they fight for her.

In Disney’s version “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a story of transformation. Through love, the seven dwarfs are given a new perspective on life. They learn to love one another and others, to the point of willingly sacrificing themselves for the sake of another. When Snow White fell asleep by the wicked power of the queen, the dwarfs could have gone back to living as they did before they knew her. Instead, they continued caring for each other and Snow White. They put aside their greed and messy living for that new life. In this story we see the kind of transformation that is expected when we are raised with Christ Jesus.

I have not yet seen the new Simpsons movie so I can not speak to it theme or the concepts of life and love that might be found in the film. Though the Simpsons are recognized as being rude and crude, as living the kind of life that we are called to live in Christ, it can do us well to watch such things because in doing so we realize that we are not much different. Our own foibles are revealed in the adventures, and misadventures, of those characters. We also see how they are transformed, willing to sacrifice themselves in ways that we might not expect. We are called to the kind of life in which transformation is visible to the world, the life in which we are made new in Christ and we become like Christ in this world.


July 31, 2007

Scriptures for August 5, 2007: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Luke 12:13-21 And one out of the multitude said unto him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

The news has been filled with reports of sad situations in which people have had to fight for worldly possessions that they felt belonged to them for one reason or another. These cases are often very complicated because the wishes were not properly documented or the papers were not legally acceptable. In one case, the fight for the money has put a tiny baby in the middle of a battle between many different people. Despite the recent judgment in that case, that child will probably be fighting for her inheritance her entire life.

There was a news story yesterday about another famous heir. She has taken the wealth into which she was born and wasted it, chasing after worldly pleasures and abusing the advantages she had been given. Her troubles have been widely reported, with days’ worth of commentary about her actions and the consequences of her actions. She was even imprisoned for her crimes, illegal behavior that was a danger to herself and others. This is the way of life for many young ladies who have been given the benefit of great wealth and they are ruining their lives by chasing after their hedonistic obsessions. Unfortunately, the wealthy, young socialite has recently learned that her behavior will have yet another consequence – her inheritance is being taken away from her and given to a charity that is more worthy to receive the money.

In our world, people with money can decide to whom it will be given. Businesses and organizations have been established to help ordinary people set up their wills and estates to ensure that their wishes are fulfilled after they die. Without the proper paperwork, many families end up fighting over the property and possessions of those loved ones who die. I know of families that have been divided, siblings whose relationships are forever broken, all because they can’t agree about a few worldly things.

In modern times, the estate is normally divided equally between all the children in a family. However, in ancient times, the estate of a man was typically divided between his sons, with the eldest son receiving a double portion. This meant that in a family with two sons, the first born would be given two thirds of the estate and the younger just a third.

In the story from today’s Gospel, two brothers approached Jesus about an inheritance situation. This is not an unusual thing for them to do – the rabbis were authorized to judge cases like this. A man went to Jesus because he saw Him as a rabbi and he wanted an official verdict to their dispute. Jesus answered the brother, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Jesus was not interested in becoming involved with their dispute, but he did not leave the question open. He used the question as an opportunity to give the crowd a lesson in greed.

We fight with our brothers and sisters over perishable things because we are greedy. Most of us aren’t looking to have more than others, we simply want our fair share. We want things to be equal, at least equal to our benefit. For most of us the motive is good – we want security for the future. We want to know that we will be safe tomorrow, that we’ll have enough to eat and all that we need to survive. We like the thoughts of having a big home and a nice car, but for most of the intent is to ensure a comfortable life. We want to be happy. We want to feel secure.

Jesus warned the crowd to be careful about greed, “for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” The parable tells of a man who had more than he could need. He had more than he could even store. He was going to build even bigger barns to hold it all. Then he felt that he could relax, eat, drink and be merry. Jesus said that God spoke to the man, telling him that it was that day that he would die. “Who will possess those things now?” We do not always know what will happen to our worldly goods when we die. Certainly there are those who might do battle over every penny.

It is not that we should not take care to leave good things to those who follow or even that we should ensure that all the paperwork is rightly prepared. Our scriptures this week teach us that the material possessions for which we work so hard are perishable and it is meaningless for us to put all our energy and focus into building up these things. We are called to ask ourselves, “Where will I bestow these things?” Will be hide our grain and goods in a bigger barn, or will we dedicate it to God and for His use in this world. In this way we will store up treasures in heaven, treasures that will last.