Welcome to the July 2009 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes



Plumb Line

















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


July 1, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2009: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Unto thee do I lift up mine eyes, O thou that sittest in the heavens.

Iím going to pick on Zack a little bit in todayís devotional, but Iím sure the stories Iím going to tell will sound familiar to other parents. Iím sure I could tell similar stories about Victoria. As a matter of fact, Iím sure my mom could have told you similar stories about me. Kids (of every age) have difficulty listening, and when they do hear it doesnít last. They easily forget the things we tell them, usually conveniently. In other words, they tend to forget the things they donít want to do.

Last night, for instance, Zachary made popcorn as a treat. The microwave has a metal shelf that must be removed when popping popcorn. Heís really good at doing that part of the task. However, weíve asked him repeatedly to clean up after himself, to put that shelf back in after heís finished using the microwave. He always forgets. Instead of just putting it away last night, we reminded him to clean up his mess. It took several reminders and a lecture to get him to do so. Hopefully next time heíll remember that aprt of cooking is cleaning up afterwards.

I say ďhopefullyĒ because there are lots of lessons learned that donít always get remembered. One of his chores is to collect the garbage the night before the garbage men come. No matter how many times we remind him about certain garbage cans, he often forgets some of the places he should look. We usually have to remind him about something. I keep hoping that one day heíll remember to do everything without my nagging, but so far I havenít seen it.

Sure, Iíve picked on Zack today, but Zackís occasional deafness and loss of memory is not unusual. It is typical human behavior. We hear what we want to hear and remember what we want to remember. We hear when it will benefit our life and we do it when it is convenient. We all willingly jump into action when we will be rewarded for it.

We (believers) know that the Christian message is worth hearing and living. We know that it is freeing and that in it we find real peace and joy. However, those who do not believe find the message hard to accept. The idea of Christ on the cross, death for life, and sacrifice for mercy is ridiculous. It is foolishness. The idea of God is a myth. Spirituality is a delusion. What good is some far off heaven when people are suffering in this world? There are so many questions and doubts that can get in the way of hearing the grace of God.

One of the worst barriers, of course, is the human vessel sent to take the message. We are hypocrites because we talk of righteousness while we fail. Those who know us know that we arenít saints. We are rejected, ridiculed and ignored. It isnít easy. Every young mother thinks her child will be perfect, that sheíll do everything right so that her child will not willfully forget to listen and do what she asks. Yet, every child goes through that period of time (it lasts longer for some than for others) when they reject, ignore and ridicule the authority figures in their life. Even good kids manage to forget to do those things that they are expected to do.

This week we heard call stories about people who were promised that the people to whom they were sent would not listen. Ezekiel faced stubborn and impudent. The Corinthians were interested in those who were successful, thinking they must be right because they were powerful and charismatic. Paul reminded them that Godís grace is more powerful than human power, especially in the weakness of His chosen. Even Jesus faced rejection from His own people. Why should we expect to do any better? Yet we can live in the words of the psalmist, looking to God for our strength because while the world holds us in contempt, God has mercy on us.


July 2, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 12, 2009: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:30-34, 53:56

Amos 7:7-15 Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And Jehovah said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb-line. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more; and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land. Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thou away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Beth-el; for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a royal house. Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore-trees: and Jehovah took me from following the flock, and Jehovah said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.

Anyone who has done any home improvement have probably used a tool called a plumb line. This is a very simple tool, used for millennia, to find the vertical line. It is especially helpful for building walls because it helps to keep the walls straight. A plumb line is simply a weight tied to the end of a light string. The string is held at the top of the vertical and the weight is allowed to swing free until it stops. At that point, the line points directly to the center of the earth. All lines established from the plumb line will be parallel and the wall will be straight.

Anyone can make a plumb line by tying a weight onto a piece of string, although it is helpful to purchase a manufactured line since the wrong weight and string could skew the line. I found a plumb line at a tool site on the Internet for just $2.99, a well-spent few dollars to ensure a straight wall. Amazingly, I also found some laser plumb lines for two to three hundred dollars. The laser plumb lines do exactly the same job as the cheap weight on a string. It does have an out-of-level alert that you donít have with the string, but then the string does naturally what the electronic version does electronically. In other words, thereís room for error with the laser plumb line. The laser tool will also break: batteries die, lights fade, tools need to be recalibrated from time to time. The weight on a string might break, but it is easily, and cheaply, replaced. Sometimes simple is better.

The plumb line is an important tool when building a wall. It is very easy for a brick worker to set a wall that leans. It only takes a fraction of an inch on each level of brick for the wall to eventually topple. A level will help each row of bricks lay even, but the plumb line is also necessary so that they are stacked directly on top of one another. Why is it that important? Every wall is dependent on every other wall. Everything inside is dependent on the walls being straight. The windows and doors will not fit properly if the walls lean. A leaning wall will not stand very long. Isnít it amazing that a simple $3.00 tool can be so important?

Amos had words for the king that the king and the people did not want to hear. Their time was short. Theyíd disobeyed the Lord and He was about to take matters into His own hands. They were leaning like a poorly built wall. The Lord promised to send a plumb line to measure His people, to see how well they stood. Now, the Lord could have chosen a powerful man, an educated man, a gifted man. Instead, He chose Amos, who tells us that he takes care of sheep and sycamore trees. What does he know about politics? What does he know about religion? What does he know about the future?

Of course the king would argue with a prophet who foretells his demise and the destruction of his people. Of course they would question whether Amos can really say these things. He was just a simple shepherd. But thatís exactly why he was chosen to take this message, a message he really didnít want to take. As a matter of fact, our passage today is the third vision. Amos convinced the Lord to relent from the first two. Finally, the Lord showed Amos a plumb line, meant to show Israel that they were out of whack. A leaning wall must be destroyed and rebuilt. Amos was that plumb line, the one being sent to the people to warn them of what is to come.


July 3, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 12, 2009: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:30-34, 53:56

Psalm 85:8-13 I will hear what God Jehovah will speak; For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: But let them not turn again to folly. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him, That glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springeth out of the earth; And righteousness hath looked down from heaven. Yea, Jehovah will give that which is good; And our land shall yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him, And shall make his footsteps a way to walk in.

Since Independence Day falls on a Saturday this year, many people have been given an extra day off this weekend. Some people even lucked out with a four day weekend, which gives them plenty of time to party. The celebrations are kicking off early, with some activities happening today. A neighboring town even began their carnival yesterday, with the major festivities including a parade, planned for tomorrow. Iím sure some people will even be planning events for Sunday. The holiday is a great excuse for people to get together and have fun.

I think the best type of celebration is the kind where family and friends gather together for a pot luck picnic. Pot lucks are great fun because everyone brings in their best dishes. We get to enjoy Aunt Margeís potato salad and Grandmaís fire roasted chili stew. Hot dogs taste especially good grilled by neighbor Fred on his state of the art grill and the fresh tomatoes hand picked that morning from Samís garden are quite a treat. My mouth is watering as I think about the cool, crisp, sweet watermelon and the hot gooey marshmallows toasted over the charcoal and squished between chocolate and graham crackers into símores.

Ok, now Iím hungry for all those yummy picnic treats. The point of this writing is that this type of celebration brings together the best of all worlds. It might be fun to go to a party where someone does all the work, and I have to admit that I enjoy hosting that kind of party. But the pot luck picnic is something special. It is a gathering of food from all over the world; salads with incredible combinations that might not be planned together are piled high on paper plates until no one can eat any more. The deserts are tremendous, sinfully delicious. I think that the family gatherings in the summer are less stressed than those around the holidays. Iím not sure why, perhaps it has to do with the good weather: the gathering can take place outside where people can stretch and play. Games of volleyball or badminton bring riotous giggles heard throughout the neighborhood. These are good times.

The psalmist also speaks of good times. Look at the wonderful things God is going to do. This passage is a potluck of Godís grace! Salvation, glory, mercy and truth, righteousness and peace all come together in Godís kingdom. Thanks to Godís goodness, His people will prosper. He establishes the way of righteousness for them. This is truly something to celebrate.


July 6-10, 2009

No WORD posted due to vacation.


July 13, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 19, 2009: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Jeremiah 23:1-6 Woe unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith Jehovah. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, against the shepherds that feed my people: Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith Jehovah. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and multiply. And I will set up shepherds over them, who shall feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lacking, saith Jehovah. Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.

What is leadership? I suppose in many ways this is the big question of our day. When we are watching corporations fall apart because of poor leadership and politicians of every stripe questioned about their decisions in their public and private lives. We even see it happening in churches and families. What is the right way to lead a group of people? What is the best thing to do for the sake of the group and for those outside the group? How many leaders are really concerned about their people? How many are concerned about their own power and position?

Jeremiah passes on a word of warning to the leaders in Isreal: they have failed to care for Godís people and God is ready to take over and he will take care of everyone, including the leaders. Unfortunately for them, He will take care of them by calling them to account. They will experience the same measure of care they gave to those who were given to them. What if the leaders had to live according to the same expectations as they place as burdens on their people? It seems that many leaders live by the adage, ďDo as I say, not as I do.Ē What if they had to live according to their own words? Would things be any different?

Many leaders forget that they are not the top of the food chain or that they will not remain on top forever. Then what happens? What happens when the abusive father becomes old and unable to care for himself? Does he receive the same mercy he gave to his children? Does the corporate CEO stay in power by stepping on the little people who make the company work? The good leader is the one who realizes that the burden is on his or her shoulder. When they take care of those who are in their care, then they will do everything they can to make their leader successful.

Jesus never worried about His power and position. As a matter of fact, He spent a great deal of time running away from the crowdís desire to make Him an earthly king. His concern was for the people, to ensure that they received the kind of care that God desired for them. He was in a right relationship with both those who were under His care and His Father in Heaven. Thatís what makes good leadership, an understanding that although one is the Master, He is also the Servant. Perhaps we could use more leaders like that in our world today, in corporate leadership and politics and the church and in our homes.


July 14, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 19, 2009: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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

Reese Witherspoon played a very blonde sorority girl named Elle Woods who was madly in love with an aspiring lawyer and politician in the movie ďLegally Blonde.Ē When it was time to graduate and move on to post-graduate work, Warner dumped Elle to find a more appropriate woman to be his partner in life. He went on to Harvard Law School, renewed a relationship with Vivian, and old girlfriend who fits the mold perfectly of the politicianís serious wife. Meanwhile, Elle was not willing to give up so easily, so despite her supposed lack of intelligence, she joined the other students at Harvard Law School.

Needless to say, Vivian did not like Elle at all. Elle was the former girlfriend, the competition for Warnerís heart and life. They were completely different women. Elle was a happy, enthusiastic woman who was interested in fashion, parties and celebrity. Vivian was more serious, the daughter of a powerful northeastern family who understood propriety and power. The conflicts between the two women were funny as east met west in stereotypical ways.

However, the two women eventually found a common denominator, which happened to be the very thing that had originally kept them apart. As Elle discovered that Law was really a place she could not only succeed but also thrive, Vivian saw her more as a peer rather than a competitor. In one scene, the two women were sharing some thoughts about a case they were working on together and they began to talk about Warner. Vivian found Elle to be a compassionate listener, offering some insight into Warnerís past and personality. They laughed about his failures together. By the end of the movie, Warner saw Elle as the serious and powerful woman that he really wanted, but she refused him. Meanwhile, Vivian realized that Warner was not the man for her. The two women became the best of friends.

We often experience acquaintances like that of Elle and Vivian. When we first meet them, we seem to have nothing in common. Though we usually donít begin those relationships with conflict, we also do not expect them to be potential friends. Sometimes they are complete opposites and even though we have nothing against them personally, we find that we canít stand to be around them. It is funny, though, when we do find something in common. Those people often become our very best friends. We just have to find the common denominator.

The Jews and the pagan Christians had nothing in common. They came from very different backgrounds and had very different ideas about life and the world. The Jews even had rules designed to help them avoid relationships with the pagans in the land where they lived. However, Jesus Christ offered something new: a common denominator between very different people. In Christ both the Jews and the pagan Christians were part of the same family. They became citizens of the same kingdom. Despite their differences, they had something greater that could bond them together: the blood of Christ. This is very good news for those of us who were once strangers to the mercy of God. We are given by grace the joy and peace and hope found in Christ, joined together with everyone who has also heard and believed in Jesus Christ as one body despite our differences.


July 15, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 19, 2009: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 And the apostles gather themselves together unto Jesus; and they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught. And he saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart. And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities, and outwent them. And he came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when they had crossed over, they came to the land unto Gennesaret, and moored to the shoreÖ And when they were come out of the boat, straightway the people knew him, and ran round about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. And wheresoever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.

We went on vacation last week. I took along my laptop and my resources with every intention to continue writing even while we were there to rest, but it didnít happen. We were there to rest, and we had a wonderful time doing so. We were in West Texas, stayed in Alpine and traveled to places like Fort Davis and Big Bend to enjoy the history and the nature. We visited the McDonald Observatory, a ghost town and searched for the Marfa mystery lights (we saw them.) The landscape in that area of Texas, particularly in Big Bend National Park, is mountainous and desert, along with the Rio Grande. It is spectacular. Every turn or rise of the hill brought us to a brand new scene, each more incredible than the last.

One thing I learned during this past trip is that our God loves bling. On Tuesday night we attended a star party at the McDonald Observatory. The crowd gathered at an amphitheater and we listened as one of their hosts pointed out the different stars and constellations. He had an amazing laser pointer that reached three miles, so he was able to show us exactly the star he was talking about. He talked about the Zodiak, not from an astrological point of view, but from an astronomical point of view. They are very different. During his presentation I kept thinking that the sky was filled with twinkling diamonds, so carefully and purposely placed that we can know the time of year just by which stars are seen. After the presentation, we were free to view some of the cosmic bodies through telescopes. They had several pointing toward Saturn, others pointed toward the moon and yet others pointed to some of the cloud nebulas visible in the sky. It was truly amazing to see these bodies in more detail than is possible with the naked eye, and I thanked God for creating such an incredible universe.

Our awe wasnít limited to the twinkling stars. Though Texas mountains might not be as tall as those in other states, they rise to impressive heights none the less. Set in the middle of a desert, the mountains are covered with flora and fauna that thrive in arid climates. We saw coyote, snakes, lizards, road runners, buzzards and even a peregrine falcon. Since the mountains were built by volcanic activity, many were covered with great rock clusters. The cliffs were decorated with layers of different colored rock. We didnít see any of the bears or mountain lions reported to live in the area. The mountains that rise south of the Rio Grande in Mexico are as beautiful as those on the U.S. side, reminding us that Godís creativity knows no borders.

The Rio Grande, at least where we saw it, was not a terribly impressive river. It was not very wide; an average baseball player could easily throw a ball across the water in most places. What makes the river incredible is its length, which reaches nearly the entire length of the Texas border to Mexico. It is also incredible because it cuts through some of the most beautiful canyons in the world. With walls towering a thousand feet above the surface of the water, we are reminded of the power of that small ribbon of water flowing through those mountains. The river was a little muddy from recent showers in the area, but it still shimmered in the sunshine and reminded us of the continuity of Godís grace, taking those life giving waters where they will be used to sustain Godís living creatures along the way.

So, despite the fact that I didnít get the chance to write last week, God was never far from us. We saw in the stars, mountains, desert and river how much God loves His creation. He loves the whole world so much that Heís given us not only the things that we need, but also beauty and wisdom in those parts that seem desolate and out of the way. It is good to rest, to take time to see God beyond the words and know His presence everywhere. Jesus knew how important it was to rest because He gave His disciples a chance to rest after they had done some incredible work for the Kingdom. Yet, in this passage we are reminded that Jesus doesnít stop even when we do. Heís always there. God is always there, working in the world bringing healing and peace. Sometimes it is in those moments when we are stopped, when our hands and feet are not moving, when we can truly be made whole. Then we can go back to work, to share the Gospel message with the world.


July 16, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2009: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

2 Kings 4:42-44 And there came a man from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat. And his servant said, What, should I set this before a hundred men? But he said, Give the people, that they may eat; for thus saith Jehovah, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of Jehovah.

There are many reasons why teachers do not allow chewing gum in their classrooms. Some students donít know how to chew gum quietly and it can be a distraction to the other students. All too often the students donít have a way to get rid of their gum when they are finished with it, so it ends up in unfortunate places, like underneath the desks at which they are sitting. Chewing gum is especially inappropriate in classes where the students need to speak because having the gum in the mouth makes it hard to understand what the speaker is saying. Despite all these reasons, many teachers will address a gum chewer with the question, ďDo you have enough of that gum to share with the entire class?Ē When they do not, the teacher insists that if they canít share, then they shouldnít have any themselves.

That tactic will backfire on the day when a student brings enough for the whole class. Will the teacher then allow everyone to chew gum? Of course not because there are so many other good reasons to keep the gum out of the classroom. However, it is unlikely most kids will ever share their gum with an entire class. They might share with their good friends, might even share with acquaintances, but classrooms are filled with conflicts and many students would refuse to share with those they perceive as enemies. ďWhy waste a piece of gum on that jerk?Ē they might ask themselves.

There are plenty of reasons to refuse to share, greed is only one possibility. Our world certainly wonít fall apart if we run out of gum, but what would happen if a mother runs out of milk for her child and canít get more? Would it be smart to save what little she has for her family because what good will it do if she saves the life of another but loses the life of those she loves? We worry that we are going to run out, so we withhold a portion to ensure our future. This might seem smart, especially in these days when tomorrow is uncertain, but when is sharing a matter of trust? When do we let go of those things we think we will need tomorrow to give it to those who need it today?

We donít know what Elishaís servant Gehazi was thinking when the man brought the food for the prophets. Twenty loaves of bread is more than you think it might be and we donít know how much of the grain he brought. It was probably enough to feed the hundred followers who needed to eat. However, they were in the middle of a famine. Did Gehazi want to save some for a future day and was afraid to withhold any from the hungry crowd? If this is the case, then Gehazi simply did not trust in the Lord as his master Elisha.

However, we also know that Gehazi was not an honest servant. In the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5), Gehazi ran after Naaman to collect payment for the healing, despite Elishaís rejection of any gifts offered. He lied and asked for silver and clothing to give to prophets that had supposedly joined the gathering. Then, when he returned to Elisha, he lied about being gone. He was a greedy servant and that may have been his motive in the story with the food for the prophets.

So, this story makes us question our own practices of sharing. What keeps us from sharing our resources? Are we afraid we donít have enough for everyone? Are we afraid that we wonít have anything for tomorrow? Do we want to withhold from certain people and so keep it away from everyone? Are we greedy about our things? Whatever Gehaziís motivation, we know that Elisha trusted God. ďGive it to them, there will be more than enough.Ē Godís voice speaks the same to us. We do not need to worry about tomorrow, or even whether or not there will be enough for today. God will ensure that we have enough.


July 17, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2009: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Psalm 145:10-18 All thy works shall give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah; And thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, And talk of thy power; To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, And the glory of the majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. Jehovah upholdeth all that fall, And raiseth up all those that are bowed down. The eyes of all wait for thee; And thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, And satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Jehovah is righteous in all his ways, And gracious in all his works. Jehovah is nigh unto all them that call upon him, To all that call upon him in truth.

I heard a story yesterday about urban farmers. Apparently a lot more people in the cities are beginning to set up gardens in their yards, growing their own food. Some in San Antonio are even taking care of chickens. Apparently in the city you can have up to three hens without a license. The people interviewed on the report gave different reasons for having the chickens. One woman was adamant about how the fresh eggs are much better than anything you can buy in the store. She said they were richer and more flavorful. Others suggested that home grown food is healthier, particularly since they know what types of fertilizer and pesticides (if any) were used. Others are concerned about the future and want to have food readily available in case of financial disaster or worse.

Bruce grew up in a farming family and tells stories about caring for the chickens and the bull. His family still has gardens where they can harvest fresh tomatoes and other vegetables. My sister has been trying her hand at a few plants, although sheís finding the drought conditions make it almost impossible to keep even a few plants healthy. Thatís exactly why we havenít even tried. Although, not sure Iíd do very well with that farming thing: I donít have a green thumb and most of my plants end up prematurely dying for lack of care.

When Bruce tells his farming stories, I just shake my head. Iím sure that the meat they got from their bulls was well worth the time and effort, but Iím not sure I could do it. Iíd have such a hard time eating the meat of a being Iíve seen eye to eye. Donít get me wrong, I have no problem eating meat and I know that it was once alive. But to me, meat comes from a grocery story on a plastic tray wrapped with cling wrap. It is ok with me that someone else had taken care of the hard part. Iím willing to pay someone else to care for the animal until it is time to be butchered, and Iím especially glad I donít have to do that part.

I have found, though, that Iím always disappointed with the produce I find at the grocery store. Weíve bought half a dozen watermelons that Iíve had to throw away because they were not just bad, they were horrible. The tomatoes are tasteless. The other vegetables are either picked too early or are already going rotten. So, Iíve discovered that some local farmers set up stands around our area to sell their produce. Weíve bought several things from these farmers and are enjoying the taste of fresh vegetables that have been picked at the right time. The watermelons are sweet and the tomatoes are wonderful. Though they arenít grown in our own yard, we feel like we are eating better because we have fresh vegetables on our table.

How much time do we spend thinking about where our food comes from? I donít spend much time. I go to the grocery store, pick up what I need and pay for it. I bring it home and fix it to serve to my family. Sometimes I go to the farmerís market and purchase those fresh vegetables to serve. I donít ask where the farm is located or who has had a role in growing those plants. Perhaps we should spend more time thinking about those who provide our food and deliver it to the grocery store, thanking them for the hard work they do to ensure that we will be well fed and happy.

However, we are also reminded that wherever we get our food, there is One who deserves the thanks and praise. God, the Creator of all things, is to be thanked for His amazing grace, providing food for all in its time. We can go to the grocery store so we forget that the food would not even be there without Him. But what if we were the birds of the air or the fish of the sea? Where would we get our food? They praise God in their own way because He provides for all their needs. Do we? Do we sing those praises and tell the world of Godís mercy and grace? Or do we take these things for granted and forget to thank our God and provider for all He has done. When we forget His simple blessings, we lose sight of the fact that He is always near. And when we lose sight of His presence, we wander from the path He has called us to walk. So, let us praise God today for all He has given so that we will continue to live as He has called us to live.


July 20, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2009: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Ephesians 3:14-21 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spiritónot a brute strength but a glorious inner strengthóthat Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you knowófar more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! (The Message)

I decided to use The Message version of todayís text because I really like the language in this passage. Paul is responding to the incredible acts of God in his life, in the lives of Godís people and in the Church. God has provided salvation to individuals, reconciliation between people and unification of those who believe by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, Paul is praying for Christ to continue the work begun in and through the Ephesian believers and in this prayer Paul is also reminding the people of Ephesus and every Christian since that Godís grace is bigger than anything we can even imagine.

In the American Standard Version (printed below), Paul tells the reader that because of all the great things God has done, he bows his knees to the Father ďfrom whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.Ē God is the Father of all fathers. In this case, father doesnít necessarily stand for the male head of a household, but stands for those who are in power and authority over others. A king or a president is like the father of a nation. A CEO is like the father of a company. A priest is like the father of a congregation. The person who is in charge is not the ultimate authority. He (or she as might be the case) receives power and authority from the Father of all fathers. This passage reminds us that God is the center and every good thing is rooted or founded on Him. What we have comes from God. What the leaders have, including their power and authority, comes from God.

And since that power comes from God, leaders are called to lead as God leads. That which God has done is what they (we) are called to do. We canít save anyone, at least not in the sense God has saved us, however we can meet the needs that have left people oppressed and burdened. It is not enough to simply meet the physical needs of those who suffer; we are sent into the world to work toward reconciliation between people and between God and His people. Finally, the ultimate goal of Godís work is to bring people together, to unify all people into one body that will be the glory of God forever. We canít do this ourselves. It is only by Godís grace that we can accomplish this continuing work that began in Christ. However, God has given us all we need so that we will give it to others.

This is accomplished not through physical strength and power, but through love. Many leaders will take their resources and use them in a way that continues to oppress and burden the people to whom theyíve been sent. They donít want to lose their power so they hold on to at least a portion of their resources so that they will continue to have authority. This is not Godís way. He works through mercy, giving abundantly more than we can even imagine. So, as people founded in love, we have at our fingertips more than we imagine that we even have because Godís resources are wider and longer and higher and deeper than we can even know. He is our Father and everything He has is given for us to use to His glory. For in sharing Godís grace with others, people are saved, reconciled and unified and God is glorified. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen. (American Standard Version)


July 21, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2009: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

John 6:1-21 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they beheld the signs which he did on them that were sick. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude cometh unto him, saith unto Philip, Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred shillings' worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, who hath five barley loaves, and two fishes: but what are these among so many? Jesus said, Make the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to them that were set down; likewise also of the fishes as much as they would. And when they were filled, he saith unto his disciples, Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost. So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which remained over unto them that had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which he did, they said, This is of a truth the prophet that cometh into the world. Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain himself alone. And when evening came, his disciples went down unto the sea; and they entered into a boat, and were going over the sea unto Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. And the sea was rising by reason of a great wind that blew. When therefore they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they behold Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the boat: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. They were willing therefore to receive him into the boat: and straightway the boat was at the land whither they were going.

The youth from our church are headed for a national youth gathering in New Orleans this week. They are taking a bus with other youth from our area and we are all meeting at our church this evening. They will get on the bus at 10 p.m. and drive all night. Hopefully they will sleep, especially since theyíll be off and running the minute they arrive in New Orleans. It will be an exciting, fun-filled week and theyíll need to strong and rested when they begin or they will risk illness.

I volunteered to make dinner for the gathering group and I planned immediately what I wanted to serve. I make a dish weíve always called turkey BBQ (though it is not grilled or covered in sauce; it is more like pulled pork) which is a lot of work but can be made ahead of time and reheated when it is needed. We get a dinner of roast turkey out of the preparation, so my family loves when I make it. It is very easy to extend turkey BBQ if there is going to be a larger than expected crowd. As a matter of fact, I learned earlier this week that the number of people I need to feed is much larger than originally planned. I was able to buy a little more turkey and make more BBQ to serve.

Unfortunately, I have this problem of never being able to guess how much is needed. Now, I never run out of food. As a matter of fact, I usually have enough food to cover two or three gatherings when I prepare for a party. Even now with so much turkey, I wonder and worry if I have enough. Iím even thinking about purchasing some other type of sandwich meat to have available in case we run out. I know I shouldnít, especially since the turkey has turned out to be a perfect choice for this meal. After all, who can resist a nap after having a filling meal of turkey? Iím hoping these turkey sandwiches will cause a sleepiness over the youth as soon as they are settled on the bus, so that the sponsors will be able to get some rest also.

I know thereís enough food, but I can not get over that nagging feeling that Iím going to run out. I get that nagging feeling every time I plan to cook for a large (and even a small) crowd. I want all my guests to be satisfied. Iím sure Philip was feeling the same thing. After all, there was a huge crowd of people listening to Jesus. They werenít near a grocery store and there wouldnít be pizza delivery available for centuries. Even if there was someplace available to buy the food, Philip knew they didnít have enough money. No one in the crowd had enough money to feed so many people. It would be even harder to feed them to satisfaction. And perhaps Philip was a lot like me: if Iím going to feed a crowd, I want to make sure everyone is satisfied. One bite would not be enough, even if they could get that much food.

Now, it would be really impractical of me to take one turkey BBQ sandwich with me tonight and expect it to feed more than fifty people. It would even be foolish for me to expect God to make it grow into enough to feed everyone. However, I need to look at this situation through the eyes of Andrew. I need to stop worrying about whether or not it is enough and trust that it will be. Iíve done my best and offered what I have. In the end, Iím sure there will be baskets full of leftovers because God will honor my trust. Andrew certainly didnít expect that the boys small lunch would feed everyone, but he offered what was available. God did the rest.

When it comes to our own gifts and resources, we often think like Philip. ďLord, there isnít enough to make a difference, tell the people to go.Ē But, like Andrew, we are called to give to God what we have and let Him do the rest. Can we feed a city? No, but we can feed a bunch of hungry kids on their way to a national youth gathering to give them strength to worship God and serve in a city that is in great need. There will be enough because God will bless the gifts and the trust with his strength and power.


July 22, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2009: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Öto the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.

The scriptures for this week make it clear that God is able to provide enough to meet the needs of those whom He loves and those whom He has called to share the Gospel with the world. Men like Elisha and Paul and Andrew trusted in Godís goodness and faithfulness, not worrying about what tomorrow will hold, but giving fully of the gifts they have in the present.

Weíve talked this week about trusting that God will provide out of His abundance to meet all our needs. And weíve looked at the stories of those who trust in Him. Weíve also seen examples of those who do not trust in God. Gehazi and Philip were guided by self-interest; whether it was greed or fear, we might never know. I think many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, identify more closely to Gehazi and Philip than we do with Elisha and Andrew. After all, tomorrow is a mystery to us and we all know that the world can crash in around us at any moment.

What does it mean to trust in God? What it doesnít mean is letting Him do all the work. It means letting go of all our resources so that God can do miraculous things with them. We might not have much, but what we have is enough when it is multiplied by Godís grace. We might not have much time, but every minute we give to someone who is sad or lonely can make a difference in their life. We might not have much food, but every bite given will help sustain a hungry person for another day. We might not have much money, but every penny can be used to do good things for others. With Godís help, our minutes, bites and pennies become long glorious feasts.

So, it might seem ridiculous to think that two fish and five loaves of bread will feed five thousand, but our task is simply to give to God what we have and let Him do the rest. Jesus blessed that meager meal and made it feed many more than seemed possible. So, too, we may think that we do not have enough time, talents or resources to accomplish anything. But we are called to give everything we have and let God multiply it for the sake of the world. He wonít leave us without the things we need. He will make our gifts grow beyond our expectation; He will even make it larger than is possible.


July 26, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 2, 2009: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would that we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Then said Jehovah unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or notÖ And Moses said unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before Jehovah; for he hath heard your murmurings. And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of Jehovah appeared in the cloud. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God. And it came to pass at even, that the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness a small round thing, small as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, What is it? For they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them, It is the bread which Jehovah hath given you to eat.

Perhaps this is too morbid to think about, but how would you prefer to die? The reality is that we will all die one day and none of us really know how we will die, but Iím sure most of us have at some point considered this question. I think most people would prefer to die peacefully in their sleep in old age after a long and fruitful life. But what if the choices were an immediate death in some accident or a slower death of illness? What if you could choose the place you would die? Would you like to be at home or in a strange place? These arenít choices we can make, and they arenít choices we should want to make, but sometimes we try to control the circumstances of our lives in ways that arenít ours to control.

Take, for example, the story of the Israelites. They were oppressed by the Egyptians, held captive as slaves. Slavery was never a pleasant life. Slaves died at the hands of their masters. They suffered horrific accidents. Who knows how many slaves died under the rolling stones that built the cities of the ancient world? The mortar of too many buildings was mixed with the blood of people unable to stand against greater powers. It appears, however, that those Hebrew slaves at least had food, shelter and the certainty of tomorrow.

Moses took them away from the burden of slavery, but they went into a wilderness that was frightening and uncertain. There was no where to get food or water. There were no buildings to shelter the people. They didnít know where they were going or what would be at the end of the journey. They didnít even know how long it would take to get there. They were tired and hungry. They were losing hope. As a matter of fact, they had more hope that theyíd be saved when they were living as slaves under the whips of the Egyptians than they did as they wandered in the wilderness. They didnít trust that God would provide. They didnít know how they would survive. They wanted to return to the life of certainty even though it meant that they would suffer rather than suffering in a wilderness that led only to uncertainty.

God did provide. He sent manna from heaven in the morning and quails in the evening. The people were required to follow very specific instructions. They were given the opportunity to learn how to trust in Godís provision. Those who did not trust Godís Word, who tried to hoard the manna, found only disappointment. Imagine what it must have been like for these people. They had to rely on an unseen God and accept an unidentifiable thing as food to fill their grumbling bellies. Even still, would it be worth returning to a country where the oppressor waits to make life even more difficult for them?

Have you ever stood in a moment like this: when God has given you an opportunity that seems scary but might just be the way of freedom? We look at the answers to our prayers and wonder what God was thinking. We try to control our circumstances in a way that isnít the best way to go. Returning to the old ways will not take us to a better place, no matter what we think. God guides us through the journeys that seem frightening and Heís faithful to His promises. What lies at the end of the journey is a land of blessing even if the way is difficult. We need only trust that God will be with us through it all.


July 27, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 2, 2009: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Psalm 78:23-29 Yet he commanded the skies above, And opened the doors of heaven; and he rained down manna upon them to eat, And gave them food from heaven. Man did eat the bread of the mighty: He sent them food to the full. He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens; and by his power he guided the south wind. He rained flesh also upon them as the dust, and winged birds as the sand of the seas: and he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. So they did eat, and were well filled; and he gave them their own desire.

I spent the end of last weekend at a retreat at Camp Chrysalis in Kerrville, Texas. The retreat was given for women and we were treated so well by the staff of the camp. Every need was met and every desire was fulfilled as they were able. We were given the opportunity to do the same things the campers were doing, like use the swimming pool, the giant swing, the arts and crafts place and the hiking trails. We ate much the same food, but we were served on china with staff members ready to get whatever we needed. We also had the freedom to do absolutely nothing, although the Bible Study and worship was so terrific, I canít imagine having spent the week hiding on my bunk or with my nose buried in a book. I took time to rest and read, but I also enjoyed the activities offered. It was a wonderful retreat.

I think what I enjoyed most was the storytelling. Early in the retreat, the stories were about former years, since many of these ladies have gotten to know one another at previous retreats. As time passed, those who were new to the regular event found a place to share in the storytelling. During Bible Study, devotions, dinner and when we were just gathered on the front porch of the cabin, rocking in the comfortable rocking chairs and sharing stories about our lives.

I love when we come up with a topic that provides and opportunity for everyone to share a story, such as pets. We all have stories about our animals that make people laugh, stories with which we can identify because weíve experienced something very similar. We talked about our families, another subject which gives openings to everyone. We all could laugh about our husbands and our children. We all could share something about our experiences that will help others. We can share hope, faith and love through stories, reminding others that they are not alone and that there are common things in our lives that bond us together.

Our Bible Study was based on the book of Mark. We looked at Mark through the lens of literary context, seeing it as a story told. As we read the story, we were asked to notice Jesusí character as told by Mark, leaving out the things we know about Him from the other Gospel writers and the letters of Paul. We read Markís story as Markís story, not as a compilation of all the stories. We saw what Mark found important, what he remembered and what he meant the reader to know about Jesus and Godís kingdom. I noticed as we were telling stories at other times during the retreat how often I brought up my own favorite stories. I didnít tell the ladies everything about myself, but those stories that mean the most to me and those that fit the circumstances of our conversation.

Psalm 78 is a story telling the history of Godís people from the exodus to the appointment of David as king. These are the stories that meant the most to the writer of the psalm. You canít fit the entire history of Israel into seventy-two verses, but you can share the things that matter most and that will bring the reader into a better understanding of who they were and what was the purpose of their lives. In this passage we hear the story we heard yesterday, about the feeding of manna and quail to the wanderers in the wilderness.

The psalmist tells us that God gave the people their own desire. He provided for them everything they needed as they were wandering that wilderness. They asked and they received. It might not have been the answer they expected, but God responded to their whining and complaining with the gracious provision of both bread and meat. Just like the ladies attending the ranch were given every desire by the staff members who were our hosts, the Israelites were given enough to satisfy their needs. This is indeed a story to remember, a story to be sung so that God will be praised.


July 28, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 2, 2009: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Ephesians 4:1-16 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men. (Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.

I have something to confess. A few months ago some friends moved out of a house nearby and a new family moved in. I generally like to visit new families in the neighborhood on the day the movers arrive, taking some sweet snack that they can eat themselves or share with the movers. I never saw the movers arrive at this house. As a matter of fact, the house appeared empty for weeks after we knew they were living there. Even after a couple of months it was hard to know whether or not anyone was home or who lived in the house. I thought about walking over to introduce myself, but I never found a time that seemed right. So now, months later, we still havenít made friends with the new neighbors.

Relationships take work. I donít know if we would have ever really become friends with the new neighbors, after all they might have much different interests. Our neighborhood encourages good relationships. We watch out for one another. We share with each other. We are available for one another when there is a need. We take care of each otherís pets when we go out of town. We try to welcome all the new neighbors into this fellowship, and Iíve failed to do so with the newest family on the block. We canít build that relationship if we donít take the time to get to know others. Now, the reality is that we might not ever build that relationship even if I approach this family. They might not want to become involved in our neighborhood fellowship. It has to be a two way street if the relationship is going to work.

We need those relationships. I donít know how weíd survive in this neighborhood if we didnít know our neighbors. We rely on them just as they rely on us. We enjoy sharing what we have with them and look to them for the things they have to share. What would I do about that cup of sugar if I didnít know my neighbor? The same is true in the Church. None of us has everything we need to do the work of God in this world. We each have certain gifts and resources which God joins together with other believersí gifts and resources. As each person adds something to the mix, the benefits are multiplied. How much more can we do for those who need Godís grace if we join with others who have unique and necessary gifts?

We would think that it would be easy to live in those relationships. After all, we are bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why should we have to work at something that God has established? However, we have situations in the Church like that in our neighborhood. Some people hide out, preferring not to become involved in the community fellowship. Do we do everything necessary to draw them into the relationship, giving them the opportunities and encouragement to share their gifts? Or, like me, do we hover in the background hoping for a perfect opportunity that might never come?

We are bound together by the Holy Spirit, called as one body in one hope through one Lord, one faith and one Baptism. But even this relationship takes work. It is up to us to live a life worthy of the calling to which weíve been called. This is a life of humility, which is never easy especially in a world that honors power and position. It is a life of gentleness which is also difficult in a world that gives preference to physically strength and ability. Love generated the call. Love sustains the call. And love determines all that we do for the sake of our neighbors. Though love is from God and is given to us, it still takes hard work on our part to make it happen.


July 29, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 2, 2009: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

John 6:24-35 Öwhen the multitude therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they themselves got into the boats, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled. Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What then doest thou for a sign, that we may see, and believe thee? what workest thou? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, It was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world. They said therefore unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. Jesus said unto them. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

I donít know what it is about me, but Iím often mistaken for an employee in retail shops. Now, I have worked in retail, but I donít think I act like I work at the stores where it happens to me. Sure, I occasionally fold shirts on a table as Iím looking through them, but I do that because it is easier to find a particular size when the shirts are neatly stacked. Besides, thatís now when I get asked for help. I can be walking down an aisle with a shopping cart filled with groceries and my purse tucked into the child seat and someone will ask, ďDo you work here?Ē I donít know whether they are desperate for help or if they are really confused.

Have you ever experienced this? Has someone ever thought you were someone or something that you arenít? Have they looked to you for advice you arenít qualified to give or asked you to do something that you donít think you can do? There might be good reason for them thinking as they do. It might appear that I work in the store when I begin folding clothes on the tables and we all might do things that make others think we are an expert. But all too often weíre asked for things that are well beyond our ability or that we simply should not do.

Thatís what happened to Jesus. Todayís passage comes shortly after the feeding of the five thousand which we read last week. This was a miraculous event, one that people identified with the coming of the Messiah. They saw Jesus as the anointed one, not as He was sent to be but as they expected Him to be. John tells us that Jesus knew they intended to come to make Him king, which is why He escaped to the mountain to pray. Meanwhile, His disciples got in a boat and tried to travel to the other side of the lake, but a strong wind was blowing. Jesus joined them by walking across the water, and they finally made it to the other side. The crowd, however, who noticed that they were gone, caught up with the boat on the other side and found Jesus there. They wanted to know His every movement.

They were chasing after Him for all the wrong reasons. They saw His miraculous feeding of the five thousand as proof that they were right: He was the one to meet their needs. Jesus answered that they were seeking Him because He satisfied their flesh, but that He was there to give them something much better. He wanted them to hear the words of hope and grace He was giving to them on that hillside, but all they saw was that they were filled to satisfaction. It might have been His fault; after all He did meet their physical needs along with sharing Godís Kingdom. The sign itself did testify to something beyond what He intended. He stopped them in their tracks by telling them to stop working for the food that perishes, but to work for the food that endures to eternal life.

Confused again, they want to know what kind of work they have to do. Jesus says, ďTo believe.Ē This is an unsatisfactory answer to the people because believing is not an action we can take. So, they insist on a sign, as if the things Jesus has done to this point are not enough to prove that He is the One whom God has sent. They were comparing Him to Moses, under whose leadership they received the manna from heaven. However, Jesus reminded them that the bread they ate in the desert did not come from Moses, it came from God.

God sends the bread, and the people seem to want the bread about which Jesus is speaking. They want to go through life without hunger or thirst. We are left with the questions, ďWill they believe? Will they receive Jesus as the bread of life and believe in Him?Ē Or will they continue to try to make Him fit into their expectations and understandings of Godís promises?


July 30, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2009: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

1 Kings 19:4-8 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper-tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And he lay down and slept under a juniper-tree; and, behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of Jehovah came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

I was watching ďGhost Hunters InternationalĒ last night. That show, as well as the one that investigates paranormal experiences in the U.S., are among my favorite television shows. I like them because they approach ghost hunting from a scientific point of view. They use a number of gizmos and gadgets to Ďcatchí evidence of paranormal activities. Some of their evidence is questionable. Do those gadgets really work? They use some of the equipment based on certain theories in the science, but theories havenít been proven. Yet, some of their evidence, particularly which juxtaposed against the stories and personal experiences, seem to prove the point.

Often their evidence proves that the experiences are not supernatural. The creators of the original show are plumbers by trade, so they go into these situations searching for mechanical explanations for the unnatural experiences. Water that turns on by itself might indicate old plumbing. High electromagnetic fields can cause hallucinations and weird feelings. Loose pipes in the basement can make strange noises in the night. A neighborís remote control or wireless equipment can sometimes turn on televisions or change channels. It is amazing how many homeowners have chemicals stored right next to the heating system, which blows dangerous fumes into the living areas. It is a relief for most of the clients to find out that they can stop the weird things happening in their homes or buildings just by fixing these mechanical and technological projects. But sometimes the evidence seems to overwhelmingly support that the experiences really are paranormal.

As I was watching last night, I wondered how many of the personal experiences are actually self-caused. Take, for example, one moment when one investigator was taking photos from a balcony in a room as two other investigators were wandering in the room below. A white mist seemed to appear in the photos, occasionally moving around the investigators in the room. As the photographer mentioned this mist, the others said they could feel something move around them. Would they have Ďfeltí anything if the photographer had never mentioned the mist seen in the photos? Or did they Ďfeelí something because psychologically they were convinced something was there? The photos and the experience were never presented as proof of activity in the building, so perhaps they realized that the experiences were not verified by any physical evidence.

We can easily convince ourselves to experience things that arenít real. Paranoia is a thought process characterized by fear or anxiety and is not always based on the reality of the world. Hypochondria is a mental state that believes the body is ill when it really is not. The victim hears the symptoms of a disease and then begins to experience those same symptoms, convinced that they must be suffering from it. Our eyes can see shadows just outside our line of vision which are not actually shadows but are really created by our minds. Our minds can play tricks on us, causing us to see things that arenít there. We often hear things and think we are hearing one thing, but those sounds might actually have a completely different explanation. I believe some of the experiences are very real, but I do question some of the feelings. The human imagination is too creative and since we do not completely understand our brains, we can often mistake our feelings for reality.

Elijah was afraid. He might have had very good reason to be afraid, but his fear affected his judgment. He ran away, wishing for God to end his life (take his life-breath) so that he would not die at the hand of Jezebel. He let his feelings take over and he stopped trusting in Godís protection and provision. He went to the desert to die. But God would not let him die. God fed him, and sent him on a journey that would remind him about Godís goodness. At the end of the journey, Elijah would be ready to see his circumstances from Godís reality rather than through his paranoia.


July 31, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2009: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Psalm 34:1-8 I will bless Jehovah at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in Jehovah: The meek shall hear thereof, and be glad. Oh magnify Jehovah with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were radiant; And their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him, And delivereth them. Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him.

I donít know about you, but I spend a lot of time searching my house for misplaced things. I never know where Iíve put my keys and important papers get buried on the desk. My cell phone seems to have feet of its own and some of the funniest moments of my life have to do with me trying to find my ringing cell phone. I canít count how many times Iíve called myself in the hopes that I have the sound turned up so that I can follow the ring to the phoneís hiding place.

Iím sure we all have stories of missing items. The best stories are those about the miraculous moments when we find something that should have been impossible to find. How many contact lenses are found on dark parking lots? My mom even found a contact lens in a swimming pool by carefully vacuuming and sifting through the dirt in the filter. I have heard stories of lost wedding rings found in sewage pipes or on sandy beaches. On two occasions I have found items that should have been lost forever, found in places where they could not have been. Once I lost the antenna to my cell phone in the airport, but found it in my den. I probably fell into my purse or got caught up in my clothing, but I was sure it was gone forever.

We were in Arkansas when I lost the diamond out of my engagement ring. The prongs had worn down and the diamond easily slipped out of the setting. I didnít know when it happened. The kids and I were rushing off to a day of summer fun with a group of friends. We collected all our things, climbed into the car and set off. We stopped at the shoppette to pick up a few items for our lunch and headed to the meeting point. It was as we waited for the others to arrive that I realized my diamond was gone. We took a few moments to look around that parking lot, but knew that it was pointless. The diamond could have been missing for hours. It might have gone down the drain as I took my shower or fallen into the grass at our house. It could have been in the store or on that parking lot.

I was upset. But we left to go to our fun day. As we drove to the park, I told the kids that things donít really matter but that the diamond had sentimental meaning. After all, it was the ring that Bruce gave to me. We prayed and though it might seem to be an inappropriate thing for which to pray, by the time we arrived at our destination I was calm and accepting of the circumstance. Though we prayed for a diamond, that time spent in prayer was time looking at my Lord and He provided me with peace despite the loss. The story could end there and still have a happy ending, but I did find the diamond. As we took out the stuff we had packed to take to the activity, I found the diamond on the floor of the trunk.

The loss of that diamond and finding it was not really life-changing. I could have easily replaced it or even lived without the ring. Was it an answer to prayer? Iím not sure that even matters. What does matter is what the psalmist tells us in todayís passage. We are encouraged to keep Godís praise continually on our lips. Whatever our circumstances, we will find peace as we look to Him for our needs. He is Lord, even over the jewelry we wear. Though there are far more important things about which we can and should pray, we are called to live a daily life of thanksgiving and praise to God for everything. By keeping our eyes on Him, we will be radiant as we reflect the light of His grace.