Welcome to the July 2023 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Throw Away






















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


July 3, 2023

“Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness. According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions. My sin is constantly before me. Against you, and you only, I have sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight, so you may be proved right when you speak, and justified when you judge. Behold, I was born in iniquity. My mother conceived me in sin. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts. You teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all of my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. Don’t throw me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways. Sinners will be converted to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation. My tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. Lord, open my lips. My mouth will declare your praise. For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. O God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart. Do well in your good pleasure to Zion. Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings. Then they will offer bulls on your altar.” Psalm 51, WEB

I saw an advertisement for a t-shirt that had a picture of a fisherman and the words, “Cast me not away.” The ad suggested that this would be the perfect gift for a faith-filled fisherman, with its reminder of scripture and the play on words. Of course, we usually think of the word “cast” in this scripture as describing an action of throwing something away; as a matter of fact, that is exactly the language used in the World English Bible quoted above. “Don’t throw me from your presence,” which suggests getting rid of it forever. And yet, this t-shirt helps us to see this psalm in a new light.

When a fisherman casts, he throws the line well into the water, but he does not let the pole go (unless it is in a television or movie comedy!) If a fisherman lets go of his pole, he can’t catch a fish. The cast puts the fishhook and worm where the fish are swimming, making it much easier to catch than if the fisherman just dangled the line where he stood. The fish will not swim up to the hook, so the fisherman must send the hook out to them.

The psalmist’s fear is that God would cast him away because of his sin, remove him from the divine presence because he isn’t worthy to be there. I don’t know about you, but often feel as though I’m not worthy to be in God’s presence. I could sing this hymn every day for what I fail to do, and what I fail to be. It is good for us to think this way, to accept our sinfulness and seek God’s grace. Yet, do we ever feel like God is abandoning us? If we believe that God would let us go for our sin, our humility becomes unfaithfulness because we stop trusting in God’s mercy.

It is good to confess our sin and seek God’s forgiveness. I think, sometimes, we are losing touch with the reality of sin in our world and our desperate need for a Savior. The Gospel message is often preached as a call to serve neighbor and to love one another, forgetting that the sacrifice of Jesus had a purpose: to save us from Sin and Death. Sin and Death (capitalized on purpose because in Paul portrays these two powers in his letters to the churches as characters in the divine drama) exercise dominion over our lives.

Yes, Jesus taught us to serve and to love. He calls us to do what is right and to fight for justice and peace. Yes, Jesus is our friend and our teacher and our guide. However, without the cross everything else is meaningless. God has power over Sin and Death, and because He has power, He grants us forgiveness and covers us with His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. We will still sin (small s) and we will all die, but thanks be to God we have Jesus.

Trusting in the promise of the Gospel, we can still speak the words of this psalm with the knowledge that God has already heard and will not throw us away. And if it seems as though we are being sent away from God’s presence, maybe we should think about it in terms of a fisherman. He’s not throwing us away, He is sending us out to bring in the catch. He is casting us away on a line, never letting us go, but sending us into the world where people need to hear the Gospel message. I am just a worm on a hook and don’t think I can do much good, but if the Good News I speak to a neighbor catches just one fish for the Kingdom, then I have done what God has called me to do. You might feel alone sometimes, but don’t think God is abandoning you. Instead, look for the opportunity to share God with others, speak His Gospel message to them, and you’ll soon find yourself being drawn back into His presence accompanied by someone who has been filled with faith in Him.


July 4, 2023

“Praise waits for you, God, in Zion. Vows shall be performed to you. You who hear prayer, all men will come to you. Sins overwhelmed me, but you atoned for our transgressions. Blessed is the one whom you choose and cause to come near, that he may live in your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of your house, your holy temple. By awesome deeds of righteousness, you answer us, God of our salvation. You who are the hope of all the ends of the earth, of those who are far away on the sea. By your power, you form the mountains, having armed yourself with strength. You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. They also who dwell in faraway places are afraid at your wonders. You call the morning’s dawn and the evening with songs of joy. You visit the earth, and water it. You greatly enrich it. The river of God is full of water. You provide them grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows. You level its ridges. You soften it with showers. You bless it with a crop. You crown the year with your bounty. Your carts overflow with abundance. The wilderness grasslands overflow. The hills are clothed with gladness. The pastures are covered with flocks. The valleys also are clothed with grain. They shout for joy! They also sing." Psalm 65, WEB

Today is Independence Day in the United States. It is the day we celebrate our nation and the principles of freedom on which it was founded. It is a day for parties, picnics, and other fabulous events. Homes are decked out in red, white, and blue banners and many people have hung their flag out today. It is a holiday, so almost everyone is home from work today, enjoying the company of family and friends. Many communities have parades and carnivals. Most communities will put on fireworks displays as soon as the sun goes down.

I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. I love the beauty of those exploding colors in the sky, but I do not like the noise they make. We live in a community that is under severe drought and fire is a very real possibility. It is illegal to shoot off fireworks in our city, although that does not stop most of the people who want to do so. For the past two weeks stands have been selling a wide variety of fireworks. Many of the stands are used by organizations for fundraising. These readily available explosives are fun, but they are also dangerous for people and can cause fires in dry conditions. The noise is frightening to animals, both wild and domestic, and can cause problems for people with PTSD and neurological disease. I like fireworks but prefer them to be used in the right setting.

It is amazing what they are able to do with a little gunpowder. Fireworks were invented in China during the Song dynasty (10th to 12th centuries) and were used in festivities, often to scare away bad spirits and for entertainment. Over the centuries, they have been developed into bright and beautiful displays. Some manufacturers are even working on silent displays which will help with the trauma that the noises cause. Recent technology is leading toward using precision drones for incredible light shows with more versatility and less noise.

Meanwhile, for the past few hundred years, the manufacturers and pyrotechnics enthusiasts have gained such control over the powder that they can make it do so much more than those first explosives a thousand years ago. They no longer just explode into flower-like shapes in the air. It is now possible to see stars and other shapes in the sky. They are able to use a variety of colors and patterns and by shooting off multiple types of fireworks, the sky lights up with incredible pictures. It is funny to listen to the crowd during a fireworks program as they “oooo” and “ahhhhh” over the light and noise.

Fireworks are merely man-made controlled explosions, and they make us stop to watch with our mouths open in amazement. When was the last time we did that over God’s creation? I have watched the lightning of a thunderstorm that is even more awesome than the best fireworks show. I have seen a sunflower that grew ten feet high with a head over two feet in diameter. I have seen kittens born. I have seen sunsets that fill the sky with every color of the rainbow. I have seen babies smile their first smile and toddlers take their first steps. I have seen the starry night from the top of a mountain and played in the surf of an ocean. Despite seeing all these incredible things, I sometimes forget the source of all that is good and beautiful is our God.

We witness the incredible power of God in the lives of people and His hand moving the whole of creation day by day. It should be impossible for us to not see God’s sovereignty as we look at this world. When flowers grow, it is because God sent the sun and the rain. When kittens are born, it is because God has knitted them in the wombs of their mothers. When the sky is filled with color at the close of the day, it is because God keeps the heavens moving according to their purpose as they count the days and the seasons as He designed them to do. Unfortunately, it is easy to miss seeing God. Many people do. Some outright reject the idea that God even exists. Creation can take care of itself; we do not need something or someone greater than ourselves to explain the way the world works. Others believe that God created everything and stepped back leaving us to go it on our own. After all, doesn’t the suffering of this world prove that God either has no power or has refused to take responsibility? However, it is even in the midst of the pain and turmoil of this world that we can see God is still active, loving, and powerful.

I can’t imagine an Independence Day without fireworks, and most communities find a way to present a show to celebrate the holiday with the people. Each year it seems they get bigger, brighter, and farther into the sky, making it possible for more people to enjoy the celebration. How much more, then, should we notice the magnificent things God has done in this world? He created all things, and His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins, and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? Yes, I’ve seen some incredible things in my life including magnificent fireworks displays, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the good times and the bad. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done.


July 5, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for July 9, 2023, Sixth Sunday in Pentecost: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-14; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30

“Yahweh is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great loving kindness. Yahweh is good to all. His tender mercies are over all his works.” Psalm 145:8-9, WEB

There is a lady in my Sunday School for whom I have a great deal of respect. My friend is deeply faithful and gentle. She is a woman worthy of imitation because she shares her faith with kindness and always has a word of compassion as we discuss our lessons. I have never heard her use any kind of profanity, and I am sometimes a little embarrassed when I do so in her presence. I have never heard her use that type of word until yesterday. The word she used might not be one of the really bad words, but it is mildly vulgar and can be socially offensive. I laughed and thanked her at the end of our class and told her I was glad to hear it! I always apologize when using that very word, and it made me feel better to know that she can slip once in a while, too.

George Carlin was a comedian, a controversial comedian at times, but very funny. He was a stand-up comic specializing in satire. He reached out and touched on our basic human nature in a way that was both funny and critical. Nothing was out of bounds for Carlin, including religion. He was fascinated by words, using linguistics as the focus of some of his comedy. It was George Carlin who first asked, “Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?”

One of his most famous routines had to do with language. It was such a controversial routine that he was arrested for disturbing the peace when he first performed it in 1972. The judge dismissed the case on free speech grounds and that there was no disruption of the peace. It was later aired on radio which resulted in a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court establishing the government’s authority to control offensive language on the public airways. The routine, of course, was “The Seven Dirty Words that you can’t say on Television.” Here is an excerpt from that routine. (I have not included the seven words.)

“I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I uh, I think is important. I love…as I say, they're my work, they're my play, they're my passion. Words are all we have really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. You know, [humming]. And, then we assign a word to a thought, [clicks tongue]. And we're stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. I like to think, yeah, the same words that hurt can heal. It's a matter of how you pick them. There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words. That’s what they told us they were, remember? ‘That's a bad word.’ ‘Awwww.’ There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad Intentions.”

I don’t like the seven dirty words. They serve no real linguistic function in communication except as exclamations or to shock. Even that mildly profane word, which is not in the seven, has little purpose but to fill space when an appropriate word can’t be found. Unfortunately, for some, those words are a vital part of their speech. Every other word is one of the seven or some other verbal assault. Their sentences stop making sense and start sounding like jabbering. I absolutely do not use some of those words because they are not only offensive, but they are not even pleasant on the tongue. They don’t fit well into conversation, and they have no value in making a statement, even if it is meant to shock. Overuse and abuse of those words stops being funny and becomes upsetting as much because it shows a lack of concern for others as it does a lack of cohesive language.

I don’t want to use these kinds of words. I really hate when I hear one of those words come out of my mouth. I do not have the control of my tongue that I would like and often end up saying something I really know I should not say. It is not only those words that slip from my mouth. When I’m cut off on the highway, I am quick to call that person something that is not very nice. I’ve used words about people that I would never want others to use about me. When I do this, I am cut to the heart. I know I have done the very same things on the highway, and though I’m quick to justify my failure with excuses I am never willing to give the other guy the same consideration. When this happens, I vow to be more considerate on the road and to hold my tongue. I ask forgiveness for the thoughts, words, and deeds against my neighbor. And then the next time it happens, I spit out those same words all over again.

We are saved by the grace of Christ. While our salvation is a future promise of eternal life, we are saved in this life to be transformed for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We fail. We all fail, even those that we respect for their gracious living. We say things we know we shouldn’t, but the words come out of our mouths even before we realize we are thinking about them. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We don’t do what is right and do not even realize it until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.

There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, “simul justus et peccator” which means “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints which God has created and ordained us to be. But it is a process that takes a lifetime. While we still live in these bodies of flesh we will fail, we will say things we shouldn’t say, and we don’t say what we should. Sadly, sometimes we are quicker to speak profanity than we are to speak praise.

Matthew 11 is a story of opposites. Though Jesus and John the Baptist had a similar message, they approached it much differently. There was such a difference that earlier in this chapter John even questioned whether Jesus was the One for which they had been waiting. John came preaching hellfire and brimstone, calling for repentance with mournful wails. Jesus also preached repentance but with a completely different point of view. For Jesus, the message was one of joy because the promised kingdom had come. John lamented; Jesus danced. John lived as though it was time for a funeral; Jesus celebrated as at a wedding. Neither John nor Jesus was accepted.

Jesus talks about the difference between the “wise and understanding” and the “infants.” We would automatically assume that those who are wise and understanding would be more acceptable in the kingdom of God. What do infants know? Yet, Jesus tells us that it is the infants to whom God will reveal His kingdom. Infants will not take control; they will live in hope and trust, allowing God to be God, celebrating God’s promises instead of trying to prove their wisdom. We ignore the wisdom of children because it seems so simplistic, but the truth of God is simple. We laugh at the foolishness of children, but it is to such as them that God reveals Himself.

What is it about children that make them so receptive to the Gospel? For one thing, children are innocent. I don’t mean that in the legal sense as in they are innocent of crime or even sin. After all, we know that all flesh, even babies, have inherited a nature that is separated from God. We all, from the smallest to the oldest, need God’s forgiveness made available by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Children are innocent in the sense that they have not yet experienced the world in a way that would lead them to doubt or to cynicism. This isn’t a lack of understanding between goodness and badness; as a matter of fact, children tend to be much more discerning than most adults. Children still see the good in people. They see the cup as half full. They find joy in places where adults can’t seem to see it. They trust those who are given charge over them. They believe in things that are beyond belief to most intellectual, thinking adults.

It is their innocence, their trust, which allows them to see that which is hidden. We intellectuals tend to think about things to the point of confusing ourselves with details that simply don’t matter. We want answers. We want to know the meaning of life. We want to know our purpose so that we can go out there and do it. We want to understand the mysteries of faith. We debate and argue over the meaning of the eucharist and baptism and the parables, but in doing so we often lose sight of the love of God. I’ve often joked about how I can’t wait to get to heaven so that Jesus and I can sit together over a glass of sweet tea and discuss all the questions I have. I want Him to answer everything that I haven’t been able to answer with my mind.

Here’s the thing: we don’t always need those answers. Children don’t. Children simply believe. Who doesn’t love the child in worship who blurts out “Amen” with passion and enthusiasm in the middle of worship? Who hasn’t chuckled with joy when that little voice begins singing “Jesus loves me” in the back pew during the prayers? What youth minister doesn’t know that the correct answer to every question in the children’s sermon is “Jesus?” Children don’t need to know that Jonah’s whale was probably a big fish or that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was probably not an apple. They know that Jesus loves them, and that’s what matters.

If only we’d live our life with such simple faith.

Verse 28 is a powerful promise to those of us who live in a world full of burdens. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is an awesome promise. We all would like to have someone take our burdens away from us. We want to walk free, to be free, to have no worries or cares and to do what we think is best. But we don’t always know what is best, do we? Sometimes what we want is not the best thing for us.

Oxen were used for farming for many generations. Even today, around the world, there are still farmers who use domestic animals to plow their fields. It was common for the farmer to have two oxen, one a lead bull and the other a follower. These two bulls had to be equal in size, strength, and purpose. The farmer could not yoke a bull with a calf; they would be unable to pull the plow in straight rows. Though equality was necessary, it was just as important that one of the oxen be the leader. If one bull were trained to plow one way and the other another way, they would get nowhere battling each other for control. It takes a good farmer to know his bulls, yoke them equally with right leadership. He can then guide them on the right path to do the work.

Jesus followed His promise with a command: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Wait. He wants to give us rest, and to receive that rest, we must take up a yoke? Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can we both rest and carry a burden? The point Jesus is making is that we will carry a burden, whether it is one of our making or His. Which is easier? Which is the best for us? Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Following a humble king will show us a way of living that will be peaceful, joyous, faithful. We are certainly not equal with our Lord, but He invites us to join in the work of His Kingdom.

Jesus Christ has given us the Great Commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. This task can seem like a heavy burden, particularly when we can’t convince the people we love the most that real peace is found in the hope of Christ. But it is not a burden that we carry alone. He has promised to be with us, and it is by His power that the nations will be saved. We rest in the promise of hope that comes from faith in Christ, and trust that He will be faithful. We don’t know who we will find in heaven, so let us stay on the solid foundation that is Christ. He will carry all our worries and cares, so that we can find rest.

Psalm 145 is a prayer of praise to the lovingkindness of God. It is an acrostic, a poem in which each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. It is not obvious in English, and we are only using a few of the verses, but it is interesting to think about the importance of this literary technique. The psalmist found a way to praise God from “A to Z,” literally. How often do we think so much about God’s grace that we will write a poem using every letter of our alphabet?

There is a word in this passage which is translated in the World English Bible as “great loving kindness.” The Hebrew word is “chesed” or “hesed” We might want to simplify this word to mean “nice” but that does not describe the depth of the meaning. The word can also mean steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, love, kindness, unfailing love, great love, loving, kindnesses, unfailing kindness, acts of devotion, devotion, favor, approval, devout, faithful, faithfully, glory, good favor, grace, kind, kindly, loyal, merciful, well. These all give us a sense of the word, but it leaves out something important. We have begun using this word in its Hebrew form in our discussions, just as we do with the word “Amen,” because it can’t be fully understood in English. It actually refers to a loving loyalty based on a covenantal relationship. God’s chesed comes to us because He established a bond between Himself and His people. We think of compassion as meeting the needs of those who need our help, but chesed actually initiates the relationship. It is compassion that goes out even before the needs are known.

Matthew is a brilliant storyteller. He was an accountant (tax collector) so his Gospel is written from a logical, almost mathematical, point of view. He organized his thoughts in a way that first reports what Jesus has to say and then shows Jesus living the truths He has spoken. Take, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five through seven. Matthew has taken the wise words of Jesus and put them into a coherent, powerful message about the Kingdom of God. The Sermon teaches us how to live as disciples. Any life in God’s kingdom begins with healing, so in chapters eight and nine, Matthew shows Jesus touching the lives of those He is calling to faith in very real ways. There are ten acts of deliverance in those chapters, related to the wisdom spoken in the Sermon. We can see this pattern of discourse and then living throughout the book of Matthew. He ultimately ends with the revelation that HE would die, and then we see His death on the cross. Jesus didn’t just talk the talk; He walked the walk. Then He calls us to do the same.

Chesed is proactive. God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, has shown the most incredible compassion to all. His goodness is for all He has made. His love is for everyone. Christ died for sinners even before we knew we were sinners. He died for us even before we were born. Sadly, there are too many now that do not know they need the mercy and grace of God. They do not accept the forgiveness that comes from faith because they do not believe there is reason to be forgiven. But God’s Kingdom has come for them, too. By God’s grace, we have become the manifestation of His lovingkindness, as we take His Word into the world.

They will see God’s lovingkindness through acts of compassion by those who have experienced His. Christians who have heard the Word and have seen the light are God’s instruments of His grace. Through us, all men will know of God’s mighty acts, the splendor of His kingdom. The psalmist praised God so that others might hear of the acts of the One from whom we receive the unmerited favor of His blessings. We, His saints, are called to sing His praise, to speak of the glory of His kingdom. We speak these words not only to praise God, but so that others might hear and believe.

Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a film called “Kindergarten Cop.” His character was a policeman named John Kimball who was trying to arrest and put away a dangerous professional criminal. The only witness that could put him away was his ex-wife who was in hiding in Oregon. In an attempt to find her, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character had to go into a Kindergarten classroom to teach. The son of the woman was one of those students. If he found him, he would find her and would be able to finish his quest to put the criminal in prison. He is not the obvious choice to be a kindergarten teacher; after all he is extremely big and scary, even for the bravest people. His partner, who was supposed to go undercover as the teacher, got very ill and she could not do the job. The school principal was very unhappy about the change. She did not trust that John could properly supervise the children in the classroom. She was also afraid that his presence might put her students in danger.

His time in the classroom started out very badly. He lost control very quickly and he couldn’t get those five- and six-year-olds to calm down. He tried using his bulk and his voice, but they just wouldn’t hear him. He eventually screamed so loud that they all stopped cold and looked at him with frightened faces. Then they began to cry. He realized that he needed something to get their attention, something that will interest them. He just happened to have a pet ferret in his car. When he came in the classroom with the animal, the children quickly and quietly gathered around to see it. By showing a gentle side, John managed to calm the children and get control.

Yelling does little good when things are chaotic and out of control. I learned in my preschool classroom that yelling only makes the children get louder and more out of control. It is necessary to find something to get their attention, to give them something that will bring calm and order to the room. We normally think that bulk and brawn will give us order, but that is not always true. In the case of Mr. Kimball’s classroom, it was not his large frightening appearance that gained control of the children, but it was his gentle encouragement. In the end, Mr. Kimball became one of the best Kindergarten teachers that the principal had ever seen. He even left his job as a policeman to continue teaching at that school in Oregon.

Zechariah wrote that Israel should rejoice because her king would come riding in on a donkey. This does not seem to be an image to bring much hope or peace. After all, how can there be peace with a king who humbly rides a donkey rather than coming in with power and authority in a chariot and magnificent horse? This picture of a Messiah is not at all what the people expected. In Jesus’ day they were still looking for someone to fight, to overcome the oppressors with power. Yet, God sent Jesus who rode a donkey as He entered victoriously into Jerusalem just days before His death. Jesus got the people’s attention not with a loud voice and awesome military power, but with words of hope and miraculous deeds that changed the lives of those who met.

I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure. It would do us well to confess that we are just like Paul, occasionally slipping, like I do with language I should not speak.

It is hard for us to believe that Jesus would trust us with His kingdom, because we are sinners even while we are saints. We are yoked to sin; we do what we don’t want to do and we don’t do what we know we should do. It is a burden each one of us carries, but Jesus made a powerful promise to those of us with faith that live in a world full of burdens: He will give us rest despite our burdens. We rest in the promise of hope that comes from faith in Christ, and trust that He will be faithful. We don’t carry the burden of doing His work in the world because we are yoked with Him. The yoke of Jesus is light because He promised to be with us, and it is by His power that the people will be saved.

So, let us be as children with that simple faith, casting off the burdens that we have tried to carry on our own and taking the yoke of Jesus. He does not burden us with anything He has not accomplished for us. As we walk with Him, He will teach us all we need to know about the Kingdom of God. We will find rest in His presence because He is the God of chesed, faithful to His covenantal love.


July 6, 2023

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Peter 4:12-19, WEB

It is said that if you ask ten Christians a question, you’ll get eleven answers. I’m sure the same can be said about other aspects of our life, like political parties and even family members. Our answers, our opinions, are based on our own biases and circumstances. We can fail. We can make mistakes. We can say and do the wrong things. It is most likely that we will be wrong, especially if we rely on our own wisdom and knowledge.

The 14th and 15th centuries were a time of upheaval in the Church. National partiality created tension between the churches in Italy and in France. At one point, the seat of the Pope was moved out of Rome to Avignon, France. It was moved back to Rome after a time, but the cardinals were almost all French. The Italian people were afraid that the cardinals would elect a French pope, and that he would move the seat to France again. The cardinals elected an Italian, regretted their decision, and fled. Then they elected a French man into the office. Both were eventually proclaimed illegitimate, and a third pope was elected. The schism was resolved by two of the popes who agreed to a council, both of which resigned. The third refused and was excommunicated. A fourth pope was elected to reign from Rome. Who was the real authority? There were people on every side, which was right? All claimed to be from God, which one was true?

During this controversy over authority, one of the popes actually sold indulgences to raise the money he needed to wage war against another pope. Could God really wish His people to fight one another over a position whose official title is “Servant of the Servants of God?” This was the question asked by a man named John Huss (Jan Hus). We often think of Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation, but there were others before him who laid the foundation for reform. John Huss preached about the abuses of the church a hundred years before Martin Luther. The question of papal authority was brought up during a debate between Luther and Johannes Eck, who asked Luther whether the Church had been right to condemn Huss. Luther thought about it for a moment and said that Huss had been unjustly condemned.

John Huss was invited to present his opinion about the authority of the papacy at the council. He was afraid but was given safe conduct and was readily received during the early days of his visit, but his enemies were able to turn the table. He was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, having been found guilty of heresy. The same council condemned John Wycliffe though he died of natural causes in 1384, he was declared a heretic and posthumously excommunicated. His body was exhumed, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the River Swift.

The question before the council was the issue of papal authority. John Huss believed that the pope was not a divinely created position, but one of necessity to keep order in the church. It is no wonder that some theologians like Huss found the chaos of that time as not being from God. You can understand how they could question whether the pope was God’s choice when there were multiple people waging war over the station. They found Huss guilty, and he was martyred. The decisions against both Huss and Wycliffe led to uprisings against the Roman Church. The followers of John Huss became what are known today as the Moravian Church.

Today is the day we remember John Huss. It is a secular holiday in the Czech Republic. Though there are few Moravians in that nation, John Huss is still seen as a national hero. As a matter of fact, most Czechs consider themselves non-religious and those who are Christian are Roman Catholic. Yet, the courage of John Huss is remembered today because he willingly faced death for the sake of Jesus and His followers. John Huss once wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.” This quest for money above care for God’s sheep is still a problem in many churches today.

It has been reported that Martin Luther read John Huss’ sermons and proclaimed, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment.” He wrote, “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” Martin Luther translated Huss’ letters and theological writings into German. The connection between John Huss and Martin Luther was visionary, John Huss, whose name meant goose in German, wrote from his prison cell, “Today you all roast a goose, but more than a hundred years from now a purer swan will come, who will finally sing you a different little song.” He repeated the prophecy among his last words on the day he was martyred.

We might consider Martin Luther one of the most influential men in history, but we have to remember those who went before him, as well as those who encouraged, supported, and worked with him as He fought the good fight. He served God in many ways as an individual, but he always knew that he was part of something much bigger.

Arguments still divide the Church. It has been this way since the beginning; even the people who followed Jesus had differing expectations of the Messiah. There is chaos in this lost and broken world in all times that causes many to question what is happening in the Church. Who was right during the days of Wycliffe, Huss, and Luther? During the schism in the Roman Church? Who was the real authority? Even now there are people on every side of our modern issues, who are right? All claim to be from God, which ideas are true? Is rejection, persecution, condemnation, or even death proof of our error? How do we respond?

Peter wrote that we are to rejoice in the midst of our sufferings. He is specifically writing to a people who were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. They faced trouble with the secular world in which they lived and with the religious world from which they came. They had seen a new light which had given them a new faith and the world did not approve. Like them, John Huss saw the Church from a new perspective that led others to persecute him. The persecution of those who disagree in every age of history comes as rejection, persecution, condemnation, or even death. Those who stand for God’s Word never know if they will even be alive tomorrow to share the joy of God’s grace. However, we are called to face every minute, good and bad, with the assurance that God is with us, facing our circumstances with joy and peace.


July 7, 2023

“Rejoice in Yahweh, you righteous! Praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Yahweh with the lyre. Sing praises to him with the harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song. Play skillfully with a shout of joy! For Yahweh’s word is right. All his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the loving kindness of Yahweh. By Yahweh’s word, the heavens were made: all their army by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap. He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear Yahweh. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spoke, and it was done. He commanded, and it stood firm. Yahweh brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. He makes the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect. The counsel of Yahweh stands fast forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance. Yahweh looks from heaven. He sees all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions all of their hearts; and he considers all of their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither does he deliver any by his great power. Behold, Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness, to deliver their soul from death, to keep them alive in famine. Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let your loving kindness be on us, Yahweh, since we have hoped in you.” Psalm 33, WEB

I have had the pleasure of driving across the continental United States of America several times. I have driven every mile of I-80 from coast to coast at one time or another, and a good portion of most of the other interstate highways. I’ve seen the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve crossed the Mississippi River and stood on the shore of at least one of the great lakes. I fished in my grandmother’s backyard pond and visited a lovely little creek hidden in the woods behind her house. I stood on the mountaintop in the Rockies and marveled over the landscape at Mount St. Helen’s. I’ve seen the Redwood forests, magnificent waterfalls and rainbows that seemed to stretch all the way across California. I’ve visited the amazing red rocks in Utah and driven the highest highway in the United States.

I drove across Kansas at night, watching a single front porch light shine for at least twenty miles. I drove across the many miles of Montana, which seemed to take forever to get across even though there was no daytime speed limit and I took my car to its limit. I’ve driven, or been stuck in, New York City and Los Angeles traffic jams. I’ve enjoyed the beautiful tiny country roads across this nation and sat in the cafes of small-town America. I enjoyed the craziness of the oddball attractions Route 66 and gawked at the views at many of our National and State parks. There is still so much to see, and we are making plans. I would also like to return to places I’ve visited as a kid like Niagara Falls and Pikes Peak.

I have vague memories of a trip to Pike’s Peak, mostly from photographs. My aunt whose husband died a few years ago, has lived a very long and beautiful life. The family has lived in Colorado for as long as I can remember. We went to visit them when I was a child and went to Pike’s Peak. I have been on other mountain tops as an adult, so I have experienced the awe-inspiring view when standing on top of the world. This is what Katherine Lee Bates experienced to Colorado Springs. She was deeply inspired by many things during her trip, including the beauty at the top of Pike’s Peak. It was at the top of the mountain that a poem came to her, bringing together memories of other incredible views like the alabaster buildings at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the wheat fields of Kansas.

The poem was set to music by Samuel A. Ward and became the favorite patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful.” The song was first published in 1910, although it was first used in 1904. Sadly, Samuel Ward died in 1903, so he never knew that his inspired tune became such a beloved part of American culture and patriotism. The Kennedy administration even tried to give “America the Beautiful” legal status as a national hymn or even as the national anthem.

America is certainly beautiful. Of course, in many ways it is also horrific, ugly, sad, and disgusting. Aren’t we all? America is made up of so many beautiful places, but it is also made up of human beings, all of which are all too human. We are sinners in need of a Savior. Katherine Lee Bates understood this reality, and within her song she appealed to God for His healing grace upon our nation. Despite our failures, we also have a heart for good. We respond immediately to disasters with our bodies and resources. We fight for justice. We stand for truth. We pray for our neighbors. We, or at least a large number of us, believe that we are blessed by God to be a blessing not only to one another but to the world. There might be some bad, but there is a lot of good, and for that reason I know that America really is beautiful.


July 10, 2023

“I thank him who enabled me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he counted me faithful, appointing me to service; although I used to be a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. The grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17, WEB

When my son was in kindergarten, the children lined up in a special place outside the school every morning to wait for their teacher to lead them into their classroom. Parents hovered nearby until they left, keeping an eye on their child until they were under the care of a responsible adult. Sometimes the children were not patient. It is hard to be five and to stand in line for five or ten minutes. I was an active volunteer, so the children knew me well, especially those in my son’s class. I loved interacting with little ones, so I spent that time chatting with them, listening as they told me about their lives. It didn’t take very long for the children to expect a high five or a hug along with a listening ear. Some days I nearly fell over when the whole class attacked me.

However, there was one boy who was very shy. He did not want hugs and high fives; he did not want to talk about anything. Each day, however, I said “hello” and offered him my hand. It took months but he eventually opened up to me. At first it was just a shy smile or a brief word, but by the end of the school year his smile was bright, and his hugs were long. I could have ignored him after the first couple of rejections, but I did not let it go. The teacher once told me that those brief moments made a difference to the way that boy performed in school; a little bit of confidence goes a long way.

Paul had a most extraordinary story to tell. He was passionate for God without even knowing Him, willingly accosting any who stood for the Way, the Christian faith. One day Christ came to him in a powerful and frightening way, and he was changed forever. Few of us can tell a similar story. Most of us came to know about God and to have faith in Jesus with the patient and persistent witness of those who came before us. I wonder how many times Paul heard the Gospel before that day on the road to Damascus. I wonder how many people he rejected and harmed out of his zealousness for the old way. I wonder how many people, like Ananias, thought Paul was beyond hope, choosing to give up on him rather than risk his wrath.

In the letter to Timothy, Paul recognized his sinfulness, admitting to having been ignorant while he thought himself to be wise. We often consider Paul as being strong, arrogant, and self-centered because he talks about himself so much, even in letters of encouragement to others. In today’s passage he writes, “...for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul was not holding himself up as an example of Christ-like living to follow, but as a sample of a humble, repentant sinner receiving God’s amazing grace. Paul didn’t become the great evangelist by any power of his own, but by the power of God’s love and mercy. He called himself the foremost sinner, not because he thought he was greater than others but because he recognized that he never deserved God’s grace.

Paul writes these words for us, encouraging us to think about ourselves in the same way. We like to think that we are good and that we do good. We like being saints. Sometimes we like it so much we forget that we are only saints by God’s grace. Compared to others, we may just have reason to boast. Paul certainly did. I sometimes wish I had a more interesting faith story, one that includes an extraordinary story to tell. I love Jesus because someone patiently shared His story with me. This is not what Paul wants us to emulate, however. He is teaching us to remember that we are sinners in need of a Savior, to humble ourselves so that we, too, see ourselves as the chief of sinners. This doesn't mean that we are the worst of the worst of all people, but that we humble ourselves so that we look at all others as worthy of God’s grace. If God could save me, then He can save my neighbor or the criminal in prison or the politician we do not like. Fill in the blank with the person you think can't be saved, and then remember that you are the chief of sinners. We prefer to think of ourselves as good, but if we judge others as not worthy for God's grace then we put ourselves above God.

The transformation from unbeliever to believer was dramatic for Paul, but for most of us it is a life of slow growth. Even with an extraordinary encounter with the living Christ, it took time for Paul to mature in his understanding of grace. It takes time for us to grow into this humility that will look at others with such grace and mercy that we’ll risk everything for the ones we think are hopeless. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to see ourselves as the chief of sinners, but when we do we realize that no one is outside of hope. We shouldn’t give up on any, no matter how much we are rejected. God did not give up on Paul. He never gave up on us. He hasn’t given up on those who are still lost and suffering in the darkness.


July 11, 2023

“To you, Yahweh, I lift up my soul. My God, I have trusted in you. Don’t let me be shamed. Don’t let my enemies triumph over me. Yes, no one who waits for you will be shamed. They will be shamed who deal treacherously without cause. Show me your ways, Yahweh. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, I wait for you all day long. Yahweh, remember your tender mercies and your loving kindness, for they are from old times. Don’t remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions. Remember me according to your loving kindness, for your goodness’ sake, Yahweh. Good and upright is Yahweh, therefore he will instruct sinners in the way. He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble his way. All the paths of Yahweh are loving kindness and truth to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, Yahweh, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. What man is he who fears Yahweh? He shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose. His soul will dwell at ease. His offspring will inherit the land. The friendship of Yahweh is with those who fear him. He will show them his covenant. My eyes are ever on Yahweh, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged. Oh bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my travail. Forgive all my sins. Consider my enemies, for they are many. They hate me with cruel hatred. Oh keep my soul, and deliver me. Let me not be disappointed, for I take refuge in you. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. God, redeem Israel out of all his troubles.” Psalm 25, WEB

Today is the feast day for St. Benedict. 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 attention to Benedict 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 htose 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 was 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 everyday life 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 wrote, “To you, Yahweh, I lift up my soul.” And, “He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble 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 continues to help the ordinary people, average Christians like you and I, live a life that will glorify God and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Benedict and those he drew into a life of service for God 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 dwelling in His presence in every aspect of their lives.


July 12, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for July 16, 2023, Seventh Sunday in Pentecost: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:12-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth, and makes it grow and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.” Isaiah 55:10-11, WEB

San Antonio has a unique climate. We are subtropical, which means that we stay relatively mild throughout the year, although we definitely experience periods of extreme heat. We sit between a semi-arid region to the west and a much wetter and more humid area to the east. This means our weather is often varied depending on the influence of those other regions. We have periods of extreme rain and other periods of extreme drought which can last for years. Then, when the wet weather comes, we are inundated with so much water that everything floods.

One day a few years ago we got rain after a lengthy period of drought. The ground was dry and hard, the grass was dying. The lack of water had affected the wildflowers and the animal populations moved into the cities in search of water and food. The problem with rain that comes after a drought, especially if it comes down too fast, is that it doesn’t soak into the ground. It just rolls off into the streets and gullies. Every drop counts when the ground is so dry, and it eventually makes its way into the creeks and aquifer, but it does little more than wet the surface of our lawns. The few drops that make it into the dirt evaporate faster than it fell once the sun shines again. A good soaking rain is necessary for it to really make a difference.

Despite the negatives, that type of weather is a refreshing and positive change when everything is so dry. The temperatures go down, and the grass looks a little greener. The roads are washed clean of the dust and grime. There’s a new and pleasant smell in the air. The world around us is fresh and new. Yes, the water runs off, but it is not in vain. The rain still makes a difference, watering the earth and cleansing the land. It works its way into the aquifer that is our source of water, giving some relief to our fears. We are in a similar situation this year, anxiously hoping for the next storm that will help ease the drought. It will probably not come until the fall, but when it does we should have a period of healthy, land healing rain. Each storm will saturate the ground a little more and water the plants enough that we do not have to artificially water our lawn. When God sends rain, it is never in vain.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes wonder if my witness for God is doing any good. It often seems like the words I speak just run off like a summer shower on parched earth. We might think that our words are unheard or that they do not reach beyond the surface. To us it often seems as though our witness is in vain because it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the world. We might see a bit of hope, but it soon dries up and disappears. We might think there is a glimmer of faith, but it quickly disappears as those to whom we have spoken face hard times or doubt.

God says that His Word will not be given in vain. We simply don’t know what it was meant to accomplish at that moment in time. We want to see a difference, to know that we have done a good thing, that our words sink deeply into the hearts of those to whom we speak. God knows, that is what matters, and sometimes the changes come very slowly. Sometimes the change comes so slowly that we never see it happen. But we can rest in the knowledge that God’s Word does not go back to Him void. We can live in joy knowing that our witness is planting the seeds or watering the fruit of what God is doing in the world.

Patience is not a virtue many of us possess. We also don’t enjoy having to struggle to see good things that will come. When I was a girl, my mother used to put my hair up in pink plastic rollers. These rollers made my hair very curly, but they were solid and prickly. To get a really good curl, my mother washed my hair in the evening, put my hair in the rollers and then I had to sleep with them on my head. My hair dried overnight and left behind beautiful curls. I had extremely blond hair, so I suppose I looked a lot like Cindy Brady from the television show “The Brady Bunch.”

I hated those curlers. It hurt as Mom rolled them because she often pulled too hard. It was impossible to find a comfortable position to sleep with those hard curlers on my head. Then, in the morning when it was time to take them out, the hair snagged on the prickly parts, unwilling to let go of the curler. Through it all my mother used to say, “We have to suffer for beauty.” I liked my curls, but I think I would have preferred straight hair than to suffer the pain of the curlers.

One of the most difficult aspects of Christian faith for a non-believer to accept is the idea of suffering. Paul wrote that we are joint heirs with Christ which is something we like very much. We like the idea that we have been adopted as children of God, that He is our Abba, Daddy. However, Paul also wrote that as joint heirs in the promise we share in every aspect of Christ’s reign, including His suffering. He wrote, “...if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” People don’t want to worship a God that calls His people into a life of suffering, because for most people suffering equals pain, rejection, even death. Yet, it is in our suffering that we find strength, courage, and God’s grace. God is not a masochist who seeks to cause His people to be harmed. But to save the world He came in a manner by which He shared in our suffering and by the blood of Christ we are brought through that suffering to something greater.

We want immediate gratification. We want immediate answers and solutions. Yet sometimes it is better to be patient and wait. What good is a hope that is already received? It is no longer hope but fulfilled. There is then nothing to look forward to. Our hope rests in the fulfillment of the promises and we can be assured that those promises will be fulfilled because God is faithful. It is not helpful to have a year’s worth of rain in a day; showers are more helpful when they come over a period of time so that the water can soak into the ground and make a real difference.

We want God to finish this now. The work of Jesus is finished, why not just end it so that we can enjoy eternity now? That may seem ideal to us, after all we already enjoy the benefit of God’s grace, but what of those who still need the lifegiving word of God? Certainly eternal life is much better than the suffering we experience in this world, but we have so much more we can do the make a difference in the lives of those who have not yet heard the Gospel.

Unfortunately, patience for God’s time means we will face persecution and pain for our faith. And yet, as we live in the Spirit which we have received from God, we’ll wait expectantly along with all of God’s creation for that moment when He finally finishes the work He began in Christ Jesus. For now, we are the first fruits of that work, holy and dedicated to God so that others might see God’s grace in our faith and come to believe.

Not everyone will hear, or believe, or change, but that should not stop us from speaking God’s Word. We will feel as though our words are just running off into the gutter, not doing any good. We might feel like the seeds we plant are more like those that are sown on the roadside, in the rocky places, or among the thorns, but God’s Word is never spoken in vain, and it never returns to God void. God makes things happen we never expect.

When I was a preschool teacher, our regular spring activities included planting seeds. For one project we put some potting soil into a small paper drinking cup and then planted some flower seeds. This project was usually done so that the flowers would be growing for Mother’s Day. The other project is a little more amazing, and more helpful for seeing the growth of a plant. We put a wet cotton ball and a bean seed inside a plastic bag and taped it to the window. After just a few days the bean seed broke open and began to grow. The seed had everything it needed: soil (the cotton ball), water, and sunshine. Once the bean had “sprouted” we sent the plant home to be transplanted into real dirt. I don’t know how well these plants grow when put into the dirt, but it is fun to watch them grow in the bag.

I confess that I’m not a very good gardener. I saw a cartoon today that showed three frames with flowers. The first said something like, “Plants that will last one week $8.” The second, “Plants that will last one month $15.” The third, “Plants that will last three months $25.” I laughed and that was a good deal, although I’m not sure even the three-month plants would last; those well-established plants are beautiful for at least a little while. I certainly don’t start plants from seeds the way some gardeners do with their flower beds or food gardens. I am too impatient. Growing from seeds requires time; many seeds need to spend time in darkness of the earth to “die” so that they might sprout and grow.

There are other seeds that are different. Take grain, for example. Many crops are planted in fields in long rows. The plow turns up the dirt, the farmer lays down the seed in straight lines and then he covers the seeds with the dirt. Grain is not planted with such precision. The farmer turns up the dirt on the field and then scatters the seed with his hand or a machine. The farmer might rake the ground to keep the seed from blowing away, but it does not have to be buried under the dirt. This is certainly a much easier way to plant seed, especially since grain does not need much space to grow, but there are disadvantages.

When you scatter seed, you can’t control where every seed lands. I recently decided to create a natural butterfly garden in one area of our yard. We cut the grass really short, put a layer of compost, and then just scattered a bunch of wildflower seeds. I water the area regularly, and though I haven’t done anything, I have sunflowers and other wildflowers that are attracting bees and butterflies. The grass is still growing, the blooms are fading, and it doesn’t look like a landscaped garden, but I’m best when I let nature do the work.

A farmer has to plant seeds for his grain, but he does so like I did with the wildflowers. He just casts the seed across the field and hopes for the best. Most of the seed falls on the good soil, but even the most careful farmer will lose a percentage to the path, the rocks, and the thorns. This is what Jesus was talking about in the parable. It would be impossible for a farmer to plant every grain of wheat individually because it would be too time-consuming and impractical. The farmer considers the loss when he’s working in his field. Jesus compared the work of a farmer to the work of those sharing the Good News in the world. The seed is the Word of God. The soil is in the hearts of men.

There are times when we can plant one seed at a time, especially with people we know and love. I planted seeds in the heart of my children and others in my life. There is value to one on one evangelism. But we are hesitant about casting the seed of God like the farmer. I think sometimes we even try to witness only to those who are already well established, like the plants I buy with the hope of a few months of beauty. We are too afraid that we might insult or offend someone. We are too afraid that we’ll be rejected. We are too afraid that people will not receive the words we say or that we aren’t the right people to give it to them. We are imperfect, so we wonder how God could possibly use us to share His Word with the world. We don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible or of the message. We are afraid to waste a good word because we think it might fall on the path, the rocks or in the thorns to be devoured, whither or choked. We are too shy to scatter the seed, so we keep it to ourselves. We have a multitude of excuses.

But Jesus says to scatter the seed, because enough will fall on good soil. It is a matter of trust, trusting that God will make sure there is soil, water, and sunshine to make it grow. God’s Word never comes back to Him void, so your witness is never in vain.

It seems hard to believe how fast this summer is passing. Schools and teachers are already preparing for the upcoming school year. Our church is opening a new private school next month, and there are things we have to accomplish before the first day, like hiring teachers and ensuring that they are properly qualified for the work. This includes having First Aid Certification. During our last board meeting, we discussed the requirements as they are written in the employee handbook, along with the expectations for the teachers if something should happen with the children are in their care.

One of the first things you learn in a Red Cross Safety course is how to determine the nature of an injury. When someone gets hurt, it is very important to find out what is wrong before giving medical aid. The way a person is treated, and the outcome of the treatment depends on the caregiver’s ability to find the right problem and give the right care. Wrong treatment can turn a back injury into paralysis. A misdiagnosed problem can lead to even greater problems as the caregiver focuses on the wrong emergency. Lack of knowledge can be deadly if a person is allergic to something or if there are hidden health issues. Part of proper health care is being able to communicate with the patient. This is not always possible. Some accident victims are unconscious and cannot speak for themselves. Some simply don’t know what to say.

A child’s fall is certainly not the same as someone with life-threatening injuries, but any parent or teacher knows the frustration of dealing with a child who has hurt themselves. They react with intense emotions when they are hurt, and it is impossible to understand what is wrong. This is true of physical problems as well as emotional hurts. I’ve had to deal with children hysterical about something, thinking that they must be hurt but nothing is visible on their body. They scream so loud and so long that they can’t say anything, and they can’t even hear. It does not help when the caregiver becomes impatient with the child, angrily insisting the child stop the tears and talk so that he or she can know what is wrong. The more we insist a child talk, the more agitated they become. This is something the teachers may have to deal with.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” A hurt child has ears, but they don’t have ears that hear. They only know that they are hurt, and they can’t hear anything that might help make them feel better. The people to whom Jesus was speaking may not have been screaming children, but they were often as deaf as a hurting child. They heard the words that Jesus spoke in His stories and sermons, but they did not really hear what He was saying. Jesus was sometimes very obvious in the message, giving the people very pointed and blunt information about His mission and ministry in the world, but they heard His words from their own understanding and experience. When Jesus talked of the Kingdom of God, they thought He was talking about the restoration of a Jewish independence when He was talking about a different kind of Kingdom.

That’s why Jesus used so many parables to teach the people about how to live as the people of God. Parables help us listen more deeply. We have to look at the story from a different perspective. We might know and understand the earth-bound concepts of the story, like in this one about planting seed, but we have to think more deeply about what it means in our daily lives. What is the seed? What is growing? What is the path, the rocks, and the thorns? Certainly, Jesus was not giving the people farming advice. He wasn’t a farmer and most of His listeners weren’t farmers. He was giving them a parable to help them see God’s Kingdom in terms that they would understand. But to understand, they really had to listen to what He was saying, not just the words He said. They needed ears to hear.

The text from Isaiah is familiar to us. The chapter begins with the call for those who are thirsty to seek God; He offers freely and abundantly everything that is His. In today’s passage, we are reminded that everything that comes from God is productive. God is actively involved in His creation, and He is faithful to His promises. His will shall be done; He will make certain it is. Isaiah tells us that God has promised that we will see cypress instead of thorns and myrtles instead of briers. In other words, instead of plants that are useless and damaging, God will make the world productive and useful.

It amazes me to think of all the people who heard Jesus speak, who saw Him face to face and looked into His eyes, and yet never believed. We have to consider, however, how we would have responded to Jesus if we were them. After all, He wasn’t teaching about a Kingdom like the one they expected. Would we have believed? Would we have understood? Would we have responded to His grace? A few did, but many did not. Would we have had ears to hear?

We hear today’s Gospel passage and think that we should be more careful about spreading the seed. We think we can guess where the seeds we scatter will grow, and we choose not to scatter seeds that we think will be rejected or that will be gobbled up, withered under the heat of the sun, or choked by the cares of the world. We don’t know. We never know what God has planned. God’s Word does not return to Him void, and so He invites us to share it with excessive generosity. We aren’t limited the way a farmer is limited. We don’t have to worry about whether our seeds will produce enough crops. We only have to scatter the seed and let God make it grow.

Chuck Olson was invited into a prison of two thousand prisoners to preach the Gospel. He carefully prepared a message to share with those who were lost in darkness and sin. About three hundred were expected to attend his speech, though he’d hoped for more. The prison was locked down several days before his visit, and when he arrived at the chapel there were only a few men waiting. They were all Christians. He was discouraged and was ready to just give the men a few words of encouragement.

Then he noticed a video camera, so decided to give the entire message in the hope that someone might see it. Later Chuck was told that the video would be aired to all the inmates. In the end, all the prisoners saw the video, not just once, but as many as a dozen times. Chuck trusted that God’s Word would accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, despite the disappointing circumstances he faced. He gave the whole Word even though he thought at first it might be a waste of time. All it takes is one seed to change a life. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are scattering His seed.

The psalmist reminds us that God created all things. His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? I’ve seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the times of war and the times of peace. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done. Let us rejoice and sing today.

Our God is a great and awesome God. He is faithful and generous. So why aren’t we bolder with our witness? We are reminded by these scriptures that we are not alone as we witness for God; He has given us His Spirit and it is His Word we speak. There are those who do not have ears to hear; the people did not hear Jesus, either. There is no reason to stop casting the seed. We might speak to a thousand people and never see a single spark of faith, but that’s ok because God’s word doesn’t return to Him void. Seeds are planted with every witness. He will send the sun and the rain; He will send someone to tend the heart and others to bring in the harvest. It is never up to us to decide who should hear the Good News because God can and will make it accomplish exactly what He sent it to do. As Jesus promised, “What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word and understands it, who most certainly bears fruit and produces, some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty.”


July 13, 2023

“When they had come, he looked at Eliab, and said, ‘Surely Yahweh’s anointed is before him.’ But Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Yahweh has not chosen this one, either.’ Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. He said, ‘Yahweh has not chosen this one, either.’ Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Yahweh has not chosen these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your children here?’ He said, ‘There remains yet the youngest. Behold, he is keeping the sheep.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and get him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with a handsome face and good appearance. Yahweh said, ‘Arise! Anoint him, for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the middle of his brothers. Then Yahweh’s Spirit came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now Yahweh’s Spirit departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Yahweh troubled him.” 1 Samuel 16:6-14, WEB

Perhaps this shows my bias, but when I look at a man like Lecrae, I make assumptions. I judge the book by its cover. Lecrae is a multi-talented hip hop artist, record producer, actor, and entrepreneur. I am not familiar with his music, but I am not a fan of hip hop, so I’m not likely to listen. He is covered with tattoos and dresses in a hoody. His official photos often have the look of underlying rebellion and perhaps even anger. He looks like the stereotypical hip hop artist.

The thing is, Lecrae is different. Lecrae has experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ and he now lives to serve Him with his life and music. He is the first hip hop artist with a hip hop album to reach the top of the Gospel Christian Chart. His life was rough. He was raised by a single mom, and though he knew his father, he was never around. Lecrae said, “I wrestled with a sense of self-worth, because my dad decided drugs would be better than hanging out with his own son.” Lecrae’s role models were men involved in gangs. He was fascinated by gangsters and began doing drugs as a teenager. He was a risk taker and was repeatedly arrested. Everything you would expect from his cover.

Lecrae had a grandmother who tried to get him to go to church, but in his youth he thought it was for old people. Eventually he realized that his life was going nowhere, and his grandmother’s early influence helped him change. A friend invited him to a bible study where he met the girl he would marry. At that study, he realized that the others were “... just people like me. They read the same books and listened to the same music. Their character was just different. They were loving and that’s really what drew me in.” That set his path in a very different direction.

Lecrae is quoted as saying, “A wolf is no less a wolf because he’s dressed in sheepskin and the devil is no less the devil because he’s dressed as an angel.” He understands that we can’t judge a book by its cover. I might not have even thought to talk about Lecrae in this devotion if I only looked at his pictures. I would have made assumptions, except I saw this quote. We don’t always know what is in the inside if we only look at the outside. Sadly, too many of us will ignore one person because they look like a hoodlum and embrace someone because they look like an angel. We are reminded that the devil himself can appear to be an angel of light.

We have to remember that a book might also be old, ugly, worn and beaten and yet still carry within it a beautiful story. I have several childhood books that were so loved in my childhood that they are barely in one piece. Even today, however, those books are still my favorites. Some people just aren’t as we perceive them to be. Herman Munster from the old television series looked evil and wicked, but in reality he was just as gentle and kind as can be. Arnold Schwarzenegger played a Kindergarten teacher in the movie “Kindergarten Cop.” It was hard to believe that such a big, imposing man could possibly pretend to be the teacher for a bunch of very little people. Yet, at the end of the movie he gave up his job as a cop to become a full-time teacher and the kids loved him. Lecrae looks like a gangster, but he loves and serves the Lord.

We certainly can’t judge a book by its cover because both bad and good characteristics are lost to our perception. We look at something or someone and expect it to be exactly as we imagine it to be. Unfortunately, we are often blinded by our own experience and biases. Our perceptions can cause us to make the wrong choices or block our discernment about many things. Even Samuel the prophet was blinded by his own mind. We can get so caught up in our own thoughts and imaginations that we don’t see the truth that is right in front of us. Samuel was expecting the new king to be someone like Saul: strong and imposing. A king leads an army into war, so he should be a warrior, someone who can defeat any foe. Yet, God put all the power and authority of His kingdom into a young shepherd boy. God looks inside and He knows all that we hide in our hearts, our good and out bad. His perception is perfect because he looks beyond the façade that the world sees. This is why we are called to look at our neighbor through Jesus-colored glasses, so that we will discern the goodness that is often hidden behind all our misperceptions.


July 14, 2023

“But let him who is taught in the word share all good things with him who teaches. Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:6-10, WEB

I was reading an article with a list of stories that focused on people who thought they were entitled to something. I don’t always agree with the tone of these stories; the writers are often as egocentric as the person they are complaining about, and the editors have very strong opinions (and never very gracious) about certain types of people. Still, I find myself fascinated by the stories and flummoxed by the attitudes of people who think they deserve things exactly as they insist. These are people who are generally very insecure even though they seem strong and demanding.

In one story a woman was given a special gift of some rings from people she loved. She showed her friends at work who agreed that it was a very special gift. One member of the team was not impressed; for some reason she did not like the woman with the rings. A few days later, this team member came to work wearing the exact same rings the woman had. She flaunted her new jewelry, putting her hand in the faces of her co-workers, demanding the same compliments. The co-workers were not willing to play her game, which made work tense for everyone. She made life difficult in the workplace, and her selfishness revealed other aspects of her work ethic that proved that she was not a good employee, and she was eventually fired. Her insecurity made her seek people’s attention that would hurt others, and she eventually hurt herself.

In another story, a couple wanted a baby and were having difficulty conceiving. When the woman was finally pregnant, they were excited to be able to name the child after the man’s grandfather. They told friends about the name choice. Unfortunately, a relative that was a few months further in pregnancy decided to use that name for her child. The name held no sentimental value to her, but she decided that she deserved it, hurting her relative. The couple used the name anyway, and after a time of family feuding, broke off the relationship. One person’s demand led to chaos and brokenness, but the couple ultimately found peace in their life.

I don’t have such extreme stories, but we all know demanding people that are impossible to please. I had a friend who constantly complained that she was lonely. She often talked about the people who hurt her and how she refused to give in to their garbage. She had a tough life. She dealt with some difficult health issues. I understood her loneliness because we shared some similar circumstances, so I tried to become her friend. I suggested we go out to lunch. I offered financial support and resources to help her through crises. She ignored or rejected my attempts. She often aired her struggles publicly, which is why I offered my help. One day she posted a rant about how she noticed when she was ignored, when no apology was offered, how the lies others told made her feel. She lamented the disrespect she’d experienced and how she took it personally. She made a grand statement about how this made her recede into her own little world to protect herself from any more hurt so that she could find peace away from all the drama.

Please forgive my use of the word “I” in that previous paragraph, but the point is that her lament struck me as odd because she had done the same things to me. Who knows how many other people she’d ignored or rejected. I let it go because I learned a long time ago that you can’t make people like you. She didn’t want my friendship, but it broke my heart to know how easily she could have had a friend in me. She made her struggle worse by being self-centered and never noticing that she was not noticing her own responsibility in doing the very things she accused others of doing.

I still wish we’d been able to build a relationship, but her rejection will never stop me from trying to help those who need it. When I read the stories in those articles, I see that though the entitled person demands much, the storytellers often make the situation worse. Like my friend, they see only the worst in those they encounter, and not the possibility of the best. Some people really are impossible to satisfy, but if we listen to what Paul tells us that we are not to weary doing good, even if we are doing so toward people who will ignore and reject our kindness. Selfish demands lead to brokenness and pain for the one who thinks they are entitled to whatever they want. But if we respond to the opportunities to do good to all, we will experience a world that is a kinder and more peaceful place.


July 17, 2023

“Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. He dreamed and saw a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land you lie on to you and to your offspring. Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your offspring, all the families of the earth will be blessed. Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.’ Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, ‘Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.’ He was afraid, and said, “How awesome this place is! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.’” Genesis 28:10-17, WEB

We visited the quaint town of Shamrock, Texas during our Route 66 Adventure in May. Just off Main Street is a park in honor of all things Irish. This is no surprise with a name like Shamrock, which a mayor in the 1950’s decided to use to their benefit. In the park is a concrete cylinder with a piece of rock inset on the top. This is, supposedly, a piece of the Blarney Stone. A sign nearby encourages all visitors to give it a kiss for luck. It doesn’t seem possible that the rock you kiss is an actual piece from Blarney Castle, but some say Shamrock actually has a read piece hidden and protected, perhaps even inside that cylinder. It is said that it is a piece that fell off the stone at the castle. Other towns around the U.S. make similar claims, but Shamrock says they are the only town that has two.

It was a lot easier to kiss the stone in Shamrock, whatever it is, than to kiss the actual Blarney Stone in Ireland. There one must hang upside down over the edge of the top of the castle to reach the stone. They have built safety precautions, but it was so dangerous that people died in the attempt. What makes that rock so important? Like the Stone of Scone which is an ugly rock used for the coronation of the monarchs of England, the Blarney Stone is legendary. While the stone in Shamrock promises good luck, the Blarney Stone promises that the one who kisses it will have the gift of gab, an ability to speak convincingly.

The origin stories about the stone are varied, but some have suggested that it is the very stone upon which Jacob slept when he saw the stairway reaching from heaven to earth. Of course, the Stone of Scone makes the same claim, and there are even some who think the Blarney Stone might be the real Stone of Scone, which was once stolen and there’s no way to know if any of the stones are really the ones mentioned in the legends! These stories make us wonder whether Jacob’s stone could really have found its way through such an incredible journey to end up in a glass case in Scotland or at the top of a castle in Ireland. Some think that Jesus will sit over the Stone of Scone, whichever is true, to be crowned the eternal king when He comes again.

Jacob was running away. He had stolen Esau’s birthright by pretending to be him at the command of his mother Rebecca. Jacob served his blind father Isaac a meal, disguising himself with the smell of a hunter and skins on his hands. Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that should have been spoken for Esau. It was as God meant it to be, but human beings have often taken God’s promises into their own hands. This is what Rebecca did by pushing Jacob to lie to his father. Esau threatened to kill Jacob to get his birthright back, but Rebecca convinced Isaac to sent Jacob away to find a proper wife to protect his life. Jacob left and found his wife but was gone for many years. That’s a story for another day.

Along the path, Jacob came to a place, and since it was night, he laid his head on a stone to rest. During the night he dreamed of that stairway that reached from heaven to earth. Jacob saw angels ascending and descending. The scripture for today says that God stood above it and spoke to Jacob. The Hebrew in this verse can also be understood that God stood beside Jacob. We imagine this scene with Jacob on the ground near the stairway and an old man standing at the top with clouds at His feet. Yet, if the translation should “beside him,” then we see an incredible image of God coming to us rather than us working our way up the stairway to Him. That’s what some people think we have to do; they think we have to work our way to heaven. But the reality is that there is no way we could climb to heaven. God had to come to us, and He did in Jesus.

You can see in these stories, though, how the legends of these rocks may have come to be. As Jacob slept on that pillow, God extended his promises to Abraham and Isaac to him. His offspring would be as the dust of the earth, spreading afar. The families of the earth would be blessed through them. His offspring would return to that place to become a great nation. Jacob honored God. He anointed the stone on which he slept with oil and set it up for a pillar. He proclaimed that place God’s house. As it turned out, Jacob was both a great patriarch and a convincing speaker and it all seemed to begin at that pillow rock. Who wouldn’t want their special rock to be identified with the great leader Jacob who was eventually named Israel by God?


July 18, 2023

“God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water. So I have seen you in the sanctuary, watching your power and your glory. Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. So I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with the richest food. My mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you on my bed, and think about you in the night watches. For you have been my help. I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings. My soul stays close to you. Your right hand holds me up. But those who seek my soul to destroy it shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall be given over to the power of the sword. They shall be jackal food. But the king shall rejoice in God. Everyone who swears by him will praise him, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be silenced.” Psalm 63, WEB

Yesterday I asked the question, “Who wouldn’t want their special rock to be identified with the great leader Jacob who was eventually named Israel by God?” It almost seems as though Jacob would be the promised Savior to come. But, when we look at Jacob’s story, we know that he was a sinner just like the rest of us. The name Jacob meant “supplanter,” and he certainly lived up to his name. It would take something drastic to fulfill God’s promises, and Jacob was not the answer.

Jacob was born under a promise, but human impatience and uncertainty got in the way of God’s plan. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, a twin whose brother was named Esau. They wrestled with each other even in the womb. Esau was born first; Jacob followed closely, grasping the heel of his brother’s foot. The boys were completely different. Jacob was a handsome and quiet young man, the opposite of his rugged brother who hunted the wild game their father loved. Esau was favored by Isaac, Jacob by Rebecca. God had promised Rebecca that Jacob would inherit the promises, and they took matters into their own hands to ensure that the promise would be fulfilled.

Jacob is an interesting, though not very likeable, biblical character. From the beginning of his life, he wrestled with his brother and with the promises of God. He had struggled with his brother Esau over the blessing of Isaac and his inheritance. He had struggled with Laban over the woman he loved. He had struggled with his wives, their maids, and the children they gave him. Jacob wrestled with his fears, his doubts, and his place in the story of God’s people. The promises for Jacob were clear from the beginning, but he did not trust God. The voices that guided him did not trust that God is faithful. He lied and cheated and inflicted revenge on those who lied to and cheated him. He manipulated things to his benefit and ran away when the going got tough. He played favorites and served himself.

Jacob was not totally to blame. Though he took the birthright from Esau, Esau gave it away for a bowl of soup. Rebecca helped him take control of the blessing from his father. It seemed to her that it was necessary to do so that God’s promises could be fulfilled. Jacob worked seven long years for the right to marry Rachel and Laban tricked him into taking Leah. Laban tried to take advantage of Jacob, cheating him out his rightful pay. Jacob took matters into his own hands. In every situation, his actions seem to be justified by the idea that they helped bring about God’s purpose. However, every time we take matters into our own hands, we show our lack of trust in God. We think that God needs our help to be faithful, and our unfaithfulness always leads to trouble.

During the years that he was gone, Jacob had built a dynasty for himself. He had wives, servants, children, and great wealth. He heard the voice of God tell him to go home. He was afraid, but he obeyed. He sent a message to Esau announcing his return and Esau answered by coming to meet him with an army of hundreds. Still afraid and doubting God’s promises, Jacob divided his people and possessions into two groups, hoping that if Esau destroyed one group the other group would survive.

Then he prayed. He prayed a prayer in which he recognized his unworthiness, confessed his doubt, and reminded God of His promises. On the night before he faced his brother, he had to wrestle with his own doubts. To be reconciled to his brother, Jacob first needed to overcome all that had kept him from living as God intended. He was a sinful man who had to face his greatest sin: his lack of trust in God. Everything he did against men, he did against God, because he thought he had to ensure that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Before he faced his past and began his future, Jacob had to face his God.

This is an odd story because it leads to too many unanswerable questions. Who is this “man” wrestling with Jacob? If it is God, why can’t he prevail against a mere man? Why does He have to hurt Jacob to win? Why doesn’t He know Jacob’s name? Why does He have to leave by dawn? The most important question however is whether we really need the answers to all these questions. God is mysterious. He is mysterious because He is God. We are merely human, sinners unable to know and fully understand His purpose and His plan for our lives. We try hold on to our own sovereignty and justify our lack of trust by claiming that we are aiding God’s plan. We want to be independent, to trust or not trust God’s faithfulness.

Jacob was about to meet with the brother with whom he had been fighting for his entire life. He thought God’s promises were wrapped up in his relationship with his brother and instead of trusting God to be faithful, Jacob took control. It was necessary for Jacob to wrestle with God to understand that God is in control of his life and his destiny. He had to give himself to God, to be humbled in His presence, to recognize his own mortality before he met with Esau. He had to wrestle with himself to fully trust God. When Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, God changed their relationship. The new name meant “God contends” and in changing the name of Jacob, God established that though we struggle against Him, we are to cling to Him.


July 19, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for July 23, 2023, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 119:57-64; Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.” Isaiah 44:6b, WEB

The season of Pentecost is a time for the Church to learn what it means to be Christian, how to be the Church. This year we are following the stories of Jesus from the Gospel according to Matthew. Matthew included five discourses by Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount, the Mission Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Olivet Discourse. Chapter 13, which are readings we hear over three weeks in July this year, are from the Parabolic Discourse. It includes seven parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Last week we heard the parable of the seeds, this week is the parable of the weeds, and next week includes three parables about a treasure, a pearl and a net. We usually read these parables separately, interpret them individually, study every word in depth to fully understand what God wants us to know. Every book, paragraph, sentence, word and even “jot and tittle” in scripture are given for us to become the disciples He has called us to be. The words that we take for granted in the text are often the keys to truly understanding what God is saying, so it is valuable to look at the texts with a magnifying glass.

But sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the scriptures as a whole. We usually do try to put the passages in some sort of context, but we rarely take whole chapters to see how the stories and experiences fit together. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount. Some commentators think that Matthew 7 should not be considered part of the Sermon because it appears to be a number of random thoughts. Yet, if you look at the Sermon as a whole, you realize that chapter 7 is the “application” part of the message. How do you live the expectations of chapters 5 and 6 in your relationships with other people? Each different passage in the whole Sermon is important for us to learn, but we will grow even more if we see how it all fits together.

Matthew 13 begins (as we read last week) with Jesus going out of the house to the sea where the crowds gathered around Him to listen to Him preach. The image is interesting, and important: Jesus was sitting in a boat on the water while the crowds stood on the shore to listen. This is not a typical picture of a preacher, is it? We are used to our preachers standing in a pulpit high above us while we comfortably sit in our pews to listen.

The parables in Chapter 13 show us a scene of judgment, especially evident in this week’s passage. A farmer planted a field, but during the night an enemy planted weeds in that farmer’s field. It was not until sometime later that the farmer’s workers realized that there were weeds in the midst of the plants. They wondered if they should remove the weeds. We want to get rid of the weeds because we know that they take important nutrients and steal the water necessary for good growth. Unfortunately, all plants look similar at the seedling stage; it is easy to confuse a weed and a good plant in the early days of growth. It is not until the crops begin to mature that the farmer can tell the difference. By then the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the wheat. It is impossible to pull the weeds without damaging the crops.

Anyone who has a garden knows this is true. In our many years of home ownership, we’ve tried to have gardens. Neither my husband nor I have green thumbs, but we try. At one point we had a pond which we surrounded with rocks and pots of flowers. We had to pull a weed out of the bed once in a while as weeds sprouted between the rocks. Bruce weeded one day, pulling out some sprouts near the pots of flowers. A few days later he saw another “weed” in the same place, but it had managed to survive a few days longer than the others he had pulled. He realized that the flowers in the pots were dropping seeds into the bed, so instead of pulling weeds, he was pulling. It is easy to confuse a weed and a flower in the early days of growth, they look so much alike. Just like the wheat in the parable.

The farm hands might think they know the best way to deal with the fields, but the farmer knows what is best. Sometimes weeds can be beneficial. Wildflowers (which are, in essence, weeds) serve to give character to fruit like grapes. If you taste wine carefully, you may be able to identify flavors such as mushroom and lavender in the wine. Some plants become stronger because they send their roots deeper into the soil seeking water and nourishment. A landowner knows the plants, the risks and the benefits and is careful to do what is best for his fields. While it might be good to pull the weeds, we don’t always know which weeds to pull.

Jesus reminds us that there will grow up in our midst people who are not really Christian, they do not truly believe in Christ. The thing is, we can’t tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. As I’ve come to say, “It is above my paygrade.” We can’t read their hearts, only God can. Like the weeds in a wheat field, the truth will eventually come to light. We might be tempted to uproot those we think come from the evil one, but in doing so we do not always know the damage we might do to someone who is weak in faith. We may think we are protecting them, but we are not God. God knows what He needs to do. He can protect His people much better than we can. We are simply called to live as God has called us to live, trusting that our God is just and that He will take care of the wheat and deal with the tares. We may just find that what we thought was a tare is actually someone to whom God has yet to finish His work. In the end all will be right because God is faithful.

We know that Jesus built His church, and we are uncomfortable with the thought that there might be some who are not truly believers in our midst. The church exists to encourage one another. We gather to worship together, to pray for one another, and to share our gifts. We rely on one another to keep us on the right path, but how can we stay on the right path if we are led by those who are purposely leading us down the wrong one? It is no wonder that the servant in today’s passage asks the master if they should pull out the weeds. We don’t want anyone in our midst that will be a risk to our lives, growth, faith, hope, and peace.

God says, “Don’t worry. My seeds will grow and survive and bear fruit, and I will nurture and protect those whom I have planted; the righteous will shine like the sun in my kingdom. In the end I will take care of the weeds; I will pass judgment on the seeds planted by the devil.” This is a passage about judgment; in the end the works of the devil will not succeed. The hard part is that we can’t always determine between the works of God and the works of the devil, that’s why God warns us to let Him deal with it. Sometimes we make mistakes in our quest to cleanse the church and we destroy those whom God has planted.

We would rather not see how these parables fit into a judgment scene. We aren’t bothered by the reality that there will be a judgment scene at the end of times, but we prefer to look at these parables as we always have: as comforting promises to those whose hearts are good soil, those who are the seeds He’s planted, those who are the good fish. We want to see God’s hand as He grows the mustard seed and the leaven. We know it will be hard, but we want to be the one who gives it all up for the hidden treasure and the great pearl. We struggle when we look at these parables in this new light. There will be judgment, and we fear that we may not benefit the way we have always expected. We will all experience judgment, but those who reject Jesus as He has revealed Himself to be will not like the way the story turns out.

The scriptures constantly remind us that God is in control. Some things are just above our paygrade.

“King of the Hill” is a fun game that children love to play. One child climbs a hill, and the object is for the other children to make them fall off. The one who gets to the top of the hill and knocks the “king” to the bottom gets to be “king” until someone else makes it to the top. The children end up rolling down the hill, sometimes more from laughter than from knocking each other around.

I don’t think we stop playing “King of the Hill” when we grow up, although our games don’t take place on hillsides. They take place in boardrooms and offices. Sometimes we see those who are on the hilltops above us and do whatever it takes to knock them down so we can move up. This is not the right way to get ahead in our careers, but unfortunately it has worked since the beginning of time. Too many men became king by getting rid of a sitting ruler through warfare.

I was reading from 1 Kings the other day and noted that while most of the kings of Judah did as their father David who had a heart for God, the kings of Israel did “what was evil in the sight of God.” God left them to their sin, gave them what they wanted, and allowed them to suffer the consequences. Some of those kings lasted for many years, more than a decade, but many fell quickly. A few lasted just two years. A few lasted no more than a few months. One lasted seven days. They were overthrown by those trying to get to the top. None of them served God. They served themselves.

In today’s world, the “king” is knocked down through less violent, though no less dangerous means. It doesn’t take much to destroy a person’s status, position, finances, or reputation. Just like the childhood game, for some the object of life is to get to the top of the hill and stay there by any means. Watch any political race and you’ll see men and women doing whatever it will take to put them on the top.

I thought of this game while I was reading and rereading this week’s Old Testament lesson. Doesn’t God sound like the big guy who has made it to the top of the hill and is calling out for everyone else to try to knock Him off? For many, this is a bothersome image of God, particularly because we see bullies grow up to be corporate bullies that destroy lives with their ambitions. However, God is not some bully playing a game. He is God. Who is there that can knock Him off the top of the hill?

The reality is that we let many things knock God off the top of our hill. We put so many things first: our jobs, our families, our romances, our education, our hobbies, our interests. We set God aside to take care of the business of living. Anything that we put ahead of God becomes our god. Though He is the One and only, we make gods of so many things. “Who is like Him?” Can money stand up against God? Can our wishes and dreams? Can our opinions really be greater than God? What about our truth? Are our gods reliable? Can they declare their greatness ahead of God?

Nothing is greater. There is nothing that can knock God off the top of the hill, but we get confused and look to so many things as if they are gods. We might confess God is the greatest, but when we rely on them above God, we are relying on something less than God, they are merely pebbles next to the Rock. None are like Him.

I have to confess that I’ve had my mind on something more than God, but I’ve justified my thoughts because of God. See, we have had issues with our internet for the past couple of weeks. There is construction in our neighborhood, and the construction crews are not paying attention to where they are digging, breaking the lines for our internet. I can certainly write without the internet, although it is so much easier to be able to type a question into my google machine to make sure I’m giving you facts. I admit that I copy and past the scriptures. And I need the internet to email and post these devotions. I can use my phone for research, and I can set up a hotspot to post, but it is less convenient. I’ve constantly checked the site to see when our service will return, even interrupting my scripture reading and prayer “just to see.” I realized last night that I was more focused on my worldly problems than on God. I justify it because I do so much ministry online, but I wasn’t trusting that God can use these struggles to make me stronger.

What are we to do with the truth that there will be judgment, even if we don’t like it? Jesus tells us these things so that we will keep our eyes on Him. We can wander off His path which can lead us to suffer the consequences of our own desires. We won’t be killed by some wannabee playing king of the hill, but we can become so focused on our own idea of what we think God should be doing that we destroy what God intends, like the workers who wanted to remove the weeds without even really knowing which sprouts are weeds. We have to let God do what God does, and that means that one day some will be cast away.

We have a hard time, especially today, accepting that a loving God would let anyone suffer the kinds of punishment we see in these texts. Who wants to believe in a God who will throw anyone into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth? These stories of judgment, of law, cause us to cry out to God for mercy. So, Jesus tells us these things for the sake of our neighbors who might just be the ones who are falling away or being led astray. If we think everyone is saved anyway, why would we ever bother to share the Gospel? Why would we introduce our neighbors to Jesus? Why would we try to help them onto the right path? It doesn’t matter, God will save them anyway.

But we know this is not true because Jesus tells us that some will end up in the furnace of fire. So, as faithful Christians, we are called to share the Gospel of truth with everyone so that they might hear the Word and believe. As we heard last week, we are called to scatter the seed everywhere because God is gracious and merciful. It is up to Him to cause the growth. As we hear in this week’s text, it isn’t up to us to decide who is a fruitful plant or a weed. God will take care of it. Perhaps, and this is my hope, that ultimately everyone will hear and believe, but I’ll leave that up to God.

The world won’t like it, but Jesus wants us to know so that we’ll keep our eyes and hearts on Him. He suffered at their hands and so will we, but God will make all things right in the end.

Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us.” The world looks no different today than it did before Jesus’ birth. It is still filled with sinners, suffering, and pain. Yet, there is a difference because we now live in a hope that does not disappoint, a hope in the promises of God. Jesus Christ gives us a hope that is real, a hope that is assured. We look forward to the day when we will have true peace not only in our hearts but in the whole world. Even the creation will live to the glory of God. This hope is not something that we can make ourselves; we can’t push God off the top of the mountain and expect to experience peace. We can only patiently wait for it to come in God’s time and way. We can look toward that hope in the midst of our sufferings and know that one day we will inherit the promised Kingdom.

The worst suffering is death. And judgment leads to death.

Death is not what God intended for His creation. And when Adam and Eve sinned against God, they broke more than their relationship with God. They broke the whole world. People die because sin entered the world. A day will come when death will no longer have the final say, but until that day we’ll have to suffer the consequences of our brokenness. We’ll have to say good-bye to those who love. We do so with a hope that God’s promises have been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that all of creation groans as we wait for that day. Death makes us hesitant to build relationships, but someone has said, “Love is worth the grief.”

The best we can do is remember that God loves us. Jesus loves us. And one day we’ll experience that love in ways we can’t imagine today. For now, we study the scriptures to learn how to live in the faith we’ve been given. We’ll deal with our struggles with the hope that God has already made things right and the patience to love while we wait for that which is ours by God’s grace, an eternity in the presence of our Creator Redeemer God. We learn to love our neighbors so much that we are willing to risk persecution and rejection for their sake.

The psalmist knew how to persevere despite opposition. Although I can’t possibly say better than the writer and two thousand years of translators, I like to paraphrase the text of Psalm 119 to see more clearly the Law and Gospel found within. “You have given me all I need, so I promise to obey everything you have spoken. I have sought your face with my whole heart; have mercy as you have promised. I have seen my failing and repented according to the evidence of my sin. I will quickly obey all God’s Law. I was trapped by the wicked but I held on to your teaching. I will be thankful for your right verdict. I am friends with all who follow your authoritative rule. The earth is full of God’s lovingkindness; teach me your boundaries.”

These words show us that God is a kind and just ruler. The life He calls us to live is never easy, but it is the life that will give Him glory. It is also the life where we will find peace. Chasing after the top of the hill might get us somewhere, but there’s always someone behind us that will threaten our peace at the top. Chasing after false gods might make us happy and satisfy our desires, but those gods will never be able to give to us what we truly need. There is no hope in heresy. No matter how hard it is to wait or how fraught with danger that time might be, it is worth holding on to the promise of God because He will be true.

God has planted us in this world, and the evil one has planted weeds. I don’t know about you, but I see too many weeds these days. I want to see the promise of last week’s lesson fulfilled, the harvest of 100, 60 or 30 times as much planted in the good soil, but I wonder if God’s Word is falling on deaf ears. I find myself crying “Come, Lord Jesus” because I am ready for that time when the righteous will shine like the sun and the weeds will be cast into the furnace of fire. And yet, is that any better than the Universalist response? Will I bother to share God’s grace with those who I have deemed unworthy? Some people will be judged and sent to the fire, but it is not up to us to decide who that might be. God is in control. We can have hope that all will come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, and in that hope we will be disciples who share God’s grace with all in our path, even if they will persecute us for our faith.

Paul reminds us that hope is not something tangible that we can see or touch. We want immediate gratification, but what good is a hope that is already received? It is no longer hope but a promise fulfilled. There is then nothing to look forward to. Our hope rests in the fulfillment of His promises and we can be assured that those promises will be fulfilled because God is faithful. Hope in the promise of God is worth waiting for, waiting patiently because God is faithful. The day will come when the weeds will be destroyed. Until that day, we can rely on God to help us live side by side with the world because we have been given the His Spirit. He will bring us through as no other god can do.

Would it be better for it to be finished today? Yes! We cry out to Jesus to return so that He can finally set all things right. But as long as we have breath, then God has work for us to do. There are still those who have not yet heard the Gospel. It might hurt a bit at times to be a child of God. We will face persecution and suffering for our faith, but as we live in the Spirit which we have received from God, we’ll wait expectantly along with all of God’s creation for that moment when He finally finishes the work He began in Christ Jesus. For now, we are the first fruits of that work, holy and dedicated to God so that others might see God’s grace in our faith and come to believe that God is God and that He will make everything right.


July 20, 2023

“Abraham was one hundred years old when his son, Isaac, was born to him. Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ She said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham, that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.’” Genesis 21:5-7, WEB

Have you ever read reviews on internet sites? I tend to read the comments about books I’m thinking of purchasing; most are helpful in making my decision. You have to be careful because people have different points of view, and their negatives might just be positive for you. You also never know if someone has a grudge to bear, and anonymity makes it possible for people to post multiple opinions, good or bad, skewing the results. However, I can usually get an idea whether it is something I might enjoy. The same can be said about restaurant reviews.

There are items available that are fodder for creative review writers. One item I found was a banana slicer. One reviewer wrote, “What can I say about the 571B Banana Slicer that hasn’t already been said about the wheel, penicillin, or the iPhone... this is one of the greatest inventions of all time. My husband and I would argue constantly over who had to cut the day’s banana slices. It’s one of those chores NO ONE wants to do! You know, the old ‘I spent the entire day rearing OUR children, maybe YOU can pitch in a little and cut these bananas?’ and of course, ‘You think I have the energy to slave over your damn bananas? I worked a 12-hour shift just to come home to THIS?!’ These are the things that can destroy an entire relationship. It got to the point where our children could sense the tension. The minute I heard our 6-year-old girl in her bedroom, re-enacting our daily banana fight with her Barbie dolls, I knew we had to make a change. That’s when I found the 571B Banana Slicer. Our marriage has never been healthier, AND we’ve even incorporated it into our lovemaking. THANKS 571B BANANA SLICER!” Other reviewers complained that the item is only for right curved bananas or how it doesn’t peel the banana. Some people have too much time on their hands, but it is fun to read their creative writing.

Sometimes advertisers get humorously creative with their ads. I once saw a Facebook post for a real estate ad that gave me hours of entertainment. You might wonder why a 7000 square foot estate worth $1.2 million dollars would be interesting for anyone. I couldn’t afford it; I couldn’t even afford the taxes on a place like that. The house was beautiful and the ground exquisite, but how did it become a viral meme on social media?

The photos of the inside of the house were not what you might expect. The house, apparently owned by an artist, was filled to the brim with a hodge podge of strange and unusual decor. There were at least a dozen mannequins, including two hanging from the ceiling and a nearly naked male mannequin standing in the bathroom. Every horizontal surface was covered with dolls, tchotchkes and items that are probably materials for the artist’s work. The walls were covered in art and the beds held more pillows than I could count. There was even a mannequin on a riding mower in the yard. I returned to the site over and over again and found something new each time I scrolled through the pictures.

I’m an artist, so I get it. I couldn’t live that way, but I can understand the mindset of someone who might. Several commenters thought this was an extreme case of hoarding. Perhaps, but the house was obviously clean and though it appeared chaotic, there was order in the madness. I don’t know how they would ever move all that stuff if they managed to sell the house. It was hard to see the beauty that was beneath all that stuff. The last time we sold our house, our realtor insisted that I remove as much as possible, including family photos. “You want perspective buyers to be able to imagine their own things in the house.” I can usually see beyond the “stuff” but not so in this house. Perhaps those who can afford it will appreciate the artistic touches and will see the possibilities after all the art is removed.

After several days without internet in the last few days, I realize that I waste a lot of time perusing websites like product reviews and unbelievable real estate, but laughter is good for us. Laughter reduces stress and releases endorphins which promote healthy well-being. A banana slicer and a house full of mannequins may seem ridiculous, but the story of Abraham and Sarah is even more so! Who could ever expect a ninety-year-old barren woman to give birth? It made Sarah laugh and everyone who heard her story laughed with her. She found joy in the unbelievable plan of God and lived a long, healthy life to enjoy it.

God’s plan for our lives at time seems ridiculous, but we can find joy in it, too. Find some reason to laugh today even if it seems like a waste of time. It will do your heart and your spirit good.


July 21, 2023

“After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A great multitude followed him, because they saw his signs which he did on those who were sick. Jesus went up into the mountain, and he sat there 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 was coming to him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may receive a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were sitting down; likewise also of the fish as much as they desired. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the broken pieces which are left over, that nothing be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which Jesus did, they said, ‘This is truly the prophet who comes into the world.” John 6:1-14, WEB

The first words ever uttered on film by Matthew McConaughey were “Alright, alright, alright” in the classic 1992 film “Dazed and Confused.” Serendipitously, it became his catchphrase. Said Matthew: “That phrase follows me or precedes me wherever I go. And people go, ‘Does that ever annoy you?’ And I say no and let me tell you why: those are the first three words I ever said on film. In a little summer job on a film called ‘Dazed and Confused’ in 1992. At that time, I didn’t know if that was the only time I’d ever be in front of a camera in my life. I didn’t know if it was going to be just a little three-day hobby and I'd never be in front of a camera again. 28 years later, here we are. It turned out to be a career.”

We want to do the big thing. Many college students expect to graduate and find a job with a salary that will fulfill all their dreams. They think they’ll be able to move into a luxury apartment, buy the latest car, plan our leisure activities. We want to accomplish great things and we want to do it today. Unfortunately, many college graduates discover quickly that they need to start at the bottom. They need to work in the mail room before they can get to the top office suites. Some need to get work experience in fast food or retail before they find the right job in their chosen field. Sometimes we need to accomplish something small before we can make the big thing happen.

We want to do the big thing in ministry, too. I don’t think there’s a pastor who doesn’t have hope that the congregation will grow. They have big ideas about the ministry they will do in their town. They rush in and try to do the big thing, but when it fails, they become discouraged and begin to doubt everything about their calling. They have heard about people doing big and impressive things and do not understand why they can’t do the same. What they forget is that those people who did big and impressive things began somewhere. It might be little more than a home bible study or a prayer vigil in their neighborhood. The gave God what they had, and God grew it into that big and impressive thing.

Matthew McConaughey’s story is unusual. For every actor that becomes a star from a small three-word quote, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of actors whose career never grew like his. The same is true of ministry. For every big and impressive ministry there is, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small congregations that are doing the best they can, trusting in Jesus to give them success. Some of those college students will never make it to the top office suites, but they’ll never get anywhere unless they begin somewhere.

Andrew understood that the best we can do is begin with what we have. What if Matthew McConaughey had said, “I want a bigger role”? He might never have worked again. He was satisfied with those three words and embraces the reality that his little beginning has led him to something much bigger. The best ministry stories are those from pastors who can tell you the impact their first small congregation had on their life. The two small fish and five barley loaves of an opportunity from God was the beginning of something bigger, something God grew into something big and impressive.

We don’t really have to strive for a career or the big and impressive thing in our ministry. We simply need to take what we have and give it to God in the hope and expectation that God will use it to His glory. He can do miracles, although He doesn’t always do them. We might want to feed the five thousand, but how much impact will you have if you share a word of truth with one person who crosses your path today. We are excited when God does the big thing, but we need to begin at the beginning, giving Jesus our two small fish and five barely loaves so that He can feed our little corner of the world. And then whatever happens, always remember the small beginnings and the things Jesus can do with whatever we have to give Him.


July 24, 2023

“A leper came to him, begging him, kneeling down to him, and saying to him, ‘If you want to, you can make me clean.’ Being moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, ‘I want to. Be made clean.’ When he had said this, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was made clean. He strictly warned him and immediately sent him out, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.’ But he went out, and began to proclaim it much, and to spread about the matter, so that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was outside in desert places. People came to him from everywhere.” Mark 1:40-45, WEB

As the owner of a website, I get many emails from different companies trying to sell me the latest greatest way to get business. They offer services that will boost traffic to the site. Facebook is the same. If more people visit my site, then I will have a better chance of making a sale, which means more cash in my pocket. They obviously have not read the website or my page, because they would see that I have nothing to sell. I do have books and art you can buy, but from the beginning I believed that God intended my website to free of any sales. I would enjoy having a larger following, but most of these services cost money, a financial output that I can’t afford. I’ve done what I can, but long ago trusted that those whom God intended would find their way to my words.

I once heard a pastor say that if he had been Jesus’ press agent, he would have recommended that Jesus wait until now to come. After all, in ancient Palestine, there was no multimedia advertising available. In today’s world, one or two well planned miracles in front of CNN cameras and Jesus would be an overnight sensation. However, that’s not how He worked. Imagine Jesus preaching to crowds of people with cell phones recording His every word. Then again, technology makes it much easier for us to doubt what we are seeing on video. Perhaps that’s why Jesus didn’t wait until our generation.

By the time Jesus met the man with leprosy in today’s story, He had already healed many people. The word was spreading, and people came from all over to see Him. They wanted Him to touch them and make them well. Leprosy was a horrible disease, one that made the victim an outcast of society. You could not even touch a person with the disease, or you too would be unclean. Jesus didn’t care; His compassion went far beyond expectation. Jesus could have simply spoken the words “Be clean,” and the leprosy would have been gone. But Jesus touched him physically, reaching beyond words into the man’s heart.

Jesus warned the man to keep quiet about the healing, but to go offer a sacrifice to the priest. Instead, he spread the good news. Jesus was not looking for popularity; He wanted to establish His authority as the promised Messiah. Unfortunately, he was receiving notoriety too quickly; people were not coming to hear Him preach about the kingdom of God, but rather to be healed of their infirmities. This is why Jesus did not wait until our modern age, when a few minutes on television would bring Him fame, fortune and screaming crowds. It would have also brought out the skeptics who would negatively comment on every post, causing doubt and uncertainty about what was happening.

Christianity is religion that is based on personal relationships. It is about being willing to touch the outcasts and the sick. It is about sharing our faith with those people who cross our path each day. But most of all, it is about having a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. How tempting it can be to respond to those emails from Internet companies wanting to sell some new scheme to expand the website or to pay to boost my posts on Facebook. Yet, that has never been the purpose of our work for the Kingdom of God. Jesus touched people’s hearts by curing their ills, but His purpose was always to give them the kingdom of God. Perhaps I could reach more people, but God will make His Son know in our time just like He did in Jesus’ time. Our Christian journey is the same as His: we are to give a bit of our hearts so that the world will see God, know His love and mercy, and have a personal relationship with Him.


July 25, 2023

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.’ He said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared.’ When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant toward James and John. Jesus summoned them, and said to them, ‘You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:35-45, WEB

The Bible teaches us simultaneously about being bold and meek. It might seem strange to put those two together since they seem to be so far apart. When one is bold, he or she seems presumptuous, stepping out in confidence that gives the impression of pride. There is an assertiveness that is not present in someone who is humble. Meekness is exactly the opposite, a humility that shows no pride or arrogance.

Yet, boldness is not always a negative trait and humility is not always true. I hesitate to share my website with people because I do not want to seem too presumptuous or proud. I don’t want to force my gifts on others and often sit back and wait, expecting that God will open the right doors for me to share. This is a mock humility. God blesses us with gifts to be a blessing to others and we sin against God by hiding them under a false meekness.

So, as we look at the stories of God’s people throughout the Bible, we see both stories of boldness and stories of humility, some of which are quite shocking. Recall the story of Abraham who humbly offered hospitality to the LORD in the desert, and then boldly stood before the LORD to plead for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. This boldness is shocking, but it is the very attitude that Jesus teaches us about prayer. Ask, seek, and knock, Jesus said. Not only that, but Jesus also encouraged us to expect and answer from God. People like Abraham and Jesus were meek, which does not mean they were like doormats. Being meek means being brave and courageous, with humble authority, dependent on God.

Today we celebrate St. James the Elder, the son of Zebedee and brother of John. In the Gospel lesson for today we see another story of boldness. James and John went to the Lord Jesus and asked Him boldly to make them his right- and left-hand men. They wanted positions of authority in the Kingdom of God, positions of honor. They really did not know what they were asking. They thought that the seats of honor were to be in an earthly kingdom, that they would be rulers along with Him in an Israel free from Roman rule. However, the cup Jesus would drink and the baptism He would undergo was for a kingdom much greater.

Jesus told them that they would indeed suffer for the sake of the kingdom, but He could not give them the seats of power. Only God had the authority to offer such honor and Jesus would not assume such authority.

The other disciples were upset that James and John would be so bold. This request was definitely not done in humble submission to God’s will and was quite presumptuous in the eyes of their friends. Yet, Jesus took this opportunity to teach them a lesson in true humility and right boldness. ‘But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant.’ The one who will be great in the kingdom of God is the one who will humbly step forth in boldness of faith for the sake of others.

John did not suffer the same end as his brother James. The two were also the disciples who wanted to call down fire upon a Samaritan town. They were always among the inner circle of Jesus. They went with Jesus to the mountain of Transfiguration. Jesus responded to their request with a promise that they would drink the cup Jesus would drink. John lived a long life, but was persecuted and imprisoned. James, however, was executed by Herod the king (Agrippa), the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12). The death of James gave Herod the boldness to arrest Peter, too.

It may have seemed bold for James to seek a place by the side of Jesus’ throne, but like all the apostles, James was human and made mistakes. He was foolish in his understanding when he walked with Jesus, but he grew in faith. He was so faithful that he willingly stood against the powers of the world for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, speaking with humble authority and depending on God. James is the patron saint of Spain; some suggest that he went to Spain to spread the Gospel. It is said that his body was returned to Spain after his martyrdom. He may have been bold, but he was humble, too. His bold humility led to growth in the Kingdom of God, and that’s what being a faithful Christian is all about. We might make mistakes, even false assumptions, but God’s forgiveness always grants us second chances. Like Jesus chose James despite being one of the Sons of Thunder, Jesus chooses us despite our imperfect qualities and helps us to grow into a faith that can change the world with God’s grace.


July 26, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for July 30, 2023, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Psalm 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52

“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37, WEB

Our psalm for this week comes in the middle of a grouping. They were not written together; some are attributed to David (122, 124, 131, 133), one to Solomon (127), several are from during or after the exile, and others may be attributed to descendants of David. The editor of the Psalter, perhaps Ezra, grouped Psalm 120-134 together and added the title “A Song of Ascent”. It is possible that these psalms were already being used by pilgrims traveling toward Jerusalem for a festival at the time of editing, but they were definitely used in liturgical form afterwards. You can almost imagine the exiles singing these psalms on their way home to Jerusalem. Psalm 120 bemoans being far from home, and there are places in the psalms where it seems like the singers were able to see Jerusalem from a distance. Jerusalem was built on a hill and the temple was made with white marble, so it almost glowed when the sun was just right. At other points, you can imagine that they’ve lost sight of the city and are feeling tired and frustrated.

There are several theories as to why these were called the “A Song of Ascent.” Some think they were used because there was a spiral staircase of fifteen steps that lead to the Temple, and that one of these Psalms was sung on each step. Some thought it had to do with spiritual ascent, suggesting that the singer became closer to God with each Psalm. Yet others think that it has to do with a rising musical pitch, although we don’t have the music behind the songs they sung. Another possibility is that they were sung as pilgrims approached Jerusalem during their festivals’ physical and physical journeys.

Jerusalem or Zion is mentioned in several of these Psalms, including the one for this week. The city was on a mountain, and pilgrims ascended upward to get to the Temple and closer to God. Zion was considered the highest mountain in the world not because it is taller than others but because of its spiritual significance. God dwelled in Jerusalem, in the Temple. Pilgrimage always leads the pilgrim toward God.

These psalms are all relatively short; even more so because they begin just after Psalm 119 which is the longest of the Psalms. The longest is only 18 verses and the rest are under ten verses, with two having only three verses each. This makes it possible to sing them all together, making them as if they are one psalm. Each Psalm has a simple theme and can easily be adapted to other situations for focused prayer. I’ve used them as I’ve prayed for our nation, fitting the words to fit our needs, praying for God to help us. These psalms have words of lament, comfort, confidence, celebration, thanksgiving, wisdom, instruction, deliverance, penitence, forgiveness, unity, and praise. They go back and forth between lament and celebration. Isn’t that our life’s journey? We struggle and we praise. We lament and thank God for His blessings.

Psalm 125 is a confession of trust, thanksgiving, confidence. It is a community psalm. It is about dwelling in the peace of God. The psalmist writes, “Those who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, which can’t be moved, but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Yahweh surrounds his people from this time forward and forever more.” How we live in a world of sin is dependent on our perspective. When we trust in God, we know that we will be unmoved even when tragedy strikes. When we trust in God, we can face our enemies with grace. We are a holy people, set apart to share God’s love with the world. We weren’t chosen because we are particularly special; we aren’t. He has made promises to His people, from the days of Abraham, Moses, and beyond. We have become His people through faith, and we are called to live according to His good and perfect word.

We are blessed to be a blessing and we are called to share Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of God’s love for the world. Jesus was sent to set us free to live faithfully in that love. We will face enemies; Christians have faced enemies during every generation since Jesus. Yet, we need not concern ourselves about these things, for the difficulties we face in sharing God’s grace will not stop the work of God in this world. We might struggle and lament, but we also praise and thank God for His blessings. Our life in God’s Kingdom is both comfortable and difficult. We hear God’s word and like the promises, but we struggle with the things that warn of judgment.

The parables in Matthew 13 look toward a day of judgment. The Gospel lesson for this week includes a number of parables, all about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus uses these parables to bring a deeper spiritual truth into common language for the people listening. At the same time, parables can be confusing because we want to fit our own understanding into the stories, often making the meaning too complicated or not really listening to what Jesus has to say. Now, parables can be understood in different ways, depending on one’s perspective, but we must be careful. It is so easy to make the stories fit our own opinions and interpretations while missing out on the deeper truths that God would have us know. Sometimes we even say we understand when we really aren’t paying attention to what God is saying.

Our passage for today is preceded by a few other parables which were told to the crowds. We’ve heard the parables about seeds and weeds. Jesus also talked about the mustard seed and leaven, two very small things that can become huge. Then Jesus left and went into the house. His disciples followed. Jesus revealed the meaning of the parable of the weeds and then told several more parables, with a slightly different focus, teaching how a small and hidden thing can become something of great value.

Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field. The man who found the treasure hid it again and then went to purchase the field. Now, some are bothered by the idea that the man hid the treasure again, suggesting that there are legal and ethical problems with the way this story is told. Yet, the man who found the treasure could have easily just taken it without bothering to purchase the place where it was found. We learn in this parable that great treasures come with some sacrifice and cost. How many people think that they can have the benefits of God’s grace without giving up one’s self? The man who found the treasure wanted it enough to go to great trouble to possess it. He will love and appreciate what he has received far more than the one who would simply take it from its hiding place.

Again, Jesus tells a parable about a pearl of great price. In this parable we learn that the kingdom of heaven is something of such value that we should be willing to give up everything we have to gain possession of it. It is tempting to see these two parables as a statement about the work we must do to receive the kingdom of heaven for ourselves, but we are reminded that the value is not in our work but in the treasure. These are stories about letting go of ourselves and our stuff for the sake of something that is worth so much more than we could possibly give. We are made part of the kingdom through God’s grace, and by His grace we are called to go into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. It is to be like those pilgrims singing “A Songs of Ascent”, growing into a deeper relationship with God. It is not enough to know about God’s kingdom, or even to be part of it. We are called to possess it, to grasp it and hold on to it, to make it a part of our whole being.

We are called to a living faith.

After Jesus spoke to the crowd and the disciples in parables, He asked the disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” The disciples answered, “Yes” but we know that the disciples did not always understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Even after the resurrection, Jesus had to repeat lessons He had taught them for so long. Even with the knowledge and understanding all Christians gained from the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, we still have questions. There are still things we do not understand.

Parables are often hard and confusing. First of all, we don’t always understand the earthly aspects of Jesus’ examples because we aren’t farmers; our world is different than the one to whom Jesus was speaking. How many of us really know about seeds? Do we know how we would react if we found hidden treasure or a fantastic pearl? The spiritual aspects can be even more difficult, but with the Spirit’s help we can understand. We can look at those parables and understand that Jesus is talking about sacrifice and commitment. We can see that the kingdom of heaven is of great value and worthy of our dedication and submission. We can interpret those parables to our own lives and learn lessons that will help us grow into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. As “A Song of Ascent” suggests, the pilgrimage leading to God will be filled with times when we lament and other times when we have reasons to praise. Every experience of life is worthwhile because God makes all things work together for our good.

The final parable is perhaps the hardest of the three. Jesus said, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, that was cast into the sea, and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach. They sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”

We look at a parable like this with a sense of victory. We believe that “others” are our enemies and are the wicked in the story. We are glad to know that God promised to take care of our enemies in the end. We are so certain about this that we think of our enemies as they will be, in that furnace of fire weeping and gnashing their teeth. Sadly, this brings us a sense of joy, although it doesn’t give us comfort.

When Jesus asked whether they understand, I imagine the disciples were thinking in these very terms. They could already see the writing on the wall. Shortly before this lesson of parables, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. The people were astonished, but the Pharisees claimed that the power Jesus used in the healing was from Beelzebub. Beelzebub was the prince of demons. In this interaction, the disciples could see that the relationship between Jesus and the authorities was not going to be congenial. The Pharisees and teachers of the law approached Jesus demanding proof of His authority; they wanted a miraculous sign. Jesus refused, establishing in the minds of the disciples that this was not going to be an easy ministry. Even Jesus’ mother and brothers questioned Him. They were going to have enemies. The only comfort in doing work against so many enemies is to know that in the end you will be proven righteous. The proof is in the failure of the enemies to win. The proof will come when God weeds out the weeds and severs the wicked from the righteous. The proof is in the blessings we receive by God’s grace because we believe.

When Jesus asks us, “Have you understood all these things?” we want to say “Yes.” We want to see this parable through the eyes of our vindication. We will be the good fish, saved from the furnace. We will be the ones who receive the kingdom of heaven. There is something deeper and more important in this parable, and the other parables, however. We are constantly reminded that we are not the king. We do not rule the kingdom of heaven. We are not judge, jury, or executioner. Eternal judgment is never up to us because God is in charge. He will weed out the weeds and sever the wicked from the righteous. We can’t see the hearts. Those we see as wicked may been seen much differently through the eyes of God. It is God who will make the judgment and He looks at things much differently than we do.

We have to see the world through wider eyes. Our understanding is so narrowly focused, based on our biases. We see things through our culture, our gender, our experience, our geography, our race, our religion, our hopes, and our dreams. We see things a certain way because of our personalities, our financial condition, our relationships. Jesus tells the disciples, however, that they have to see things through new eyes. Now that they understand the kingdom of heaven, they have to see things through the old and the new. We have to do the same thing, seeing the world and the kingdom of heaven through the eyes of those who have been given the understanding of God. He is King and we have been called to teach the world this wonderful truth, trusting that He will make all things work to His glory.

The psalmist wrote, “Those who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, which can’t be moved, but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Yahweh surrounds his people from this time forward and forever more.” How we live in a world of sin is dependent on our perspective. When we trust in God, we know that we will be unmoved even when tragedy strikes. When we trust in God, we can face our enemies with grace. We are a holy people, set apart to share God’s love with the world. We weren’t chosen because we are particularly special; we aren’t. He has made promises to His people, from the days of Abraham, Moses, and beyond. We have become His people through faith, and we are called to live according to His good and perfect word.

We don’t have to defeat our enemies. Living faith means trusting that God is with us and that He will ensure that everything will be made right.

It doesn’t always make sense. Every time I study the parables of Jesus, I come up with different ideas. We recognize the reality that we can’t do it without God. That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s epistle. We are weak, but God is able to search our very hearts and speak the words we are unable to speak. He knows all the things we do not know, and He ensures that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. God is truly greater than we might expect, able to make incredible things happen; He is more valuable than the riches treasures of earth. Just like those examples in the parables, God is able, and He will do exactly what He has promised.

Paul writes, “He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things?” The work of God through Jesus Christ made us free to live according to His Word. We need not worry about the seeds that won’t grow or the weeds that do. We need not concern ourselves about the size of our mustard plant or which fish we should catch. These things cannot keep us from the love of Christ. As Paul writes, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is why the pilgrims could sing songs with so many different themes. They trusted God in their good times and bad. They journeyed with Him as they went to worship Him.

We are blessed to be a blessing and we are called to share Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of God’s love for the world. Jesus was sent to set us free to live faithfully in that love. We will face enemies; Christians have faced enemies during every generation since Jesus. Yet, we need not concern ourselves with those things, for the difficulties we face in sharing God’s grace will not stop the work of God in this world. Through it we will grow to be closer to Him and stronger in our faith. He promised that this would be true.

We take this one day at a time. Even if the seeds we plant seem miniscule, or seem to fall in the wrong places, God can grow a harvest beyond our imagination. Even when the yeast disappears in the flour, it is there to make it rise. The treasure we have found is worth the price of our lives, for our lives were worth the sacrifice of God’s Son. In the end, some of the catch will be thrown back and the weeds will be burned, but this is God work to decide. Even when we face the struggles of life, we can live in the confidence that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.

Even though the parables say different things about the kingdom of heaven, each one only gives us a glimmer of the whole. We take each of these pieces, like the proverbial puzzle, and put them all together to see the whole picture. In the end, what we see is the grace of God. It is God that grows the plants, and the Spirit that makes the dough rise. It is God who gives up everything for the sake of the treasure, and you are His treasure. Jesus was sent to die for your sake, there is no greater sacrifice. And as in the parable of the weeds, it is not our place to make a judgment about which fish are good or bad, for God will be the ultimate judge.

Jesus concludes this lesson with a message for the disciples: those who would be teachers of the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things.” Jesus was not saying that one is better than the other. The disciples were not to disregard the lessons found in the Old Testament scriptures. Rather, they were to use all God’s resources to share the kingdom of heaven with the world. Paul certainly did by pointing to the lessons and the promises he know from the Old Testament scriptures.

Jesus asked the disciples, “Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes” but as we see the story of Jesus unfold, they did not always understand what Jesus was telling them. Did they really know that Jesus had to die and rise again? Did they expect the kingdom to expand after Jesus ascended to heaven? Did they truly understand the work that would be done by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost? It is not likely. In this series of parables, Jesus was showing his disciples how to make the old new and fresh, how to preach the kingdom of heaven in a way that the people would see it in their everyday life and understand how it applies to their life.

Jesus calls us to living faith in the kingdom of God, even if we do not fully know or understand everything He has taught us. Good or bad, God is with us making everything work out for our good. There is a great deal of comfort in that, especially when things don’t go so well. Just knowing that God is working things for our good, we can face the difficulties with patience and courage. We are made part of the kingdom through God’s grace, and by His grace we are called to go into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. It is not enough to know about God’s kingdom, or even to be part of it. We are called to possess it, to grasp it and hold on to it, to make it a part of our whole being.

Jesus’ parables help us see more clearly the whole kingdom of God, for He reigns over all. This is why it is important that we seek His wisdom and discernment in all that we do, for in seeking His guidance we will find that He will bless us far beyond what we even ask. All too often, however, we ask God to bless us with the wrong things like victory over our enemies instead of seeking His wisdom and discernment. When these are the desires of our heart, we lose sight of God and His mercy. We forget that all we have is given by God’s grace. We get caught up in ourselves and forget that God loves our enemies, too.

Christ reveals the wisdom of God and unfolds the words of God and reveal His grace. In Christ we are conquerors, called to take the Gospel to all people that they too might have real life. We will be vindicated, but not because we have done anything to deserve it. We will still struggle to understand it all, but we can trust that truly Jesus conquered sin and death so that we will be forgiven our sin and made new in His grace.


July 27, 2023

“But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions, and sufferings: those things that happened to me at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them. From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:10-17

I went to the store this afternoon. I needed a few groceries, but I was in a location of the chain I don’t visit often, so I wandered to see if there were some other things I should buy. It is the time of year when the aisles are filled with back-to-school supplies. I may be a little geeky, but this is one of my favorite times of year. I always enjoyed taking the kids to fill their lists with all the necessaries, and a few of the things they wanted. My kids are grown and while I do help fill wish lists for different organizations, it isn’t the same. I can’t help but walk around the islands filled with crayons and pens and pencil sharpeners, wondering whether I need a few more. If you saw my supply drawer you would know I don’t need any more, although I usually come home with something new.

I always visit the clearance aisle of the store, and I like to check out what new movie is available on Blu-ray. I wander through the clothing section to see if there’s something fresh and new for my wardrobe. I check to see if they have an item that has not been on the shelf at my usual store lately. Filling my shopping cart would be so easy and what should be a quick trip to pick up a few items for dinner ends up being an hour-long wander and a hefty bill at the register.

Supermarkets use tricks to tempt you to spend more money. First of all, they put unnecessary items like sweets, toys, and junk food in convenient places near the items you need to purchase. Have you ever noticed that the shelves of candy are often right across from the cereal? Cereal is one of the most frequently purchased food items, so mothers have to go down that aisle. Most mothers have children in tow, and supermarkets tend to put kid friendly products at eye level for children. This is especially true of sweet cereals, animal shaped pasta, children’s drinks, and snacks. When children see these items, they beg mom to buy them.

Another thing they do is they put items on an end cap so that it appears as though the item is on sale. They usually aren’t cheaper; sometimes the stores end up with an overabundance of an item, so they use the end caps rather than taking up storage space in the warehouse. They tend to rearrange the store on a regular basis, a practice that drives me crazy. There may be another purpose, but it seems as though they do it to keep you in the store, walking around as much as possible so that they can tempt you with other items. In another effort to keep you shopping, many stores have installed coffee or snack bars. A person with a cup of coffee in hand does not need to rush through the store. The music is slow and peaceful, so you take your time and look at far more on the shelves than you had intended. Finally, they tempt you with good smells like fresh bread, cakes, cookies, roasted chicken, and other food items. The minute you walk in the smells whet your appetite and you spend more money. This manipulation works on me. It is very rare that I leave the store with only the items on my list.

Unfortunately, there are those that will use similar types of manipulation to get you to buy ideas and practices. This even happens when it comes to the things of faith. I had a friend who got caught up in a church that was more like a cult. The church owned a coffee shop. When people visited the coffee shop they were made to feel at home. The members joined them, chatted with them, and shared their faith. My friend was made to feel like one of the family. It was so easy to want to get involved. She eventually realized that what they were teaching twisted God’s Word and she left.

I worked in retail management, so I was trained in all the tricks of the trade. For awhile I was in management at a national toy store that also sold other products related to children. Our diapers were sold below cost, just low enough to get parents of young children in the door. The diapers were displayed at the very back of the store so that those parents had to walk past miles of toys. The hope was that they would find something else along the way. Grocery stores do the same with dairy products.

What do we do as churches to get people through our doors? Do we have some sort of manipulative techniques to make them want to stay? Unfortunately, many churches do so, and they even use the teachings to draw people in. They share a message that we want to hear, filling our brains and hearts with warm fuzzies. Yet, in the end we end up buying something like junk food. It does not fill us or make us whole. We have been given God’s message of love and grace and it has been planted in our hearts. Christ Jesus walks with us, the Holy Spirit speaks to us. The life that we are called to live isn’t always what we hope or expect. As Paul reminds Timothy, we might experience difficulties, especially when we listen to the temptations the world throws at us. We have the Holy Spirit that helps keep us from being overpowered. We can trust that God has given us all we need to walk in His grace and share His Gospel with our neighbors.


July 28, 2023

“But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. Who doesn’t know that in all these, Yahweh’s hand has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? Doesn’t the ear try words, even as the palate tastes its food? With aged men is wisdom, in length of days understanding.” Job 12:7-12, WEB

There is a book called “Following Atticus” by Tom Ryan. It is the story about the life-changing relationship between a man and his dog. Tom was a bit of a loner, a man who had trouble building relationships and who really didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of anyone or anything. He ran an independent newspaper in a small town in New England, a paper that took on the powers of the town. He was equally loved and hated and was often threatened for the stories he was writing about corruption in the town. One day he learned about a dog that was unloved and unwanted. Regretting it even as he volunteered, Tom adopted Max. Max was a miniature schnauzer, exactly the type of dog Tom would not like. In the eighteen months that they lived together, Max made an impact on Tom.

Max died, leaving a hole in Tom’s life, so he found a breeder who sold him another miniature schnauzer which he named Atticus M. Finch. Atticus became part of Tom’s work, going with him everywhere as he did his research for his paper. Tom was not in the best of shape, but having a dog meant going on walks. They eventually started hiking the trails of White Mountains National Park in New Hampshire. There are forty-eight 4000-foot peaks and they rather quickly hiked all forty-eight, earning a place in the four thousand foot club. One day Tom decided that they should do the winter hikes, too. There is a very exclusive club for those who hike to the top of all forty-eight peaks twice in a season, meaning that they do ninety-six peaks in the ninety days between the winter solstice and vernal equinox.

People thought he was crazy. He was barely in good enough shape to hike the mountains, let alone trying it in the snow-covered winter months. Even worse was the fact that he was putting a miniature schnauzer through the same challenges. He was repeatedly told, “You can’t take that dog up there,” but Atticus not only survived the adventure, he flourished in it. Tom was always careful to let Atticus lead the way and if the dog was not comfortable with a hike, they didn’t go. Unfortunately, though they tried for two seasons to hike the ninety-six in ninety, they didn’t quite make it either year. Still, they did more than I could ever have done, and they did it together.

Tom and Atticus went through many other struggles. Besides facing the threats of those who were not happy with Tom’s newspaper, Atticus became ill with cataracts and cancer. Tom could not afford to deal with the doctor’s bills but refused to let Atticus suffer. Thankfully, many of Tom’s friends helped with donations. Many hikers who followed Tom’s adventures on the mountain trails also helped. The doctors did an amazing job and after it was over, Atticus was healthy enough to go back onto his mountains. Atticus lived for fourteen years and taught Tom lessons about patience, perseverance, and love. They faced every challenge together.

While I disagree with many of Tom’s ideas about politics and religion, I learned lessons from his stories, too. I listened to the book on CD when I visited Colorado a few years ago and recalled so much of it as I drove (not hiked!) to the top of Mount Evans. I imagined little Atticus looking over the views with me, pointing with his concentration at the serenity of the endless peaks of the Rockies. I wondered how he managed to climb the steep trails on those mountains in New England and how he didn’t get tired as he bounded along trail after trail. I shivered in the cold wind and chilly temperatures in mid-July, marveling at how both Tom and Atticus could have survived through winter storms. And I realized, even though Tom did not really believe in God, that God could use both Tom and Atticus to reveal Himself to those who are willing to listen.

I don’t think I’ll ever hike to the top of a mountain, though I’ve visited my own mountain tops in my own way and wondered at God’s marvelous grace through His creation. He made those mountains and planted the seeds of every tree and wildflower. He gave life and breath to the animals that live there. His hands made it all. Job knew this, despite the difficulties that he was facing. Job knew that God was in the midst of it all and that we can see and hear Him through all God’s creation. He governs all life and we who will see can find wisdom even in the actions of a miniature schnauzer. Tom may not have understood the power of God, but he was healed by the gracious hand of God through the creation He made.


July 31, 2023

“The elder to Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be healthy, even as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brothers came and testified about your truth, even as you walk in truth. I have no greater joy than this: to hear about my children walking in truth. Beloved, you do a faithful work in whatever you accomplish for those who are brothers and strangers. They have testified about your love before the assembly. You will do well to send them forward on their journey in a way worthy of God, because for the sake of the Name they went out, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. Therefore if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. Beloved, don’t imitate that which is evil, but that which is good. He who does good is of God. He who does evil hasn’t seen God. Demetrius has the testimony of all, and of the truth itself; yes, we also testify, and you know that our testimony is true. I had many things to write to you, but I am unwilling to write to you with ink and pen; but I hope to see you soon. Then we will speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.3 John 1:1-14, WEB

I worked in retail management after I graduated from college. It was a great job for a single woman, but it required long hours. In one store, I worked from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. at least once a week. At one point I was helping with a store remodel and did two full time jobs for about three weeks, more than eighty hours a week. I had no responsibilities except for my cat, I loved the work, and I enjoyed the hefty paychecks. When my husband and I got married, I considered applying for a transfer to a store near my new home, but that type of schedule is not conducive to a happy marriage. Instead, I chose to set aside my career goals and focus on my family.

I didn’t want a career, I just wanted a job to keep myself busy, especially since my husband was active-duty military and would likely be gone on lengthy deployments. I was going to avoid retail, but one day it just happened. I was purchasing things for our new home at a department store and the manager of the home fashions department hired me on the spot. It was the perfect position for me; I worked as a part time cashier with opportunities to use my talents in other ways around the department. I loved helping customers pick out home fashions for their own homes. My boss was surprised that I was not seeking a management position, but I assured her that I made a career decision because I wanted to use my time and energy on family.

I was quite successful at the position, receiving commendations from the store manager and good reports from customers. I enjoyed my job: the hours, the tasks, and the store discount. However, my manager was uncomfortable with my presence. I suppose my success made her paranoid that I was working so hard to rise up the corporate ladder. She was happy with the work I did in the beginning, but her own insecurity made her act out against me. She did everything she could to make me miserable. She gave me lousy hours, often refusing to work my schedule around days I requested off. She assigned me the dirtiest, most difficult tsks, usually in the stockroom where I could not help customers or to make me invisible to the other store management. Finally, she broke a promise and I quit. When I left, I reminded her of our original interview and my lack of interest in a management position. I told her how much I loved my job. For months after I stopped working for her, she tried to get me to reconsider but by then I was pregnant and ready to be a full-time wife and mother.

That type of jealousy is often unfounded, but it is based on people’s insecurity and fear. It even happens in our spiritual lives, as fellow Christians worry about how our faith will affect their place in the church. They reject us from fellowship because they fear that we’ll take their place. Or they ignore our gifts so that we never find our role in the congregation. In today’s Epistle, John wrote to Gaius about a man named Diotrephes. John had sent itinerant preachers to the churches in Asia, but Diotrephes refused to welcome them at his. He wanted to be in control and did everything he could to keep the competition away. He even gossiped maliciously about John and his associates. John wrote to Gaius to commend him and exhort him to continue doing what is good.

The manager had no reason to be concerned about my intentions. However, her management practices were questionable, and it was after I left that she realized how much I helped keep her department running smoothly without hurting her career. The early churches were no different than today's churches; every church is filled with humans who are imperfect in thought and action. The Apostles sent preachers to help guide the churches and to resolve difficult situations. In that age, just like today, some of the leaders of local congregations did not want help. They had selfish desires rather than the desire to share the truth, which is Jesus Christ, with the world.

Dear friends, be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ by sharing hospitality with those who cross your path with a message from God the Father. Be kind to your brethren in Christ, even if they are strangers. They come to you in His name to encourage and edify for the glory of God. There is no reason to be jealous or afraid of their gifts because they come from the same God who gave you yours. Everything works for the glory of God when we trust in His faithfulness. Be thankful for the opportunity to share your gifts and receive that which they have to offer with praise and thanksgiving to God.