Welcome to the June 2008 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes























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


June 2, 2008

Scriptures for June 8, 2009: Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:1-13, 18-26

Romans 4:13-25 For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they that are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect: for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were. Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.

There is no hope in the law because there is no guarantee in it. We can do everything right—obey every traffic signal, speed limit and safety code, but we can still be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up in an accident. For example, I was working a job in New Jersey doing quality control for a mobile disc jockey company. On my way from one job to the next, I was in a town with which I was unfamiliar. I was lost, unsure which direction I needed to take to get to the hall, so I got into the left hand turning lane and waited for the green arrow. When the light changed, I checked traffic. All seemed well, but as I was turning a car flew over the small rise on the other side of the light, ran the red and hit me so hard my car spun around before coming to a halt. A can of soda on my seat flew into the dashboard and exploded. I might have done the same had I not been wearing my seat belt.

I did everything technically right when I was driving that evening, but my decision to make that left put me in the wrong place at the wrong time. I based that decision on poor information and that turn was taking me in the wrong direction. When I left that house that day, I assumed that I would make it home without incident, but I could never be sure of it, even if I did absolutely nothing wrong. Things happen, and they even happen to people do their best to do what is right and good. Unfortunately, even when we obey all the laws, there are things we do not know that might affect our journey. In my case it was the direction I should go and the heart of the man who ran the red light. If I had known that the left turn would have led to my accident, I would not have gone the wrong way. There is no hope in obeying the law because there is no promise that can be guaranteed.

People who don’t steal become victims of people who. People who don’t murder become victims of those who do. People who don’t lie or cheat become victims of people who do. Even worse, however, is when we do not have all the information and we make bad decisions that affect our lives. Take, for example, a woman who falls in love with a man who is not what he says he is. They marry and soon after the truth becomes apparent. That woman realizes she has made a bad decision and she decides to get out of the relationship. However, in her marriage ceremony, that woman has made a vow before God, a vow that she now must break. While it is the best thing she can do, breaking the vow is still sin. She could not trust in the law to protect her from what happened. However, she could trust in the promise of grace.

Even though she had to break that vow, God is gracious and merciful. Her sin is not counted against her, for it is by faith that we are saved, not by law. Faith does come with a guarantee—not that everything will be perfect, but that God will be faithful to His promises. We can be assured that our trespasses are forgiven and that our failure to live up to the expectations of the Law will never separate us from the God who gave it to us. Faith puts us in a right relationship with God that the Law could never accomplish because we are imperfect and we will make mistakes—both intentional and accidental. Faith puts our trust in the God who can do the impossible. He created the world out of nothing, gave barren Sarah and aged Abraham a child, made Jesus rise from the dead. He can forgive us our faults and keep us in a right relationship with Him today, tomorrow and always.


June 3, 2008

Scriptures for June 8, 2009: Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:1-13, 18-26

Matthew 9:1-13, 18-26 And he entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city. And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven. And behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, and take up thy bed, and go up unto thy house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they were afraid, and glorified God, who had given such authority unto men. And as Jesus passed by from thence, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place of toll: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Teacher with the publicans and sinners? But when he heard it, he said, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners… (The second part of this reading, Matthew 9:18-26, will be addressed tomorrow.)

Jesus asks, “For which is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven, or to say, Arise, and walk?” In the context of this story, it is certainly easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” because I don’t know anybody who can heal a man with palsy with only a word. There was an assumption among those watching this exchange that the paralyzed man was a sinner that deserved his disease. Jesus’ words of assurance that the man is forgiven do not make sense in a culture that blames illness on sinfulness. How can Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven” if the man is still crippled?

Jesus proves His authority by healing the man. In this story, however, it is important to note that Jesus is concerned about the spiritual health of the man and his friends. He saw their faith and assured them that their faith was justified. “You are forgiven.” Jesus does not offer the word of forgiveness for some specific sin that made him paralyzed. He offers the promise of eternal life that comes from faith. Jesus is concerned about the whole being: body, mind and spirit. The people who saw the man rise and walk away were amazed that God would give a man such authority. It was not simply the power of healing that amazed them. They were troubled by this because Jesus seemed to have more authority than those they had trusted with their spiritual lives.

The text moves to the story of Matthew, a tax collector, whom Jesus calls to be a disciple. Matthew didn’t even think twice about following Jesus. It is likely that Matthew had heard great things about Jesus, so he wasn’t going into the relationship blind. Tax collectors made their living by skimming off the top of the taxes they collected. The more they could convince the people to pay, the more they made. Though Matthew was not ill like the man in the first story, he was seen as a sinner, too. Matthew’s friends, the other sinners and tax collectors, gathered to meet Jesus and celebrate Matthew’s new life. Once again, the Pharisees considered Jesus’ actions as sinful, for he was eating with the unclean. Jesus was more concerned about the spiritual than the physical. It did not matter that He was breaking a law because He was doing the intent of God’s law—showing mercy.

Both stories show Jesus offering forgiveness to those in society that were labeled as sinful. The paralyzed man and his friends were commended for their faith and they received the gift of new life by trusting in God. Matthew is not directly commended for faith, but it is obvious in the story that he believes in Jesus because he leaves everything to follow. His faith is a witness to others who want to learn more about his man about which they’ve heard so much. The people who looked toward the law to define the ‘faithful’ is set aside so that true faith can be seen in those that have been rejected in the religious world.


June 4, 2008

Scriptures for June 8, 2009: Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:1-13, 18-26

Matthew 9:18-26 While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples. And behold, a woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: for she said within herself, If I do but touch his garment, I shall be made whole. But Jesus turning and seeing her said, Daughter, be of good cheer; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, Give place: for the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the crowd was put forth, he entered in, and took her by the hand; and the damsel arose. And the fame hereof went forth into all that land. (The first part of this reading, Matthew 9:1-13, was addressed yesterday.)

My mom had this thing she used to say about her funeral. “Don’t bother sending flowers to my funeral if you never sent me flowers when I was alive. I would rather enjoy them now than have them whither and die for no purpose when I’m dead.” There were still lots of flowers at my mother’s funeral, but I fully understood her point of view. Others have the same idea. Most obituaries now say, “In lieu of flowers, please send donation to…” and they list a favorite charity. I don’t know when the tradition of sending flowers began, but it has certainly been around a while. It probably had practical purpose—dead bodies do not have a pleasant smell and the flowers can mask it, at least for a little while. The bouquets also bring a little life and color to a very sad occasion.

Though every generation and race of men have mourned their dead, there are often cultural differences in the way it is done. Some traditions burn their dead, others bury them. The ancient Egyptians removed the vital organs and dried the bodies, burying them with everything they might need in the afterlife. Some cultures have large processions, others private ceremonies. In the case of this young ruler who came to Jesus, the funeral was a lavish affair. There were flute-players in attendance, paid to play mournful melodies for the guests. There was also a noisy crowd, most likely they were paid mourners. The more people mourning, the more important the life that was lost. The girl was the daughter of a ruler, a man of wealth who could provide a great funeral in her honor.

When Jesus said that the girl was not dead, the people laughed. Who would pay such high prices to have great crowds of mourners if the child were still alive? No one is that foolish. Yet, despite her death, the young ruler had enough faith to go to Jesus and ask for His mercy. Jesus went willingly to bring life out of death and hope out of mourning.

Matthew’s version of this story is much shorter than Mark and Luke, but he includes the brief encounter between Jesus and the bleeding woman. Many people, especially those in the ruling class, might have been upset to have Jesus distracted by an outcast sinner such as her. In the other stories we hear that she had tried every method, using all her money to find a cure for her illness. Nothing worked. For those who believe disease is a manifestation of a sinful life, her failure to get well was proof that she was unrighteous. The young ruler did not hurry Jesus away, however. He had patience while Jesus did for the woman what might be done for the girl—healing and restoration. These are stories about faith, about believing in the amazing God who can and does do the impossible. No one thought the woman would be healed, but a faith-filled touch of His cloak and she was made new. The mourners thought it was ridiculous to say the girl was merely sleeping, but the faith of a father brought the One who could make her new. Just like the paralyzed man and the tax collector in yesterday’s stories, Jesus can, and does, make people new. By faith we are saved. Trusting in God, we will see amazing things: healing, restoration and forgiveness.


June 5, 2008

Scriptures for June 15, 2009: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Exodus 19:2-8a And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and Jehovah called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which Jehovah commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do.

The priests of ancient Egypt had an extraordinary vocation in their place and time. Modern priests (this is true of many different types of religions) are called and separated by their god to serve as mediators by offering sacrifices and teaching. This often means more than just religious service. Along with their religious duties, the Jewish priests practiced medical and judicial duties. They also were the teachers, providing both religious instruction as well as practical life lessons to the students. The priests were considered servants of God because they were doing the work God called them to do. That work often included very temporal duties for the sake of God’s people.

The priests of ancient Egypt were servants of God in a much different way. They did not serve the people in any way. They did not preach or teach. They did not act as doctors or judges. They were set apart to meet their god’s every need, from sun-up to sun-down. At the break of day, the Egyptian priests sang a hymn calling their god to awake for the day. The priests then opened the sanctuary door, the place where their god slept, say a prayer over the image of the god so as to bring it back to life again. The god’s image was bathed, anointed and purified. Linen clothes were removed and fresh garments were put on the image. The sanctuary was cleansed with incense, perfumes and cosmetics were applied to the image. Food was laid out for the god. The sanctuary was sprinkled with water, natron (which is a salt mixture harvested from dry lake beds) and resin. The doors were closed and sealed. This ritual happened three times a day. The priests spent their lives serving the physical needs of the god of their temple, whatever it might be.

In this passage, God promised that His people would be a kingdom of priests if they kept His covenant. The covenant at Sinai was a conditional pledge from God that He would act as protector over Israel and assure for her a blessed place among the nations as His treasured possession. The people were being called to separation as a priesthood, servants of God, a holy nation. After time the people lost touch with this idea that each person was called to live as a servant of God, creating a priesthood that was separated to act as mediators between God and man. Even in our Christian understanding, priests are set aside to do the work of God serving mankind by teaching and offering the sacraments.

Though our understanding of God is much different than the ancient Egyptians, who had no traditional religious theology (each temple served a different god and had different, sometimes contradictory doctrines), there are similarities about our vocation as a kingdom of priests. Instead of serving mankind, teaching them the ways of God, the priests served the god by meeting all his needs. Of course, we see God from a much different perspective. Our God does not need to be aroused in the morning. He does not need to be cleansed and clothed. He needs not meals laid at His feet or baths of water, natron and resin. We do not give God anything because everything we have is His.

In other words, as priests we do not serve others, we serve God by serving others. Perhaps that sounds confusing, but it is all about our focus. There are a great many people in this world who do great and wonderful works for others. There are people who feed the hungry and clothe the poor. People who have no faith have compassion on those who need shelter and companionship. There are non-religious people who are concerned about justice and mercy. They are good people. However, God was calling the people of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, to be people who served God. Keeping the covenant meant living as God had called them to live, with Him as their King. We are called to do the same, to do everything we do for the sake of God, to serve Him with all our hearts.


June 6, 2008

Scriptures for June 15, 2009: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; his lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations.

Today is the first day of summer vacation for both my kids. With summer vacation under way for most students across the U.S. I’m sure there are many churches which are in the final stages of planning for their summer bible programs. Vacation Bible School has always been a favorite part of our summer. When they kids were little, I usually worked as a teacher or helper while they attended. As they grew older, they began to work as helpers. It has been such a joy to watch them grow up into leaders that willingly share their love of Jesus with others.

Today’s psalm reminds me of the wonderful songs that we sing with the children vacation bible school and in other children’s ministry programs. The songs are simple, easy to remember, with catchy tunes so the children learn them quickly. Those same songs often drive the mothers crazy the rest of the day because they are so catchy that the children sing them over and over again.

Music is a wonderful way to learn. When we were little children, we learned so many things through music. Sesame Street taught, and still teaches, valuable life lessons through the song. Which child did not learn their letters by singing the Alphabet Song? Every child in Sunday school learned about the love of God with the classic, “Jesus loves me.” Music is not only fun, but it also writes the words and ideas upon our hearts. They become so much a part of us that we find ourselves humming our favorite songs or hymns as we go about our daily task. The music in our soul keeps us close to the things we love.

So, as I read this psalm for today, those old Sunday school songs come back to me. I can hear us singing “I’ve got the joy down in my heart” and “Enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.” These songs remind us of the joy of living in relationship with God, of being joyful in His presence. It is in the power of music that we are able to remember the simplest, but most important, things about God. He has written His Word on our hearts, and we can easily reach for those words in the songs that we hold dear. In our singing or humming or words of praise, we keep God close to us, remembering His truth and sharing them with the world. Shout for joy and sing joyful songs, give Him thanks and praise His name! Jesus loves me, this I know and I’ll sing with joy and thanksgiving in my heart because He has made us and we are His!


June 9, 2008

Scriptures for June 15, 2009: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Romans 5:1-8 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Zachary was selected to go to Space Camp this summer, a thrill for a young man interested in pursuing a career in space and engineering. I’ve had some questions about the program, so called the office through which he was selected for this special opportunity. The lady who answered the phone remembered Zachary from a theatre camp he attended last year. She was so excited for him because she knew how much he was interested in the subject. The theatre camp where the lady met Zack is not being held this summer, and so we talked briefly about how disappointed we were for the kids. She was disappointed also because she always enjoyed being a chaperone. She said that she hoped Zack would continue to pursue theatre opportunities because he is such a natural.

Zack is a character. He definitely stands out in a crowd. He is easily remembered when he becomes part of a group, appears on stage or even when he is having dinner in a restaurant. He’s quick to tell a joke, most of which come from the joke books he likes to buy. He’s right in the middle of most conversations, telling people about some stupid thing that I did or how ancient his father really is. He makes friends easily and impacts those he meets in very real and lasting ways. Zack also has character. He is sweet, kind and helpful. He is ready to hold the door open for a long line of people at the store or give a classmate some help with homework. He is honest, polite, encouraging and filled with love. He is generally recognized for his citizenship at school and his faith at church. He impacts so many people in very real and lasting ways because of his character.

Zack’s character—that which makes him stand out in the crowd and makes him different from others, is both an outward manifestation of his personality and the inner foundation on which it is built. This character is founded on the faith he has received through his relationship with Jesus Christ and it is on faith that his entire life is being built. It can be seen in the way he lives, there is just something special about him. He’s a character, and this is obvious from his outward personality. But there is something much deeper, a peace that comes from hope in the promises of God; this is manifest in the character that is seen in the way he lives his life.

Hope comes from character. Character comes from perseverance. Perseverance comes from suffering. We might wonder how a young man of just fifteen years might develop character through suffering, but Zack is not perfect. None of us are perfect. We fail and we suffer the consequences of our failure. He’s made mistakes, mistakes for which he’s needed to be disciplined. He’s made mistakes that have caused poor grades, sunburn and missed opportunities. He has made adults angry and has lost friends. He’s been hurt, sick and sad because of things he’d done wrong. Haven’t we all? It is faith that brings us through our times of suffering, as we persevere through tough times with God’s promises as our firm foundation. We know that even though times are bad today, tomorrow will be better because God has promised. The hope we have in Christ is true, it will not disappoint. It is ours even though we did not, and do not, deserve God’s favor. Living in that hope is a life that is seen in the character of the faithful, in the way we meet the needs of others in this world.


June 10, 2008

Scriptures for June 15, 2009: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Matthew 9:35-10:8 And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and charged them, saying, Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons: freely ye received, freely give.

Matthew writes, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” These were the men who were closest to Jesus. There were other disciples, others who followed Jesus and even who were sent into the world. Luke tells of a second mission when seventy-two are sent to share the Kingdom of God with the nations.

There is an order to Matthew’s list. Peter is listed first and we know from the scriptures that Peter was the one chosen to lead the other disciples after Jesus was gone. The book of Acts tells of amazing works of power. Peter raised the dead and healed the sick, signs of his authority to do what God called and gifted him to do. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is a key character in the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus. Andrew was also a disciple of great faith who handed Jesus a small boy’s lunch as a way to feed thousands of people. Next are listed James and John. They were part of Jesus’ inner circle and were present with Him at the transfiguration and are part of other key stories. Philip, Bartholomew and Thomas are mentioned in some of the stories. Matthew is identified as a publican or tax collector. We know little about the second James, Thaddeus and the second Simon. Judas Iscariot is the betrayer.

These disciples are sent into the world not only with the power to heal, but also the authority. There is a difference between these, although they seem to be very much the same. Power is the ability to achieve certain ends. There must have been something about Matthew that he had the power to collect taxes. The job was like any other—he probably had to interview and prove his worth to the government that hired him. He had to accomplish the task, not only receiving the taxes due but also managing to squeeze out enough money to earn his own living. He had power, the ability to do the job, but he could not have done it on his own. I doubt the Roman government would have stood for a guy collecting taxes without the authority, especially since a freelance publican is not likely to share his take with the government.

Matthew not only had the power to collect taxes, he had the authority to do so. The Roman government gave Matthew the right to exercise his power. Roman authority made his claim of vocation legitimate. The disciples not only had the power to heal the sick and cast out unclean spirits, they also had the authority. Jesus’ authority was given directly from God. Jesus passed that authority to His apostles.

The twelve apostles would never be enough to continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world. The mission on which Jesus sent them was just the beginning. They were just learning how to be His messengers, how to use the power and how to handle the authority. They had a great deal to learn and Jesus would spend years teaching them. For that moment, however, it was just twelve men going out into the world to share the Kingdom of God with others. Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.” Even today we need more people to share in the work of Christ. The world gets bigger even as it gets smaller. There are more and more opportunities to take the Gospel to others, and never enough laborers. It isn’t an easy task, but God gives all that is necessary. Then He calls us, as He called the apostles, to share freely all that He has given.


June 11, 2008

Scriptures for June 15, 2008: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Matthew 10:9-23 Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses; no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food. And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth. And as ye enter into the house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in theirs synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. And brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child: and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next: for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

The passage for today is optional for Sunday’s lessons, but since there are so many important ideas in these verses, I thought I would look at it today.

First of all, Jesus sends the disciples into the world with nothing. They aren’t to take extra money or clothing, not even an extra set of shoes. I’m getting ready to go away for a few days and I’m already thinking about all the things I should take. I don’t need anything but I’m sure I’ll take too much. I always make sure I have some extra cash stashed away, just in case. I can’t imagine being stuck somewhere with no way to get home or no way to take care of my basic needs, so I go prepared. The apostles were commanded to enjoy the hospitality of the people in the towns they were visiting, staying in one place for a time so that they could meet and teach the villagers. I know people have traveled this way for thousands of years, but I can’t imagine not knowing where I will sleep or find a meal on my journey. They didn’t have a LaQuinta or a Denny’s off the highway every few miles.

On this trip the apostles were not to force themselves on the people. If they were not welcomed, they were not to stay. Jesus says, “Shake off the dust of your feet.” Then He tells them the consequences of rejection. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” This does not seem very merciful. However, we have to remember that this was a training mission. The disciples, though gifted and authorized, were inexperienced. How could they convince people when they were not really familiar with everything Jesus would teach them? Unfortunately, those who reject the disciples might not have the chance to hear the good news again.

The work would not be easy. Jesus said, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Some people will not only reject them, some might even threaten them for the things they would do and say. The people were often afraid after Jesus did miraculous things—like the time he sent the demons into the pigs. Jesus was able to get through those tough times. The disciples might not have been so lucky. It was better for them to leave the places where people rejected them than to face spiritual, emotional and physical harm. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” They were not being sent into the world to be hard or harsh. Wisdom in this case meant leaving unbelievers behind.

Though the work they were being called to do was difficult, Jesus reminded them the source of their power and their authority. “Be not anxious how or what ye shall speak for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.” Sharing the Kingdom of God is not something we can do by our own power. It is His power that brings healing and restoration. He approves those whom He calls and gives them (us) the authority to do the work. He speaks through us. The word that saves is His. When we face those tough times, we need not worry for God is with us.


June 15, 2008

Scriptures for June 22, 2008: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Jeremiah 20:7-13 O Jehovah, thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am become a laughing-stock all the day, every one mocketh me. For as often as I speak, I cry out; I cry, Violence and destruction! because the word of Jehovah is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day. And if I say, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain. For I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side. Denounce, and we will denounce him, say all my familiar friends, they that watch for my fall; peradventure he will be persuaded, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him. But Jehovah is with me as a mighty one and a terrible: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail; they shall be utterly put to shame, because they have not dealt wisely, even with an everlasting dishonor which shall never be forgotten. But, O Jehovah of hosts, that triest the righteous, that seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause. Sing unto Jehovah, praise ye Jehovah; for he hath delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evil-doers.

I have been reading the books by Philippa Gregory. One of her books, “The Other Boleyn Girl” was recently made into a movie. The books I have been reading focus on the lives of the women in Tudor England. Although the stories revolve around Henry VIII’s women, they have not necessarily been written as a series. Each book stands alone, and can be read in whatever order you choose. I read “The Other Boleyn Girl first, although I am now trying to put the books in chronological order. I just finished the book about Queen Katherine, Henry’s first wife. I’ve also read “The Queen’s Fool” which is about the relationship between Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Philippa Gregory researches her subjects well, and though the stories are fiction, they are based on historical evidence about the characters.

One of the things that has been obvious about Henry VIII is that he like to hear good news. The people he kept close were never willing to tell him the truth if they thought it might make him angry. Most people learn not to punish the messenger for the unwanted message, but not Henry. Men and women were cast out of his court when he did not like what they had to say. They learned quickly never to say something that he would not like.

It is natural for people to prefer good news. None of us like to hear that our plans have failed or that we have done something wrong. We don’t like to hear that we are going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s time were much like Henry VIII. They preferred good news. The prophets of the day learned quickly that they would do much better if they gave the people, especially the kings and leaders, words that they wanted to hear. If they thought the king wanted peace, they spoke of peace as if it were coming right from the mouth of God. If they thought the king wanted to go to war, they promised that God was behind the war and that they would be victorious.

Jeremiah had no good news for the people. As a matter of fact, the words which God had given him to speak were hard for the people to hear. The words were so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for a man to speak such truth when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of prophets speaking something different. We like to assume that the truth is found in the numbers. Surely the majority would be right? But that is not always true when it comes to God’s word, especially since His judgment comes with the consequences of disobedience.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah surely had no idea how hard it would be. How much easier it would have been for him to be a prophet like the others. In this message, Jeremiah is bold in his blaspheme against God. The New International Version translates the first line, “O Lord, you deceived me.” Perhaps Jeremiah was expecting the job of prophet to be an easy one. Yet, despite Jeremiah’s hard words against God, he still had faith. Despite the persecution he faced by the world to which he was called to speak, Jeremiah still believed in God’s grace. He really wanted to stop being a prophet, but he knew there was no way he could stop speaking God’s word to the world. In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people in the end.


June 16, 2008

Scriptures for June 22, 2008: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18 Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; Shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, And an alien unto my mother's children. For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up; And the reproaches of them that reproach thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, That was to my reproach. [When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword unto them. They that sit in the gate talk of me; And I am the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in an acceptable time: O God, in the abundance of thy lovingkindness, Answer me in the truth of thy salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: Let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overwhelm me, Neither let the deep shallow me up; And let not the pit shut its mouth upon me.] Answer me, O Jehovah; for thy lovingkindness is good: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies turn thou unto me. And hide not thy face from thy servant; For I am in distress; answer me speedily. Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: Ransom me because of mine enemies.

In the stories of King Henry VIII’s women, there always seemed to be someone who could not live like the others. There was always someone who had to tell the truth. They usually suffered for their honesty, left behind when the court traveled during the summer or exiled to a palace or castle far from home.

In the story “The Queen’s Fool,” by Philippa Gregory, a young girl was discovered to have extraordinary insight. She was a ‘holy fool’ a girl who had visions about the people in the court. It was impossible for her to hide her visions, she often spoke out of turn with shocking prophecy about the country and the future of the monarchy. If she’d had control, it is likely she would have hidden the words spoken because they were dangerous visions of the future. She knew what she could say and what she couldn’t say. She knew as well as the rest how to play the circumstances to her favor. But when the visions came, she lost control. That’s why she was called a fool. She was believed, or not believed, as the hearers chose, though in the story it would have done them well to believe her visions. The young girl denied her gift because she knew that it would make her life difficult. She would have preferred to live in quiet anonymity than to be the center of a court filled with politics and intrigue.

I can imagine the prophets of God throughout the ages felt the same way. Though blessed with a gift, they saw the gift as something which would cause them trouble. Just like Jeremiah in yesterday’s message, the psalmist knows that it is his calling to be God’s servant. As a servant, the prophet receives the same scorn as the one from whom he is sent. When a prophet is persecuted, it is the God who called the prophet who is persecuted. For the psalmist, the persecution comes even from his own family as well as the leaders at the gate and the drunkards on the street. But the servant is willing to endure the persecution for the sake of the God whom he serves.

The psalmist prays on, seeking God’s blessing and protection. “But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in an acceptable time: O God, in the abundance of thy loving kindness, answer me in the truth of thy salvation.” Three is hope in the midst of the travail. There is promise even while there is persecution. The psalmist is able to praise God’s tender mercy even as he is suffering at the hands of his enemies. This is the kind of life that Jesus lived, and the kind of life He calls us to live for His sake. Our words do not always land pleasantly on the ears of those who hear, and the response is not always welcome. However, God is with the ones who speak His word into the world, those who stand fast to the truth and speak God’s word to the world.


June 17, 2008

Scriptures for June 22, 2008: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Romans 6:1b-11 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.

Many students are looking for part-time summer jobs. They need something to keep themselves busy while making a few dollars that they can use for the upcoming school year. Many will find themselves behind the counter of a fast food restaurant or bagging groceries at the local grocery store. Some will choose to apply for jobs within their career interests, seeking positions at businesses that might help them prepare for their future. Others will look to companies that provide goods and services for their hobbies and interests.

Take, for example, a student who loves to read. A great position might be at a book store. The disadvantage of this is that the employee will spend all day among books, discovering new authors and new books that they want to purchase. It is very tempting for someone to use their entire paycheck to purchase those books. I am sure that if I got a job at a craft store, I would be very tempted to spend most of my money on the new craft supplies that I see each day. A woodworker in a tool store would spend more money on tools than they take home.

It is possible for an even greater temptation to prey upon the employee. Since the purpose of the job is to earn money for living, most people would not waste it on too many things for which there may not even be time to use. Yet, desire is a powerful emotion, one that leads too many people to do what is wrong. When I was working as a retail manager, I was transferred to a new store because the associate manager fell to the temptation. He was caught stealing merchandise right out the back door, which he was selling elsewhere.

That was an extreme case, but there are industries in which stealing can be easy and even rationalized. How many burger flippers grab a quick burger when there is a respite in customers? How easy is it to grab an ice cream or candy bar at a corner store? Soda runs freely in the cups of employees. Some stores allow for a certain amount of employee consumption, providing product during breaks so that there will be no reason to steal.

My mother worked at an ice cream shop when she was a young adult. The owner of the shop understood the temptation of his product to those young employees. He had a policy that the employees could eat as much ice cream as they wanted. He learned quickly that it was better to allow them to overindulge when they began working at the shop because they soon got tired of eating the product. Within a few days, the employees were no longer tempted with every scoop and they were more productive during their shifts.

It is not just employees who face temptation. We all face temptation as we live in this world. God knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our bodies, minds and spirits. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy. In Christ, we have the freedom to live in the grace of God. We can certainly go out and overindulge in the temptations of this world, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ forgives us. But in our baptism we were buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. We are no longer slaves to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus and called to live in the newness of life that comes from grace.


June 18, 2008

Scriptures for June 22, 2008: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household! Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, proclaim upon the house-tops. And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

There is a commercial for Snapple Antioxidant Water on television. The commercial shows a man take a drink of the water and suddenly realize that he’s walking on bubble wrap. The voice over says, “It helps protect your body.” So, the man goes around the city doing ridiculous things, things you could not do if there were not bubble wrap on everything. He rolls down a huge set of steps. He jumps into a wall. He rides an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and jumps off. No matter how good the water, it would not save a person from the certain harm of leaping from the top of a very large building. The water probably has very real health advantages, but that does not mean that those who drink it will never suffer pain or dis-ease. A bottle of water might help keep us healthy, but we will still eventually know pain and death.

Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.” I’m not sure they are sparrows, but we have dozens of small birds that hang out in front of my window. We have a small bird feeder filled with seed that they love to visit. They spend their days eating and playing in our bushes. Since there are so many birds they purposely through some of the seed on the ground. Then they all can have their share.

It is fun to watch, especially for the cats. They sit in the window meowing at the birds that not only gather in the bush, but also sit on the sill just outside the window. It would be very dangerous for the birds to be so close to the cats, but the window protects them. Unfortunately, the window is also a danger. When the sun is shining and the sky is reflected in the glass, the birds think they can fly in that direction. We hear small birds fly against the window several times a day. They usually fly off to safety in a tree until they recover and quickly come back for more seed.

God knows each time those tiny birds hit my window. He knows their pain and He rejoices when they are able to fly again. Sparrows could be purchased in the marketplace in Jesus’ time for just two for a penny. They were used as food, although a sparrow could not make much of a meal. Human beings were created and charged with the rule of all God’s creation. We are His crown. As Jesus says, “Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” This does not mean that God will cover the entire world with bubble wrap so that we will not suffer the pain of injury. We might even experience the persecution that comes from those who do not believe in the Lord God, but this is not a sign of abandonment. God is with us through the good times and the bad. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us, the ones who follow Him.


June 19, 2008

Scriptures for June 29, 2008: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Jeremiah 28:5-9 Then the prophet Jeremiah said unto the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people that stood in the house of Jehovah, even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: Jehovah do so; Jehovah perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Jehovah's house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon unto this place. Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people: The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that Jehovah hath truly sent him.

At first sight, this passage seems very hopeful. Jeremiah is excited about the idea of peace for Israel. “Amen!” he says to Hananiah’s prophesy in 28:2-4. He follows with a warning, however. He reminds them that all the prophets before prophesied about war, evil and pestilence. Who wouldn’t prefer Hananiah’s prophecy? Peace means that the people would not longer be oppressed and held as slaves. They would be restored to their homeland and the king would rule again. This is a message filled with hope because it promises peace. It is not surprising that Jeremiah would be rejected when faced with a message that contradicts his own warnings. Surely Hananiah is the prophet of God because he is speaking the message that the people long to hear.

Hananiah proves his point with a dramatic gesture. “Then Hananiah the prophet took the bar from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it.” The yoke Jeremiah was wearing is much like an oxen yoke and it was a symbol of political submission. Jeremiah told the people that they should submit themselves to the Babylonians and he stood as an example to them with the yoke around his neck. Hananiah was preaching a different message, a message that promised that the yoke of the Babylonians would be broken and they would be free. Hananiah took Jeremiah’s yoke and broke it, not only showing the power of his message against the Babylonians, but also showing that Jeremiah’s power over the people was also broken. Jeremiah walked away.

There are many people who claim to be prophets of God, speaking ‘Thus says the Lord’ with self-imposed authority. They speak a message that the people want to hear and reap the rewards of their pleasure. If anyone doubts their authority, they prove their power by some grand gesture, gaining the trust of the people who would rather hear his word above others. The one who contradicts these so-called prophets are condemned and rejected, just like Jeremiah.

Jeremiah did not fight the prophet. He agreed with the prophet’s words, saying “Amen, I hope this will be.” But then he reminded the people that a prophet’s words must come true for the prophet to be speaking from God’s mouth. When peace comes, Hananiah will be proven to be a prophet from God. Unfortunately, we learn quickly in chapter 28 that Hananiah is a false prophet. “Hear now, Hananiah: Jehovah hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie.” He might have broken a yoke of wood, but God responded to the grand gesture by making the yoke of Israel a yoke of iron, unbreakable. While a yoke of wood was a yoke of submission, the yoke of iron was symbolic of servitude. The people could have lived in quiet submission to the Babylonians for a season, but because of Hananiah’s arrogance and their rejection of the truth, they would live as slaves to Babylon. Hananiah prophesied restoration within two years, but he died just two months later.

A message of peace is not necessarily a false message and a prophet who speaks of peace is not necessarily speaking against God’s will. However, we are reminded by this message that something that sounds hopeful is not always the way to peace. Sometimes God has something else in mind—a lesson learned, a call for repentance, a chance for transformation and change. We want the warm fuzzies now, the message that promises good things ahead. We might just need a season of something we don’t want to bring us to the place God intends us to be.


June 20, 2008

Scriptures for June 29, 2008: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 I will sing of the lovingkindness of Jehovah for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever; Thy faithfulness wilt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: Thy seed will I establish for ever, And build up thy throne to all generations. Selah… Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: They walk, O Jehovah, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name do they rejoice all the day; And in thy righteousness are they exalted. For thou art the glory of their strength; And in thy favor our horn shall be exalted. For our shield belongeth unto Jehovah; And our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” This quote is found on the website www.acomplaintfreeworld.com, A Complaint Free World. The purpose of the site is to help people understand how often they complain and how insignificant their complaints really are. You receive a purple bracelet which you wear for three weeks. Each time you notice yourself complaining, criticizing or gossiping, you move the bracelet from one wrist to the other. In doing so, you realize how often you speak words that are negative and unproductive.

Anyone can request the bracelets and in small quantities they are free. It is good to do this exercise in a group, as helpmates keep one another accountable. It is important to note that each time you catch someone else in something for which they should move their bracelet, you too must move yours. This helps us to see not only the errors of others, but also the logs in our own eyes. We find it very easy to see how others fail, but it is not so easy to see ourselves in that light.

It is not easy to use the bracelets for three weeks. It becomes very annoying to have to move it from wrist to wrist, even painful if you are having a bad day. The person who introduced the bracelets to my family, our pastor, said that she was wearing one on a day when everything seemed to go wrong. She was running late, had to stop in a store that did not carry the item she needed, got stuck behind a very slow customer with a very slow clerk. When she finally got out of the store, she realized she was very late and the traffic on the route to her appointment was especially bad. There was construction, cars that were inconsiderate and lights that would not turn green. With every sigh and mumbled complaint that day she was very aware of the purple bracelet on her wrist.

The bracelet helped her see that everyone else in the store had their own stresses, including the lady and the clerk. The other drivers on the road were facing the same traffic problems and they had their own appointments to get to. The appointment could wait a few minutes, the person she was meeting would not mind. She was actually blessed to have the car to get around, the money to purchase the things she needed and a friend to talk to at the end of a very stressful day. We see with crystal clear eyes all the troubles we face, but we do not always see our blessings.

Complaining will not change anything. There are times when we have something to say that will make a difference. This might sound like complaining to some, or criticizing, but it is a teaching and learning moment for all. We must still inform others of their mistakes and help them to overcome. Even when we are teaching, however, we are reminded to look at our attitude about the situation. Is this something that can be changed? Can it be changed with a few words? Do we see something wrong because it is not being done our way, or because it is harmful to others? If the situation can’t be changed, how do we react: with grace or grumbling? It is at those times when we can turn to our God like the psalmist and realize how truly blessed we are. As we live in God’s amazing grace, we bless and praise God for all the things that are right and good instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong.


June 23, 2008

Scriptures for June 29, 2008: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Romans 6:12-23 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Romans understood slavery. As a matter of fact, of all the ancient worlds, the Romans held the most slaves. It was a common practice around the world. Many slaves were taken as prisoners of war and since the Romans were fighters and occupiers, they had many prisoners from vanquished nations who could serve in their homes, businesses and even the army. The highly trained and intelligent slaves were worth the most money and often served as singers, scribes, jewelers and doctors.

Slaves were not only prisoners of war. A man, woman or child could be sold into slavery to pay a debt. Any child born into slavery was automatically a slave. For some, slavery meant a better life than they could ever have lived in freedom. The slaves were usually well cared for, often treated as family. Female slaves were often very close to their mistresses, serving as advisors and confidents as well as servants. Most military men were slaves. Treasurers were often slaves. Slaves served in the mines and in other dangerous jobs. These slaves were often condemned criminals.

Slavery was not a dead end street for many of the slaves in Rome. A slave could be freed by the mercy of the master. He or she could buy their way out of their slavery with money they have saved, so at least some slaves were given a salary or gifts. Though they had no rights as citizens, they were acceptable witnesses in court. They were not allowed to enter into public buildings such as the bath house, but were not held prisoner. They had the freedom to move about the city, especially the domestic servants who went to the market and did other errands for the house. The Roman economy depended on slavery, but most of the slaves were well treated and many were able to get out and live as a citizen again.

So, as Paul wrote to the Romans, they understood the concept of slavery. Many of the Christians who heard this letter were probably slaves, since there were more slaves in Rome than citizens. Slaves were lesser people; they were at the bottom of the class structure. Christians were also looked down upon since they did not follow the Roman faith. For many slaves, the Christian message was one of hope for even them, one of equality, one of grace. So, slaves found great comfort in Jesus Christ and believed wholeheartedly in the Way.

In some ancient cultures, a freed slave could choose to stay with a master. If such a choice was made, the slave was nailed to the doorway of the master’s house, the nail through the earlobe. This was a statement that the slave chose to stay as part of the household, willingly serving rather than forced to serve. In the freedom of choice, the slave became a servant for life, welcomed by the master as part of his household forever.

Paul tells us that we are slaves. It is a hard concept for us to understand, we who have never personally experienced the kind of slavery that was experienced in ancient Rome or even in our own nation a hundred years ago. We are slaves to other things, sometimes foolish things. We are slaves to our jobs, our schedules, our kids’ activities. We are slaves to our habits and our desires. We are slaves to sin, just as those Christians in Rome were slave to their sins.

We, like them, have been set free, however. We no longer need be slave to sin. We have been given a much better choice, to willingly serve the Lord. We are still slaves, but we have been welcomed by a Master that will treat us well. As slaves to sin, we are bound to suffer the consequences of our sin. As slaves to righteousness, we will receive the fruit of His grace. As we live in His household, we grow closer to our Master and are transformed—sanctified—into the kind of servant He has ordained us to be.


June 24, 2008

Scriptures for June 29, 2008: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Matthew 10:40-42 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.

It is fun to watch a city after their favorite sports team has won a championship. The people in the city respond with such pride and celebration. They give the athletes the honor due and embrace them with great love and adoration. The people of that city rejoice with their team and claim the victory as their own. Though they do not get to display the trophy on their mantle or wear an expensive gold and diamond ring, the fans receive a great reward for their loyalty.

With the Olympics coming quickly, teams from all over the world are preparing for the competition. The U.S. Olympic committee has been selecting the athletes that we will be sending to Beijing. The competitors are doing their best, with coaches and supporters standing nearby with hopes and good wishes. The athletes, who train and compete together throughout the year are pulling for one another, anxious only for their own spot more than their neighbor. In the end, the best team will be sent, they will do their best and each nation will take home their medals. Though the medals will belong to the athletes who were victorious, their victory belongs as much to their parents, coaches, friends and supporters. The people of each nation, of our nation, will bask in the glory of their success.

I’m not quite sure what reward a prophet will receive. In most cases, the biblical prophets—those who spoke of God—received little more than the rejection and persecution of the people. And yet, they followed their calling with the assurance that they would receive the blessing of God. The reward is not necessarily found in this life or this world, it is found in the promise of what will be. So, those who receive a prophet may not receive a reward like gold or silver, but will have the assurance of the promise which is given to the prophet.

I’m not quite sure what reward a righteous man will receive. As a matter of fact, the righteous ones often suffer the same rejection and persecution that the prophets receive. The righteous ones are the ones who refuse to take advantage of others for their personal benefit. The righteous ones are those who end up as door mats and ladder rungs for the people willing to do anything to get ahead. The righteous ones do not boast of their greatness but quietly live as God has called them to live, in a relationship with Him. Those who receive the righteous will not gain anything but a deeper and stronger relationship with God.

To receive a prophet and a righteous man means receiving a reward, but not a trophy or medal. It means gaining a stronger and more personal relationship with the God to whom they are bound. This is more valuable than any gold or silver, it is an eternal gift, one that will last forever. Receiving the prophet and righteous man is a manifestation of the faith which God gives, the faith which saves. The reward, the assurance of true faith, is priceless.

Isn’t it amazing that a priceless gift such as eternal life takes so little to earn? We need only give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of God’s servants to keep that which God has promised. And yet, even this is too hard for us to do without God’s help. We can not give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of a disciple without faith. We can not serve God in this way without believing in the promise that is already assured through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To receive a prophet or a righteous man takes faith, and only God can give that gift. He is faithful. We can’t lose what He has promised, and so we live in trust.


June 25, 2008

Scriptures for June 29, 2008: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

John 21:15-19 So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Sunday, June 29, we commemorate the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is unlikely that the two saints were martyred on the same day, so the date of June 29th is generally accepted as the translation of their remains. Around the year 258 under Emperor Valerius, the Christians were suffering persecution. The believers feared that the bones of Sts. Peter and Paul would be destroyed, so the remains were apparently moved temporarily to keep them out of the hands of the persecutors.

Some traditions hold that Peter and Paul died on the same day, perhaps even the same year (64 or 67 A.D.), although the experts do not agree. Peter is believed to have been crucified, and traditionally insisted on being hung upside down because he did not feel worthy of dying in the same manner of his Lord. Paul is said to have been beheaded. Both suffered under the reign of Emperor Nero, and their deaths may have been connected to the great fire of Rome. Though the date commemorates their martyrdom, it is also a celebration of their apostleship.

It makes sense to remember Peter and Paul together, after all, they were called to a very similar ministry. They are each remembered on another day during the church year. Peter’s confession is remembered on January 18th. Paul’s conversion is remembered on January 25th. St. Augustine wrote, “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”

The Gospel passage for the commemoration is from John. From the stories we hear about these two men, we can see how very different they were from one another, and yet in many ways they were very similar. Peter came from a humble background. He was a fisherman and though he would have had some education, it would have been very limited. His knowledge of the scriptures probably came at the knee of his mother and when he heard the scriptures read at the synagogue. Paul was highly educated, very knowledgeable about the scriptures and the Law. They both failed God: Peter denied Jesus and Paul persecuted the early Christians. However, they both knew the gracious forgiveness of Christ.

We see that forgiveness in today’s passage. Jesus forewarned Peter that he would deny Jesus during the trial. Jesus was right, and in his fear Peter said he did not know Jesus when he was questioned by the crowd. This happened three times, just as Jesus said. When the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared before the disciples several times. One encounter happened after a night of unsuccessful fishing. As the disciples came in to shore, they saw a man waiting for them. He told them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat. From there, they caught so many fish they had difficulty hauling it. John realized it was the Lord, and the disciples went to shore to be with Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus gave him three opportunities to confess his love. For each denial, Peter made a confession of faith. Each time Jesus forgave Peter by commissioning him to a great task. Peter’s denial had the potential of destroying his confidence to do God’s Will in spreading the Gospel. Christ’s forgiveness gave him the courage and the strength to accept his calling.

Paul also denied Jesus, but even worse, he persecuted the followers of Christ. When Jesus appeared before him on the road to Damascus, Paul fell to his knees in terror and humility. He heard the Good News of promise from Jesus and went on to become the greatest missionary for Christ. We learn from their story, from their apostleship, that Jesus doesn’t call perfect men and women to ministry. He calls those who hear His Word, receive His forgiveness and go out to do the work to which they were called. How often do we deny Jesus in our daily lives? We all have moments when our thoughts, words and deeds are not according to God’s command and will in our lives. We deny Jesus each time we do not feed the hungry or clothe the sick. We deny Jesus each time we speak against our neighbor. Jesus loves us, however, comes to feed us with His Word, gives us a chance to confess our love for Him and sends us out to live and work to His praise and Glory. This is forgiveness.


June 26, 2008

Scriptures for July 6, 2008: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Zechariah 9:9-12 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the nations: and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I have set free thy prisoners from the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope: even to-day do I declare that I will render double unto thee.

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. Unfortunately 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 bad. 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 writes that Israel should rejoice because her king will 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.


June 27, 2008

Scriptures for July 6, 2008: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Psalm 145:8-14 Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness. Jehovah is good to all; And his tender mercies are over all his works. All thy works shall give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah; And thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, And talk of thy power; To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, And the glory of the majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. Jehovah upholdeth all that fall, And raiseth up all those that are bowed down.

Today’s scripture is a prayer of praise to the lovingkindness of God. The entire psalm is an acrostic, a poem in which each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. We do not see this aspect of the literature in English, and our passage is just a part of the entire psalm, but it is interesting to think about the importance of this literary technique. The psalmist found a way to praise God from literally “A to Z.” How often do we think so much about God’s grace that we can write a poem using every letter of our alphabet?

I think the key word in today’s passage is “lovingkindness.” We might want to simplify this word to mean “nice” but that does not describe the depth of the meaning in this passage. Lovingkindness is compassion, mercy: the sympathetic concern for the suffering of another. It comes from the Hebrew word “chesed” which means much more than niceness. It can be described as an action that is not warranted by the circumstances. 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.

Lovingkindness is proactive. The Lord God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, 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. God’s lovingkindness is proactive, coming to us long before we even knew we needed it. Even now that are many in our world who 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 they have anything 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 the compassion given by those who have experienced it. Christians who have heard the Word and have seen the light are God’s instruments of His grace and compassion. 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.


June 30, 2008

Scriptures for July 6, 2008: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Romans 7:15-25a For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

George Carlin died recently. He was 71 years old. 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 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 that 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 not 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. Unfortunately, for some, those words are a vital part of their speech. Every other word is one of the seven bad ones. 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 absolutely do not use some of those words, but unfortunately I find myself using some of them way too much. I don’t want to do it. I really hate when I hear one of those four letter 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 dirty 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 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.