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

























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


June 1, 2023

“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Romans 16:25-27, ESV

I imagine that most of my readers have read a lot of the Bible; you probably have followed reading or devotional plans. You have probably even read the Bible from cover to cover at some point in you life of faith. Those who attend churches that use a lectionary have heard about 15% of the Old Testament not including the Psalms and about 75% of the New Testament. The psalms are used extensively, and we probably hear most of them in the three years. Those who attend Bible study read or hear more.

Yet, I wonder how many of us actually read whole books of the Bible in one sitting. We are used to hearing bits and pieces, perhaps whole chapters, but we don’t have time to read whole books in one sitting in church or class. In my planning for our current study on Paul and his writings, I have been reading his letters as a whole. We like piecemeal readings because we can grasp the information in a few lines. However, the whole letters put those readings into context. It can be daunting to take the sixteen chapters of Romans but reading it as a whole helps us to understand the whole. The Old Testament books are harder to read in one sitting, but we can get so much out of reading the Gospels in one sitting. I know storytellers who have learned the entire book of Mark and they tell it in about two hours. This is they way the early Christians would have heard the story, and it touches us much differently than when we hear it a few verses at a time.

We usually hear the story in short bits at a time, and this is good because each story helps us see Jesus as He is, what He has done, where He was doing, and what He was calling us to do. These are the most basic ideas we get out of the text. It is important that everyone find the time to get to know Jesus through the scriptures, even if it is a bit at a time, but I highly recommend trying to read whole books, especially the Gospels, to hear all the stories in the context of the writer’s point of view.

It is amazing to read the whole books straight through. We do it with that hot summer novel as we sunbathe on the beach, why not do it with the scriptures? It helps us see the story as a whole. We begin to see that it is carefully put together. We get to see the style and focus of each of the writers. Matthew has in mind his Jewish heritage; Mark sees an immediate need for the disciples to be ready to go out into the world. Luke wants to give us an orderly account of Jesus’ life and ministry, while John focuses on the signs that prove Jesus is the Messiah. We can see these differences more clearly when we read each book in total rather than piece it together over the years. We also see that though there appears to be places where the Gospel writers differ, in the end each makes the same amazing claim: Jesus is the Messiah for whom God’s people waited for salvation. Each writer comes at this truth from a slightly different angle, but they all point to the same Christ.

When we think about the disciples, even the Gospel writers, we tend to think they are not the intellectual types. We do know that Luke was a doctor, so he must have had some smarts, but how much did he know about good literary practice? Mark’s Gospel on the surface sounds so much like a news report, with only facts and little depth. John’s original Greek was written in the simplest language; he used almost entirely what we would consider four letter words and could have been read and understood by children. Matthew must have been educated, after all he was a tax collector, but how much could he have possibly known about rabbinic teaching?

We know that the four were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it isn’t surprising that we can see depths in the ideas and the promises that seem to come from beyond human understanding and ability. We all have experienced incredible “light in the attic” moments when we understand something in the text that is beyond the surface. Sometimes we see it when we read just a small passage and God speaks into our life and circumstances in a new way. Sometimes it happens when we see the story coming together as a whole. Sometimes we see it when we delve more deeply into study, when we try to see how the writers are using words or phrases, literary techniques, or references to the Old Testament texts.

When you delve more deeply into the text you can see that the Gospel writers were not unqualified goofs who were just trying to record what they saw and did with Jesus. They formed their stories. They wove hidden ideas into the words on the page. They used patterns that built layer upon layer to help us see more clearly how Jesus truly was the One. John’s use of Greek may have been simplistic, but as you see his references to the Temple of Jerusalem, how Jesus is the Temple, you come to know more fully that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of all God’s promises. You realize that though the surface is simple, the underlying truth is so much more. The Holy Spirit guided the pen, inspired the thoughts, but in the end we see that these country bumpkins were brilliant theologians, pastors, storytellers, and witnesses.

We are in the year of Matthew in the lectionary, so if you are going to choose one Gospel to experience this summer, perhaps you should start with Matthew. Summer and early fall is the Pentecost season in the church, and for the next few months we will be hearing much of what Matthew wrote. It is interesting to see that Matthew was not simply a tax collector plucked off the street by Jesus Christ; Jesus trained him to be a master rabbi.

We don’t need to dig to the depths to know Jesus. We simply need to see Jesus as He is, what He has done, and what He is calling us to do. But we have been given the same Holy Spirit which guided and inspired these brilliant Gospel writers in their task. We can read the text with His mind and see how truly amazing our God really is. I hope over the summer you will read Matthew in a way that will draw you ever more deeply into the heart of God and into the life He is calling you to live. All we need is Jesus, but Jesus is calling each of us into a deeply personal and intimate relationship of trust and obedience through which we will glorify God.


June 2, 2023

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, WEB

Road trips mean that you eat in a lot of restaurants. We were purposeful in our choices, wishing to experience the historic or themed diners along the way rather than running in for a quick bite at fast food places. We found a burger place in Abilene that named all their food after Humphrey Bogart movies. We ate at a steakhouse in Shamrock because north Texas is cattle country. We wanted to eat at a café in Adrian because it is situated at the Midpoint of Route 66. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we were driving by, so we chose a café in another town. We ate at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo because it was not just a meal, it was an experience watching someone try their 72 oz. challenge, seeing their unique décor, and visiting their extensive gift shop.

The nature of our food choices meant that in most places we had waiters or waitresses taking care of us. The places were often busy, but they all handled it well. I’m sure that those historic and themed restaurants so close to the highway and on Route 66 are used to crowds. We were generous with our tips at the end of our meal, which they always appreciate. I did something else, however, which seemed to have an even greater affect on the people who served us throughout the week.

I had some leftover trinkets, little red hearts that I had given away to the local children around Valentine’s Day. I left one of those hearts with the tip on the table as just a little extra something to show that their hard work was appreciated. I left some in our rooms for the maids and even gave some to the staff who served breakfast at our hotels. It was nothing, really, just a little extra reminder that they are loved. I did not always see the reaction, but when I did I was amazed at how much it meant to the servers. We could hear one girl showing it off to the kitchen staff. Another was speechless, with a huge smile on her face.

I say it was nothing, but it was obviously something to those who received one of those hearts. The lesson I learned is that even the smallest acts of kindness can change a person’s day. It can bring them joy. I’m sure they all appreciated the tips, after all that cash helps them pay their bills, but the trinket was something that they could keep and remember that they are loved.

What little act of kindness have you done for someone recently? I have a friend who purposely says, “God bless you” to everyone she meets. That is her gift. I’m not so very good with the words, although I try to be polite and say please and thank you. I sometimes even bless those who cross my path. Words are good and we should use kind words more often. But sometimes I think that people “hear” our deeds more clearly than we realize. A smile brings a smile. Taking a shopping cart from a harried mother helps her as she struggles with little ones. Opening a door for a person with a cane or grabbing an item from the top shelf for a person in a scooter helps them and guards them from accidents. These things seem like nothing, but to the person who receives that smile, who doesn’t have to find the cart corral, who can’t open the door or reach an item, it affects their day in a positive way.

We don’t all have the same gift. You may not have trinkets to give away. You may not feel comfortable saying the words, but God has gifted you to touch your neighbors in small ways that make a big difference. What little act of kindness will you do for someone today? When you do, whether you realize it or not, you are glorifying God in big ways and He will use your nothing to make something happen.


June 5, 2023

“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do.” Colossians 3:12-13, WEB

I was meeting a friend for lunch the other day and arrived at the restaurant a little early. I always keep my e-reader with me, so I settled down to do a little reading. At one point I looked up and noticed a bus from one of the local nursing homes arriving at the front door. With great patience, the driver helped each person from the bus, some of whom required the lift because they were in wheelchairs or had walkers. One man got off and hovered around the bus, waiting. A woman with a walker was helped down on the lift and the man came over immediately. He held her hand as she had to deal with curbs or other obstacles, always watching to see that she was safe. It was beautiful to watch.

I’ve seen this kind of loving care in other elderly couples. They have been married for longer than I have been alive, and I’m sometimes a little envious that they seem to have such constant awareness of their spouses. They hold hands. They make sure the other has everything they need. They remind each other of appointments. They tell stories. They forgive. They are devoted to one another, carrying each other’s burdens in a way that speaks of love.

I confess my envy, but the reality is that my husband and I are at a different place. We have been married a long time, but we are still fairly young and healthy. We don’t need to hover over each other to make sure we are safe. We do all the things of those elderly couples, but we do them differently. We hold hands and tell stories. We remind each other of the important things. We carry one another’s burdens as is necessary. It just isn’t quite as necessary as it will be someday. It is even less necessary in the lives of those couples who have youthful passion and lives that are just beginning. I confess to a little envy of their relationships, too, although I have been there and done that.

I had to laugh during our trip, however. We are beginning to do the things I saw in that couple at the restaurant. Bruce took my hand to help me during our hikes when the path was uneven. We shared our lunch one day because we needed to eat but we weren’t hungry enough for a whole entree each. We held hands as we wandered from antique shop to antique shop, helping each other find a treasure. We have learned to forgive one another more easily. We are more watchful for opportunities to help. Marriage is not the same from the beginning to the end. We transition because our lives change. Our burdens change. Love remains, but even it changes.

We love because God first loved us, and our love is meant to shine through our lives. This means being attentive to the needs of those around us. I think sometimes, especially during the middle years of our lives when we have jobs and children, that we are more attentive to the people outside our homes, which is why we have those periods when we envy the passion of youth and the devotion of the elderly. Let us remember, however, that God has placed us in relationship with people so close that they sometimes get lost in the shuffle. See them. Hear them. It is important to pay attention to the needs of the neighbor and stranger, but never forget the needs of those closest to you so that God’s love will shine on them, too.


June 6, 2023

“Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands! Serve Yahweh with gladness. Come before his presence with singing. Know that Yahweh, he is God. It is he who has 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 to him, and bless his name. For Yahweh is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100, WEB

Many students have celebrated the last day of school, and others will soon join them in the fun of summer vacation. One of the favorite things for many children is camp of some sort, like Vacation Bible School. Several churches I know have already started their week of teaching the children about Jesus. Helping at Sunday school and VBS were ways that I first became involved in church activities, and I went into education because of those experiences. I continued to work as a teacher or helper when my own children began to attend, and then they became helpers as they grew older. It has been such a joy to watch them grow up into leaders that willingly share their love of Jesus with others. Now my daughter is a Youth and Family minister, planning and running her own children’s ministries.

These programs impact our kids, but no impact is so great as the music that we sing. Decades after my own experiences with children’s ministry I’m still reminded of those songs I learned in those days. Sometimes it just takes reading a scripture text to make me break out in song. Some of those songs remind me of people I knew then. In particular I can see the deaconess who led the music teaching the hand movements to the songs.

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.

In ancient lands there were minstrels or bards who traveled from town to town to tell their stories and sing their songs. This is how the history of the nation was remembered from generation to generation. Even the Hebrews sang such songs. Many of the Psalms recount the creation of the world and the exodus from Egypt and the wonderful works of God’s hands. These psalms were hymns sung in worship in the temples as well as in their homes. Mothers used them to teach their children about God. Through the passing of these stories, every generation of Israel knew the mighty deeds of the Lord God Almighty. The stories gave the people courage, hope, and peace. They edified their warriors and built up the nation’s faith in God’s promises as they looked back upon the victories of their past. Israel was always blessed when they were living in God’s Word and remembering His mercy.

Today’s psalm reminds me of the 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 for weeks because they are so catchy that the children sing them over and over again.

Those old Sunday school songs come back to me as I read today’s passage. 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 7, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for June 11, 2023, Second Sunday in Pentecost: Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 119:65-72; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13

“For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6, WEB

I had a friend. We made fun of one another all the time, joking about our foibles and laughing together about our failures. The jokes were all in good humor; she was as quick with an insult to me as I was to her. One day in conversation, I made a joke that I thought was very funny based on what I knew about my friend. I had made similar comments many times before, but this time she was extremely offended and cut off our relationship immediately.

I didn’t understand what happened. She had been making jokes that were equally hurtful toward me only minutes earlier and we were laughing together about it. It didn’t make sense that she would disregard our entire relationship based on one joke. A mutual friend played peacemaker and told me something about my friend that I did not know. My friend had lied to me. If I had known the truth, I would never have made the comment because in that context it was offensive and hurtful. I was extremely apologetic, but also asked my friend how she could have cut off my friendship so quickly when my mistake was brought on by her dishonesty. She wanted me to love the image she had made of herself, but to also treat her as if I knew all her secrets. The two images were polar opposites of one another.

After that, I walked on eggshells every time we ran into one another because I never knew what I might say that would hurt her again. The relationship did not last. She claimed I did not love her as the woman God created, but I could never really know that woman. She did not love herself and denied her God given image by creating another life for herself. She broke off our relationship, but quite frankly I was relieved. I was tired of being blamed for every mistake I made because of her dishonesty. Though I tried once or twice to renew our friendship, she was unable to forgive me and trust me again.

God is faithful and longsuffering. He is steadfast and merciful. The same could not be said about Israel. They still performed the rites of their worship, offering sacrifice according to the laws, but they gave honor to the gods of their neighbors. The people of Israel were giving burnt offerings and sacrifices to God, but they were not giving Him their hearts. They did not really know the God of their fathers or understand the purpose of the things they were doing. They were motivated not by love or praise of God, but out of duty to the expectations of the law and the people. They were obedient to the rules, but lost touch with the intent of what God had for His people.

Their love was fleeting, and it was an image which neither revealed their true selves nor lived up to the expectations of God. It is written in the passage from Hosea that the love of Israel was like the morning fog that disappears as soon as the sun is shining. So it was with God’s people; as soon as they were delivered from difficulty and became prosperous, they forgot the God whose grace brought them out of trouble and into blessing.

We aren’t much different. There are certainly times when we do things for all the wrong reasons, thinking perhaps that it is right when in reality it is far from what God would have us do.

Take, for example, our church attendance. Why do we get up every Sunday morning, get all dressed up (or not), travel to a church building to sit for an hour or so in an uncomfortable pew listening and participating in a service? After all, some suggest that we can worship God anywhere like in a field, on the golf course, or in the privacy of our own home. The television is filled with worship we can watch on Sunday morning; it is even easier since the pandemic since churches have continued to stream their services. We can even listen on the radio. So, why do we go?

A story is told of a man who had a dream about worship from the perspective of heaven. An angel took him into a church one Sunday. Everything was as normal; the people were singing with the musicians and listening to the minister speaking God’s word, yet there was no sound. When the man asked what this meant, the angel answered that it was how worship was heard in heaven, for though the lips of the people were making the motions; their hearts and minds were elsewhere.

For some, perhaps, church attendance is merely habit. It is what we’ve always done. Sunday morning worship is a great place to catch up with old friends and see family. For some, gathering on Sunday is a way to network with other professionals. Some like the music. Others think the pastor is really funny and they enjoy listening to him preach. Some can’t make it through a week without being “fed” by the Word of God. Some don’t want to be there; they moan and groan as they roll out of bed, calling their attendance a sacrifice for God’s sake. How does God benefit from a person whose heart is not involved in the worship? Does God get bigger because of the heartless sacrifice of those who gather for worship? Of course not.

God is steadfast and merciful and seeks more from His people. He says, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” God is not fooled by the false images we create for ourselves. He knows our hearts. We deny God by not being all He has created us to be and by following our own ways. It is not enough to appear to belong to God by our good works and sacrifices. We belong to God when we love as He loves and show mercy to our neighbors.

In the days of Jesus, the leaders were righteous to the very letter of the law. They fasted when they were supposed to fast, and they followed every rule. They did what God had commanded; they sacrificed according to the Law. God desires lives of praise, not the things we think we can give Him. He owns the whole world, the creation and all those who live in it. We cannot give Him anything because nothing is ours to give. We can only sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and look to Him above all else in this world. He is the Lord God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter. True worship will focus on Him, keeping Him at the center of Church, thanking and praising Him for all that He has done.

There is no hope in the law because there is no guarantee in it. We can do everything right; we can 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. An unopen 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 who 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 do. 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. For example, imagine a woman who fell in love with a man who was not honest. They married and she quickly discovered the truth. She realized she made a bad decision and decided to get out of the relationship. However, in her marriage ceremony, she made a vow before God. To overcome her mistake, she had to break that vow. While it was the best thing she could do, breaking the vow was still sinful. She could not trust the law to protect her from what happened. However, she could trust in the promise of grace.

Even though she had to break her vow, God is gracious and merciful. Her sin was not counted against her, for it is by faith that we are saved, not by law. Faith does come with a guarantee. Life will not always be perfect, but God will always be faithful. 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 Him 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 for our faults and keep us in a right relationship with Him always.

There is no hope in the Law, but the Law is given to us for a purpose. Today’s psalm is one part of a twenty-two stanza poem that proclaims the wondrous quality of God’s Word, the Law of God. It is a magnificent hymn about God’s Word. We struggle with this psalm because it focuses so much on the Law, but it is much deeper than we see in the English translation. Some of the words have similar translations, but they mean something much different. In verse 65, the word “dabar” is translated “word,” and it refers to the spoken word of God, that which has been proclaimed by the mouths of God’s servants. The word “word” appears again in verse 67, but this is the Hebrew “imrah” which should be translated “promise.” The psalmist here is not speaking in terms of self-righteousness as we see in so many in Jesus’s day but is seeking God’s blessing and help to live up to His expectations.

We may not have hope in the Law because we live in an imperfect and broken world, but God still calls us to live according to His word. The psalmist knows God’s divine word, His promises, and knows that God is faithful. He compares himself to those who do not know God’s promises. Despite their persecution, the psalmist has not turned away from God. The psalmist is seeking new life and trusts that God will be true to His Word. Our greatest enemy is our own inability to be true to God, but we can trust that He will save according to His promise. When we see our failure through the Law, we see most clearly that our only hope is in God’s mercy.

Matthew was a tax collector who was called to be a disciple. Tax collectors made their living by skimming off the top of the taxes they collected and were seen as taking advantage of God’s people while fraternizing with the enemy. They became rich by convincing people to pay more than Rome required of them. The tax collectors were rejected and were not the right companions for a religious teacher. Matthew was a sinner, but he saw hope in Jesus’ spoken words and His promises. Matthew’s friends who were also tax collectors and sinners, and they gathered to meet Jesus. The Pharisees considered Jesus’ actions as sinful because they had established rules against fellowship with sinners. Jesus was eating with unclean people. How could He be a true teacher of God’s word? Jesus was concerned about the spiritual health of all people. It did not matter to Him that He was breaking one of their laws because He was doing the intent of God’s law: showing mercy.

Jesus offered forgiveness to those in society that were labeled as sinful. Matthew was not directly commended for faith, but it is obvious in the story that he believed in Jesus because he left everything to follow. His faith was a witness to others who wanted to learn more about Jesus. The people who looked toward the law to define the “faithful” were set aside so that true faith could be seen in those that were rejected in the religious world.

Jesus did not simply forgive the sins of the people He encountered. He forgave the Sin that separates us from our Father. Sin is a power that controls us that manifests in the sins, the things we do. Sin causes us to relate to idols rather than having faith in God, and it causes us to be immoral or unjust rather than love our neighbors. Jesus offers the promise of eternal life that comes from faith that leads us to a life where we relate to our neighbors according to God’s Word. Jesus healed many people of their physical ailments, but He also spoke words of forgiveness into their lives. The people were constantly amazed by Jesus’ authority, which was so much more than the religious leaders with whom they had entrusted their spiritual lives. They could see that Jesus was concerned about so much more than obedience to some man-made rules. He was concerned about the whole being: body, mind, and spirit.

Why do we do the things we do? I once heard an interview with a young man who suffered from obsessive compulsive behaviors. He found it necessary to repeatedly do some things like touch certain buttons or check certain switches. These behaviors were not harmful, though they seemed quite silly and a waste of time. Yet, he couldn’t move on to other things until he had completed his ritual. He didn’t think the behavior was selfish because he was certain something bad could happen if he did not complete his rituals, something that might have even hurt others. In a humorous way, he suggested that if we didn’t want the world to end then we should support him in his behavior so that he could continue doing it to keep us safe from harm.

We all have rituals that are part of our lives. I may not be compulsive like the young man in the interview, but I often find myself doing compulsive things that I don’t understand. Do you have to do certain things when you get ready for work in the morning or do you follow a specific pattern in the way you clean up after dinner? Do you spend Sunday afternoon in front of the television with a game and the newspaper? Some people are almost fanatical about the order in which they read the Sunday news. If they find their paper is disorder, it ruins their day.

We might never be able to answer why we do some of the things that we do. An obsessive compulsive can’t give a reason for their rituals and neither can the guy who has to read the paper a certain way every Sunday. On the other hand, we all have some behaviors that we do with a definite motive in mind. We work eighteen hours a day because we want to get ahead in our job, or we want the financial benefits. We walk daily to be healthy. We choose the food we eat for a reason, whether it is for health reasons or because we really like certain foods. Most of our behaviors have a specific motivation, good or bad, and it is valuable to look at our motives when thinking about the things that we do. We have certain motivations when we go to church.

Is it habit or duty? Is it because we are looking for something? Do we enjoy the fellowship with other Christians? There are plenty of good reasons to gather with other Christians each week, though many Christians go for all the wrong reasons. They are doing their duty and nothing more. Their hearts are not in it. Is it harmful for them to attend worship when they don't feel like being there? No, just like the obsessive compulsive whose behaviors do not harm others, the worship martyr who thinks of his or her presence at church is a sacrifice will not harm the worship of others. Besides, God may just break down that hardened heart and touch that Christian in a new and deeper way. Duty is not necessarily a bad thing; we all have days when we would rather not do what we should do, and we do so only out of duty. Unfortunately, duty is turned into law all too easily.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are reminded that the Law does not bring righteousness, only faith can do so. Abraham did not even have the Law, but he was counted as righteous. We too are made right with God through the same faith as our father Abraham. There is no promise in the Law, and thus no hope. What hope did Abraham have? His body was old, well beyond the childbearing years, as was Sarah’s. As he grew older, the possibility of seeing the promise of children as numerous as the stars grew less likely. Yet, Abraham had hope because he had faith in the promise of God. He continued to go forth according to God’s word, not because he thought it would bring him blessings but because he was living in thanksgiving for what God would do.

So, why do we live the life we are called to live? Matthew left everything to follow Jesus. Did he do that out of a sense of duty or faith? Do we go to worship because we might get something out of it like a spark of faith, a message of hope, a little food for our souls? Why do we go out into the world to share the Gospel message of forgiveness with others? Is it because we think we will get some great reward for doing God's work? Do we do it because we feel it is our duty as Christians?

I never understood why my friend lied to me about who she was. The hurts she suffered, not only from me, but also from others who thought they knew her, could have been avoided if she’d been honest with us. We also need to be honest with ourselves and God. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? Sadly, we are much more like the Israelites than we want to be. We get ourselves into trouble, hiding behind lies. We don’t always know the God who saved us or understand His purpose for our lives. We are not always motivated by love or praise of God but do what we do out of duty to the expectations of the law and the people. We try to be obedient to the rules, but we often lose touch with the intent of what God has for His people.

Our motivation matters. Where is our heart? We don’t make sacrifices as they did in the days of Hosea or Jesus. We don’t sacrifice animals, but we do sacrifice our time, our leisure, and our finances. We should not be going into worship with an attitude of mourning over what we think we have lost. Christ comes to heal those who come in faith. He comes to bring reconciliation between people, calling the sick into a relationship with Him so that He can change them and make them whole. He doesn’t need us to be there. He doesn’t need our time or our money. He desires our joy and our worship. Like the psalmist, we seek God’s blessing and ask for His help so we can live our best life according to His Word. Jesus wants us to know Him, to recognize His presence in our lives, and to go forth in faith and joy. He calls us into fellowship, not to suffer together or meet our needs, but to worship Him with our whole hearts.


June 8, 2023

“Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take an offering for me. From everyone whose heart makes him willing you shall take my offering. This is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, sea cow hides, acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set for the ephod and for the breastplate. Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all of its furniture, even so you shall make it.’” Exodus 25:1-9, WEB

I had a friend who knew I was active with church, and she was interested in learning about our congregation. She was thinking about attending some church and she didn’t really like the church where her daughter was active with the youth group. She saw our faith in action in the way we lived and treated our neighbors, and she thought she might like to share in that life. She asked very specific questions about our thoughts on the issues of faith and our practices. She had very firm opinions about certain things, and she wanted to know how we approached those issues.

One of those things was tithing. I told her that we believe in tithing and that we encourage everyone to tithe, but no one is forced to do so. As a matter of fact, most of our stewardship programs persuade our members to raise their giving on a regular basis until they are able to give the full ten percent. Sometimes ten percent seems like an unachievable goal, but it is amazing how much people can manage to give when given the freedom to give cheerfully as much as they are able. Some churches require a tithe, even to the point of demanding proof of income to ensure that the members are really giving. Our church prefers to trust that people are listening to God’s voice as they make decisions about their life of faith.

God wants us to tithe. The scriptures encourage us to give first to God, but Jesus expects nothing less than everything. When it comes to our offerings, God desires cheerful givers. We are encouraged to give to God first, and to trust that God will provide all we need. It is hard to think this way, but we can grow into that trust as we mature in our faith. Step by step we can increase our giving, not just as our income grows but as we realize we can make do with less. That’s why we encourage our members to raise their giving step by step.

My friend was offended by this idea. She told me she couldn’t attend a church that did not require tithes. Yet, in the same conversation, she admitted that she didn’t attend church because she felt she could not give a tithe. “We just can’t afford to give that much to the church.” So, instead of attending worship regularly and giving as they are able, they’ve made the decision to stay home. She is using her idea of God’s demands as an excuse to stay away. I realized at the end of the conversation that she was just looking for a good reason to stay home. She convinced herself that it was better to hide until she was able to give as much as she thought she should, but without beginning with that grain of trust and building over the years, she’ll never have enough “extra” to give to God.

In our scriptures for this week’s lectionary, we see that God desires mercy not sacrifice. If we are to have mercy, God has much more mercy. He does not need us to sacrifice any of our things for His sake. Everything is already His. He gives it to us to glorify Him. The scriptures do talk about a tithe, and it is what God wants from us, but He never asks for us to give sacrificially, but with joy. Note in today’s scripture that people gave as their heart led them to give. Frankly, that often meant giving far more than ten percent. The requirements for this tabernacle were incredible. They needed thousands of pounds of gold, silver, and bronze. They needed fine leather, fabric, yarn, and wood. God instructed Moses to use the best of the best for the tabernacle and He gifted the men and women who built the structure. He did not demand or require the offerings. It was not necessary: the people gave more than enough. “For the stuff they had was sufficient to do all the work, and too much.” (Exodus 36:7, WEB)

We worry that there will not be enough, so we make laws demanding what we think should be required of every person. We have no mercy on those who refuse to sacrifice. We create rules to force our neighbors to give more than they are able, so they turn away. These rules take away people’s freedom to be generous, so they look for loopholes, searching for ways around it, even if it means not giving anything to God. God wants a cheerful giver, and that’s why He calls us to give as our hearts make us willing to give. The truth is, when people have the freedom to be generous, they often give more than a tithe. It is a matter of trust. God will ensure that there is enough, and even more so, for He places in our hearts the willingness to give. Let us have mercy and give each other the freedom to hear God’s call and respond with the same joy as those Israelites who managed to give more than enough.


June 9, 2023

“Therefore, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord. Yes, I beg you also, true partner, help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’ Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:1-9, WEB

I saw a story today about a company in Japan that offers classes to help people learn to smile. For the equivalent of $55, the students sit in a room with a mirror and use their fingers to restretch the muscles around their mouths which have become atrophied from the years of wearing their masks because of pandemic policies. One student said, “I hadn't used my facial muscles much during COVID so it's good exercise.” I remember in the beginning of the pandemic that people said you can see that people were smiling in their eyes, but I remember how little I smiled. I am sure the same was for others. It was hard to be happy in those days.

Have you ever known anyone who was perpetually happy? Have you known one of those people that no matter where they are, no matter what is happening in their life they have a smile on their face? In the movie “Sister Act” starring Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy played Sister Mary Patrick, an upbeat nun who helped Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi) find her place in the convent. Sister Mary Clarence was actually Delores Van Cartier, a Las Vegas headliner who was in hiding because her boyfriend had threatened her life. The convent life was far from Delores’s comfort zone and no matter how temporary it was to be, she needed people to help her adjust.

In one scene, Sister Mary Clarence and Sister Mary Patrick were sitting together, chatting about their lives. Slightly annoyed by the constant giddiness, Sister Mary Clarence asked Sister Mary Patrick if she was always so happy. Sister Mary Patrick answered, “Yes” and said that her mother thought she would grow up to be either a stewardess or a nun. Most of us look at people like her with the same annoyance as Delores. We can’t imagine always being happy. It is exhausting to be with them, how much more exhausting must it be to be them?

Yet Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’” Always is a very long time. Sister Mary Patrick found that place where she seemed to be always rejoicing, but I don’t know many people who can get there. We go through a whole range of emotions, sometimes in just minutes. Even as we watch the movie “Sister Act,” we experience fear, worry, sadness, hope, doubt, and happiness. We react to the experiences of those characters on screen, and we respond with smiles as well as tears.

However, rejoicing need not manifest merely as giddiness. Sister Mary Patrick had that kind of happiness, even in tough times because she always saw the glass as half full. But Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always” to remind us that we should rejoice even as we cry tears of pain and doubt. This is different than mere happiness. This is living out trust in God and responding to the world with a steadfast faith that is visible to the world. It does not mean we have to smile at all moments, but we are meant to stand firm in the promises of God knowing that He is faithful. We can praise God even in the midst of the pain and trouble that we experience. We should be thankful, even when it seems like there is nothing to be thankful for.

Sadly, this letter was written by Paul in part because two fellow co-workers for Christ were at odds. We don’t know why Euodia and Syntyche were fighting, but in our day it seems like even the smallest things can put us at odds with our neighbors. We seem to disagree about everything. We are passionate about our opinions and are willing to fight for what we believe to be right and true. We are divided over politics and religion. Even Christians disagree with other Christians. Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche had differing opinions about certain doctrines of faith or the direction of the new and growing Church. It would be impossible to find full agreement in the pews of our churches today, let alone between church bodies. It makes me sad, and quite frankly I can’t seem to rejoice when I think about these things.

Paul tells the ladies to, “to think the same way in the Lord.” Some translations say, “Be of the same mind.” Does this mean that we have to agree about every detail of our faith? Some might think so, but Paul goes on to talk about rejoicing in the Lord. Despite our differences (differences that occur because God has created us as unique individuals), we can be of the same mind, praising God in all circumstances, even when things are not going so well. We can share the peace of God as we dwell in the love of God in Christ Jesus, instead of dwelling in our differences. As Paul writes, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things.” Jesus Christ is all this, and in Him we can rejoice together, singing praise and thanksgiving to God. We won’t always be happy, but by God’s grace we can see Jesus in our neighbors even when the world around us in imperfect and our opinions differ, which is where we find the joy like Sister Mary Patrick lived.


June 12, 2023

“Of old, you laid the foundation of the earth. The heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will endure. Yes, all of them will wear out like a garment. You will change them like a cloak, and they will be changed. But you are the same. Your years will have no end. The children of your servants will continue. Their offspring will be established before you.” Psalm 102:25-28, WEB

On May 16, 1933, the U.S. Patent office awarded patent number 1,909,537 to Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. for his invention that would provide a new form of entertainment that Americans would enjoy for at least the next ninety years. Though the number has reduced significantly, Drive-in theaters still exist and are visited regularly, especially during the summer months.

Richard worked for his father’s auto parts company when he came up with an idea. Legend has it that his mother did not like to attend movies because the seats were too uncomfortable for her body, so Richard tried to find a way to make the movie going experience pleasant for her. He experimented in his driveway with the equipment necessary to show a movie that could be viewed from the comfort of a person’s own car. He tried different ramps so that the cars would all have a perfect view of the screen which was nailed to a tree in the yard. He worked out the sound issues, and eventually found the perfect combination. He had his idea patented.

On June 6, 1933, he opened the first drive-in theater in Pennsauken, New Jersey. His theater only lasted three years, but the idea spread around the nation and at its peak as many as 4,000 drive-ins existed around the country. Shankweiler’s Auto Park in Orefield, Pennsylvania opened on April 15, 1934 and is the oldest continuously used drive-in. It has been purchased and run by different people over the years, the latest group taking over in 2022. They recently began showing movies year-round. Shankweiler’s was a drive-in I visited in my youth.

Unfortunately, according to a recent count, there are only 321 theaters left. Despite the advantages of watching a movie from one’s car, the financial outlay for upkeep and fees is just too much for most owners. The owners of Shankweiler’s have been offering opportunities for other events at the theater, the most recent being an antique car show this weekend. Many of the theaters were torn down so that land could be used in more feasible ways. There are those who are experimenting with new ways to create the experience while keeping the costs low. “Guerilla” drive-ins are a do-it-yourself movement that moves around a city which projects movies onto the sides of buildings or other flat surfaces. The location of the movie is advertised on electronic media and the movies tend to be alternative or independent productions. The technology is changing even at the historic theaters, with conversions to digital. It has even made it possible for people like you and I to create their own experience. I have friends who have projected movies onto screens or sheets in their backyard for their neighborhood.

It was fun going to the drive-in. Most of the theaters where I grew up charged per car, so we would pack as many people as we could to get our money’s worth. There was always a double feature. We would load a cooler with our own soda and snacks and take lawn chairs. On cooler nights we would wrap ourselves in blankets and it was not unusual for an ice battle to break out on a warm night. The most memorable visit to a drive-in for me was the dance double feature of “Flashdance” and “Footloose.” Yes, we danced on the lawn around the car.

I am glad that drive-ins still exist. Perhaps the new technology will overcome some of the old problems. It is interesting, too, that the experience that began as one man overcoming a problem in his driveway has evolved into something new, adapting to new situations and solving new problems.

Christianity, too, began with just one man: Jesus Christ. He passed the work onto a motley crew of followers who were sent out into the world with faith to share Christ’s Gospel message. Over the generations that message has been passed from fathers to sons, pastors to parishioners, teachers to children, neighbors to friends. The way we make it happen has changed. Many churches are using new technology and social media to get share the Gospel. Most churches still use the live streaming they began during the pandemic. Richard M. Hollingshead’s original intent of making the movie experience more comfortable and fun never changed even though the way it is presented has adapted to the modern world. The same can be said about Jesus’ Gospel message. We use new technology, but Jesus and His Gospel are teh same yesterday, today, and always. God has promised to be with those who believe, and we will be with Him into eternity because He is faithful.


June 13, 2023

“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10, WEB

Hate. Hate is an unfortunate symptom of our broken world. The news is filled with stories about people who respond to the imperfections that they see in their neighbors, although most of the time they are seeing their own imperfections reflected in others. We don’t realize that when we view others we are actually seeing ourselves in as if in a mirror, hating our own sinfulness, but attaching it to others. You’ve heard it said, when you point a finger at someone, you are pointing several back at yourself. All too often when I hate that someone has cute me off on the highway, I realize that I did the very same thing to someone else.

Hate has led to some horrific events. And those events lead to more hate. People easily assign blame to large groups of people because one person did something that reveals hate. Hate begets hate. Blame begets blame. The truth is, most often when we begin to hate someone for something, it is because our conscience holds us guilty of the same hate that we see in them.

I’d like to say that I don’t hate anyone. I surely don’t hate those that some would accuse me of hating. However, I do struggle with hate. We all do. I would be lying if I said I did not hate anyone; we all would be lying if we said we do not hate. However, I do not hate the way the finger-pointers claim I hate. See, hate is a human emotion that plagues all of us. Oh, a majority of people do not hate to the extreme of causing a horrific event. We don’t take our hate and act upon it in violent or extreme ways. But can any one of you honestly tell me that there is absolutely nothing in this world, or nobody, that you strongly disliked? I think it is more true now than it has been for a long time.

“Well,” I hear many of you saying, “I really hate Brussels sprouts, but that’s different.” You are right, there is a difference between hating a vegetable and hating a neighbor or an enemy. However, the fact that you hate the vegetable should make you pause a moment to consider that you are capable of hate. Now, take it a step further. Brussels sprouts may not be an enemy, but you avoid them, don’t you? Take that thought a step further: is there anyone in your life that you have chosen to avoid? Is there anyone who has done something to you that makes you say, “I don’t need that in my life?” Anyone on social media have probably unliked or unfollowed someone because they have said something that is not in agreement with our point of view. It is better to separate than to allow someone’s hate to beget hate in our lives. Oh, I’m sure you can say, “I love that person, but...” That “but” is the very point of this devotion. We love because that is what God expects of us, but in our hearts we do not always love.

We define hate as intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, but hate is simply, “a very strong feeling of dislike.” Be honest, isn’t there something or someone for whom you have a very strong feeling of dislike? I don’t hate the driver that cuts me off or the person I unfollow on social media, but I will honestly say that I hate so much that I see happening in our world today that O I find myself having to remove myself from it. I hate that some people think the best way to deal with their hate is to cause some horrific event.

The Old Testament understanding of “hate” is this: “hate can be active, as an enemy or adversary; or passive, as someone unloved or shunned.” This is what we see in the story of Isaac and Esau. Paul wrote in Romans, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” God did not hate Esau as we might define it; it would be better rendered, “Jacob I chose; Esau I rejected.” Now tell me that you have never rejected anyone. Does that mean you would respond by choosing violence? Of course not; most of us know that we are called to deal with our neighbors with lovingkindness, even those whom we have chosen to exclude from our lives.

Hate separates and divides. I wish I could love everyone with a complete and real love, as Jesus loves me. I hope I hate less today than I did yesterday. I try to love as Jesus loved me, but I fail. I am human and I am a sinner. I live in a broken world, and I separate myself from the things and people whose actions beget hate in my life. I don’t want to be unloving, but when I can’t love as God loved me, the most loving thing I can do is step out of the way.

How do we stop hate? This is the question that is asked every time something horrific happens, but I wonder if it is the right question. We can’t legislate people to stop hating. We can’t force them to stop hating. The reality is, we can’t even convince them to stop hating. Human beings, in our sinful, perishable flesh living in a broken world, will hate whether it is active or passive. The key here is to remember that we are all sinful human beings, seeing in others the very things we should see in ourselves. God calls us to confess our sin and let God make things right according to His good and perfect love.

We might think we can force a love that is not real, but in doing so we stand in darkness and keep others in darkness. But by confessing the truth and stepping aside, we give room for God’s Light to shine, not only for the others, but also for ourselves. When we confess our sin and trust that God will be faithful to His promises, we see the light and remember to walk in it. In His light, we can love our enemies and do what is good and right. We might all hate in one way or another, but as we walk in the light, we are much different than those who respond with violence because with God’s help and through His grace we can respond with the lovingkindness that flows from His love for us.


June 14, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for June 18, 2023, Third Sunday in Pentecost: Exodus 19:2-8; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-15; Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-20)

“For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” Matthew 10:20, WEB

Priests are called and separated by their god to serve as mediators by offering sacrifices and teaching. This is true of many different types of religions.

The priests of ancient Egypt had an extraordinary vocation in their place and time. They were servants of their god in a much different way. They did not serve the people at all. 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, said 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 Egyptian priests spent their lives serving the physical needs of the god of their temple, whatever it might be.

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). Our God does not need to be aroused in the morning. He does not need to be cleansed and clothed. He needs no meals laid at His feet or baths of water, natron, and resin. We do not give God anything because everything we have is His.

The Jewish priests served God in the Temple and synagogues, but they also served God’s people with medical and judicial duties. They were the teachers, providing both religious instruction as well as practical life lessons to their students. The priests were considered servants of God because they were doing the work God called them to do. They were set aside to a special vocation by God for His people. Even in our Christian understanding, priests are set aside to do the work of God serving mankind both in the church and in the world.

In today’s Old Testament 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 in this vocation, setting aside those in the priesthood, separated to act as mediators between God and man.

As priests, we serve God by serving others. What is our focus? People of every faith and even no faith do great and wonderful works for others. They feed the hungry and clothe the poor. People of every faith and no faith have compassion on those who need shelter and companionship. There are religious and non-religious people who are concerned about justice and mercy. They are many people we might call good. However, God called the people of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, to be people who served Him. We are called to do the same, to serve God by serving others in His name.

We are so much like the Israelites, though, because we have let our priests become separate, with a special vocation. There is good reason to have specially trained clergy, to have people whose job is to serve God in our sanctuaries, to serve the sacraments and preach God’s Word. Our God is a God of order, not chaos, and churches without good leadership tend to be chaotic. Most denominations provide at least some training and education for their priests and pastors, and processes to select the right people to serve.

We are in the process of searching for a new associate pastor to take over for ours who is retiring. It is quite a process. The committee must consider what we need, what the position entails, and read through many resumes to see who might be the best fit. Then we hear from the candidate, make an offer, and hope that God has put the same heart on them that He put on us. It isn’t easy, and most searches take nearly two years to complete. In these days when there are fewer and fewer pastors, the search can take even longer. It doesn’t help that the people making the decisions are human. One friend recently told me that being on a call committee nearly destroyed his faith, because people disagree and fight over the littlest things. Everyone has an opinion, and it isn’t always a godly one.

You’ve probably seen this joke on the Internet: “Report from the Pastor Search Committee. Did you ever wonder how great Bible characters would be rated by a typical church committee? Now, the truth can be revealed. ‘We do not have a happy report to give. We have not been able to find a suitable candidate for this church, though we have one promising prospect. ADAM: Good man but has problems with his wife. One reference told us how he and his wife enjoyed walking nude in the woods. NOAH: Former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects. JOSEPH: A big thinker, but a braggart; believes in dream-interpreting and has a prison record. MOSES: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator; even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly in business meetings. Some say he left an earlier church over a murder charge. DEBORAH: One word - Female. DAVID: The most promising leader of all until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor’s wife. SOLOMON: Great preacher, but serious woman problem. ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure. HOSEA: A tender and loving pastor, but our people could never handle his wife’s occupation. JONAH: Told us he was swallowed up by a great fish. He said the fish later spit him out on the shore near here. We hung up. AMOS: Too much of a country hick. Backward and unpolished. With some seminary training, he might have promise; but he has a hang-up against wealthy people. JOHN: Says he is a Baptist, but doesn’t dress like one. May be too Pentecostal. Tends to lift both hands in the air to worship when he gets excited. You know we limit to one hand. Sleeps in the outdoors, has a weird diet, and provokes denominational leaders. PETER: Too blue collar. Has a bad temper, even said to have cursed. He’s a loose cannon. PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher. However, he’s short on tact, unforgiving with young ministers, harsh, and has been known to preach all night. TIMOTHY: Too young. JESUS: Has had popular times, but once when his church grew to 5000, He managed to offend them all; and his church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he is single. JUDAS: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We’re inviting him to preach this Sunday in view of a call.’”

This is funny, but there is always some truth to the funniest jokes. I’m not on the call committee, so I don’t know what they have seen in the candidates, but we all make judgments about people, especially those to whom we are giving such great responsibility, that sometimes appear ridiculous to people on the outside. Would any of us have chosen any of the Apostles to be leaders of our churches?

In the Gospel lesson for this week, Matthew wrote, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, who was also called Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” These were the men who were closest to Jesus during His life. 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 were sent into the world not only with the power to heal, but also the authority of God. There is a difference between power and authority, 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. He had to 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 their 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, but he also 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, but they also had the authority to do God’s work. 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 in today’s passage was just the beginning. They were learning how to be His messengers, how to use the power and how to handle the authority. They had so much to learn, and Jesus spent years teaching them. For that moment, however, they were just twelve men going out to share the Kingdom of God with others. Jesus said, “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out 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. We may not be apostles, but we are priests in His kingdom, called to serve Him by serving others.

Jesus sent the disciples into the world with nothing. They weren’t to take extra money or clothing, not even an extra set of shoes. I prefer to take road trips when I travel so I don’t have to limit my luggage. I like having a pair of sneakers to match every color I plan to wear and extra outfits because you never know what will happen. I take my own pillows, things to do if I get bored, and more snacks and drinks than I’ll ever consume. I always make sure I have some extra cash stashed away, just in case. The apostles were commanded to enjoy the hospitality of the people in the towns they visited, staying in one place for a time so that they could meet and teach the people. 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.

The apostles were not to force themselves on the people during this mission. If they were not welcomed, they were not to stay. Jesus said, “Shake off the dust your feet.” Then He told them the consequences of rejection. “Most certainly I tell you, it will 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 rejected the disciples might not have the chance to hear the good news again.

The work would not be easy. Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep among wolves.” Some people will not only reject them, but some might also 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 they were not prepared to deal with. Jesus said, “Therefore 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. “Don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks 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 power and 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. As priests in His Kingdom, we are all called to this life of ministry, serving God by serving others. We may not be trained the way our pastors are trained, but Jesus chose fishermen, zealots, and even a tax collector. He chose you, too. We might not be able to preach a sermon, but the Gospel is so simple that everyone can share it.

A story is told about a famous theologian who, after giving a lengthy presentation on Christianity, was approached by a reporter who asked him to summarize his lecture. The professor thought a moment, and then said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There are times when such simple words express more than elaborate dissertations on theology ever could. These simple and familiar words come from the song “Jesus Loves Me,” written by Anna Bartlett Warner. The song was written by Anna as a poem for inclusion in one of her sister Susan’s books and was set to music by William Bradbury. Anna was a Bible study teacher at the Academy at West Point and shared the song with her students. The cadets were often heard singing it on campus. Who would have thought that such a simple song could become such a powerful witness of God’s grace?

Psalm 100 is the Gospel message. The psalmist invites the whole world, all nations, to enter the sanctuary of God to praise their Creator and Shepherd. It is a universal psalm that looks forward to the day when everyone will acknowledge the Lord and confess His Holy name. This is not a confession just from the head and mouth, but it is about living a life of thanksgiving. It is true that not everyone lives by this today, but we are called to go out into the world to share the Gospel message with others, to invite them into God’s sanctuary to join us in singing His praise. The Lord is good, His covenant love is forever, and it is for everyone.

God promised that His people would be a Kingdom of priests if they kept His covenant. This was not a priesthood like those in Egypt but would serve Him by serving others. They were His treasured possession, blessed to be a blessing. Unfortunately, they forgot their calling and let others be mediators for them. We have trained clergy, but the promise in today’s Old Testament is still meant for us. Peter applied that same promise to Christians in his first letter (1 Peter 2:5) because we are all called to serve God as His priesthood and to dwell in this world as a holy nation.

That’s what the disciples were sent to do on that first missionary journey. They were to serve God by sharing His grace with those who would listen. They had the power to heal and the authority to invite others into the sanctuary to sing praise and thanksgiving to the God who saves.

Jesus told the disciples, “Freely you received, so freely give.” They were never to expect payment for the gift they were given. Jesus also told them that the worker is worth his keep, and we can’t expect our pastors to do the work for free. Unfortunately, the call process in churches is often difficult because the candidates demand more than can be offered, not trusting in God’s provision for their welfare, but taking control so that they can life according to their desires. Of course, sometimes churches do not value the gifts of their pastors. We expect too much, forgetting that we are part of God’s Kingdom, called to share in the work of the Gospel with them. We need to trust God, too, that He will provide everything we need to do His work, even the salary of those we call to serve God in our sanctuaries, serving the sacraments and preaching God’s Word.

I learned long ago, however, that the ministry I do is not about what I can get out of it, but rather about giving freely that which has been given to me. You’ve probably hear it said, “You only get out of it what you put into it.” While this might true, Christians are not to be motivated by the blessings we will receive, but rather by the blessings we have already received. God has given freely; we receive and pass on the blessings. Any payment we receive is to be received with thanksgiving and joy, but never expected.

The bottom line is that we would be nowhere if it were not for the power and authority that He gave us. There would be no message to share if He had not died on the cross. The Kingdom of God would still be under that covenant given at Mt. Sinai, a covenant dependent on our obedience to His Law. Paul tells us that our peace with God is not based on our ability to walk rightly, but rather it comes because we are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is not hard to see the appropriateness of today’s Psalm since it is a song of thanksgiving and joy. It is a song we should sing each day, no matter what we face in our journey of life. We prepare when we travel: we plan our trip, decide what to pack, and reserve hotel rooms. We do this because the nature of hospitality is different in our world today. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, we are called to live as they did: trusting in God to provide all we need, sharing everything freely because we have received it freely.

None of us are perfect. We fail and we suffer the consequences of our failure. A call committee could easily write us off for some imperfection. We are simply not qualified to do this work God has called us to do. We make mistakes, but God has given us this power and authority, as well as everything we need to accomplish His work. He chose a motley crew of men that we would probably reject, but Jesus saw in them something He could use. He sees the same in us. We can trust that God will give us all we need to be priests in His Kingdom, do be His holy nation. It is His Word that we are speaking, and He will speak through us to accomplish His will in this world. This is the best reason to sing songs of joy, giving Him thanks and praising His name!


June 15, 2023

“A certain ruler asked him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus asked him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good, except one: God. You know the commandments: “Don’t commit adultery,” “Don’t murder,” “Don’t steal,” “Don’t give false testimony,” “Honor your father and your mother.”’ He said, ‘I have observed all these things from my youth up.’ When Jesus heard these things, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was very rich. Jesus, seeing that he became very sad, said, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom! For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But he said, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’ Peter said, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ He said to them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or wife, or brothers, or parents, or children, for God’s Kingdom’s sake, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life.’” Luke 18:18-30, WEB

In all the years I have been teaching, I have used this passage as a lesson in unburdening ourselves from the things that keep us from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I learned somewhere sometime from someone that the “eye of the needle” was a gate in Jerusalem so small that a camel could not enter without removing all the baggage. Then the camel would need to crawl through on its knees. Once inside, the baggage could be replaced, and the group could move on.

This lesson makes sense, especially since it begins with a rich man who struggles with unloading his own burden, his wealth, and ends with the disciples claiming that they have done what the rich man could not do. However, I have learned recently that there is no archeological or historical evidence that there was ever such a gate in Jerusalem, either in size or name. The earliest commentators do not interpret this story in this way; it wasn’t until later in history that some people claimed to have gone through a gate during pilgrimage. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) quoted Ansel of Canterbury (11th century) about this lesson. Where did Ansel get the idea? We don’t know.

There is another reason to question the interpretation. First of all, if the gate was a place name, it would have been a proper noun, but is not. Also, the three synoptic Gospels all refer to it in slightly different ways. Matthew and Mark talk about a tailor’s needle but use different language to describe the eye. Luke talks about a surgeon’s needle and a third word for the eye. If it were a place name, there would not be such divergence in the language.

This lesson still makes sense for the idea of unburdening oneself, but as I began to think about this interpretation, I realized that it is problematic. The idea of unburdening ourselves of the things that keep us from entering the Kingdom of Heaven puts the action of salvation onto our own shoulders. If only we put down our burdens, get on our knees and crawl in humble repentance, then we’ll make it! Then we can just take up everything we put down and carry it again, but now we are doing so in a better place! This is like our choosing to give up bad habits for Lent and then gorging in them on Easter Sunday. What have we learned? How have we been changed? This interpretation makes it all about what we can do for ourselves. But Jesus tells us we can’t win or earn our own salvation.

As a matter of fact, when Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to do this hard thing than a rich man to get into heaven, the disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answers, “The things which are impossible for men are possible with God.” Jesus doesn’t say that it is difficult for the rich man to get in but chooses an extreme example to show how impossible it is. A camel cannot get through the eye of a needle and none of us can work our way into heaven. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We can’t unburden ourselves and crawl into the Kingdom of God. We will never be able to earn our salvation.

But Jesus answered the disciples’ question with the Gospel. We can’t do it. It is impossible. There is no unburdening or humbling that can do what God has done through Jesus Christ. It is possible for a rich man to enter heaven because Jesus died for him. It is possible for you and me to enter into God’s Kingdom only because Jesus died for us, too. He has given us faith so that we will dwell with Him for eternity. He took our burdens onto His shoulders, and we don’t ever have to put them back on again because He has destroyed everything that can keep us away from our God. Once in the Kingdom there are things we can, and should, do, and like the disciples we will be blessed for the life we live in faith. But Jesus comforts us with the truth that our salvation is unearned: it is all about Him, not us.


June 16, 2023

“Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. Or who is there among you who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11, WEB

Sunday, June 18th is a secular U.S. holiday honoring all fathers. It is meant to celebrate fatherhood, not only the fathers of our flesh but also our forefathers. Many other countries also celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June, while some countries have set aside other days to be special for Dad. It seems like we’ve been celebrating Father’s Day for as long as I can remember, but it was not officially recognized until 1972. The first celebrations happened early in the twentieth century, perhaps inspired by the celebrations honoring mothers. Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day was first celebrated in a church.

One of life’s greatest mysteries is the answer to the question, “What should we get Dad for Father’s Day?” Most Dad’s don’t really need anything, or the “toys” they want are far too expensive for a child to buy. I imagine many fathers will get a tie on Sunday, yet another for the rack they got for a different Father’s Day to hang all the ties they’ll never wear. Children have a gift of buying the ugliest ones, something that Dad would never wear. Also, in this age of casual attire, few men even wear ties these days. Maybe some dads will get socks, which are the new ties. They will still be ugly and unwearable, but it is the thought that counts, right?

Just like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day was begun by a daughter who realized as an adult what a selfless, giving man her father was. William Smart was a widowed father of six children. In 1909 his daughter proposed the idea of Father’s Day. Others around the country were also doing the same. The first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, which was William Smart’s birth date, in Spokane Washington. In 1924 Calvin Coolidge supported the idea and proclaimed the third Sunday in June a day to celebrate fathers. Congress recognized the holiday in 1956 and Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation in 1966. The holiday was officially established in 1972 by Richard Nixon.

I have always joked about Father’s Day: why does Dad deserve a special day since every day is Father’s Day in our house? Jay Leno once said, “Mother’s Day is the biggest day for phone calls. Father’s Day is the biggest one for short phone calls. Son says, ‘Hi, Dad, Happy Father’s Day.’ ‘Thanks, Son. Here’s your mother,’ answers the dad.” Mothers get roses; fathers get to play football in the searing heat of summer. Mom gets a special dinner at a restaurant; Dad gets to grill hot dogs.

While every day is Father’s Day in most houses, I imagine that most of my readers can agree that the Christian men in our lives who are fathers still celebrate deserve a special celebration. They are loving, encouraging, supportive, strong, and intelligent. They give the children all they need in heart, soul, and spirit. Their faith has rubbed off on their children and the children grow in their love of Jesus because of all they have done to support their faith. Even so, it is also good for us to remember on this day that we have an even greater Daddy in heaven.

Not everyone is this world has a father like William Smart. Sadly, some dads are downright evil, there are those who might give stones or snakes rather than bread or fish. For those who have such a father, thinking of God as a Daddy is difficult if not impossible. To them, the father image brings nothing but pain. However, God is the Father who gives good things to His children: faith, hope, peace, joy, mercy, and most especially love. He is the kind of Father that will bounce you on His knee and listen to your every trouble. He is generous with His gifts, providing more than His children need.

On this Father’s Day, let us remember our dads with silly gifts and spend time with them in thankfulness for all they have done. But let us also take time to thank our Father who art in heaven and hallow His name, for He is a good Father that gives good gifts to His children, especially the gift of eternal life when we will dwell in His presence forever.


June 19, 2023

“My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him, because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have boldness toward God; so whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded. He who keeps his commandments remains in him, and he in him. By this we know that he remains in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.” 1 John 3:18-24, WEB

We visited a castle on the coast of the North Sea in a tiny village called Orford when we lived in England. While we were at the castle, we heard a historian talk about history and the castle. It was fascinating to hear him describe the purpose of the different rooms, and what life was like at the time in its heyday. The historian commented about how history is a continuum not separate moments in time. Each era weaves together into a complete story, and it is vital for us to understand the events of the past if we are to understand ourselves.

This is particularly true with language. There are many words and phrases that we use today that come from the past. In some cases, the meanings of words have changed. Linguistics is the study of language. If you visit a dictionary, there is a section that describes the origin of the word, often pointing back to ancient times or foreign sources. By studying these aspects of language, we better understand what the word meant and why there is some confusion when people of different backgrounds understand words differently. It is often said that England and the United States are separated by a common language. We use the same words that do not have the same meaning. We can use these different meanings to look at things from a new perspective.

Orford Castle was built as a defensive residence for King Henry II. These buildings were called “donjons,” which is a French word for a great keep. As time passed, the kings no longer needed the security of big stone boxes, so they began to build for comfort and beauty rather than defense. The medieval castles were abandoned for country homes and grand palaces and the donjons were abandoned. Sometimes the townspeople tore down the castles to use the stone for walls, buildings, and roads. Some buildings were taken over by the local authorities who used the castles as holding cells for those who were awaiting trial. Eventually they became prisons in some places. Our understanding of the word dungeon comes from this use of the original buildings called donjon. A dungeon (donjon) was once the home for a king, but time and circumstance changed our understanding.

Is your heart a dungeon or a donjon? Is it a place of condemnation or a royal residence? Language changes over time even from one generation to another, but God’s Word remains the same now and forever. It is up to us who believe in Jesus to demonstrate His Word in our lives by shining His grace in our actions. God loved us so much that Jesus died on the cross that we might have His life in us. He gave us the gift of His Holy Spirit so that we might know of His presence in our hearts. It is easy to speak words of love to our neighbors, but it is when we actually live that love according to His Word and obey His commandments that we can walk confidently in the faith that God dwells in us. Orford Castle was used as a prison, but it is remembered as a royal residence. What is the state of your heart? Is it a prison, offering only condemnation? Or is it a royal residence for the King of Kings?


June 20, 2023

“Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do. But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13, WEB

I have seen a post about a bench that was painted bright red at a school playground. A father noticed it and asked his son about it. She told him it is called the “buddy bench”. It is a place where children who feel lonely or do not have anybody to play with sit so that other kids will invite them to play. He was amazed and asked if his son had ever used it. His son said he had when he was new and that it made him so happy when someone asked him to play. He told his dad that he does the same for others. “We all do.”

This is so beautiful and helpful for children who are new to school. It is also good for children who are facing difficult times. We don’t always realize why children are feeling lonely or sad, who need a friend to help them though tough situations. Sadly, children are bullied. Children don’t always know how to deal with struggles that are happening at home. Children can be overcome by the pressures of school, especially if they have not done well on a test or project.

On the post about the bench, the commenters all thought every school should have one of these benches. Some of the commenters even suggested that there should be some for adults. Our struggles may be different than the children’s, but we are sometimes alone, without friends to share our burdens. I know that there are times when I could definitely use someone to ask me to play. The problem is that we find it difficult to know when people are struggling. Adults hide their troubles; we don’t ask for help. The children who sit on the bench don’t need to approach anyone who might reject them; they sit on the bench and the children approach them to help. If we had adult benches, perhaps more people would connect in helpful ways.

The Christian answer to loneliness is to remember that Jesus is always with us. He is our friend and with Him we will never really be alone. We can be with Him in prayer, bible reading, journaling, even sitting in silence. It has helped me in times of loneliness to spent time with God, but I also need friends who can sit with me, hug me, and speak words I can hear. God has appointed us to love and care for one another. It isn’t always easy to know when our neighbors need our help, but when we spend time with God, we are more aware of those to whom God is sending us. He is our red bench, a place we can sit seeking a friend, and toward which we can go to find people who need friends.

We are called to live in the faith, love, and hope that is given through Christ Jesus our Lord. In faith we believe, in love we give and in hope we live together in Christ in the expectation of eternal life as promised. As we walk in faith, love and hope, we share Him with one another, encouraging and building each other into witnesses who will speak the message of Christ Jesus to those who are still lost in the darkness of this world.


June 21, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for June 25, 2023, Fourth Sunday in Pentecost: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-10 (11-16); Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

“Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and honor him. I will satisfy him with long life, and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16, WEB

Our home was a model home when our neighborhood was developed three decades ago. This means our home has some interesting features because the builder wanted to show off as many options as possible for the buyers. I like the floor plan but have to admit that it is a little strange. The fancy fixtures are now old and don’t look as pretty as they did when the house was originally built. We have discovered, as we have done work to update the décor, that some of the hidden aspects, like wiring and plumbing, were haphazardly put together. I dread bringing in a repairman because they always have bad news.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like bad news. It usually means that the repairman’s trip will cost me more money than I expect. Sometimes it means that the problem is far worse than I expected. We had an issue with a toilet. We had a plumber who found some roots. He cleaned them out and everything worked fine, for a few months, then it was blocked again. We called a different plumber who realized that the roots were so deeply embedded that it required digging under our foundation and replacing the pipes. Thankfully our insurance was able to help, but it still cost us a lot of money. Our sprinkler guy hates when I call because he’s certain hell discover yet another shortcut that they took when they built the house which makes repair today difficult.

As much as we hate to hear that bad news, the messengers rarely like to share it. Even though they will benefit from the work of fixing our problems, the bad news is usually as bad for them as it is for us because the fix is never easy. Instead of a quick trip to unplug a toilet or stop a leak, it becomes an hours long project that is frustrating, dirty, and exhausting. We all grin and bear it, knowing that after the work is done and the money is paid, everything will be better. But not all bad news ends so well.

The reign of King Henry VIII was bad news for too many people, especially those who went to the king with bad news. I love to read historical fiction, particularly British medieval and renaissance history. Writers of historical fiction base their books on extensive research, and though they add fictional events, characters, and conversations, the books generally give a good insight into the people and the era. The Tudor age is fascinating, and I think we all love to hate Henry VIII.

One of the things that has been obvious about Henry VIII is that he liked 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. Sadly, there are “yes men” in our world in every generation, including ours.

Jeremiah had no good news for the people. As a matter of fact, he is known as the weeping prophet because of the gloomy nature of his message and his grief for the people of Israel. The words which God had given him to speak were too hard for the people to hear, so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for the truth to be heard 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. The voice speaking God’s truth has often been a minority throughout the ages.

Jeremiah surely had no idea how hard it would be when God called him to be a prophet. It would have been so much easier to be a prophet like all the others, preaching words that tickle the ears of the kings, leaders, and people. Jeremiah was upset with God, even to the point of blaspheme. Some translations suggest that God persuaded or enticed the prophet in the first line of today’s Old Testament lesson. Some versions, however, translate it “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived,” (ESV) Perhaps Jeremiah was expecting the job of prophet to be painless. 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 hated being a prophet and wanted to give up, but he was compelled to speak God’s word to the world. Jeremiah said, “If I say, I will not make mention of him, or speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in. I can’t.” In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people.

We identify with Jeremiah’s desire to remain silent. It would be so much easier to live our faith quietly and peacefully. After all, faith is a personal thing, right? In our world of individuality, we all need to let our neighbors believe what they believe. We don’t evangelize because their religious life is none of our business. We know our neighbors do not want to hear that they are sinners in need of a Savior, so we decide not to tell them. We might talk about Jesus, but Jesus is not a Savior unless the people know they are slaves to sin and need His forgiveness. I have often heard it said we should not wear our faith on our sleeves, but the reality is that God calls us all to be prophets, to tell the truth both good and bad so that those who hear will be saved.

The Gospel is good news that you will never hear if you don’t realize that you are a sinner in need of a Savior.

God calls us to be His voice in this world; He sends us to tell people about Jesus and their need for Him. We want to ignore the call, but we can’t. There’s something within us that demands our faithfulness. Can we truly praise God in the privacy of our homes and the comfort of our congregations when He is calling us to go out in the world to speak His Word to those lost in sin and darkness? We might avoid persecution, but are we being faithful and obedient by being silent? We don’t have to be afraid of persecution. Jesus promised that He would be with us wherever we go until the end of the age.

We are in the season of Pentecost. During the first half of the church year, we study the story of God, particularly as manifested in the life of Christ. We experience the birth, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We see Him complete His work, ascend to heaven, and send the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Now, in Pentecost, we are asked the question, “What are you going to do with this?” What do we do with the gift we have been given? What do we do with the knowledge that has been imparted? Now that the ministry has been handed over to us, where will we go with it?

The answer to that question is sometimes too frightening to hear. We want to live in comfort, to be protected, to avoid anything that might do us harm. I was never what you might call a “helicopter mom” but my kids never had the kind of freedom I had when I was growing up. My mom never knew where I was during summer vacation, and I was lucky if I was close enough to hear her yell when it was time to go home. My friends and I would take off into the woods behind our house or settle into long (very long) games of Monopoly in someone’s basement. I even walked to a friend’s house who lived about a mile away. We didn’t have cell phones. We also did not have the dangers of our modern world. My kids did not have that much freedom, I kept my eyes on them so that they would be safe.

That’s how God is; He always has His eyes on His kids. My kids got hurt every so often. They fell off their bikes. They got into arguments with their friends. They lost their favorite toys. We experience similar troubles even with God watching.

There was once a commercial for some sort of special water that was designed to keep you healthy. The commercial showed a man take a drink of the water and suddenly realize that he was walking on bubble wrap. The voice over said, “It helps protect your body.” So, the man went around the city doing ridiculous things, things you could not do without the bubble wrap, things that you shouldn’t do anyway. He rolled down a huge set of steps. He jumped into a wall. He rode an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and jumped off. No matter how good the water, it would never save a person from the certain harm of leaping from the top of a very tall building. The water probably has some 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 all still eventually know pain and death.

One of the more interesting features of our model home is that the section that was meant to be a garage was used by the builder for his sales offices. After the development was finished, the builder intended to convert those rooms back to a garage. The people who bought the house wanted those extra rooms, so a separate garage was built. This was the feature that sold the house to me. I use one of those rooms for my art studio, one for my office, and one for storage.

My office has windows that look out in three directions. We have bird feeders that I can see out each. I confess that I spend too much time gazing at the birds and the squirrels, watching them play. I’ve allowed an area outside one window to grow wild with flowers so that the bees and butterflies can visit. We planted milkweed to help the monarchs and we have a birdbath for all the critters to drink and play in the hot weather. When we had cats, they loved to look out the windows, often meowing at the critters nearby. Sometimes the birds came so close to the windows that without the glass, they would have been caught. 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. I hear too many birds fly against the windows, slamming so hard that they leave imprints behinds. They usually fly off to safety in a tree until they recover and quickly come back for more seed.

Jesus said, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” God knows each time those 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 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, “Therefore don’t be afraid. You 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 our Lord Jesus, 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 those who follow Him as a mom loves her kids.

We have to remember, however, that despite the saving grace of God, we are still slaves to sin. If we could be good without God’s mercy, we would not need Jesus. This is why it is important that we speak the truth to those who are lost and dying in this world. They need Jesus. They need forgiveness and mercy, but they won’t seek God’s grace if they don’t know they need it. The Good News is exciting to tell, but we have to share the bad news first. This is the part no one wants to hear. They don’t want to know that they are sinners. They just want to know that they are loved. And in this day, they want to know that they are loved for who they think they are, not who God intends them to be. We, like Jeremiah, would rather stay silent because we know how they will react to our message.

The worst part is telling them that they are slaves to sin. Our history with slavery is so disturbing that we cringe at Paul’s use of the word. 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 in Rome. A slave could be freed by the mercy of the master. Some slaves were given a salary of gifts, and he or she could buy their way out of their slavery with money they had saved. 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; 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 of equality and grace was one of hope for even them, 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, pierced through his earlobe. This was a testament 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 most of us to understand, because we never personally experienced any kind of slavery whether in Rome or even our own nation. 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 a slave to sin. We have been given a much better choice, to willingly serve the Lord. We are set free from the bondage of sin and invited to choose to serve 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 and sanctified into the kind of servant He has ordained us to be.

During the season of Pentecost, we read about the ministry of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, watching as Jesus teaches the disciples how to do the work He is calling them to do. In today’s text He told them not to be afraid of those who can cause harm to the body because He can save the soul. Jesus doesn’t wrap us in bubble wrap, but we can go out into the world with the promise that He will not abandon us. As the psalmist says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” God is with us. Jesus will be at our side wherever we may go. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the right paths and give us the words to speak. We have no reason to fear because God is our refuge and our strength.

We may suffer for speaking God’s Word into the world. Unfortunately, Christians are being persecuted. Some are being beheaded. Others are losing their children to enemies who kidnap them or governments that take them away. Yet others are having their reputations and businesses destroyed. Churches have been burned. Too many Christians have been led down paths that seem faithful but for the sake of tolerance or acceptance; they do not remain true to God’s Word. Too many have become the prophets who preach warm fuzzies into the ears of their listeners. Anyone who speaks against their way of faith supposedly does not understand God’s unconditional love; they are rejected for standing true to God’s unwavering holiness.

They are preaching useless good news because they are ignoring the reality of sin. The Gospel is not simply “God is love,” it is “Jesus loves you, so He died to save you from your sin.” That’s too hard for the world to hear, so they seek a sugarcoated faith. They want to hear the prophets that will tickle their ears. They are willing to believe in the Jesus who is friend and model of good living, but they aren’t willing to accept that they need His forgiveness.

Faith does not guarantee we won’t face difficulty. No matter how much we trust in God, we might find ourselves in a frightening situation that does not end well. However, we can look to the those in the past who trusted God for inspiration and encouragement. When we are in the midst of terrifying situations, we should hold fast to God and speak boldly with compassion and love no matter what the consequences. If we die, we die knowing we stood firm with God to the end. If we die, we know that Jesus will acknowledge us before His Father because we acknowledged Him before the world.

We might just see the miraculous power of God’s Word transform the situation and bring hope out of terror.

Will I have the courage to be like Jeremiah? I don’t think any of us will ever really know until we face the possibility of death. Will we remember that God is with us when we are too afraid to think? I hope I will have the courage if the time comes, but until that day we are all called to walk in faith and continue to build our relationship with God. One way we can do so is to write the words of today’s psalm on our hearts, holding them so close that we will not forget that God has promised to care for us, that He hears us, that He will deliver us, and satisfy us in His eternal Kingdom. Those words won’t protect us from being hurt, but they will always remind us that no matter what happens, God will be there to pick us up and take us home.


June 22, 2023

“He set another parable before them, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while people slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel weeds also among the wheat, and went away. But when the blade sprang up and produced grain, then the darnel weeds appeared also. The servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did these darnel weeds come from?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No, lest perhaps while you gather up the darnel weeds, you root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘First, gather up the darnel weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”’” Matthew 13:24-30, WEB

I read a lot. I spend about forty-five minutes with my daily devotional reading, more time preparing for my Bible studies and in research for writing this devotion. I always have a book that I’m reading for pleasure, the reading time depends on how tired I am that day. That’s the book I take with me when I am expecting to wait somewhere. I read even more when my children were small because I was always waiting for them when they were at a school event or another activity. I don’t read quite as fast as I used to read, my eyes become tired after long days on the computer. Aging hasn’t helped.

I got an email today that a book I ordered six months ago was finally released. When I went to download it onto my e-reader, I realized that my “pile” of books is almost unconquerable. It doesn’t help that I have a pile of books I need to read to prepare the next study I plan to teach. Sometimes I think I should just give up on writing my own studies and use published materials, but I love that the way we are more open to pursue tangential ideas and so does my class.

My devotions and Bible study are important, so perhaps I should stop reading the pleasure books. That’s not a good idea; those books are fun and relaxing, and there is value to taking time to do something that makes you happy. I once took a class about finding faith in stories that are not specifically written as Christian texts. These books are filled with ideas, lessons, and information that help me think about my life of faith. I am a storyteller, and I love to hear or read others who tell stories. We do have to be careful, however, to discern what is helpful in building up our relationship with God and what might lead us down a dangerous path.

Throughout history, storytellers have used stories of real people and experiences to help others learn the lessons of life. Though fairy tales have fictional aspects added, such as places and people that do not exist, the story itself is often based on a real event. Each generation takes these stories and makes them their own, changing the place and the people to fit into their own culture. Some stories that teach a lesson are called parables. These illustrations draw from the nature and human life of the people listening. Jesus often used parables in His teaching, to help the people hear the message of God’s kingdom in language and experience they all understood. Though many city dwellers in today’s world would not understand the many parables Jesus used about farming, those stories are meant for us, too.

As I listen to other people’s stories, I often find myself remembering times from my own past that relate. By placing myself in someone else’s story, I can learn the lesson. Many in our modern world consider the Bible irrelevant to our times. After all, there are far more people who are unfamiliar with agricultural techniques and terminology. However, the ideas within Jesus’ parables are still very important for us to know and understand. We simply have to place ourselves in His stories and learn what He is telling us.

Today’s Gospel story is one that helps us to see that God knows best how to deal with the enemy’s tricks. As we are sharing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will notice that there are some who are teaching a false gospel. They twist the meanings of the story. This is why we need to read everything, whether it is Bible study or pleasure reading, through the lens of God’s Word and Jesus’ stories.

It is very easy for us to get angry and want to stop those teachers. We argue and debate over doctrine hoping that we will be the ones to once and for all establish the proof the world needs to know right doctrine. Yet, the false gospel has been preached since the beginning of the church. If it had not, Paul and the other apostles would not have had to deal with it in their letters. Jesus’ parables were not always easy to understand by those who heard Him speak, and they are certainly not easy today. The false teachers can twist and turn His words to fit their own ideas and agenda. Yet, this parable teaches us what to do. We are to leave it to God. We are to care for the fields until the harvest and let Him deal with the enemy in His way and time. God always knows best.


June 23, 2023

“Blessed is a person who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin. The sin, when it is full grown, produces death. Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:12-21, ASV

I find a lot of recipes that I want to try on Facebook. Friends post links to recipes that look fantastic, and I print most of them for future use. I really don’t like to use recipes very much; I confess that I prefer to wing it in the kitchen, throwing ingredients in a pot to see what it becomes. My husband usually loves my creations, but then I have trouble recreating those dishes. I print those online recipes because who can resist a dessert oozing with goodness or one pot meals that can satisfy a hungry army. The photos that accompany the recipes make the food look mouthwatering and the recipes seem easy to use. I often use those recipes for my annual Christmas Open House, so it is good to make tried and true dishes that will make my friends happy.

I once found a recipe that I wanted to try immediately. I had everything I needed in the house, so I didn’t even have to go to the grocery store. I pulled out the ingredients and after a cursory reading of the recipe, I got started. Unfortunately, despite being a professionally produced recipe, the person who published the instructions made a huge mistake. I followed it word for word even though one step seemed strange; the texture came out all wrong. Later in the recipe it called for an ingredient that I used in the strange step. I decided to skip that step since the ingredient was already mixed in, after all, the right ingredients should at least taste right, shouldn’t it? The problem is that the batter never quite looked right. I could not get it to mix well. I added some extra liquid and it appeared to come together. My adjustments didn’t help. The flavor was fine, but the texture was strange. If I decide to make that recipe again, I will be sure to fix the error and make it right. I went back to the post with the recipe and discovered that many others discovered the mistake. Some were savvy enough to recognize the mistake. I trusted the source and thought there might be some reason for using the ingredient early in the recipe. Professional chefs often giving tips about new ways of doing things. The second use of the ingredient made so much more sense. I should have stopped as soon as I realized the mistake and started over, but who wants to waste so much flour and cocoa? I thought I could fix it. I was wrong.

Have you had one of those moments that you realize that something you are doing just isn’t right? I don’t just mean in the kitchen, but have you ever had an encounter with a neighbor that you realized was not going as it should? Did you think to yourself, “There’s something wrong here, but I’ll just finish this, and I can fix it later?” My cake failed, but I learned something. I’ll probably try again, but what happens when we ruin a friendship by doing something that we know we should not do? What happens when we lie; can we really overcome the mistrust that is fostered? What happens when we get angry and say something without thinking? Can we really overcome the hurt and pain we’ve caused?

We do not always know the effect of the small sins that seem so harmless. Children learn from what they see, feelings are fragile, lies lead to greater lies. This is true in thought, word, and deed. We are reminded to think twice and when something seems wrong, not push through with the hope that we can fix it in the end. Which is easier to do: admit we are wrong before we do permanent damage, or destroy something with the arrogant attitude that we can make it better later? God has certainly done all that is necessary to provide us with the forgiveness needed to overcome even the most difficult fractures in our relationships, but that twinge of recognition that you are about to make a mistake is God trying to stop you from doing something you will regret.


June 26, 2023

“Hear this, all you peoples. Listen, all you inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together. My mouth will speak words of wisdom. My heart will utter understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb. I will solve my riddle on the harp. Why should I fear in the days of evil, when iniquity at my heels surrounds me? Those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the multitude of their riches - none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give God a ransom for him. For the redemption of their life is costly, no payment is ever enough, that he should live on forever, that he should not see corruption. For he sees that wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is that their houses will endure forever, and their dwelling places to all generations. They name their lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, doesn’t endure. He is like the animals that perish. This is the destiny of those who are foolish, and of those who approve their sayings. Selah. They are appointed as a flock for Sheol. Death shall be their shepherd. The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. Their beauty shall decay in Sheol, far from their mansion. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. Don’t be afraid when a man is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he will carry nothing away. His glory won’t descend after him. Though while he lived he blessed his soul - and men praise you when you do well for yourself - he shall go to the generation of his fathers. They shall never see the light. A man who has riches without understanding, is like the animals that perish.” Psalm 49, WEB

I started buying lottery tickets when I came of age, which was in the earliest days of state lottery games. I faithfully purchased my ticket week after week, spending just a few dollars but in hopeful expectation that one day it would pay off for me. After three years, I won! Of course, as it turned out, I won the smallest ever payout for my prize; I won a whole $24. Think about the numbers... three years, a few dollars weekly, always hoping that I would see a return greater of my output. I was wrong. I wasted hundreds of dollars to win a few. I stopped buying the tickets regularly at that point, but I did continue to buy them occasionally, choosing only those times when the prize was really worth the trouble. I never won, so even those occasional games were a waste of money.

I tried making deals with God. “I’ll do good work with whatever I win.” I had several charities I planned to support. I was going to build buildings. I was going to ensure the future of several organizations. I was sincere about my promises, but obviously it wasn’t God’s plan for my life since I never won. Then one day I was reading a devotional that cut to my heart. It was about a proverb that spoke on how dangerous financial windfalls through gambling can be to your spiritual health.

I watched a program a few years ago about the homes of people who had won the lottery. The show toured their old homes to show us the life they used to live, and then showed the homes they bought with their winnings. Each of these families stepped up from humble abodes to grand mansions. In one case, the winner filled his home with ridiculously expensive items. One room seemed to be made from pure gold. He had chandeliers worth tens of thousands of dollars. In his bathroom, he had an ancient statue carved from wood that was worth more than a hundred thousand dollars. In his bathroom.

I confess that I am a little envious. It would truly be such a blessing to have that kind of money. There really are things I would like to do with it, and though I promised God that I would do good works, I also had plans to upgrade my own home. I don’t think I’d buy a mansion, but I would love to be able to do all the work I need done on my current house to make it fresh and new. I haven’t gone to the extreme of those lottery winners, but I done what they did with what I have. I have moved up with each house and then filled the space with new things. The irony is that those lottery winners would probably have looked at my homes before they won the lottery and thought I was a rich fool.

I might be envious, but I think I would do things differently. I would like to think I wouldn’t go out and buy that million-dollar home or gold covered furniture. I don’t think I would rush to the car dealer and buy the most expensive vehicle. I always hoped that I’d have the discipline to not waste my windfall on excessive spending, but I’m human and I would probably overspend like everyone else. Unfortunately, many lottery winners spend without thinking about the future. They spend until the money is gone. Then they end up in worse condition than they had been before the win. That’s why the devotional suggested that a windfall like a lottery win is dangerous.

I would like to think that if I won a large amount of money, I would do something different. I can’t imagine wanting a statue worth a hundred thousand dollars for a bathroom, but I would hire a contractor to do a lot of work on my house. I hope I would consider God first and find a way to thank Him for the blessing. I hope I would share some of my winnings with those I love. I hope I would not purchase things to impress others or make them envious.

I confess that I don’t think well of those people who are on those television shows. I assume that those who will flaunt their wealth on a television show spend their money to impress others or cause envy. I also assume that they don’t care about spending their money on others like charity or family. They seem so selfish and self-centered, but we don’t know what they don’t tell us. It was a reality show, and the people they follow are characters, created by producers for the best effect. The purpose of the show is to make us envy, but that might not be the purpose of the winners’ spending. It is possible, even probable, that many of those winners found wonderful ways to share their wealth, perhaps with their church or another charity or with their family and friends.

I stopped buying those lottery tickets because I realized that God has given me a life for which to be thankful. He is calling me to use what I have to His glory. He doesn’t want us to be envious, or to cause others to envy. I still would like to build those buildings, but God has given me opportunities to use what I have. I might do things differently than those families on the show, but it doesn’t matter, none of us will take anything with us. The only think we keep when we die is our relationship with Jesus Christ. The final verse in today’s passage tells us that it is not wealth that is the problem, but the lack of understanding. When we know that our wealth is fleeting and perishable, that it will be passed on to another in the day of our death, we will live in that wealth with mercy and love. This is what matters. No matter what wealth we have, no matter how many zeroes are in our net worth, those who live in the love of God and use everything He has given us for His glory will be blessed.


June 27, 2023

“Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Behold, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship, to devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in bronze, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all kinds of workmanship.” Exodus 31:1-5, WEB

Artists and crafters will tell you that they can never get out of their handmade items what they are worth. I’ve had people look at my work and claim they can do it for so much cheaper than they can buy it from me. Ask a quilter if they ever get the true value when they sell one of their creations. Oh, the cost of the materials might be inexpensive if they managed to find what they use on sale, but you can’t even consider the value of the time taken to create the items.

I once made a wedding gift for our niece. It was a framed scrapbook shadowbox of the bride and groom’s lives. It included pictures of the bride and groom as individuals from childhood to their and pictures of them together. Around the pictures I placed items, stickers, quotes, and other things reminiscent of their favorite things. The items in the frame included individual accomplishments and enjoyments as well as the things they liked to do together. The point was that even though they were to become one through marriage, they were also still individuals with unique gifts and talents. The bride and groom loved the gift, put it up at the wedding and now has it displayed in their home.

This frame was very big to fit everything, and it quickly became much more expensive than I expected. Then I had to ship the present to the couple, which cost a lot of money. As I worked on the project, I couldn’t help but think that the money spent could probably have gone to something practical, like appliances or gift cards for items they would need. And yet, I don’t think they would trade the gift for anything. Sometimes we need a touch of beauty in our lives along with practical things.

This is true even in the Church. We all go periods of time when we think more practically. I visited churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and was sometimes shocked by the expense of the furniture and décor. Queen Elizabeth’s favorite church near Sandringham was covered in gold leaf, nearly every surface glittered with gold. I wondered at the waste. Couldn’t they have fed a village of poor people with the money spent? That might be an extreme example, but we can all point to things in our own churches that seem excessive. Should we spend money building a beautiful cathedral when there are more practical uses for our money? Does art have a purpose? Is it useful? Is it important? The truth is that art does have a purpose. Art moves us. Art engages us. Art helps us see the world through new eyes. Art allows humans the opportunity to create for God’s sake. Art comes in many forms: music, literature, architecture, furnishings, media as well as sculpture, weaving and painting. We should accept its value instead of finding it unnecessary.

God created, and He didn’t just make His creation practical. He also made it beautiful. He made the flowers more than pollen factories and gave birds bright and colorful feathers. He gave the leopard spots and the tiger stripes. He carved the mountains and the rock formations, directed the rivers, and paints a rainbow in the heavens when it rains. He makes the world in which we live beautiful for the sake of beauty. Should we not do the same for Him?

God did not simply call a man who could organize the building of a building for His Temple. He called a man who was gifted in the arts and crafts. Bezalel was appointed to build a place where God is honored by the wonderful things that can be created by human hands. It wasn’t meant to be strictly practical. It was designed to move us, engage us, and help us see the world through new eyes.

We may not be talented like Bezalel, but we are each gifted with some ability to make the world beautiful. It is true that some of the arts and crafts that people try to sell might be more cheaply made. It is also true that there may be more practical ways of using our gifts, but sometimes God calls us to move beyond what is sensible to what is beautiful. Yes, the gold might be used to feed the poor, but we must learn to find the balance between body and spirit, to do what feeds both with the resources we have. Who knows? That art might just be the thing that moves us, engages us, and helps us see the world through those new eyes that will lead us into new actions that will change the world.


June 28, 2023

Lectionary Scriptures for July 2, 2023, Fifth Sunday in Pentecost: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

“He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39, WEB

I don’t really follow sports, but it is impossible sometimes to ignore the events surrounding a local sports team. Here in San Antonio, that team is the professional basketball team called the Spurs. We’ve had fantastic players that have led us to seasons of victory. 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.

True fans will love the team even in times of struggle, which of course come. For the Spurs, the season of greatness has been followed by a season of losses because the best players all retired at the same time. They have been going through a period of rebuilding, trying to find players to make a team like the one that was so successful. One of the advantages of having a losing year in professional basketball is that the team gets first pick at those players who want to join the league. This happened for the Spurs this year and they have come out of the draft with Victor Wembanyama. The seven-foot-five-inch Wemby (as he is known) is expected to be one of the greatest of all times. His height alone gives him an advantage, but he is proving himself to be a great player. He has room to grow, which is an asset because then he is willing to learn and grow with his teammates. The reason the Spurs were so great in those former days was because they had a team, not just one incredible player. If Wemby can be the foundation of such a team, the Spurs can be great again. The reward will be great for everyone: Wemby, the team, and the city who can celebrate with their Spurs again.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said that whoever receives a prophet or a righteous man will receive a reward. I’m not sure what that reward will be, especially as we look at the life of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. No one received Jeremiah because he spoke words that no one wanted to hear. God guided him into a life of rejection and persecution.

At the time of today’s Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah was wearing a yoke like an oxen would wear; 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 a prophet preaching a much different message, a message that promised that the yoke of the Babylonians would be broken, and they would be free. To make his point, 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 broken.

At first sight, this passage seems very hopeful. Jeremiah was excited about the idea of peace for Israel. “Amen!” he answered Hananiah’s prophesy, but he followed with a warning by reminding them that all the prophets before had prophesied about war, evil, and pestilence. Who wouldn’t prefer Hananiah’s prophecy? Peace means that the people would no 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 promised peace. The people preferred Hananiah as their prophet because he spoke a message they wanted to hear. They rejected Jeremiah because everything he said contradicted the warm fuzzies of peace and good news that came from others. Hananiah made his point with the dramatic gesture of breaking the yoke to show the power of his message against the Babylonians and to show that Jeremiah’s power over the people was 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 those of a weeping prophet. The one who contradicts these so-called prophets with words about sin and calls of repentance are condemned and rejected, just like Jeremiah.

Jeremiah did not fight Hananiah. He agreed with the prophet’s words, saying “Amen, I hope this will be.” After all, Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He cursed the day he was born. He wanted to give up. But Jeremiah was compelled by God to speak the truth that the people did not want to hear. He seemed to agree with Hananiah’s prophecy, but he reminded the people that a prophet’s words must come true for the prophet to be speaking from God’s mouth. When peace came, Hananiah would be proven to be a prophet from God which would have been a relief to Jeremiah. After all, who wants to be the prophet who speaks only bad news to the people?

Unfortunately, we learn quickly in chapter 28 that Hananiah is a false prophet. “Listen, Hananiah! Yahweh has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie.” He might have broken a yoke of wood, but God responded to the grand gesture by placing an unbreakable yoke of iron on Israel. While a yoke of wood is 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.

We can’t assume that a message of peace is a false message or that one who speaks of peace is a false prophet. However, we are reminded by this passage that something that sounds hopeful is not always the way to peace. Sometimes God has something else in mind like a lesson to be learned, a call for repentance, or 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.

I’m not quite sure what Jesus meant when He talked about the reward of a prophet. The biblical prophets who spoke of God according to God’s Word received rejection and persecution. And yet, they followed their calling with the assurance that they would receive the blessing of God. The reward is not necessarily something found in this life or this world, it is found in the promise of what will be. Just like Jeremiah’s call to submission would eventually lead again to freedom for Israel, so too our willingness to submit to God’s will even when we do not want it will lead to something better. Those who receive a prophet might have to experience a time of struggle, but they 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 ring. The reward is a stronger and more personal relationship with the God to whom they are bound. This is more valuable than any trophy or ring, 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? Wemby will have to work and play well to prove his worth. He will have to work with the other players to build a winning team to earn his trophy and ring. The people of our city are excited about the possibility, but we won’t know for months, or even years, if he was really the answer to make the team great again.

Jesus said, “Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.” 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 cannot give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of a disciple without faith. We cannot 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.

As is true of many of the Psalms, Psalm 119 was written by a poet who was suffering. There are indications through the one hundred and seventy-six verses that he had some sort of disease that threatened his life and that he was oppressed by enemies. The crescendo of his cries to God comes in the final stanzas, including the one for this week. The psalmist begged God to see his suffering and to save him. It is clear from the beginning of the psalm that the poet loved God’s law and was as obedient as possible, and he used his obedience as the basis for his cries for help. This is not to say that he thought he deserved God’s help because he kept the law perfectly, but his obedience was the manifestation of his faith and trust in God. God promised His help to those who believe, and the psalmist was reminding God of His promises.

The psalmist knew God’s divine word, His promises, and knew that God is faithful. He compared himself to those who did not know God’s promises. Despite their persecution, the psalmist did not turn away from God. The psalmist was seeking new life and trusted that God will be true to His Word. Our greatest enemy is our own inability to be true to God, but we can trust that He will save us according to His promise. When we see our failure through the Law, we see most clearly that our only hope is in God’s grace.

We’d rather not see sin for what it is. We don’t want to think that we are sinners; this is why so many Christians ignore the reality of our sinful nature. We want to hear God’s promises but refuse to believe in God’s wrath. We want to experience God’s grace but reject any thought that God might use the consequences of our sin to turn us to Himself. God was sending Israel to Babylon because they had failed to live up to His expectations. It was a time set aside for them to fall on their knees in humble submission to Him. They didn’t want to hear it. We are just like them; we’d rather hear the warm fuzzies; the word “sin” has been removed from too many Christian voices. God is love, which is true, but He is also holy and just. He demands obedience.

Will obedience save us? No. Christ has saved us. He died and we die through faith and baptism in Him to be raised to new life. We are set free from the law and made captive to the Word, which is Christ. We are not capable of being perfect on our own; our flesh is weak and perishable. Christ saves us and calls us to a new life, a life of new obedience, not to the law, but to Him. He is the fulfillment of God’s law; we dwell in Him, and we live for Him.

People in Jeremiah’s day knew what they wanted. They wanted to be free from Nebuchadnezzar, not so that they could live according to God’s Word, but so they could do what they wanted. They were willing to hear anything that made them feel good. Hananiah gave them what they wanted: words of peace. He was tickling their ears with talk of hope, claiming to be speaking on God’s behalf. Who doesn’t want to hear words of peace and hope? We do, of course. Even Jeremiah said, “Amen!” The prophecy sounded good to their ears, and so they ignored the bad news to embrace Hananiah’s good news.

Today’s false prophets continue to make the people believe lies; they make grand gestures, but their word is not truly from God. God responds as He did to Hananiah. Though we may not be made slaves to an oppressive nation, we are made slaves to the sin we refuse to let go. We are made slaves to our desires and suffer the consequences of the lives we have chosen to live.

Read the whole tenth chapter of Matthew and you will see Jesus’ words in context. What was He doing? What was He teaching? What was He saying to the disciples? He was sending them out on their first missionary journey. He divided them two by two. I imagine that He chose those pairs carefully so that they would complement each other. He sent them only to the Israelites, giving them the opportunity to learn how to tell people about the Kingdom of God among those with similar heritage, language, and expectations. He told them not to take anything with them, to rely on the graciousness and mercy of those to whom they were sent. They were to find a home in each town that welcomed them and to share God’s peace in that place. Jesus warned them it wouldn’t be easy. In last week’s lectionary, Jesus told them to be on their guard. Their own people would reject them; even brothers would betray brothers. He told them that they should expect to be persecuted because the world would persecute Him. They will be rejected, just as He would be rejected.

Jesus continued these warnings in today’s Gospel lesson. Life in Christ will not be all peace. He was speaking to the disciples, but also to us today, advising us that our faith will separate us from even those we love. It makes us wonder, “What will I do if someone I love rejects my faith?” I suppose some of my readers already know. Can we stand for Christ when faced with opposing expectations from those we love? Jesus made it very clear in last week’s Gospel text: “Deny me and I will deny you.” (Matthew 10:33) That’s what God did to the people in Jeremiah’s day. They rejected the true prophet, and they suffered the consequences. They chased after the warm fuzzies and ended up suffering an greater punishment for their disobedience. They ignored God’s word and became bound to something far worse.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly differentiates between the Law and sin. The law is not sin, but with the law we become aware of the sinful behaviors that harm others and ourselves. When we hear the commandment, “Thou shalt not lie,” we realize that we are sinning every time we tell an untruth, a partial truth, or keep the truth hidden. Paul uses the law of covetousness in this passage. He wrote that before the law we did not know what it meant to covet something, but when we heard the law, we learned that it is wrong to desire something which is not ours. The law about coveting is not sin, but it opens our eyes to the truth that our desires go against God’s intention for our lives.

As Paul described it, sin took advantage of the law, causing the one who heard the law to covet all the more. He wrote, “For apart from the law, sin is dead.” He went on to say, “I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. The commandment which was for life, this I found to be for death; for sin, finding occasion through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.”

The Law is not deadly. The Law is given to us so that we will live as God intended us to live. “Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.” The commandments, as we hear in the psalm for today, deliver us from the wicked ones and preserve our lives. But once we hear the law, we become slaves to sin. The law then shows us through death that we are sinners, and thus separated from God our Father. It turns us to Him, so that we might be saved.

We’d rather ignore the Law because it shows us the truth of our sinfulness. Yet, without the Law, we’ll never know our need for Christ. Without it we’ll never look to God for salvation. 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 need a season of something we don’t want to bring us to the place God intends us to be. Submission to Babylon was what Israel needed, but when the people rejected Jeremiah, they got something worse. Through Jesus Christ, God has set us free from everything that keeps us from living as He intends, but we have to hear His Word and trust that He is doing what is right. When we reject or ignore His Word calling us to humble submission, we find ourselves enslaved to something worse.

The world has expectations, and it is easy for us to follow the voices that say what we want to hear. But those voices yoke us in ways we would never expect. It makes us slaves to sin. This is hard language because the reality of slavery is very painful for so many in our world, not only from the stories of the past but also the reality of the present. Children are kidnapped and sold as sex slaves. There are those who do not realize they are slaves addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many are slaves to work or leisure activities. We are slaves to our opinions, to politics, to government, and even to our churches. We don’t have to be yoked to anything because Jesus Christ has set us free.

Jesus has called us to set aside everything in this world, including those things and people we love the most. We are to put God first. God has called us to live as He created us to live, obedient to His Word and according to His law. We are to trust that He is in control even when things don’t seem to be going as we think they should. He knows what we do not know. He knows what He has to do. It won’t be warm fuzzies; it will be hard, piercing, dividing. It may include rejection and persecution, suffering and pain. It might even mean physical death. But it won’t mean the grave. Christ has saved us for eternal life, and we are yoked to Him forever. We won’t lose what God has promised because He is faithful.

God denied those in the story from Jeremiah who did not heed Him. The Old Testament lesson is a picture of what Jesus meant when He said that He would deny us if we denied Him. He denies us when we continue to reject the reality of sin in our lives. We think we are free because we are doing what we want, how we want it. But we are slaves. This slavery is caused by our decision making. We are burdened by debt because we covet that bigger house or that brand new car. We choose to buy things beyond our means. We set unrealistic goals and become slaves to the wrong priorities and expectations. When we are God’s slaves, we experience the freedom that comes with good choices and right priorities. To put God in front of everything is freedom. To put everything ahead of God is slavery to sin.

We have been set free, no longer a slave to sin but given the power to willingly serve the Lord. We are still slaves, but we are welcomed by a Master that will treat us well. As slaves to sin, we are bound to suffer the consequences; 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. We won’t experience peace by following the words of the false prophets. We’ll only know peace when we fall to our knees in humble submission to Him. This means giving up everything to follow Jesus, to die to self so that we can live in Him.

We are also reminded that though the gift is free it isn’t cheap. Life in Christ is not easy. It is not perfect. It is filled with unexpected difficulties and costs. We might be persecuted, even by our family. We might lose our jobs. We might lose our friends. We might even have to follow Jesus into martyrdom. The blood of many Christians over the past two thousand years, including today, testifies to this truth. We want to listen to those prophets crying peace because we want to hold on to our lives. But their peace is not real. Jesus has taught us that when we lose our life for Him, taking up His cross, we will experience true peace. This season may not be what we hope it will be, but when we trust in God’s grace and believe in Jesus, we’ll experience the greatest reward of all: eternal life with Him forever.


June 29, 2023

“For though there are things that are called ‘gods’, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:5-13, WEB

I haven’t seen an advertisement for a psychic for a long time, though at one time they were abundant. I suppose like many other products, psychics have turned to the Internet which is cheaper than paying for time on the air. I never liked those once abundant commercials; they were nothing but foolishness. I remember one woman that particularly bothered me. This psychic read Tarot cards. People were invited to call in to her very expensive phone number to ask her questions which she answered by reading her cards. The commercial showed a typical conversation between her and one of her callers. During the discussion, she revealed things she learned from her cards, proving how gifted she was. I heard a news report one day about the network for whom that psychic worked; they have been billing clients that had not actually used their service. Many of the people who received the bills were dead. The reporter who told this story said, “You would think they would know that.”

I confess that there was a time when I was young that I read my horoscope and dabbled in numerology. I bought some books and saw some truth to what the practitioners said because it sounded true enough. I was a Christian but didn’t see any harm to the practices. I’ve learned that the devil will use these practices to get a foothold into someone’s life. Unfortunately, I didn’t know at the time that these spiritual practices could have led me down a dark and treacherous path. Worse, based on my example I might have led someone who had no foundation in God down a path that led so far from God they might never be saved.

God our Father created human beings with a spirit that is in His image. Our spirit longs to be filled with things of the Spirit, and in today’s world there are many who offer things to fill the hole. There are those who sell magic potions, crystals, and other objects to help guide our spiritual lives. The bookstores are filled with racks of books teaching these disciplines. When we seek out people like the psychic or buy the products they claim will guide us, we end up chasing after the wrong kinds of spirit and are left with an empty feeling.

Human beings have a tendency of looking for whatever might help, even if the solution relies on spirits or forces that are not from God. How many people look for help from people like psychics? We can laugh about the futility of spending that money, or any of the other supernatural methods that claim to foretell the future or reveal hidden things. We may look for explanations that are beyond the norm, but we are reminded that our God is far more powerful than any spirits and foolishness.

Paul makes it clear in today’s passage that the other gods in this world are nothing, but Paul also reminds us that we all have idols that distract us from the truth. Those idols are nothing, they are not real, but they do hold the place of God in the lives of those who believe in them. All those things or people or words in which we put our trust and faith are gods to us, even though they are not God and are really nothing when compared to God.

There are many people these days who are trying to claim to be God’s mouthpiece in our crazy and topsy-turvy world. I don’t know if psychics are as popular as they were a few years ago, but the bookstores are still filled with self-help books that don’t seek God in their answers to our daily difficulties. Every generation of human has faced difficult questions, but it seems like we are living in a time of incredible chaos. It won’t help our neighbors if we make it seem like the worldly words and practices are the answer to their problems. Since the questions we face are so great, it is up to us to remain in prayer at all times so that we will be so familiar with His voice that we will know. We can trust that God is still speaking through His people, through the scriptures as they were given to us by the earliest Christians and through other people of faith who touch our lives. God uses the mouths of the faithful to share His Good News. That means you and me.

That’s the key, isn’t it? We are called to be prophets who speak His Word to the world. Prophets are not like psychics who claim to be people that can foretell the future or know things from beyond this world. Prophets like you and I are called to tell people about Jesus. We are prophets when we speak the Gospel, when we call people to repentance, when we invite people to trust in God and to experience the forgiveness that comes from the saving grace of Jesus. We don’t need to practice particularly spiritual methods to be His spokesperson. We just need to point to the One who saves. This is news so good that we should never keep it to ourselves.

This is why it is vital that we are warned to walk in the light and to avoid these things. They may seem harmless, but they aren’t. They may see our use of such foolishness and think it is fine for a Christian to believe in them. Remember your brother in whatever you do. Even if you are strong enough to put psychics in their proper place, avoid them altogether for the sake of those who are weak. Keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus, and you’ll need nothing else.


June 30, 2023

“Now to him who is able to keep them from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25, WEB

Charles Schultz was a Christian and his faith often found its way into his “Peanuts” comic strips. He once said, “I preach in these cartoons, and I reserve the same rights to say what I want to say as the minister in the pulpit.” He sometimes quoted scripture, even making it clear he was doing so, and at other times he simply alluded to the stories. Those who knew them, saw the reference. He purposely opened the door to questions, causing his readers to think about these things, often tangential to the issues occurring in society. In one strip, he had Sally say, “Amen” in a classroom at a time when the culture was debating the idea of prayer in school. “Little things we say and do in Christ’s name are like pebbles thrown into water,” Schulz once said. “The ripples spread out in circles, and influence people we may know only slightly and sometimes not at all.”

In one of my favorite strips, Lucy and Linus are seen standing at a window watching it rain. Lucy says, “Boy, look at it rain...what if it floods the whole world?” Linus answers, “It will never do that... in the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Lucy says, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind...” Linus answered, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” Linus is right; when we know God and His grace, we do not worry about that which is under His control.

I came across this anonymous quote while reading last night: “Theology leads to doxology.” Thomas Aquinas is quoted as saying, “Theology proceeds from God, teaches us about God, and leads us to God.” It is impossible to truly get to God without coming to a place where we fall on our knees in praise and thanksgiving. If our study of theology does not end in doxology, then we are studying God for all the wrong reasons. Then our search for God becomes quest for knowledge and a puffing up of self rather than a search for a relationship with God.

A doxology is an expression of praise to God. There are many doxologies with which we are all familiar. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we include the line, “For yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory.” Many people use a doxology for a table prayer, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” The Gloria Patri is a doxology, “Glory [be] to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, both now, and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

This last doxology often follows the reading of a Psalm, bringing the fullness of God into the worship hymns of our forefathers. It is meant to keep our work of worship completely focused on the center of our faith and to give Him glory. There are times when we hear or study the Word of God and it cuts to our hearts, showing us the reality of our fallen nature. This can be upsetting, causing us to feel worthless, making it impossible to do God’s Work. But singing a doxology reminds us that our God is great and good and gracious, always near and full of mercy.

The book of Jude is very brief, but it is a letter written to remind God’s people of the destruction that came to those in the past who did not believe. He warned about those who followed the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. “These are murmurers and complainers, walking after their lusts -and their mouth speaks proud things - showing respect of persons to gain advantage.” We all are guilty of these things at times, and we are reminded that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Jude didn’t stop with a word of Law, however. He encouraged us to perseverance, reminding us of the Gospel, encouraging us to remain faithful. He ended the letter with a doxology.

Theology leads us to God, but if we are doing it right, we will realize our own unworthiness to know God so that we will humble ourselves before Him. On our knees we experience His grace, and our mouths are filled with praise. In humble, joyful submission to God, we will live the life He is calling us to live, yet another form of praise. The words of praise are followed by a life of active faith.

Jude gave them a reminder that it is God who will keep them from following the foolish ways of the flesh. If he had written only of godlessness, the people would have left feeling unworthy to do the Lord’s work, however he reminded them of the true focus of faith. It is important to be reminded of our sinfulness, but the Law does not stand alone. Christ has given us the Gospel, the promise of forgiveness and transformation. When we show people their sin, we must remind them of the source of their forgiveness and strength to overcome.

The doxology which proceeds from theology puts us in the right mind when we feel hopeless and in despair. Those words remind us that the living God is near and is faithful. Theology is a good thing because it comes from God, teaches us about Him, and leads us to Him, but the doxology will help us live every moment in praise and thanksgiving to the God who is able to overcome even our sin through the blood of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.