Welcome to the June 2024 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


Topics

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Learn

Bible

Kindness

Grace

Hope

Stop

Impossible

Gospel

Fine


A WORD FOR TODAY


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





A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2024







June 3, 2024

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the offspring of David, according to my Good News, in which I suffer hardship to the point of chains as a criminal. But God’s word isn’t chained. Therefore I endure all things for the chosen ones’ sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This saying is trustworthy: ‘For if we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.’” 2 Timothy 2:8-13, WEB

Summer vacation can be filled with many different activities. I’m sure many families are planning trips to theme parks, camping in the mountains, or swimming at the beach. Some families will visit family and friends, picnicking in parks, or wandering around zoos. Some will visit museums, although I remember my own children audibly sighing when we talked about going into some historic site. They weren’t very enthusiastic about art museums or government building. My mother loved to take us to state capital buildings.

We went to visit the Arkansas State capital building in Little Rock one day when we lived there. The place was nearly deserted, except for a handful of tourists, a few security guards and a gentleman working on a big project. The gift shop was not open, and we were unable to locate any brochures to guide our tour, so we began to roam the halls. The children and I were in the section of the building with the governor’s offices. I was busy looking in the conference room, but the children were bored. They were hanging out in the marble hallways when a man named Wes came out of his office. He asked the children if they wanted a pen and pencil. We went in and he gave them a few gifts including a mini flag of Arkansas. He then asked if we wanted a tour of the building.

Wes told us the history of the building with its controversy and wrongdoing. The contractor went over budget, using inferior materials but he still charged full price. The officials refused to pay the bill, so the contractor brought in troops and took over the building. State troops forced their way through the fence and retook control of the building for the people of Arkansas. The governor who was in control when the building was in its final stages was so certain that the contractor was creating a substandard building that he did everything he could to prove it. He had 500-pound bags of cement dropped on the floor and even set one floor on fire for fifteen days!

There are paintings and busts of the governors and other important officials from the history of Arkansas throughout the building. Wes pointed out certain men and shared interesting stories about their lives and terms of office. He told us about a governor that was known as an ethical man because he refused a bribe from one mafia boss. “I will not let the mob in our state.” It was later discovered that he was on the payroll of another mafia boss. There were stories of drunken behavior and duals. One of the early territorial governors was a very learned man. When he moved to Arkansas, he brought an extensive library with him. The people said, “Why would anyone want to read when they can drink and shoot?”

Wes was not a typical tour guide. He didn’t focus on the stories that make the state and its leaders look good; he made us laugh with the funny stories about very real people. State capital buildings are beautiful, and they are solemn places where the business of the people is supposed to take place, but they are often filled with foolishness. This is true of any human institution. We prefer to remember our leaders as qualified and serious, but we do tend to remember their foibles.

Think about what you know of the disciples of Jesus. The negative actions are more memorable, like Peter’s denial and Paul’s persecution of Christians. We remember Thomas’s doubt and the arrogance of the Sons of Thunder, James and John. We remember that Judas betrayed our Lord. We don’t often think about Barnabus who sold property so that he could give more money to the church. We forget Philip who risked his life by approaching the Ethiopian eunuch because God told him to go. We do not often talk about Timothy, a young pastor mentored by Paul that grew from birth living a God centered life.

We can laugh as we remember the stories from our history. We all have stories from our own journey through this life that will be retold by the generations to come. However, as Christians there is one thing we must remember; that Jesus Christ died for us and the life we live is in Him and for His glory. Though our past may be checkered, we now live so that the Gospel message will be spread throughout the world. Through it all, good and bad, He will remain faithful to His promises.

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June 4, 2024

“The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him who is weary. He awakens morning by morning, he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear. I was not rebellious. I have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair. I didn’t hide my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord Yahweh will help me. Therefore I have not been confounded. Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I won’t be disappointed. He who justifies me is near. Who will bring charges against me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me! Who is he who will condemn me?” Isaiah 50:4-9a, WEB

I spend too much time playing games on my tablet. I have one game that I ignore for months at a time, and then one day I decide to open it. There’s always some sort of challenge that requires hours of play to accomplish the task, and I want to complete the challenge, so I play too much. Once I do, I close the game for months again, because as soon as I begin, I know I shouldn’t even try. The game is a time waster, and I usually open it when I am bored or taking a break from my usual work.

I play other games, though, which I justify because they are brain games. I do several word puzzles in the morning; I use them to wake up my brain and get me going for the day. Brain games are meant to keep the brain young and vital. Researchers have proven that people who engage their minds with reading or intellectual activities stay healthier and happier than those who are involved in mind numbing activities. I know my word puzzles are much better for me than the challenge games.

It is literally good for us to learn something new each day. Unfortunately, most of us do not do enough learning. We go about our daily chores, spend hours at work, then we watch television, play games, or surf the internet when we are at home in the evening because by the end of the day, we are so worn out that we don’t want to pursue anything too strenuous, even if it is just our minds we are using. I suppose that’s why video games are so popular. We like them because they are mindless ways to pass the time. But the right games actually do make a difference.

Sometimes we think we know enough. Some of us think we know everything. We don’t pursue intellectual interests because we think there is nothing left for us to learn that will make a difference. It has been said that everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten, I even have the book! I suppose in some ways that is true. Common sense can get us through each day which (hopefully) is learned at a very young age. But there is no limit to the amount of knowledge we can have. Why not sign up for a “new word a day” email group and learn a new word each day? Why not try to find out something new about your home state or city? Why not look up the birds that you see in the yard and find out about their lifestyles, habitats, and mating activities? It can’t hurt to know something new, and it is good for your brain to try.

The television news always refers to “experts” to help us understand the news of the day. Those experts are supposedly knowledgeable about every detail of that subject matter. However, how often do we see those experts proven wrong the next day? The wisest people are those who realize that the more they know the more they know they don’t know. We can always keep learning, even if we are experts in the field. As a writer I know a lot of words, but those word puzzles I play each morning help me learn more.

The passage for today from Isaiah is one of the three Servant songs, all of which refer to Jesus Christ as the Servant. In this one we see that the Servant continues to learn even when the Servant is a teacher. God has given the Servant the knowledge necessary to teach but also continues to give the knowledge the Servant needs to do the work He is called to do.

Jesus Christ knew everything He needed to know, and yet we hear in this passage that He continued to be taught. Every day He faced new situations; every day He had to make decisions about how to respond to the needs of the world. And every day He listened to the voice of God so that He would do what God wanted Him to do. He kept His eyes on God even when men were treating Him poorly. It did not matter that they were insulting Him or striking Him. He stood firm, listening to the teaching of the One who opened His ears. He rests in the knowledge that God is with Him, and no matter what happens to Him, God will stay with Him. He has learned that He has nothing to fear.

Anyone who has studied the scriptures knows that one passage can mean one thing to them today but will mean something different the next time. We might be tempted to stop reading and studying the scriptures once we’ve heard it all, yet we will never know it all no matter how much time we spend in God’s Word. If Jesus continued to learn, who are we to think we know enough? Open the scriptures today. Read what God has to say to you. Take time to read study notes or commentaries. Talk about what you’ve read with someone else and learn what they know about that text. God is with us when we spend time learning, teaching us by the power of the Holy Spirit so we know more today than we knew yesterday.

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June 5, 2024

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

I sometimes joke that I purposely make mistakes to prove that I am an imperfect human. The reality is that I make mistakes because I’m an imperfect human. I made a mistake last week; I used the lectionary scriptures for the wrong week. The lectionary can be very confusing at this time of year. The length of the Pentecost season is not consistent because the beginning is dependent on the movable feast of Passover and then Easter. It can be anywhere from twenty-three to twenty-eight Sundays. I was not careful when I planned last week’s Midweek Oasis; in previous years, the scriptures for this week (the Third Sunday after Pentecost) were listed for the Second Sunday of Pentecost. I would not have made the mistake if I paid attention to my calendar. Ah, but sometimes we get so caught up in our busy-ness that we don’t pay enough attention to what we are doing!

It doesn’t really matter, since the lectionary is a human construct. It does serve a purpose, though. The lectionary is an established pattern of scripture that is designed so that the people hear the complete message of the bible in a few years. This follows the example of the Jews, who read the scrolls in the temple according to a specific calendar. The readings followed the seasons of the year. There were feasts and festivals that were held at different times. These celebrations were times of praise, prayer and repentance and were associated with the agricultural calendar. The Christian calendar is different, but in many ways the same.

The lectionary consists of four texts: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles, and a Gospel text. These scriptures fit into the context of the church year, passages fitting the season in which we are living, be it Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter or Pentecost. Throughout the year we see the story of God and His people, and the story of Christ from beginning to end to beginning again. The lectionary I use runs on a three-year schedule, so it takes us three years to get through all the texts. At the end of those three years, we’ve seen approximately 13.5 percent of the Old Testament (not counting the Psalms), 54.9 percent of the non-Gospel New Testament, and 89.8 percent of the Gospels (71.5 percent of the entire New Testament.) Each year focuses on one of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) with scatterings of John throughout the three years. The four texts each Sunday help us to read scripture in light of scripture.

The advantage of using the lectionary is that there is worldwide unity between Christians who are reading the same texts each Sunday. While every sermon will be unique, we know we are joined together by the texts. Also, seeing the texts in the context of the church calendar helps us to better understand what God has done, is doing, and will do in our world and in our faith. I have written this devotional for nearly twenty-five years and have used the lectionary as a part of it for much of that time. Through the years, I have found myself using texts from the lectionary that I would probably have never used. We all have our favorites, and it would be so easy to repeat the same few passages over and over again.

The lectionary might be a human construct, and the choices do not always make sense. Honestly, sometimes I’d like to avoid one or more and focus on texts I like, but I learn so much more about God by reading and studying the texts I don’t like. It is good to spend time in God’s word daily, and we don’t necessarily need to use a specific pattern, lectionary, or reading plan, yet they help to guide our study. When we are forced to read beyond our favorites, we see more of the God we worship and understand more of His story. Though I’m not using the lectionary for this Sunday today (you can reread last Wednesday for the texts for this week),

I hope my response to my imperfect human error will encourage you to spend time in God’s Word in your own way. Don’t be afraid to struggle with passages that you don’t like. Listen as God speaks through them, and you will discover His grace in every word of the scriptures, even the ones that don’t sound very gracious. God has more to say than John 3:16 or Psalm 23. As Paul wrote to Timothy, all scripture comes from God and helps set us on the path of faith He has chosen and assured for us. Though lectionaries are human constructs, they can help us find words we didn’t even know God spoke and show us more about the God we worship than what we can imagine on our own.

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June 6, 2024

“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.” Matthew 10:42, WEB

The youth program at the church I attended as a young adult was called Double-D Disciples. We called ourselves by that name because we always had donuts from that double-d donut shop (Dunkin Donuts) we all know and love. We talked about God and the bible, but we gathered around the donuts, a delightfully sweet treat for our Sunday morning discussions. Since those days I have discovered that there are many other donut shops, some of which serve absolutely terrific donuts, and I have even learned to make donuts in my own kitchen, but my heart will always remember that group of fellow Christians as we tried to find our way through the world by understanding God s Word with powdered sugar on our faces.

Today is the 80th anniversary remembrance of D-Day which occurred on June 6, 1944. D-Day was an incredibly risky maneuver by the Allied Forces to get a hundred and sixty thousand troops into France to fight Nazi Germany. General Eisenhower said, “We will accept nothing less than victory,” and in the end he got exactly what he wanted. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of men on that fifty-mile stretch of beach, but their sacrifice allowed many others to work their way into the heart of France to save millions of people.

Many world leaders and other visitors were in Normandy today remembering the lost and honoring the dwindling number of WWII veterans that survived that difficult but heroic operation so long ago. What would our world look like if it hadn’t been for the bravery of those soldiers and the brilliance of those who planned and executed the invasion?

I know it may seem odd to talk about war and death with a hint of pride in a Christian devotional. And yet in some ways it almost seems like divine intervention must have helped the Allies and set them on a path to stop the horror and tragedy that was going on in Nazi Europe. The soldiers killed many people, perhaps even a few innocent civilians and sometimes even their fellow soldiers, in the chaos of war. In the end we can’t even guess how many people, not only Jews, but also the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the different were saved by their sacrifice. Hitler may be remembered for the millions of Jews that were cruelly killed in gas chambers and other torturous ways, but they weren’t the only ones who suffered the evil of the Nazi regime.

War is never a good thing, but sometimes it is a necessary evil to stop an even greater evil in the world. As Martin Luther said, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” We live in a fallen and broken world, and sometimes we have no choice but to sin. When we do, we thank Jesus for His grace and trust that He will make good come out of our circumstances.

So, how does all this relate to donuts? Tomorrow is National Donut Day, and many people will celebrate by getting a free donut at their favorite donut place. Donuts were invented during the First World War by Salvation Army volunteers who set up tents near the battlefields to help and encourage the soldiers. They were there to offer spiritual aid and comfort, but they also provided the soldiers with coffee and donuts. See, it was very difficult to make enough cakes and pies to satisfy the sweet tooth of so many men. It was much easier, however, to deep fry dough and cover it in sugar. These donuts could be quickly made and served with coffee as the men enjoyed a brief respite from their task. They were also easy to eat. The donut huts returned to Europe during the Second World War. The idea made it back to the States and now there are donut shops all over our cities.

The first National Donut Day was on June 7, 1938 and honored the brave women called donut lassies who risked their own lives to give comfort in body, mind, and spirit to our soldiers. It is celebrated on the first Friday of June. We might think there’s no connection with the D-Day celebrations, but I imagine that those few living survivors who are being honored on the beach at Normandy today have fond memories of the donuts they enjoyed during those rare occasions when they could relax and eat a sweet treat from a pretty girl.

We might think that something as simple as a donut can have no real impact on the world, but it is amazing how little things can change an attitude, brighten a day, encourage a person, and even save a life. Like a smile in a grocery store or a donut on the battlefield, the glass of water in today s text can make a very real difference. It seems like nothing; for most of us water is readily available. But we all know how satisfying a cold glass of ice water can be on a hot day, and a glass of water can be lifesaving for someone who is dehydrated.

We are so thankful for the men and women who sacrificed so much on that day eighty years ago and during the necessary evil of the wars that overcame a much greater evil in the world, including those donut lassies who found a way to shine a spark of light in the darkness. May we never forget, both the reality of evil that exists and the signs that the evil is getting a hold in our lives. And may we never forget that sometimes all it takes is a smile, a donut, or a glass of water to shine the light of Christ in the world of someone who is being overcome by darkness.

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June 7, 2024

“Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:37-40, WEB

I have a confession to make. I’m a grumbler. I grumble when something doesn’t quite go my way. I grumble when someone cuts me off on the road. I grumble when people are inconsiderate at the grocery store. I admit that when I grumble, I tend to call people by some not so nice names. I don’t do it in their hearing, it is usually just in my head, although I have been known to yell in the car even though I know they can’t hear me. I joke about the fact that there are a lot of bad drivers in the world, but I’m often reminded that I’m not perfect and that I am probably the reason others yell bad names in their cars when I’m driving.

It happened today at the grocery store. I am often amazed at how inconsiderate and inobservant many people are when they walk the aisles. They park their cart on one side while standing in the middle to look for an item on the shelves across the aisle. They turn corners and cross aisles without looking to see if anyone is coming. They squeeze past people who are patiently waiting for others to walk through. They are on their phones, walking and talking as if there is no one else in the store. I try to be considerate. I know I have more time and patience, but I do grumble when others make the trip more difficult because they are so unaware of others in their path.

Well, I was that inconsiderate person today. I waited patiently as a couple walked past on a main aisle, but then rushed out to cross without noticing a man in a scooter was a few feet behind them. He slowed down and grumbled at me about cutting him off. I further confess that I just kept going: no apology or acknowledgement. I was frustrated by that point because I’d been cut off a dozen times already. I just wanted to be done and go home.

I think about all those people about whom I’ve grumbled over the years. Yes, some of them are bad drivers and self-focused shoppers, and yet how many of them were just like me? How many of them try to be considerate, but are having a bad day? How many times have I grumbled about someone who is usually very aware of their surroundings and gives grace to those who are rushing and impatient. I tend to believe the worst without thinking that maybe they are just as frustrated as I was today and that maybe they just want to get home. Perhaps they are distracted by a struggle in their life. We’ve all been there. This is why we need to love our neighbors as ourselves, because we are just as unlovable as they are.

When I’m cut off on the highway or in the grocery store, I am quick to call that person something that is not very nice. I’ve used words about people that I would never want others to use about me. When I do this, I am cut to the heart. I know I have done the very same things on the highway, and though I’m quick to justify my failure with excuses I am never willing to give the other guy the same consideration. When this happens, I vow to be more considerate on the road and to hold my tongue. I ask forgiveness for the thoughts, words, and deeds against my neighbor. And then the next time it happens, I spit out those same words all over again.

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

Thankfully, Jesus forgives our failures and teaches us a better way. The Holy Spirit transforms us so that we’ll be better the next time. We are saved, but we continue to be sinners in need of Jesus’ grace. As we go through this life, we are reminded to do our best to consider the possibility that our neighbors are not worthy of our grumbling but are just having a bad day, just like we do, loving them when they seem unlovable because we have been loved by the One who does not consider any of us unlovable.

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June 10, 2024

“I have also seen wisdom under the sun in this way, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city, and few men within it; and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now a poor wise man was found in it, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.” Ecclesiastes 9:13-16, WEB

I was watching a show about gold mining and the star, Parker, was visiting an ancient man who got very lucky (with hard work) during a gold rush in Brazil. In the early 1980’s a hundred thousand people went to Sierra Pelada to mine for gold. The prospectors found at least forty-five tons, although some estimates claim it was more like three hundred and sixty tons. The man on the show was so rich that he owned a private plan and partied all over the world. He has since run out of money, but with a legal claim (the site was shut down because it caused so much environmental damage.) Only a few are still allowed to mine in the area.

Parker was willing to invest in the guy, to help him get started again. He was sure that he was just feet away from a streak that would set him back in business. Parker paid for some heavy equipment, and they dug a hole. They did not find gold. The prospector said that they’d just have to dig a little further. Parker equated his attitude to someone whose success went to his head, continuing to insist that the next day would prove their confidence.

I once met a young man who told me that he did well at poker. He wanted to go to Vegas to prove his confidence. He played online often and said that he made some stunning moves in play. I warned him about the dangers of gambling, that you win just enough to make you think you are a brilliant player but then your luck runs out and you begin to lose. The temptation is to keep going anyway, thinking that your brilliance will overcome your bad luck and you will win again like you did in the beginning. Too many people have gotten caught up in this vicious circle and they have suffered for it.

It is so easy for us to experience and succeed at something once and think that it means we have a gift, this is not only true of earthly experiences, but also spiritual. I once knew a girl who had an incredible experience with the Holy Spirit during which she gave a powerful prophetic word. She was immediately convinced that she was a prophet and that everything she said should be accepted as God-given. She wrote sermons, corrected and rebuked others. Unfortunately, her later “words” were filled with error. They did not line up to the scriptures and were even at times dangerous to the spiritual health of those who followed her teachings. She respected my own ministry and listened to what I had to say.

The self-proclaimed prophet came back to me several times for advice. She shared some of her writing, asking for me to share the wisdom I’d accumulated in my Christian journey. However, she wasn’t looking for correction. She knew what she knew and rejected what I had to say when I pointed out her error. She wanted me to tell her she was truly a brilliant prophet. She rejected everything I said when I did not do so. Wisdom is quickly forgotten.

Parker might have given the old prospector some good advice, but he can’t predict what will happen in the future. I couldn’t foresee what will happen either to the young man with his gambling or the young lady with her ministry. I could only share a bit of my experience and knowledge and hope that they would make the right decisions when the time came. The irony of my relationship with the young ‘prophet’ was that she pursued our relationship because she thought I was one too. When I didn’t say what she wanted to hear, she told me I wasn’t a prophet, an office I never claimed for myself.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the prospector will follow Parker’s advice and I doubt that the young man took my thoughts to the table with him. My experience with gambling has always been penny ante, trivial when compared to the numbers he’d been dealing with online. The young girl stopped listening when she stopped thinking of me as a prophet because I became like a poor man whose wisdom was not worth remembering. The scriptures are given that we might remember that the wise words we may see are fleeting, which is why we are to rely solely upon God, for His wisdom is eternal.

We can easily be tempted to hope in all the wrongs things. Hope is the next gold rush, gambling success, and even a prophetic word is like wishes and dreams. It isn’t dependable. It disappoints because nothing early is dependable. However, true hope is in God because His Word is true. His promises are dependable. He is the one with wisdom to which we must listen so that we’ll go forth knowing success in the things that truly matter, sharing the Gospel with our neighbors so that they’ll seek God’s victory that is eternal.

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June 11, 2024

“My heart was hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned. I spoke with my tongue: ‘Yahweh, show me my end, what is the measure of my days. Let me know how frail I am. Behold, you have made my days hand widths. My lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely every man stands as a breath.’ Selah. ‘Surely every man walks like a shadow. Surely they busy themselves in vain. He heaps up, and doesn’t know who shall gather. Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.’” Psalm 39:3-7, WEB

I love to take road trips. We are planning a couple this year. The first is to Indiana to visit our daughter in a couple of weeks. Then we are going to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in October. Many people would rather travel faster by airplane; it does take longer to get to your destination, but sometimes the best times are had during the journey. This was certainly true when we visited Route 66 last summer.

Even when you travel by car, there are times when you can speed past the scenery. We went National Park hopping a few years ago, the end of our journey was in Utah. We drove through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to get there. Texas is huge and we live in the middle of the state. Interstate Highway 10 is more than 880 miles through Texas from the New Mexico border to Louisiana and it runs right through our city. We began our trip at mile marker 556 (marker 1 is at the border of New Mexico), and it took us nearly nine hours just to get out of Texas!

The trip to Indiana will be a little different, but the vastness of Texas is just as evident. The trip is about 1200 miles. It will take us more than 7 hours to just get to Arkansas. More than one third of the trip will be in Texas, the other two thirds will take us through four other states. We won’t stop much along our way, though there are plenty of fun things we could do.

Speed limits in Texas are often 70 or even 80 miles an hour, though slightly slower through the cities. You might think that we’d miss something as we were driving so fast on the road, but not really. Some roads, especially in the west, are very flat, and you can see for many miles. It can take hours to come to a mountain that appears on the horizon. Storms seem to be in the path, but they dissipate long before you reach them. Some trips, like those through west Texas, are miles and miles of flat, beautiful but barren, land. We try to take our rest stops at fun places but with the higher speed limits, we can get so much farther between stops. Even if we don’t stop, there’s always something to see along the way. We’ve made the trip to the north and east several times, and there are landmarks we look forward to seeing each time.

It is good that we can travel fast on the highways, but you don’t want to go so fast when you are visiting places like National Parks and cities. You can’t, quite frankly. In the parks, the roads are too narrow with twists and hills which make it impossible to see ahead. It is similar in the cities, but it is buildings and traffic that block the view. Speed limits are set according to the nature of the road. Twisty roads are slow especially when they don’t have guardrails and cliffs. City streets have obstacles like lights and cross traffic. It is also good to go slow anyway, so you can see whatever there is to see. You never know when there might be something worth stopping to visit.

There is never enough time to do everything. We finish every road trip wishing that we could have stopped more often, wandering on longer hikes, seeing other museums, or eating at one more diner. We are trying to plan our trips so we can have as much fun as possible, although we also like to be spontaneous. We have to be careful, though, because there are always other travelers who are not interested in seeing the sights. They just want to rush through life; they want to go fast because they are more interested in the destination than the journey. Even in the National Parks we were rushed by people who just wanted to get from one landmark to another without stopping to see the beauty in between.

Isn't that the way it is with our lives, though? We have so much to accomplish that we speed around the day without paying much attention to the world around us. I suppose sometimes, like the flat, beautiful but barren land of West Texas, there isn’t much to see. But our lives are not a road trip or vacation; we have a lifetime to glorify God. The problem is that we sometimes rush to accomplish all the wrong things, chasing after vain glories while missing the grace of God.

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June 12, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for June 16, 2024, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17); Mark 4:26-34

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. Without a parable he didn’t speak to them; but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Mark 4:33-34, WEB

The Holy Spirit is a central understanding of God for Christianity, although it is mysterious and confusing. As the early Christians studied the Old Testament and the witness of the disciples, they began to see the Trinity clearly and found it to be the logical expression of the God they saw revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Some things Jesus said did not make sense without this understanding of the Godhead. Some of the things He did have far more meaning when seen through this light. A small seed of an idea became a foundational teaching by the fourth century because the Church fathers were finally able to bring together all the questions, answers, and ideas into one concise creed. It was at the council of Nicaea that the doctrine was finally given full expression.

It took a lot of discussion and study. Origen, Tertullian, and Athanasius were early scholars working through the ideas. They came to their understanding as they fought heresy in the early church. Others continued to develop and defend the doctrine, including the Cappadocian fathers. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus were bishops and doctors of the Church. They were influenced by Macrina, a teacher and abbess. She was Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s sister, an intelligent, learned Christian, committed to a faithful and faith-filled life of perfection. She provided a place for her brothers and their friend to pray and live and study at the community she established on the family estate.

Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were both unwilling leaders of the Church but served with humility and dedication. Basil established a rule of monastic life that is still used today, preferring community life to hermitage. Gregory of Nazianzus was a great preacher, working especially where the Arian ideology had taken root, planting Orthodoxy to regions where Orthodoxy was not widespread. Gregory wrote about spiritual life and the Christian use of worship and sacraments to contemplate God.

Their ideas were much different than the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, but they were able to stand against the philosophical thinking of the Greeks. They saw Christian faith in an almost scientific manner, centered in the healing of the soul and union with God. It was possibly the scientific and logical thinking that caused the three to think so deeply about the Trinity; the men were essential in developing the wording that the Godhead is “three substances in one essence.”

It is interesting to think of these three men today because the images in our Gospel text have to do with big things happening from small beginnings. Along with Macrina, they used their gifts establishing community, preaching, teaching, and worship helping to develop and grow the Church. They were individuals with individual gifts that were part of the greater community. They worked together to develop the essential doctrine of the Trinity. Our individual gifts are important, but we need one another for the continuing growth of the Church. We are all small and insignificant, but God has made us part of a much larger body that continues to grow like a vine. He uses our gifts, each of us a seed that grows larger in His kingdom every day.

God has a way of using unusual voices to help us see and hear the word He has for us. I had an online acquaintance a few years ago. He had been a very active Christian, deeply involved in the ministry of his church, but something happened to destroy his faith. He became an atheist. We conversed via email for a long time. He asked a million questions but didn’t accept the answers. He rejected the idea that some questions only have faith answers. I’m not sure what purpose our conversations had; I certainly wanted to help him see the love and mercy of God again, but I was never sure what he expected to come of our discussions. I don’t think he wanted to destroy my faith, although many of his questions were difficult. He definitely challenged me. For some people, the lack of acceptable answers could have been a faith breaker.

Did he want to find God’s grace again? I’m not sure, but his questions certainly helped me seek God’s Word for myself. I may not have found suitable answers for him, but the search made my knowledge of God and my faith stronger. The more I knew, the more confidence I had to share God’s grace with those who were questioning. I am thankful to this former-Christian-atheist because I learned so much because of him. He had an insight into the scriptures that was beyond the norm. It was sad that his insight didn’t help him know God or love him. We lost touch a long time ago, so I don’t know what happened to him, but there’s always hope. Perhaps God had more work for him to do as an unbeliever, helping others grow strong enough to share God’s word with the world. God often used hardened hearts to turn His people to Him. It may seem impossible for an atheist to be a gift of God, but that was certainly true of my friend because he helped with my development as a Christian teacher and theologian.

God can do the impossible, and in today’s Old Testament passage He promised to do just that. Israel had turned away from God. The kings lost their way. The people were not worshipping the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living according to God’s word. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem. Ezekiel wrote at this time, when Israel was exiled in Babylon.

The parable found in today’s Old Testament passage shows this story in a new and unexpected way. God promised to take a shoot and make it grow where it could never grow. A shoot clipped from the top of a cedar tree will not grow on the top of a mountain. Even if that snippet could grow, it wouldn’t grow into a vine. But God can bring life to the dead, just as He used Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.

God’s power and mercy and grace are often found in the unexpected. We don’t always have the patience to wait for God’s plan to come into fulfillment, but we are called to go forth in faith knowing that He knows what He is doing. God is faithful. He will do the impossible. He has promised to do the impossible. He can make a cutting turn into a haven for hope. Jesus Christ was cut and replanted through the cross and the tomb, bringing life to the world. He turned the world upside down, and because of Him we can have hope for even those like my atheist friend.

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Matthew used this particular phrase many times, comparing the kingdom of heaven to everything from a mustard seed to a net. Each parable tells us something about the kingdom of heaven, helping us to see it from different points of view. The parables reach into our understanding about the world and compare God to what we have experienced. Parables are imperfect, of course, because they are so limited. Not everyone plants mustard or bakes bread, so can we really understand what the parables mean? Intellectually we might be able to give it meaning, but sometimes they are hard words for us.

Mark does not use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” but many experts agree that his “kingdom of God” means the same thing. If you do a parallel comparison, you’ll find that Matthew uses “heaven” where the rest of the Gospel writers use “God.” There may be a reason that Matthew made that choice of wording, but I don’t think it matters. Both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God belong to God, and we are made part of it by faith. The question is: what is the kingdom of God like for us? If Jesus were here with us today, what parables would He use to help us understand? What parables can we use to help others see the kingdom that has been proclaimed by Jesus?

Jesus used parables as a way to explain the kingdom of God to those who would listen. Parables are not always understood by those who hear the words. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, were often confused by His lessons, so He had to explain them to them in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? Parables are meant to make people think, to make us ponder beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows in impossible places? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? These are the kind of questions my former-Christian-atheist friend asked that helped my faith grow. Perhaps it eventually helped him return to Christ. It is in thinking about these things that we draw near to God.

Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul wrote, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I the seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves become a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible; faith is a miracle

Jesus’s parables don’t always make it clear that God doing the work. Today’s Gospel lesson include parables about seeds. In the first, the kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. In the second, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. The man in the first story does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows big enough for birds to dwell in its shade. We can help, just like the farmer. We can understand what happens, like a scientist, but in the end, it is God who makes it happen.

Man is not always involved. Seeds can be cultivated by nature. James Michener in his book, “Hawaii,” wrote about the beginnings of the islands. First volcanos created landmass. Eventually the islands grew large enough for there to be dry ground above the ocean. The volcanic debris became rich soil. The islands were then planted with seeds from birds as they passed over the new ground. Seeds can be spread by the wind. Plants die, but new plants grow in their place. That is certainly what happens with the beautiful wildflowers in spring in Texas. As the wildflowers wither, they drop seeds that will grow another year. Wild forests and meadows don’t need human intervention for plants to grow.

However, in parables in today’s Gospel lesson the seeds are sown. We know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. We are to shine on those who hear His Word, to water it with grace, teaching them about the Kingdom of God. We are sent into the world to call people to repentance, helping pull the weeds that keep them from faith. God can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He can make His Kingdom grow without our help, but He invites us to help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues. He calls us to use our gifts to plant seeds of faith and help them grow.

Sometimes the parables Jesus tells us make little sense. What does a seed have to do with the kingdom of God? If you aren’t a farmer, the agricultural references might be pointless. It doesn’t help that we know intelligently and scientifically that these stories aren’t completely true. Yes, a plant grows without the help or knowledge of man, but what farmer doesn’t put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into his farms? A mustard seed isn’t really the smallest seed. Yet, these parables have long helped us to understand that God is in control and that He has begun a great thing with just a tiny seed. These seeming inconsistencies are the kind of thing that bothered my friend, but we understand them by faith and from our own study of God’s Word. We don’t have to take them literally to understand what they mean for our lives in this world and the next.

The parables are just stories on the surface, but they cause us to think more deeply about what Jesus is saying, to take ownership of the information He is sharing. He often explained the parables to the disciples, and we benefit from their confusion. Our greatest growth happens when we struggle with the stories because our questions make us think about what it meant not only for the disciples and early hearers, but also for us today. Those three theologians so long ago struggled with the concepts they saw in the scriptures but could not totally understand. Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Trinity is still a stumbling block for many would-be Christians.

Paul faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who wanted his ministry to fail; they tried to destroy him. He was attacked, not only about his faith but also personally. Paul wrote to the people in Corinth because some were trying to undermine his ministry and the seeds he had planted. He was concerned that the naysayers would destroy the faith of those he loved, but Paul did not give up on the ministry to which he was called. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He wanted to be with Jesus, but he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He was growing in the here and now. We will experience the eternal kingdom of God someday, but it is also ours today. Paul was one man with incredible gifts, but he knew he was part of something much bigger.

Paul wrote, “Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do: planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom.

If you ask a gang member why he or she joined the gang, you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules, and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks; they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. They think they found exactly what they want in the life of the gang. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. The rules for belonging do not fit into the mold of what is acceptable in society, but there are requirements to be part of the group. They experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang, only when they do what is required.

Sadly, those requirements are often harsh and dangerous. They never believed that they could find true blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. They were afraid of their homes, but they find a new kind of fear in the gang. They think that the grass is greener in the “love” of the gang, but they quickly learn that it is mixed with blood. Then they are trapped in a prison (sometimes literally) from which there is no escape. They thought they had gained freedom, but are they really free? What blessings can really come out of the fear and obedience that demands rejection of home, family, and true authority?

I suppose that those outside the Christian faith might ask the same question. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs? Which grass is really greener?

The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law where there is freedom from authority other than us. That kind of freedom is not blessed. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God’s sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.

God sees the world much differently that we do. He sees it through love, mercy, and grace. God can see goodness in the midst of darkness, He can see potential where there seems to be none. He can take a tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He sees differently because He sees beyond the surface and into the heart of man. He sees beyond the moment. He sees His creation without the cloak of sin and death. In Christ we are given a vision of what God sees in us and in others. We are called to see the world through eyes of faith, to see it with love, mercy and grace and to act accordingly. We are invited to live as if we are the tabernacle of God, a dwelling place for Christ in this world so that His love, mercy and grace might be seen by others.

The world sees Christian faith as foolish. My friend was respectful but never really understood why I continued to believe. The non-believer thinks that faith is nothing more than a crutch that keeps us from our human potential. The world thinks we are trapped in a prison because we are afraid of the freedom we could have pursuing our own desires. However, seeing the world through faith is a gift, an incredible blessing because we see eternity through the eyes of God in the midst of a world that is covered in sin and darkness.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.” We tend to shy away from words of law, preferring to focus on God’s grace. After all, it is in grace that we have the freedom to truly be what God has created and redeemed us to be. We learn from the psalmist that the righteous will live a fruitful life in God’s kingdom according to His Word.

Psalm 1 was likely written by the person who gathered and organized the psalms as we know them today, possibly Ezra. Ezra was a relative of the last high priest of the first Temple in Jerusalem. He had been in Babylon and returned with the rest of the exiles. Ezra reintroduced the Torah to the Jews. In Nehemiah 8, they read the Torah and expounded upon it to the people, who stood all day for the reading. Remember, they were in Babylon because they had been disobedient to God’s Word from the king to the people, so God allowed the Babylonians to take them into captivity. After seventy years, they returned to Jerusalem to begin again. God is the God of second (and third, and fourth, and a hundredth) chances. Many of the psalms focus on the law, and in today’s reading the writer reminds Israel not to go bad to the path that led them into exile. Unfortunately, they overcompensated after the exile, which led to legalism, which was rampant by the time Jesus was born. Extreme legalism is just as bad as lawlessness because it leads to self-righteousness. The key is to trust in God. He is the one who does the work.

God is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can change nothing into something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible. He did it in and through Jesus. He is still making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is taking the seeds that we have planted, and He is bringing them to life. He is also making the seeds in our hearts grow. We are a new creation in Christ, called to live in the freedom of His Kingdom, partners with Him in the salvation of the world.

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June 13, 2024

“Follow after love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in another language speaks not to men, but to God; for no one understands; but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. He who speaks in another language edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the assembly. Now I desire to have you all speak with other languages, but rather that you would prophesy. For he is greater who prophesies than he who speaks with other languages, unless he interprets, that the assembly may be built up.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, WEB

The term soapbox has come to mean an improvised platform that is used by a self-appointed speaker to make an impromptu or nonofficial speech. The term comes from early in the twentieth century when the platform was actually a wooden crate that had been used for soap. Now our soapboxes are often imagined, as seen on often on social media, but we still make those speeches and often end with the statement, “I will get off my soapbox now.”

There was a time when those soapboxes were used by street preachers who went out into market squares or along main street to proclaim the coming of the end of the world, to call for the repentance of the people so that they would be saved. They were much like the Old Testament prophets that seemed to have only bad news to share. Most of those soapbox preachers spoke well of hell and damnation, scaring folk into a very shallow faith that was easily destroyed when they experienced disappointment or persecution. They were self-proclaimed prophets, determined to change society one heart at a time. Those street prophets were false prophets. Their predictions never came true, and the faith that accompanied their word was not true faith in Jesus Christ. Prophecy is still a very real gift, because it is through the proclamation of God’s Word that people are saved.

Old Testament prophecy was different than New Testament. Jesus Christ was only a promise then, a glimmer of what God intended and what God would do. For prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, there was only the hope of the coming Messiah. They could only point forward to that day and persuade the people of their need to turn to God so that they would know Him when He came. The purpose of prophesy changed after Christ. Now, we don’t have to point to something that will happen in the future, but rather we point to Jesus who brings forgiveness in the here and now. This is something that we should all be doing every day. That’s what the soapbox prophets got wrong: they warned of coming wrath without focusing on the incredible grace of Jesus Christ that truly changed the world.

We don’t need false prophets who stand around on soapboxes in the market square (or preach on social media) warning that the end of the world is near, predicting some future day of wrath. What we do need is every Christian willing to speak the Good News of the Gospel so that those who have not yet heard might know Christ and be saved through faith in Him. We are called to prophesy in the world today, but we don’t need to act like the Old Testament prophets running around screaming hellfire and damnation to the nation. Rather, we are gifted with God’s words in our hearts and on our tongues so that we can bring the grace of God in Christ Jesus to one heart at a time. Fear never saved a soul, but God’s Word has the power to transform the most horrible sinner into a forgiven saint who will live with God for eternity. Let us go out and be the prophetic voices through which God can bring His salvation to the world.

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June 14, 2024

“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11, WEB

I have a friend who answers the question, “How are you?” with “I woke up on the green side.” While this is optimistic, it isn’t the most uplifting point of view. It presumes that my friend expects to be below the green; in other words, dead and buried. Not really a very optimistic thought! Of course, my friend is on the far side of the hill, and he believes that every day spent living and breathing is a gift. He’s not concerned about death, but it is definitely in the back of his mind.

I am probably guilty of the usual answer, “Fine,” although at times I’ve thought about other ways that the question can be answer. “It is a great day to be alive.” “I am thankful for this beautiful day.” These are far more joyful ways to think about every day; we should try to rejoice in the moment without thinking about the reality of our brief time on the green side. Quite frankly, I look forward to eternity, and I confess that one of my favorite sayings is “Come, Lord Jesus,” because sometimes I’d rather be with Jesus than here, so I can empathize with those who see life with the expectation of death. I have had my share of bad days, but I know I need to remember to face each day for what it is: a gift. We all have reasons to worry, but there are also plenty of reasons to rejoice. When we focus on the negatives, we open ourselves to the temptations of the devil.

In western society, we face the struggles of drugs and violence, worrying about our children every time they walk out the door. We worry about disease, pollution, and poverty. We are anxious about the decisions we make and how they will affect our lives and the world around us. In our personal lives, we are concerned about our health, finances, family, and friends. We experience suffering of all sorts, emotional and physical. What has you worried today? A sick friend? A busy schedule? A lost relationship? The wrong job? Does your worry ever cause you to despair? What makes you afraid?

We each have anxieties, which are part of our day to day living. These worries cause strain on our physical and emotional health. Even more, the worries can be unhealthy for our spiritual health, and the devil is always lingering, watching for an opportunity to turn us from God. We need to face the fact that each of us has issues that we focus upon daily that waste our time and energy. When we recognize the stumbling blocks that can take over our lives, then we can do something positive, even if it is just an optimistic answer to a common greeting. The best place to begin is with an attitude that today is a great day to be alive, rejoicing that God has given us another day to praise Him.

God recognizes that there are issues in our lives that need to be handled. We do need to eat, have shelter, and care for our health. There are problems in our society. He does not expect us to go around laughing gaily at every moment in the midst of pain and suffering. However, it is important that we do not let our troubles make us anxious to the point of giving a foothold to the enemy. We are to keep our eyes focused on God and His amazing grace, remembering that we are not the only ones who are suffering. Keep in mind the great men of the Bible, such as Joseph and Job. They faced incredible hardship, stayed faithful, and were restored to a greater glory. Our greater glory is life in Christ Jesus, now and for eternity. Stand firm in your faith and tell the devil to take a hike.

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June 17, 2024

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