Welcome to the March 2007 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









Jesus-colored glasses



New Beginning







Mind of Christ






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

A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2007

March 1, 2007

Scriptures for March 11, 2007: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Isaiah 55:1-9 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not; and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I have a pile of catalogues on my table. Most of my catalogues are for books, but some of them have other products. We have catalogues for computers, tools, gardening supplies, craft supplies, footwear, sports equipment, gifts, jewelry, toys, teaching materials and more. I am not sure how we manage to get on so many catalogue lists, but I am sure that they have gotten our names and addresses from other lists and from companies with whom we have done business.

These catalogues are for merchandise that is available for sale. Some of the items are out of our financial reach – like the jewelry in the Tiffany and Company catalogue we received just before Christmas. The Sharper Image offers some strange and desirable gadgets for the person who has everything. The Neiman Marcus catalogue offers some unusual fantasy gifts, such as concerts by famous rock stars and sports celebrity dream packages. You can even buy a trip into space.

This is not an entirely new phenomenon. People with wealth have always been able to buy anything they want. They can buy people, places and things. They can buy services and loyalty and friends. People have been known to buy positions, power and authority. In the sixteenth century, people were even purchased forgiveness. Indulgences were a way to buy a place in heaven, even for those who had already died. Indulgences were not very expensive. It was possible for the average person to afford the ‘get out of hell free’ card. Forgiveness is still for sale. I recently heard that you can buy a pardon for leaving a large carbon footprint on the environment.

No matter what it is you can buy, it takes money or some sort of payment. Isaiah presents a similar offer from God – forgiveness – but this invitation is for something greater. He speaks to the thirsty, those who crave something that will satisfy their greatest needs. For the Israelites, only God could provide such a gift. The language of this invitation is unusual for us, though. Isaiah says, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

What does this mean? After all, the word “to buy” means “to acquire possession, ownership, or rights to the use or services of by payment especially of money”. There is a passing of things between two parties, otherwise it is a gift. How can we buy wine and milk without money or without price? Another definition of “to buy” is to accept or to believe, as in “I don’t buy that premise.” We don’t buy the gifts of God with money, we have nothing of value to offer God for the things He offers to us. We receive that which He has to give with faith, like the faith of Abraham. Unfortunately, we prefer to buy the things that are tangible to us and use the money we have earned with our own two hands. God’s gift of grace is without cost, and this is hard for us to understand and accept.


March 2, 2007

Scriptures for March 11, 2007: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8 O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is. So have I looked upon thee in the sanctuary, To see thy power and thy glory. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise thee. So will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips; when I remember thee upon my bed, And meditate on thee in the night-watches. For thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. My soul followeth hard after thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me.

At the beginning of the year we make resolutions. These are aspects of our life we want to change and we commit to doing that which is necessary to make those changes. Most of the time these resolutions have to do with our health – we want to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise. Sometimes we resolve to begin something new, such as to take up a hobby or go back to school. We also resolve to deal differently with our relationships, committing to give more attention to our loved ones or to look at people with a new and better perspective.

On January 1st we set on a journey, because keeping our resolutions is often a trip of ups and downs, temptations and failures. We set our goals pretty high, trying to bring about a huge change in our life – one that is meant to make us healthier and more successful in every aspect of our life. This is a journey that is meant to last forever, but for many people the resolutions quickly fall apart and we give up because it is too hard. Amazingly, most people seem to last about forty days – until the second week of February – which is when they give up and go back to their old way of life.

On Ash Wednesday we begin a similar, but different journey. Our purpose is different – we are trying to emulate our Lord by fasting in some way. We do this not for our physical or emotional well-being, though possibly for our spiritual well-being. We choose differently for Lent than we do at the beginning of the year. We often choose something small, something minor that won’t make much of a difference as we journey. We know when the end of the journey will come – Easter – so we choose something that we know we can live without for ‘forty days’. As Easter draws closer we look forward to the day we can gorge on those things we have given up. We might be tempted, but few people actually fail. Our commitment does not bring change any more than our resolution on January 1st. When Easter comes, we return to our old ways.

For many, Lent is a time for extra worship. Churches schedule special worship in the middle of the week, along with a light supper and fellowship. That midweek time is above and beyond the time we usually gather together and for many it is a real sacrifice. With our busy schedules, midweek worship just adds another night during our week that we have to go out and do something. We go, enjoying the worship and the messages from whatever theme has been chosen for the year. Even though we approach this, and perhaps even our fasting, with a sense of joy about what we are doing, nothing is changed. When Easter is over, we go back to normal, returning to our old busy schedule.

It is interesting how during Lent we willingly and willfully quench our thirst for God, committing to the journey we know will end one day. Though Lent disciplines are meant to bring some change to our spiritual life, we never think of the physical and emotional aspects that might benefit well beyond the forty days. We follow Jesus into the wilderness, giving up something, and yet we never look at this as a time of resolution or transformation.

David knew that his time in the wilderness was a time to “stir up himself to take hold on God.” (Matthew Henry’s commentary on Psalm 63) “He resolves to seek God.” His time in the wilderness is not necessarily a time to give something up, but rather to find his God and develop a relationship with Him. That’s what Jesus did also. For too many of us, Lent is a time to suffer, to give up something we love – including our time. It might appear that we are being more spiritual, devoting ourselves to God, yet we do nothing during that time to develop the relationship. For David, the wilderness journey was more than a trip in desert. He spent time with God in the morning and at night. He spent time in the sanctuary of God’s love. He sought God in the world and in the privacy of His bed. He rejoices in God during the whole journey and at the end of that journey he was prepared to face his future, his enemy and his purpose.


March 5, 2007

Today’s Word is an edited repeat from March 2002.

Scriptures for March 11, 2007: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us make trial of the Lord, as some of them made trial, and perished by the serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer. Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.

I always hated history. It seemed useless to me to have to learn all those people, places and dates. What good purpose was there in knowing what someone did a thousand years ago? After all, their culture and circumstances were much different than ours today. It even seemed silly to study history from just a few years ago. After all, what is past is past and we should not dwell on the things that cannot be changed but look forward to the future.

I had the same opinion of the Old Testament books of the Bible. What good did it do to read those stories of Israel? Their culture and circumstances were much different than ours today. It was a different world, with different people and different circumstances. This is true even more so for those who live in Christ. Jesus restored our relationship to God, offering through His blood the grace and forgiveness that gives us true life. He finished the work that God began thousands of years before in the lives of the patriarchs, the kinds and the prophets. The old stories are fun to read, but of the stories offer a view of God that seems contradictory to the image we have in the story of Christ.

They say that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We study the things of the past, what worked and what didn’t work, to help guide our decisions for the future. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun, and this is most certainly true in every aspect of human nature. American culture is not much different than other prosperous civilizations in ages past. Our political system was established based on ancient examples. Military, education and welfare policies were founded on principles used many times before. If we refuse to recall the lessons learned throughout history, we will continue repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Just as ancient history is important for us to know and understand to keep from falling into the same traps, so too is the Old Testament witness important for Christians. The Israelites had Christ before them, reflections of the promise to come. They were given the manna as a promise of Jesus, who is the Bread of life. Water flowed from the rock, foreseeing the Living water that is Christ. Yet they did not remain faithful to the One who fulfilled their needs. As we look back on those stories we are reminded that Christ is the solid rock on whom we stand and get our strength. When we are tested, as the Israelites were tested in the desert, we are warned from their example to turn to God. Let’s not let history repeat itself in our lives – learn from the past and stand firm for the future. Thanks be to God, who is faithful to His promises. He has provided a way out, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


March 6, 2007

Scriptures for March 11, 2007: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Luke 13:1-9 Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered and said unto them, Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, think ye that they were offenders above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. And he spake this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none. And he said unto the vinedresser, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground? And he answering saith unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down.

This is a tough passage. In it we deal with the not so uplifting themes of death, tragedy and manure. It is even hard to see grace in this passage, though God’s grace is always in His Word.

It helps to put this story into context. When Jesus came down from the mountain where He was transfigured in the presence of His closest apostles, He set out on a journey toward Jerusalem. Nothing was going to stop Him from His goal. As they traveled, Jesus taught the disciples the things they would have to know to continue His work in this world. He healed the sick and He gave hope to the poor. Crowds were following Him, gathering wherever they might hear Him speak. He was calling people to a deep and intimate relationship with God. This was a message people wanted to hear. Even the Pharisees wanted to hear what Jesus had to say.

One day a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus made quite an impression at that dinner. He offended the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law by the things He said and the things He did. They were determined to stop Jesus. The Pharisees understood righteousness and faithfulness from the perspective of the Law. The question of the Galileans and the victims of the tower collapse came up because the Pharisees were following Jesus, asking Him questions. They wanted to catch Him in a mistake that would halt His ministry.

Jesus’ answer to the thoughts of their hearts was that the Galileans and victims of the tower collapse were not greater sinners. Now, we might assume that because Jesus said this, He was lifting up the lowly and lowering the lofty. Yet, Jesus’ words are not a condemnation, but a call to repentance. Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you too will die.” Now, earlier in the book of Luke, Jesus gives the Pharisees and teachers of the Law a long list of sins, but repentance is more than changing the way we do things. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law had rejected Jesus. They had rejected the Word of God made flesh. They had rejected the mercy of God which is found in Jesus. Reject Jesus and you will die, because it is in Jesus Christ that we find true life.

So, Jesus is not saying that those who suffered death and tragedy are less sinful than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. He is saying that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Receive the Savior, and you will have life. Reject the Savior, and you will die. We are given another message of grace in this passage. Jesus – the vine tender – tells the master to give the unfruitful tree another year, another chance. Repentance – recognizing our sin and turning toward the Savior – will bring fruit, and Jesus is willing to do all that He can to help us repent. He will work with us, feed us, water us, risk everything for us. We’ll have to put up with a little manure, but He will help us to turn to God.

We are reminded however, that today is the day. There may not be a tomorrow. Today is the day of repentance. Don’t wait. Believe now, receive the Savior and experience the life He has to give.


March 7, 2007

Scriptures for March 11, 2007: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.

The Gospel passage for this week is a tough one. How do you deal with things like death, tragedy and other kinds of suffering? Unfortunately, many deal with it in the same way as the Pharisees. Those that suffer must not be righteous; they deserve all that they get. There are those who drew parallels between the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 with the collapse of the tower of Siloam that this event was some divine message. But can we really say that those who died on that day were more sinful? No, of course not.

Yet, if something is said enough, it can make us think that way and I am sure at least some of those people who were directly affected by the bombing wondered what they did to deserve such a catastrophic event in their life. Most of them at some point in the mourning and healing process asked the question, “Why me?” We all ask that question. It is a natural reaction to the difficulties of this world. Yet, it is also a statement of doubt.

When we ask, “Why me?” we question God’s judgment about things. We question His purpose and we question His love. It is beyond belief that a loving God would allow such terrible things to happen to His people, so this question can lead to a deeper and much more dangerous rejection of God and Jesus Christ. Such doubt makes it impossible for us to do what is right; it makes it difficult for us to bear fruit.

No matter how hard these texts are for us to read, and even to understand, the Gospel message is clear. God forgives, He transforms and in Him there is life. We might experience suffering, but like manure, God can use our hard times to bring transformation and good fruit. We might feel like we have been burdened with something beyond our ability to bear it, but God does not allow more than we can bear. He gives us a way to stand up under the burden. He gives us Jesus, who offers grace to those who have no hope.

We all doubt. We all ask, “Why me?” We all do it. It is common among human beings. God invites us, however, to be transformed, to drink in the living waters of His grace and to keep our eyes and our hearts on Him through it all. We might suffer. Jesus never said He would keep us from pain. He has promised to be with us through it, to give us the strength and the courage to stand firm in the faith which we have been given. He has promised that even there seems to be no reason for hope, there is always hope. He calls us to recognize our sinfulness and to look to Him for forgiveness. The pain we experience is not some act of divine vengeance. Bad things happen. When the bad things happen, we can be assured that God is loving us through it all and that He knows what will happen in the end.


March 8, 2007

Scriptures for March 18, 2007: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Joshua 5:9-12 And Jehovah said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of that place was called Gilgal, unto this day. And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal; and they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. And they did eat of the produce of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes and parched grain, in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow, after they had eaten of the produce of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

Military families know what it is like to be transient, to be constantly moving from place to place. In nearly nineteen years of marriage, we have lived in seven different houses, and we are lucky ones. Some people have to move every two years, constantly adapting to a new way of life and a new circumstance. Every move means a new church, new friends, new places to pursue hobbies and interests. Every new house means finding a place to fit old furniture and window coverings or purchasing something new.

When it is time to move we find ourselves in what might almost be called a ritual – a series of things that we have to do to prepare. We go through everything we have, pulling out the things that we no longer need – there is no reason to carry out of date clothes or stacks of old magazines to a new house – and we get rid of them. We usually have a yard sale, and then take the leftovers to Good Will. We have to cancel utilities and make arrangements at the new home. We usually organize the house so that after the packers put all our things in boxes, everything will be easy to find at the new house. We clean and make the place ready for whoever will move in after we leave.

Then, when everything is packed and on its way, we live for a time between here and there. We often spend this time in hotels or visiting with family. We spend time on the road, traveling by car or airplane from one home to the next. One of the worst, and yet in some ways best, experiences we had was when we left England. Our household goods had to leave long before we did, so we used borrowed furniture and kitchen equipment for nearly a month. We visited family on our way to our new home and then had to spend time in a hotel before we could move into a house and have our household goods delivered to us once again. We lived like this for a long time – a couple of months.

It was such a joy to finally be able to sleep in our own beds, to have a place that could be called home. I was especially excited to cook a normal meal for the family, to sit at a table and use our own dishes. If it was that way for us, imagine how it must have been for the Hebrews. They had wandered for forty years in the desert – some of the people who entered into the Promised Land did not even know what it was like to live in a house. In today’s passage, the people were finally home. They ate a real meal with food that had been grown in the very place where they were going to live. From that moment they were no longer transients, but were blessed with a place to call their own.


March 9, 2007

Scriptures for March 18, 2007: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Psalm 32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones wasted away Through my groaning all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah For this let every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: Surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; Thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; Whose trappings must be bit and bridle to hold them in, Else they will not come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he that trusteth in Jehovah, lovingkindness shall compass him about. Be glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.

Audrey Hepburn's favorite poem is called “Time-Tested Beauty Tips” and was written by Sam Levenson. She read this poem to her children on her last Christmas Eve. The fact that this is her favorite poem shows her character and her beautiful heart.

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge you'll never walk alone ... People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed and redeemed and redeemed. Never throw out anybody. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress of all time. Her simple beauty and soft-spoken nature lent for wonderfully deep and paradoxical characters. Though she seems weak and fragile, her characters have amazing strength and power. Though she most certainly used cosmetics, her classic beauty seems so natural. When asked if she had any personal beauty tips she answered, “If I had them, I'd make a fortune. But I know what helps — health, lots of sleep, lots of fresh air, and a lot of help from Estee Lauder."

Those simple tips are often forgotten in our world where there are so many options for creating a beautiful image. All too many women, and some men, are turning to plastic surgery to reshape the face or body. You can even have make-up tattooed permanently. Diets and exercise are not so much for health purposes but to create the perfect body according to some cultural image. Few would consider the timeless tips found in that poem truly valuable advice. As a matter of fact, some of the most beautiful women are those who have the least beautiful characters.

Just as we confuse beauty with the cosmetics, so too we confuse happiness with what is visible on the surface. We assume that the people with the big, pretty houses are happy. We assume that the people with the fancy car and everything they could possibly want are blessed. Yet happiness does not always mean blessedness. True happiness is not found in the accumulation of things, but in the realization of our need for God’s grace.

Instead of hiding ourselves under layers of ‘cosmetic’ façade, true beauty and happiness if found deep in the heart of God’s love and is visible in the character of one through whom God’s grace flows.


March 12, 2007

Scriptures for March 18, 2007: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

You’ve heard it said, “She looks at the world through rose colored glasses.” Some people see the glass as half full. There’s a silver lining in every cloud. We can make lemonade out of the lemons. I have recently noticed that there is an upsurge of reports, books and articles about positive thinking. Just yesterday there was a news story that talked about how negative thoughts can affect our lives negatively, so we should try to keep those words out of our heads and our of our mouths.

This is true not only of what happens in our lives, but also in how we see other people. If we think negatively about the people in our lives, they will appear to be that way. The mean boss will seem to be mean no matter what they do – kind actions will be viewed skeptically. We will blame the neighbor we’ve described as ‘loud’ even if the noise comes from someplace else. If we think someone is a liar, everything they say will be a lie. If we think someone is greedy, everything they do will be motivated by greed.

When we see people only through these negative eyes, we can’t see anything good about them. We find it even worse when someone else can see the positive. In that case we look at those people as Pollyannaish – those who see in life only the glad things in every situation. To us, seeing those people through rose colored glasses is naïve, and perhaps even dangerous. We want to show the truth, to convince others of the negative. If there is mercy and grace, then there might be forgiveness and a chance for a new point of view. We get so caught up in our opinion of others, we would rather not allow others to see them differently.

The problem is that from a Christian point of view, the negative gives us an excuse for not sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we think they are beyond redemption, then we will not speak God’s Word into their lives. Even worse, if we can’t find forgiveness, then we will not want them to be saved. We will keep them in the dark because we do not want them to have the light.

In Christ, however, we are called to look at people through a different point of view. Instead of seeing them in the flesh – in their failures and in their sin – we are called to see them through the eyes of Christ. We are called to see them through the power of the cross; with hope and grace. If we think someone is beyond redemption, we’ll never bother to share the Redeemer. We might even make up excuses for doing so – they won’t listen, we don’t want to force our religion, we can’t change the spots on a leopard.

But Christ calls us to see others through His eyes – Jesus-colored glasses – to have hope for them even when they seem to be beyond hope. When we do, we’ll willingly share God’s grace, to love them as they have been created to be. It might seem naïve to the world, but a kind word might just help someone begin to change. At the very least, we will look at them from a new point of view and maybe we’ll discover that they aren’t so bad after all.


March 13, 2007

Scriptures for March 18, 2007: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake unto them this parable, saying… A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him. But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

I think when we read this story we naturally look at it from the other brother’s point of view, if not directly, then as a compassionate observer. We feel sorry for the older brother who has worked hard to keep the family and the estate together after the younger took off for parts unknown. We see the younger brother’s greed and are offended by his boldness. No matter how great the wealth of the landowner, taking that much of its value away would make it difficult to continue running the farm. His self-centeredness leaves the family not only with one less body to help, but also without the resources necessary, especially if they run into hard times.

When we read this story we also assume that since there are two brothers, his share would be half. However, the reality is that the younger son would have received one third of the estate – the older son received a double share. The amount taken was still substantial, too much to give to a selfish, immature boy. It does not seem very sensible for the father to give in to such a demand. There did not even seem to any intention on the part of the son to use his wealth in a beneficial way. It takes only a few days for the son to run off with his money to waste it on parties and rich living.

I don’t play the lottery very often, but when the prize is extremely high I buy a few tickets, never more than a few dollars. Recently one of the prizes was expected to be the highest ever. In the days leading up to the drawing, I saw several news reports on television, the Internet and in print about how people have used the wealth they have won from lotteries. There was one story – a success story – of a man who put his money into investments, creating a company that would not only help him build his money, but it would also help other people invest well.

Most of the stories are about people who think that a million dollars will last forever. What they quickly discover is that it is not very much money if you spend, spend, spend. Most lottery winners have little or nothing left after just eighteen months – a big house, a few parties, an expensive car and it is all gone.

I think that’s what offends us most about the younger son. We have no sympathy for him because he took the wealth his father worked hard to earn and he wasted it. He did not even try to use it wisely. He threw it away. That might be the point of view of the older brother. At least he stayed, used his future wealth to the benefit of the whole family, continuing to build up the farm and estate. And, that’s why he’s so offended by the outcome – after wasting his share; the younger brother is given more. Worst of all, the younger brother received the fruit of his brother’s work.

There are two other points of view in this story – the younger brother and the father. We often hear the father’s point of view in a comparison to the point of view of the older brother. We can certainly receive the grace that is seen in the father’s actions and we can understand how hurt that older son must have felt to see his father have so much mercy on the one who took advantage. But can we identify with the younger brother – the one who offends us? During Lent it is the young son in whose feet we should stand – as the one who has turned away from the Father. As we are called to repentance, we can walk humbly before the throne like that prodigal son, unworthy of grace but willing to serve.


March 14, 2007

Scriptures for March 18, 2007: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Our scriptures this week are about restoring relationships. In Joshua, the relationship to be restored was between God and His people. Though they were reunited through the escape from Egypt, the miracles and the wandering, there was still something separating them. They Hebrews had lost touch with the God of their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. During those forty years in the wilderness, the generation that had left Egypt died and the generation that had been born in the desert had never been circumcised. They had broken the covenant made between God and His people in the days of Abraham. So, before they ate the Passover meal, God ensured their consecration as His people once again. All the men were circumcised by Joshua, to restore the covenant and their relationship with God.

The Epistle lesson is also about restoring relationships. When we think negatively about someone – focusing on their failures – we build walls and break bonds. The harmony in our world is broken because we see the world through our own perspective, through our own selfishness. Jesus calls us to look at the world through His point of view – Jesus-colored glasses. Though it might seem naïve to the world for us to focus on the good things about a person who has sinned against us, we are not to think as the world. The reconciliation that comes with forgiveness is brought to us through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is the way that God restores relationships – first between Himself and His people and then between all of creation.

We have all had some moment in our life when we have had to restore a relationship. Most of us have not had an experience like those found in the story of the Prodigal son, but how many of us have fought with our siblings or our parents. I remember as a child often fighting with my best friend – swearing that I would never talk to her again. Within a day we were playing together and we are even now still friends. The walls built during our fights were not big walls; they were walls that fell easily under the weight of our love for one another. Unfortunately, sometimes the relationships are not restored so easily. Sometimes we leave, move far away. Sometimes we are afraid to try. Sometimes we get caught up in the busy-ness of our lives and we lose our chance. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we refuse to forgive.

We see the possibility of all these things in the story of the Prodigal son. It is interesting that when we look at this story we almost assume that the father not only forgives the son, but also restores the son as if he had never been given his part of the estate. I suppose that would be the fear of the elder son: would father give another portion to the younger son? We don’t hear that in the story. As a matter of fact, the father says, “All that is mine is yours.” When the father gave the young son his portion, he also gave the older son his.

The father was not concerned about the wealth. He was concerned about the relationships. He wanted to break down the walls – walls that might have always existed between the two boys. The decision of what would happen to the younger brother would rest upon the elder’s shoulders. Would there be room in the home for him? Would there be a place in the business for him? With God there is room for all of His children, and there is plenty for all to be satisfied. The father in this story reminds the older son that his place has not been taken away, but the restoration of the younger son to the family is reason to celebrate. He was dead and now he lives.

We might think this way in all our relationships. Though our broken bonds are not necessarily due to death, those friendships or familiar associations are like a death. When there is a wall built or a gap created between people, there is a need for forgiveness and restoration. When the relationship is restored, it is like new life, even resurrection. There are many people in this world who have a broken relationship with God. Paul calls us to be ambassadors for Christ, to take the words of forgiveness and restoration to the world. We are called to be like the father, to restore relationships between people, but most importantly between the lost and their God.


March 15, 2007

Scriptures for March 25, 2007: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Isaiah 43:16-21 Thus saith Jehovah, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; who bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the mighty man (they lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinct, they are quenched as a wick): Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise.

We have been very, very dry here in Texas for what seems like a long time. Though there have been moments of rain, it has been more than a year that we have received less than our average amount of precipitation. Everything was dry. The grass was greener than usual. The lack of winter moisture meant that the wildflowers that should be in bloom are still waiting in the earth to burst out in color.

Texas is known for its bluebonnets. These flowers have a very short life – only a couple weeks in March. I was thinking just last week how the bluebonnets should be in bloom, but the earth has been so dry that they could not grow. I said to someone, “All we need is a little rain and the hillsides will be in bloom.” Well, early this week we had rain, plenty of it. I am sure that the water levels are still well beyond normal and that in a few days when the puddles dry we’ll be back to the worries of drought. For now, however, the grass is looking a little greener and the trees seem to be budding. And today, as we were driving down the highway we saw the first signs of bluebonnets.

This is the first sign of spring. Though bluebonnets are a uniquely Texas thing, every place has something that everyone waits to happen to know that the long winter is finally over. For some it is the crocus, for others the daffodil. In Washington it is the cherry blossom. I remember longing for the first lilacs to bloom on our bushes in Pennsylvania. When we see the color on the bushes and in the fields, we know something new is about to happen.

Lent is nearing an end. The next Sunday will be Passion Sunday and then we will be in Holy Week. The long winter is coming to an end and something new is about to happen. In Isaiah, we hear the promise of what is going to be – do you not perceive it? It is like waiting for those first flowers of spring to burst forth – we wait longingly for it to happen and then when it does we can expect warmer days and green grass.

After the long wander in the wilderness of Lent, we are waiting anxiously for this new life that he has promised. The God of Isaiah, the God of the Israelites, can do amazing things. He made a path through the Red Sea for those who left Egypt to travel as they escaped slavery and oppression. We are not slaves to Egyptians, but we are slaves to our flesh. We are oppressed by the expectations of this world and by the burdens of the Law. But God is about to do a new thing – to create a path through the sea of oppression so that we will be free. Jesus Christ is the living water that He promises, water in the wilderness that we are given to drink. Soon, very soon, as the blossoms spring forth in the joyous proclamation of the resurrection, we will sing praise to God with all the hosts of heaven. Thanks be to God.


March 16, 2007

Scriptures for March 25, 2007: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Psalm 126 When Jehovah brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: Then said they among the nations, Jehovah hath done great things for them. Jehovah hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Jehovah, as the streams in the South. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

When I was a young girl, my mother worked at a store in a mall. During summer vacation, she would often take me with her to work. I would spend the day roaming around the mall, hanging out in the drug store or the “five and dime”. I usually took some books to read or other things to do – this was long before handheld video games. Sometimes I would help mom with work in the store. I’m sure I got bored and drove my mother nuts, just as my kids do to me on school holidays, but I remember having some fun times on those trips.

When I was really lucky my best friend would go to the mall with us and we would hand out all day. We usually planned to see a movie on those days, which would use up several hours of our time. One day we went to see “Mary Poppins.” The main feature was preceded by some educational documentary about animals. I can’t remember even the type of animal because we did not pay much attention to that film. Instead, we got the giggles.

We had bought the big bucket of popcorn to share during the film and we were silly with it. For some reason I decided it would make a good hat, so I lifted it to the top of my head – still full of popcorn. My fingers were slippery with the butter from the popcorn and the bucket slipped. A good portion of the popcorn spilled all over the floor, making us crack up with hysterical laughter. All through the movies this pile of popcorn on the floor was a source of giggles – every time we looked down, we would start up again.

Our laughter was an annoyance to some of the other movie patrons. One gentleman even gave us a dirty look at one point, after which we tried to behave ourselves and stay calm. It was hard, though. The pile of popcorn reminded us of my silliness and gave us good reason to laugh. There are several places in the scriptures that suggest that in our sin we should not laugh, but rather mourn. In Ecclessiastes 7:3 we hear, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Laughter is seen in a negative light, so many go about taking life too seriously.

However, throughout the scriptures, we hear about the joy of God’s deliverance. When the Israelites made it across the Red Sea, Miriam danced. When the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem, David danced. It is very difficult to dance in celebration and joy without laughing! Joyful laughter shows the world the condition of our hearts. Joy comes from God, and when we know He loves us, we feel the joy of His salvation. When we know the joy of the Lord, it is impossible not to laugh. When we do, the world sees that God has done a great thing for us.


March 19, 2007

Scriptures for March 25, 2007: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Philippians 3:4b-14 …if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul has a great set of credentials. He has a long list of reasons why he should be respected among his people. His credentials give him authority; his voice is one of power and influence. He was qualified to be a leader, to speak on behalf of God about Jewish Law and practice.

Last summer we helped at a huge event in town. There were a great many tasks to be done – volunteers were needed everywhere to help with security, safety and hospitality. It was our job to make sure that all the visitors had a great time at all the activities and that they made it home safe and sound, uplifted and ready to take on their world. Such a large gathering required extensive organization. Everyone was given specific identification cards which gave them access to the places they would need to go. Visitors had a certain color, different sorts of volunteers had other colors, staff had yet another color. Since we were volunteers that needed to get into behind the scenes places, we were given special credentials.

We were also given t-shirts that marked us as volunteers. This made us identifiable to the visitors so that if they had any questions or needs, they would know who to ask. We stood out from the crowd. Unfortunately, for some this was a source of pride and it was a privilege which was meant to be used – and abused. They tried to use their credentials to their advantage. Instead of accepting the identification with humility as a servant for others, it was used as a way to get ahead of the crowds and to get the better place.

Paul had a great set of credentials, so great that when the question of Christianity came up, people were willing to listen to his persecution with respect. He could easily have held his genealogy and his blamelessness above all others because he was right with God according to the Law of Moses. But, in Christ he realized that his credentials were meaningless. Instead of being someone above all others, he knew that his place in God’s kingdom made him a servant of all. He realized that he was not greater than anyone, and even suggested that of all sinners he was the greatest. He had persecuted Christ’s church, and thus persecuted the Savior. He knew now, in Christ, that all that he had was useless. Only in Christ is there righteousness.

We might have credentials that make us worthy to be respected and heard. People work hard to receive diplomas and certificates giving them the authority to make judgments or accomplish certain tasks. Family names give people clout, as does wealth and position in society. Our heritage might be a reason for others to look up to us, to admire us. It might give us access to places where others are not able to go. However, who we are in the world is meaningless when it comes to the kingdom of God. We do not need credentials to get into heaven, we need Jesus. In Christ we are called to set all those things aside, to count it as loss because of Christ. Instead of using, or abusing, our credentials, we are called to suffer the loss of those things so that we might know more fully Christ, His righteousness and the power of His resurrection.

I think it is interesting that Paul, who advocated repeatedly that salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone, also says here that the salvation we seek is not fully ours. We continue in the race, striving every forward to the day when it will be ours. Paul, who was the Pharisee of Pharisees, Jew among Jews, never thought of himself as a Christian of all Christians. He knew he was a sinner continually in need of the Savior and called to be a humble servant for Him in this world. We might have great credentials, but they are not meant to make us greater than others. Our credentials make us humble servants because we know that Christ is our all and all.


March 20, 2007

Scriptures for March 25, 2007: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

John 12:1-8 Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein. Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always.

On this night, just days before the Passover, Jesus had dinner with Lazarus and his sisters. Martha ministered to Jesus as she always did - serving the food. Mary served Him in her way, at His feet. In every instance we hear of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, she is at the feet of the Lord Jesus. In Luke we see the story of Mary and Martha, where Martha was upset that Mary was not helping, Mary was at His feet listening and learning. When Jesus came after Lazarus was dead, Mary fell at His feet to beg for mercy. In this story, Mary knelt at Jesus feet and anointed them with a very costly perfume.

Nard, otherwise known as spikenard, is made from a plant that in that day was only grown in what is now Nepal, above 13,000 feet in the Himalayas. It was used for several purposes. First of all, it was used to anoint a bride for her wedding night. In Song of Solomon, we see how seductive the fragrances are to the groom, making him desire her.

Another use for nard was to anoint the feet of the dead. When a person was buried, the bodies were carefully prepared with oils and spices, then wrapped in cloth and placed in the tomb or grave. I do not know the purpose or reasons for the different spices and oils, though I think the practice probably came from ancient times. Perhaps it was simply to keep the body from smelling bad, though that would have been done easily with less expensive oils. Whatever the purpose, the act of pouring expensive oil on the feet of a dead loved one certainly showed a great deal of love.

The third purpose for nard was to anoint kings. It was poured over their head to show that they are the chosen one, giving them the authority and power to lead. Other oils may have been used, but the cost of nard made it popular choice as a sign of the king's wealth. The Egyptians also used it in cosmetics to rejuvenate the skin.

Nard is still available and is used today in aromatherapy and for religious anointing. Though not quite as expensive as it was in Jesus' day, nard is still a valuable oil. Pure nard is too strong to be used on the skin alone; it is mixed with other types of oil that enhance the aroma and medicinal qualities. Nard is used to help relieve stress and insomnia, headaches and indigestion, skin rashes and to rejuvenate the skin. It was popular with Roman perfumers who used it to produce Nardinum, most likely the blend that Mary used that night.


March 21, 2007

Scriptures for March 25, 2007: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always.

There is a song that is played and sung around Christmastime written by Mark Lowry called, “Mary, Did You Know?” It is a song about Mary, the mother of Jesus asking the question we all would like answered – did she know what her son would accomplish? Did she know the miraculous things He would do? Did she know He would touch so many lives? Heal so many and speak God’s Word into the lives of those lost and suffering in this world? Did she know that He would make so many people mad? Did she know how He would die?

We can ask the very same question about the Mary in today’s story. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, was always found sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to every word He had to say. To her sister Martha, Mary was lazy, never helping to serve the guests who often invaded her home with Jesus. It was certainly hard work to feed so many, to clean up after them and see to their well-being. But according to Jesus, Mary chose what was better – to listen to Him and His words.

As she sat at His feet, did she hear what He was really saying? Though the disciples all listened intently as Jesus taught, they often missed the subtleties of His message. They ignored some of His comments, or at least set them aside because they were either messages they did not want to hear or they were too busy considering what it meant to them. Mary, on the other hand, listened to every word and she heard what He said. Did she know, then, that when Jesus talked of His death that it would be soon? Did she know that they were days from the cross?

I think she did know. Since nard is an anointment that does not have a very long shelf life, Mary did not buy it to save for some future date. She did not purchase it in a ‘two-for-one’ deal at the market when she shopped for Lazarus’s burial. She bought that nard for Jesus, for a purpose, to do something so extraordinary that we will remember her forever for it.

We might think that she did this to proclaim Jesus was her king, but if that was true then she would have poured it over His head. Instead, she poured the perfume on His feet and wiped them with her hair. This unusual act was not only extravagant, but it was disreputable and humble. A woman did not display her hair – her crown – in public, and she should not have used it in such an intimate way. Attending the feet was the work of a servant, and though we do not know the financial status of Lazarus and his sisters, it is likely they had enough wealth to have servants to do such work. Everything about the act was disgraceful – the waste, the wantonness, the humiliation. Yet, Mary willingly gave herself to Jesus in this way. Did she know?

Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone. The nard was meant to be saved for my funeral.” Mary, however, did not want to wait until Jesus was dead to anoint Him with the nard. There are those in today’s world that minister to those who have recently lost a loved one. They provide a service – a ritual of anointing the body. This ritual helps a family to say good-bye, to have a part in preparing their loved one for their eternal rest. It is an intimate moment, heartbreaking and moving at the same time. The preparation of the body in ancient Israel was not only practical, it was vital to the emotional well-being of those who had lost a loved one.

Mary did not want to wait until Jesus was dead to work through her mourning. She wanted Him to receive it during His life, to experience her love while He could still feel her hands, smell the fragrance and touch her in return.


March 22, 2007

Scriptures for April 1, 2007: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Isaiah 50:4-9a The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near that justifieth me; who will content with me? let us stand up together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?

There are some interesting images in today’s passage. This is the third of the servant songs found in Isaiah, a text that Christians have long identified as being a prophetic description of Jesus during the Passion story which begins with Palm Sunday.

I use the American Standard Version of the Bible in this writing for copyright reasons, which is often uncomfortable for many readers. The old language is foreign to our ears, but it usually does not matter much in the understanding of the text. In other words, no matter what version is used, the passage says the same thing. There are times, however, that there are differences in the way the interpretation is written, making it valuable to read many different versions to get a consensus on the meaning, especially if there is no knowledge of the original languages.

Today is one of those days – there is a subtlety in the text that is missed in some of the translations, and today the American Standard Version is a good one to use. In verse four, Isaiah writes, “The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught.” In many versions it says, “…the tongue of a teacher.” If we think in terms of a modern classroom, there is a big difference between the tongue of the teacher and the tongue of the learner. Though a teacher can learn as much from a student, we identify this character differently depending on how he is described.

In this case, the tongue is that of one like a prophet – the words not his own, but that which has been taught by God. In other words, the teacher himself is a learner, one who listens to God and then shares what has been given. The teacher has such a relationship with God that he is in communication on a daily basis; his teaching comes directly from the heart of God.

What is it that the teacher is teaching? “…how to sustain with words him that is weary.” The words of the teacher, the words from God’s heart, are words that will give strength to the weak and hope to the hopeless. The Word gives peace to those in turmoil. The teacher himself is one who is in turmoil – persecuted, humiliated, beaten, insulted and spit upon. Yet the teacher does not fall from grace. Instead, he has the assurance, through his daily communication with God, that he is not alone through it. Though the world seeks to accuse and convict the teacher, God will ensure his vindication.

As we read these words we see Jesus. Jesus was indeed the teacher whose relationship with God was so close that His words were God’s Word. He was like one who was taught, even while being the Teacher. His word provided comfort to those who were weary; His message was grace to the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the oppressed and those lost in this world. He gave forgiveness for the soul and food for the body. He gave hope to the hopeless and faith to those who heard His words. Though we might expect such a teacher to be regarded with honor, Jesus was rejected, humiliated and beaten. He is the subject of this Servant Song, the One whom God helps. We see this in the Passion story, even as Jesus suffers, God is never far from Him.


March 23, 2007

Scriptures for April 1, 2007: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Psalm 31:9-16 Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for I am in distress: Mine eye wasteth away with grief, yea, my soul and my body. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing: My strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are wasted away. Because of all mine adversaries I am become a reproach, yea, unto my neighbors exceedingly, and a fear to mine acquaintance: They that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the defaming of many, Terror on every side: While they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life. But I trusted in thee, O Jehovah: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand: Deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: Save me in thy lovingkindness.

When we hear the stories of those Christian men and women from days gone by who are remembered for their faith, we often hear stories of sacrifice and hardship. The saints of old are much too often known for dying under the hands of persecutors who rejected Christianity and that believers stand for in this life. They are following in the footsteps of Jesus, not sacrificing for the sake of the world, but in response to the incredible sacrifice of Christ.

March 23rd is the feast day for a little known saint named Gwinear. Gwinear was the son of the king whom Saint Patrick tried to convert in Ireland – King Clito – but was rejected with scorn. Gwinear did not agree with his father in this matter; he respected St. Patrick’s piety and was courteous to Patrick in court. As he was hunting, he found himself thinking about all Patrick had to say and he began to believe. He freed his horse and became a hermit. After his father died, Gwinear returned but did not assume the throne. He took hundreds of his countrymen out to evangelize and spread Christianity to Wales and Brittany.

There was a king of Cornwall named Teudar who despised Christianity. When he came across a band of these Christians, he killed them. He snuck up on the group from behind and killed all. Gwinear found the bodies and recognized the danger to his own life, but that did not stop him from continuing. “Here brethren is the place of our rest,” he told his companions. “Here God has appointed that we should cease from our labors. Come therefore and let us gladly sacrifice our lives for him. Let us not fear them that kill the body. Rather let us fear him who has power to cast both body and soul into hell.” Teudar soon found Gwinear and had him beheaded.

Gwinear’s story is not much different than hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of Christians over the last two millennia. He was willing to stand for what he believed to be true, resting on the faithfulness of God. The world will despise those who believe, but God is there, to be the strength and hope and peace of those who will suffer under their hands. When, or perhaps for us today ‘if’, we do suffer for our faith, let us always remember that it is not by our power or might, it is not according to our will or purpose, but that we stand firm because Jesus came before us.

Though a Psalm of David, our passage for today is a prophetic witness of our Lord’s own suffering. It must have been very discouraging in those final days, during His passion, to face the truth of His purpose. He had so much more He could accomplish, so many more people who needed to be healed and who needed to hear God’s word of mercy and grace. Yet, Jesus Christ trusted in His Father, in God. So, too, did men like Gwinear who faced their death with the foundation of faith – knowing that God is God. “My times are in they hand.”


March 26, 2007

Scriptures for April 1, 2007: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a funny commercial for a tissue company that shows some sort of holy man being kind to several different kinds of animals. He sneezes and grabs a tissue, but then reads the words on the side of the box – “kills 99.9% of germs.” He’s torn because it is obvious from his kindness that saving life is important to him. How could he kill anything, even germs?

Perhaps this seems extreme, but there is a about another holy man. He was sitting on the bank of a brook while meditating when he noticed a scorpion that was caught in a whirlpool in the brook. Every time the scorpion tried to climb on a rock, it slipped back into the water. The holy man took pity on the scorpion and tried to save it from certain death, but whenever the man reached out to the creature it struck at its hand. A friend passed by and told the man that his actions were futile because it is in the scorpion’s nature to strike. The man said, “Yet, but it is my nature to save and rescue. Why should I change my nature just because the scorpion doesn’t change his?”

The set of scriptures we are studying does not include the text for Palm Sunday, but it is worth mentioning it here. On Palm Sunday Jesus went victorious into Jerusalem on a donkey, greeted by crowds of people singing “Hosanna.” The Jewish leaders were already very nervous by the things Jesus said and the things Jesus did, and they were already conspiring against Him. Some of the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” because the crowds were singing praise to Him. Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” It seemed like all that was happening was beyond Jesus’ control.

This seems especially true as we read the Gospel lesson for this week. As each day passes, the signs of the end become clearer. Jesus was ready to die and He was unable – or unwilling – to do anything to stop it. He could have pronounced Himself king on Palm Sunday, but that was not His purpose. He, like the holy man with the scorpion, came to bring life even when it meant death to Himself.

Human nature is not much different than a scorpion’s – we quickly strike out at anyone who wants to help. This is especially true of the Gospel message. It doesn’t make sense, it is impractical, it is foolish to think that one man had to die for all of humanity. The message of the cross turns the world upside down, going against our expectations and desires. Those who do not believe in the Christian story or message think Jesus was nothing more than a man who got stung by the scorpion and died.

Yet, through our baptism and the faith we receive, we are called to live in Christ and be of His mind in all we do. We live in a world where there are a great many people whose nature is like the scorpion’s – quickly striking at anyone who wants to help. Even when we share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, those with such a nature will reject it and us. We suffer persecution at their hands, just as the holy man risked being stung by the scorpion. Do we let it stop us? Jesus did not. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save and He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. We are called to do the same – not on a cross, but in our every day experiences so that others might know God’s love and mercy and grace. The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but will they bow in thanksgiving or fear? We are called to bring salvation to the world even when it strikes back so that all will bow by faith.


March 27, 2007

Scriptures for April 1, 2007: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Our Gospel scripture passages are rather lengthy for this week, so I will not post the entire reading on this email. It may seem like a very long passage to read, almost overwhelming, but I suggest that you take the time to read every word, no matter how familiar you are with the story. As a matter of fact, it would be valuable to read it out loud, either to yourself or gather with a group of friends to share the reading of this word.

We tend to skim over those stories that we know, after all, we’ve heard them a thousand times before. However, each time God’s word is read there is something for us – a word of comfort, a word of hope, a word of peace. Maybe this time you will find a word of warning or admonition. When we assume that we know the story so well, we stop listening to what God has to say to us today.

We could spend weeks studying this text, line by line trying to understand what was happening and what God would have us get out of the story. Yet, there are times when we should just let the Word of God speak for itself, to listen to the story as it was given to us. There are so many subtleties that could be brought out, details that could be debated. There are so many verses that have both historical relevance as well as spiritual meaning. There are hundreds of questions to be asked, some of the answers are widely accepted and others are contested. Yet we all can find common ground in the belief that in the story of the Passion Jesus did for humankind what no other human being is able to do – He died so that we might be reconciled to God. Whatever path His Passion took, our faith rests on that moment when Jesus hung from the cross, because without His death we would never know life as God intended.

So take time today to read this story. As a matter of fact, read and reread it several times before Good Friday. Make the reality of the Passion a part of your being. Don’t try to pick it apart or try to understand every detail, simply listen to God’s story. Put yourself in the place of the characters – the crowds, the disciples, the Pharisees, Pilate. Experience it, not as a theologian trying to understand its meaning two thousand years later, but as someone who was there in Jerusalem that horrific day. Feel the pain, the anger, the hatred, the guilt, and remember that Jesus experienced it all for you.


March 28, 2007

Scriptures for April 1, 2007: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

The Palm Sunday text is not part of our regular lectionary lessons, but I think it is worth hearing that story once again.

Luke 19:28-40 And when he had thus spoken, he went on before, going up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, when he drew nigh unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, Go your way into the village over against you; in which as ye enter ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat: loose him, and bring him. And if any one ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say, The Lord hath need of him. And they that were sent went away, and found even as he had said unto them. And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? And they said, The Lord hath need of him. And they brought him to Jesus: and they threw their garments upon the colt, and set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their garments in the way. And as he was now drawing nigh, even at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen; saying, Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from the multitude said unto him, Teacher, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said, I tell you that, if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out.

The life and ministry of our Lord Jesus was filled with incredible signs, wonders and teachings. From the first miracle at Canaan when he changed water into wine, to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and everything in between, Jesus showed Himself to be different from anyone the world had ever seen. When He taught in the temple and on the hillsides, people were amazed at the Word as it became alive before them. He helped people understand that there was a better way of living and that there was a deeper meaning to the scriptures.

Jesus was controversial. Whenever he breezed through a town or village, many would follow and listen. However, there were those who did not believe Jesus came from God. His own village rejected Him. Many claimed He was of Satan. Some tried to stone Him for the things He said and did. The teachers in the temple as well as other religious leaders began to fear his power over people.

The people saw Jesus as the answer to their prayers. They sought a Messiah, someone who would set them free from the oppression of the Roman invaders of their land. They wanted to be a free nation again and live as they did during the Golden Age of Solomon their king. As Jesus gained in fame and following, His disciples pleaded with Him to go to Jerusalem and claim His place. They knew that there were enough people to support Him, and that they would fight to give Him the position they felt He had come to fill. However, Jesus did not go to Jerusalem until it was the right time.

As the Passover of His third year of ministry approached, Jesus knew the time had come for Him to fulfill the promise of His Father. It was time to go to Jerusalem. He was in control of every moment, of every detail of what was to come. A donkey was waiting, to carry Him into Jerusalem – a sign of His kingship. Yet, this gathering of praise and thanksgiving for God’s mercy would not last very long. It seems impossible that the crowds who sang “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday would be screaming “Crucify Him” just a few days later. But this is how it was meant to be. We can read about the three years of ministry and be amazed at His wonders, impressed by His teaching and excited about His ministry to the poor and outcast. Yet, Jesus life was about much more than feeding the poor and healing the sick. The Passion was all part of God’s plan – a plan we do not fully understand, but one that brought salvation to the world.


March 29, 2007

Scriptures for April 8, 2007: Acts 10:34-43 or Luke 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14024; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Isaiah 65:17-25 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and there shall be heard in her no more the voice of weeping and the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity; for they are the seed of the blessed of Jehovah, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.

There are several scriptures that could be used for this upcoming Easter Sunday; I will try to reference each of them before next Wednesday. Today we look at an Old Testament passage that offers a great promise to God's people.

God speaks through Isaiah in this passage and He begins with a new beginning. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth." This is as great an accomplishment as the first creation, perhaps even greater. The first creation was made out of chaos, out of nothing, out of darkness. This new creation is made out of the failures of God's people. We were created and commanded to care for the earth but we failed. We failed to care for all that was entrusted to us, especially our relationships. In our sin we broke the harmony between God and man and between one another. Our sins, though against each other, hurt God even more because in our sin we were not living as He intended us to live.

But God's love for His people is greater than our failure. He is faithful to His promises even when we are not. So, in response to our sin, He has promised to make things new, a new creation that will lead to a new beginning for the world. This promise of new heavens and a new earth is a future promise, something that will come in the day God has promised. That day began with Jesus Christ, who lived and died for the sake of mankind. He restored the relationship of men and God, made it possible for men to restore their relationships with one another. Yet, the fulfillment of that day is not now; it will be. Though things began anew with the raising of Jesus, there is another day coming when we will see everything as it was meant to be.

Though Isaiah speaks of the heavens in the first verse of this passage, everything else is about the earth. The future promise is for today, also. The future fulfillment is the hope of today and in that hope we can live in joy and peace. We aren't to see the Easter story as one that is still to be completed. God's salvation is now. In that salvation we live and breathe the Gospel in this world, offering hope and peace to those who are still lost in the darkness. The world is being recreated one heart at a time as we, God's people, share His love to the world. In our words and works, things are transformed and people are changed. We can see a glimmer of what is to come when we will no longer labor in vain or be subjected to misfortune. How great a day it will be when the earth is new, when the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox shall share the bountiful gifts of God's abundance.


March 30, 2007

Scriptures for April 8, 2007: Acts 10:34-43 or Luke 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Let Israel now say, that his lovingkindness endureth for ever… Jehovah is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous: the right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: the right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah. Jehovah hath chastened me sore; but he hath not given me over unto death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; the righteous shall enter into it. I will give thanks unto thee; for thou hast answered me, And art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

We all live busy lifestyles. Between chauffeuring the kids to all their activities, work, and the regular household chores, little time is left for quiet time. Along with our daily responsibilities, we live in a society where our leisure activities are almost as important as our work. We are encouraged to take time to smell the roses, to enjoy life, to do activities that will make us happy because if we are happy we will be healthier. Not that these activities are bad, or wrong, it is just that we have so little time to simply rest.

It is in our rest that we are able to experience God. By rest I do not mean sleep, I mean prayer. Unfortunately, when our schedules fill with activities that we both love and that are necessary for our life in this world, quietly sitting in communion with God seems like wasted time. After all, we can pray on the go, saying prayers as we drive and wash the dishes. Doesn't Paul tell us to pray constantly? He doesn't mean we should leave the world for monastery life, praying every hour of the day. He means that we should always keep God in our sight, constantly seeking His will for our lives. Yet, we need that rest, that time that is set aside to pray and to worship. It is our prayer life that suffers when our schedules become to busy.

It is so easy to say, "Well, God won't mind if I miss one morning" as we are running out the door. Of course He does not mind, though He wants to spend time with you. Unfortunately, if we miss today, it is even easier to miss tomorrow and eventually we forget that we ever scheduled time alone with God. It is easy to miss Sunday worship one week for a soccer game or an outing with family, because God does not require us to gather together. But it becomes easier and easier each time we miss, becoming ever more comfortable in our absence.

Yet even in our comfort, we hunger for something and we aren't fulfilled with our activities. So we begin to feel a sense of guilt about our lack of prayer time and the missed opportunities to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We become agitated, fear and worry hinders our activities. We lose sight of God and get overwhelmed by the cares of the world. It is amazing how easily joy gets lost and positive attitudes turn over to negative thoughts.

Maybe that's why the people turned from Jesus so quickly during Holy Week. After the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus attacked the very foundation of their faith. He overturned the tables in the Temple, disrupting their religious ritual and their time with God. However, Jesus was not condemning faith, He was condemning the way they were focused on the wrong things. They'd lost touch with God, had set aside prayer time for a busy schedule of activities that were based on rules rather than on the heart of God. The crowds became upset, and in their sin they turned from God. Their negative attitude built day by day until the time when Pilate asked the question of what to do with Jesus. By Good Friday, it was easy to say "Crucify Him."

But we who live beyond the resurrection are restored to that relationship that is lost by our sinfulness. We are called by God's grace to live joyfully, to live faithfully, to keep our hearts and minds on God. As we finish this season of Lent, it will be very easy to set aside the disciplines we had begun. However, those things that have brought us closer to God – those things which have caused us to spend time in praise and thanksgiving for God's grace – let us continue in those things where we will find rest. Thanks be to God.


March 31, 2007